on 1 June 2010
We all know that Cato was very insistent that Carthage must be destroyed, and that he got his way; but speaking for myself I had very little idea of why he was so bothered about it - or indeed who the citizens of Carthage were (apart from Hannibal and his elephants). This book is a terrific way of filling in those gaps, and I commend it very warmly to anyone with an interest in ancient history.
I was a little hesitant about it, despite its excellent review in the Lit Rev - the combination of the woeful mask on the cover and the knowledge that Richard Miles is a copper bottomed academic raised slight worries that it would be a heavy read. However such worries were ill founded. This is a superbly clearly and engagingly written book which wears its very considerable scholarship commendably lightly. It is also an absolute masterclass in how to deal with a history of the losing side, when sources are all slanted against you. Miles describes the effect over the years of the Rome/Carthage hostility as being like getting one side of a conversation, which is an admirably clear way of describing it! He then uses his sources scrupulously to recreate as fair a picture as can be hoped for of the Carthaginian epoch.
The story which he tells takes us from the origins of Carthage as an outpost of Tyre, through its social and religious roots and its growth to a major power in the Mediterranean, and its gradual weakening and ultimate destruction by Rome. It is a story crammed full of interest - the relative flexibility of religious belief, and its adaptation to political ends, the differing political structures in the Mediterranean and their influence on the genesis of the various cities, the economic cycles which drove Carthage's position and later its moves to expand, and how these can be traced in the archaeology. And of course we have the story of the Barcid generals, of whom we have all heard, and about whom many (like me) know next to nothing other than what we read in Livy! Those who think "spin" is a recent invention will be surprised to find that both Hamilcar and Hannibal were masters of the art....
One grouch which the Lit Rev had with the book is that Miles is very plainly a huge enthusiast for his subject. The reviewer there felt that the result was a slight "overselling" of the significance of Carthage. I beg to differ. The enthusiasm (which is manifest) is a terrific thing - it carries one over subjects which would in other hands seems rather dull and brings the picture which is so painstakingly pieced together to life. If the result is arguably to overstate the importance of Carthage (and I am not qualified to judge on this one!) I think that is only fair by way of an attempt to redress the balance after centuries in the shadows.
on 24 July 2010
Until the publication of this excellent book, the preeminent text about Carthage was the 1995 volume Carthage: A History by the French historian Serge Lancel. This, an outstanding contribution to the patchy knowledge we have of Carthage, has just been eclipsed. One might think that part of the reason for this is that Carthage Must Be Destroyed did not need to be translated (inevitably, there were some places where Lancel's text became unwieldy). It's far from that: this is a better written, easier to follow, more rounded book than Lancel's.
Miles begins with the Phoenicians, the people who founded Carthage, and goes on from there. His style is at all times enjoyable, and his arguments well presented. Apart from the obvious following of Carthage's history, he goes into great depth about subjects such as the manner in which Hannibal aped the feats of Hercules in order to show that he had divine backing, and how the Romans fought back against this religious propaganda. He also explains in depth how, from the time of the Second Punic War onwards, the Romans made it their business to portray the Carthaginians as untrustworthy, perfidious liars and cheats. This in turn allowed them to show themselves as more heroic and steadfast.
Anyone who is interested in learning the full (well, what is known) details about Carthage and its history, needs to read this book. I for one will be returning to it again and again in the future. In my opinion, leading Lancel's book is also a good idea. Another interesting text is Daily Life in Carthage at the Time of Hannibal by the academic Gilbert Charles-Picard. Although it was written in the 1960s, it has some useful information about Carthaginian culture.
Ben Kane, author of Hannibal: Enemy of Rome.
on 7 July 2010
There's probably not much point in describing the content of this book, as this information is readily available, so I'll concentrate on what I think of how it was delivered:
This book is truely a great read. It's remarkable that this amount of analysis and historiography has been combined with the basic narrative and yet the end product is still so engaging. Of particular interest to me was the coverage of how the Romans saw and spun the justification for their actions in wiping out Carthage, and the evolution of this over time. Ultimately, in reading CMBD I wanted to understand 'all about' ancient Carthage and the Punic wars - now I do and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
In my opinion, Richard Miles' style is as easy to follow as the much acclaimed Tom Holland, albeit with less humour. I'll be pre-ordering his next book 'Ancient Worlds, and happy if it's half as good.
on 4 January 2014
The second half of the title is a little deceiving. Although Miles does in fact give an overview of the history of Carthage from its Phoenician origins to its final destruction by Rome, the book spends much more time examining the Punic wars (about half the total number of pages) than it does the history which preceded them.
The Phoenicians did not leave much of a written record and so most of what we have about them has been written by the winners and is therefore extremely biased. As other reviewers have mentioned, Miles does an excellent job of dissecting the extremely biased primary sources on the Punic wars to try and give us as balanced a picture as possible. His coverage of the Punic Wars is detailed and insightful. Of particular interest is the way in which Miles makes use of both the ancient sources themselves and his extensive knowledge of both Roman and Phoenician culture to probe both the motives behind the the actions of those involved in the wars and the ways in which they justified those actions both to themselves and the outside world. He traces the way both Romans and Carthaginians attempted to appropriate the myths surrounding Hercules to win the ideological war which underpinned the physical one. His exploration of these motivations and justifications is fascinating and is in fact one of the highlights of the book
Overall this is an extremely well-researched and well-written book. It is also an extremely approachable and enjoyable read for the non-expert.
As the other reviews have suggested this is an excellent book, a concise presentation of the society that came close to obliterating an emerging Rome three centuries before the birth of Christ. The scale (battles that numerically dwarf those of World War One and exceed them in savagery, on land and sea), the strategic complexity and audacity of the characters, the unanswered questions and "what ifs" - it just doesn't get any more epic. This is why I find historical fiction a tepid substitute for historical fact.
I came to Richard Miles' book having read Adrian Goldsworthy "The Punic Wars". Published in 2000 it is well-focused military history but left me contextually curious. I also enjoyed "Hannibal - Rome's Worst Nightmare" the BBC 2006 dramatised documentary centred on the Italian campaign. For some reason this DVD is only sold by Amazon Germany.
Military campaigning aside, I wanted to understand more about Carthage, its political and economic base, their belief systems and religion and this is what Miles presents along with the Carthage at war. He writes well, dispels the Roman inspired negative stereotypes " mendacious, greedy, untrustworthy, cruel, arrogant and irreligious" (the pot calling the kettle black?). I found his explanation of political power and religious belief fascinating and equally how Carthage was a collation of interests not the monolithic entity we tend to assume. Overall this book is an object lesson in illustrating that academic credibility is not compromised by the fluency of his story telling. A very good book, I will re read it.
on 19 June 2013
I bought this book prior to visiting the remains of the city itself on holiday, and it was truly intriguing to compare the systematic destruction described in the book with just how much actually remained, which in the event was very very little. I think I would have been hugely disappointed in my visit without this book as context.
The book itself is a scholarly yet entertaining read which kept me hooked until the end.
If I had quibbles at all, it might be that by pinning the narrative (and title) so closely to the demise of the city gives the impression that some other areas were slightly skimped on, though I think on balance this does the book a disservice as there are chapters on the genesis of Carthage and its early successes too. It was also clear that the author had a perspective on the importance of the role of the "Herculean myth" and how it was co-opted and used by different civilisations in the mediterranean at that time. This is new, and interesting territory (to me at least), and the passages about ancient "PR" and winning the hearts and minds of conquered people were occasionally revelatory, but all the same difficult for me to always be entirely persauded of the significance.
That said, there were some excellent insights, and the book does much to restore the reputation of a civilisation demonised through later history, largely by their Roman conquerors. I would certainly recommend this book.
According to the dust jacket of this book Richard Miles is a lecturer in the Faculty of Classics at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge. But since the publication of this book, he has moved to Australia, and now he teaches classics and ancient history at the University of Sydney.
His book about Carthage begins with a prelude ("The Last Days of Carthage"), an introduction ("Recovering Carthage"), and a chronological table which covers almost a millennium (from 969 BC to 19 BC).
The main text is divided into fifteen chapters which follow a chronological line from the beginning of the Phoenician civilisation to the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC and beyond: Punic names, language and religion continued to be used in North Africa (and Sardinia) long after Carthage was destroyed, as Miles points out in his last chapter (page 371).
[The word "Phoenician" refers to the civilisation which had its origin in an area which corresponds roughly to modern-day Lebanon, while the word "Punic" refers to the sister civilisation which had its origin in Carthage in modern-day Tunisia.]
At the end of the book we find notes with references and additional information, a bibliography, and an index. What about illustrations? There are 26 photos in colour and 16 maps in black-and-white.
This book is based on solid research, ancient sources as well as modern scholarship. Most ancient writers, such as the Greek Polybius and the Roman Livy (in Latin: Livius), were pro-Roman. Some ancient writers were pro-Carthaginian, for instance Philinus of Acragas and Silenus of Caleacte, but, as Miles explains in his introduction, "their work has survived only in sparse fragments" (page 16).
Archaeological evidence is also included. Let me give you a few examples:
(1) The Punic tophet (a sacred enclosure for child sacrifice) in Carthage is presented on pp. 70-71. Illustration # 7 shows a stele from this place, while # 8 gives a general view of the area.
(2) The Punic town Kerkouane in Tunisia is presented on pp. 78-80.
(3) The funerary monument in Thugga (modern Dougga) in Tunisia is presented on page 329.
(4) The Punic mausoleum in Sabratha in Libya is presented on pp. 19-21. Illustration # 18 is a picture of this beautiful monument.
(5) Coins are mentioned frequently. Illustration # 17 is a Roman silver coin issued around 275-260 BC, while # 20 is a Carthaginian silver coin issued in Spain around 230 BC.
This is a very good book. I have almost nothing to complain about, but I have to mention a few points which bother me:
(a) On page 190 the word "maniples" is explained as "divisions of legions made up of about 120 men." This is not true. The smallest unit of a Roman legion was a century (in Latin: CENTURIA) consisting of 80 men. Two of these units make one maniple consisting of 160 men.
(b) On pp. 308-310 we hear about Syphax, king of western Numidia. Miles says Syphax supported Carthage at the end of the second Punic war. This is true, but he does not tell us that Syphax had supported Rome during the first part of this war (218-206). And we are never told what happened to him. He was captured near Cirta and transported to Rome, where he was paraded as a prisoner in Scipio's triumph. He died in Tibur (modern Tivoli) ca. 201 BC.
(c) On page 315 we hear about Masinissa, a prince and later king of eastern Numidia. Miles calls him a Roman ally. He was, but Miles does not tell us that Masinissa had fought for the Carthaginians in Spain for several years (211-206). In 206 he decided to switch sides, and he supported the Romans until his death in 148 BC.
(d) On page 309 we hear about Sophonisba (or Sophoniba), a daughter of the Carthaginian commander Hasdrubal Gisco. Miles says her father had her married to Syphax to build a political alliance. But he does not tell us that Sophonisba had been betrothed to Masinissa before 206. When Masinissa switched sides, Hasdrubal decided to give her to Syphax instead. And we are never told what happened to her. When she was captured, Masinissa married her to protect her. When Scipio refused to accept this solution, Masinissa gave her some poison which she drank in order to avoid Roman captivity.
[Livy, book 30, chapters 12-15.]
(e) On page 370 we hear about an inscription (one part Punic, one part Latin) in Leptis Magna in Libya. Miles says it was set up to commemorate the construction of "a public building" completed in 8 BC. The expenses were paid by a local benefactor whose name he gives as Hannibal Tapapius Rufus. This text is # 319 in the standard collection "Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania" edited by J. M. Reynolds and J. B. Ward-Perkins and published by the British School at Rome in 1952. Since 2009 this valuable collection has been available as a database on the internet, but this fact is not mentioned by Miles (perhaps he does not know about it). The public building is the market (in Latin: MACELLUM) which was completed in 8 or 9 BC. The Latin text gives the first name of the benefactor as Annobal.
Miles adds that the benefactor describes himself as a "Lover of Concord" (AMATOR CONCORDIAE). But this title is not used in # 319. It is from the dedication of the local theatre completed in AD 1 or 2 and also paid by Annobal (# 321, 322 and 323). Miles has confused the dedication of the market, written in large letters on 31 large blocks, with the dedication of the theatre, written with smaller letters on one small block.
Apart from these minor flaws, I have nothing to complain about. This book is well written, it is accessible to the general reader; it is also well documented, the specialist can check the sources for the statements and opinions presented in it; therefore it is highly recommended.
on 5 June 2010
If you have the slightest interest in learning about ancient Carthage, then you can't go wrong with this book. The author successfully combines effective story-telling with serious, academically-proven history, bringing both individual characters and entire cultures to vivid, sometimes ghastly, sometimes heroic, life. Very little is black and white in this world, with divisions in every camp, and complex relationships between individuals on the same and opposing sides clearly explained. From epic myth to the mundane details of everyday life in competing ancient civilisations - every nuance is expertly set out here. You really couldn't ask for more.
This book is certaily a masterpiece of scholarship but it also shows how history can be told in a fascinating way without being academic. As such, it is a rare gem that can satisfy both the "history buff" and the more general reader. The book has numerous other qualities. A number of other reviewers have touched upon some of them already, so I'll try to keep it short.
By telling so well the story of the "rise and fall of an ancient civilization", Richard Miles demonstrates and shows all through the book why Cato the Elder was so insistent and persistent in wanting it destroyed. This was far more than just an old ultra-conservative Romam senator that had become somewhat obsessive. Simply put, Carthage was Rome's most dangerous opponent around the Mediterranean. It was the only one to hold out so long against against Rome and to threaten it so much. This in itself explains why Rome was so unrelenting, elt obliged to raze Carthage to the ground and tried to blacken its name. It also explains, for instance, why Hannibal had to be hunted down across the eastern Mediterranean. Rome had almost lost and was facing a rival that was almost as resilient as itself. Rome, although no Roman would ever admit it, was afraid, too afraid to let live a city that it had deprived of its commercial empire in Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia, of its colonial empire in Spain and of its predominance and home territory in Africa.
However, this book is not only about the contest between the two great powers of the Western Mediterranean. It is far more than that because it tries - and essentially succeeds, despite the odds,in telling the history of one of the most elusive civilizations of Antiquity. This is the second "tour de force" of Richard Miles because it is achieved largely in spite of the rather problematic written sources which are essentially Roman or Greek and which are, in their vast majority, hostile to the Carthaginians. The original texts of pro-Carthagenian Greek writters have generally not survived, with the exception of a few fragments and quotations. We know however that a number of historians wrote on Carthage. We also know that Hannibal had and used his own Greek historians as part of his all-out war against Rome (a war which, just like Alexander the Great, included the use of propaganda). This is where Miles use of what are sometimes called the auxiliaries of history (geography, archeology, numismatics etc...) become so precious. As Ben Kane mentioned in his review of this book, Georges Lancel's 1995 book on Carthage used to be the reference. Having also read this book (although it is much less accessible), I definitely agree with him: Carthage must be destroyed has become the NEW reference on Carthage.
The third great merit that I found with this book is that it goes beyond the power plays between the Greeks, the Carthaginians and Rome. It is not just a history of Carthage either. Two elements stand out in particular. One is the thorough discussion on Carthaginian (I don't like using the term "punic" because this is who their ennemies seem to have called them) religion, its influences and its evolutions. Another is the last chapter entitled "punic faith", which is largely about how the Roman conquerors wrote the "official" history and distorted the facts to such an extent that the term "punic faith" in Latin became synomyous of treasonous behavior. This rewritting of history might have started just after the destruction of Carthage. It certainly culminated under Augustus with Titus-Livius in one of the main roles. A careful study of the events tends to show that:
- in the first and third Punic wars, the Romans were clearly the ones spoiling for a fight whereas both the Barcids (and, less obviously, at least part of Carthage's leading citizens) and the Romans wanted the Second War
- when comparing behaviors in each camp, the Romans were at least (and even perhaps more) ready to break their word and take advantage of circumstances. This happened for instance with their occupation of Sardinia after the end of the First War while Carthage, with which they had signed a peace treaty, was busy fighting for its survival and unable to do anything about it.
I could go one, and on, and on, but I hope by now to have made the point: this is a fabulous book and if there is one book to read about Carthage and one book to offer to someone who likes history, it is this one.
on 7 June 2014
This book is really much more than a history of Carthage. It is also a history of the Phoenicians and the Phoenician city of Tyre which founded Carthage as a colony. While carefully researched from primary sources it is well written and an enjoyable read. Would recommend it to students, academics and non-academics who are interested in ancient history.