Carthage an ancient city and the capital of a once powerful state. It was on the coast of north Africa near the modern city of Tunis. According to legend, Carthage was founded in the ninth century B.C. by Phoenicians from Tyre, under Queen Dido. It is believed that the name is from the Phoenician for “New City.”
By 600 B.C. Carthage was one of the great Mediterranean powers, with colonies along the entire northern coast of Africa. Later it expanded to the west African coast and to islands in the Mediterranean. These conquests brought Carthage into conflict with other states. In 508 B.C., it made its first treaty with Rome, giving Romans the right—later withdrawn—to conduct trade at the Carthaginian island of Sardinia.
The seaport of Carthage, the finest in north Africa, was only 100 miles (160 km) from the island of Sicily, where the Greeks long resisted the attempts of Carthage to take control. In the third century B.C., the Carthaginians finally claimed supremacy over Sicily and over the whole western Mediterranean. Their ships went as far as the Baltic and along the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Guinea. They traded in wheat, oil, silver, textiles, and slaves.
This supremacy was challenged by Rome in a struggle that lasted 118 years. Rome and Carthage fought three wars for control of the Mediterranean world. These were the Punic Wars, so called from the Roman name for the Carthaginians (Peoni).
Carthage had the most powerful navy in the world. Rome quickly built up a navy and, after suffering several defeats, subdued the Carthaginians and invaded Africa. Carthage lost Sicily. In 238 B.C. Rome also seized Sardinia and Corsica.
Led by Hannibal, the Carthaginians invaded Italy from Spain and France across the Alps. They defeated the Roman army and conquered much of Italy, but not Rome itself. After the Romans defeated the army of Hannibal's brother, Hasdrubal, at the Battle of Metaurus in 207 B.C., the war turned in Rome's favor. Hannibal was called home to defend Carthage, and was defeated by Scipio the Elder at the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C. Carthage was forced to give up all its warships and its colonies outside of Africa.
Carthage, allowed to continue its profitable trade after the Second Punic War, once more had become prosperous. On his return from a mission to Carthage in 157 B.C., Cato the Censor, a senator, urged that “Carthage must be destroyed!” He repeated these words on every possible occasion.
Rome once more set out to remove the threat of a prosperous enemy. Carthage was besieged by Scipio the Younger in 149 B.C., and, after heroic resistance, fell in 146. Its people were killed or sold as slaves; the city was leveled and burned.
Julius Caesar and Augustus recolonized and rebuilt the site, and once more Carthage became a flourishing city. By 200 A.D. it was a Christian bishopric. The Vandals made it their capital when they invaded north Africa in 439. Recovered by the Byzantines in 533, it remained part of their empire until the Arabs came in 698. The Arabs preferred Tunis, and Carthage fell into ruins. Louis IX (Saint Louis) of France, while on a Crusade to capture Tunis, died of the plague in Carthage in 1270.
The site was conquered by Spain in 1510, by the Turks in 1575, and by the French in 1881. The French built a church there in honor of Saint Louis.