Wednesday, February 11, 2009

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Tunisia and child sacrifice

Tunisia is full of history.

The Carthaginian Empire

If you go on holiday to Tunisia, it is worth learning a little bit about the Carthiginians, a people who allegedly went in for child sacrifice.

Tunisia was once ruled by the Carthaginians, who are thought to have come originally from the Lebanon area.

The Carthaginians are said to have come originaly from Phoenicia, also known as Canaan, where Lebanon is today.

In Sousse, Carthaginian crematoria contain the ashes of hundreds of 'murdered' children.

Archeological Museum, Sousse / Sousse Museum

Allegedly, these children were strangled in sacrifice to the gods in times of national or personal misfortune.

Carthage was criticized by its neighbors for child sacrifice.

Plutarch (c. 46–120) mentions the practice. The Hebrews mention the practise.

Both the Romans and the Hebrews saw the Phoenicians as enemies and so they cannot necessarily be trusted in this matter. It was King Herod "The Great Child Killer" who destroyed all the first born.

The killing of children was common in ancient Greece and Rome but for economic rather than religious reasons. (Life in Carthage by Gilbert and Colette Charels-Picard pp149-50)



This building in Monastir was one of the filming locations for Monty Python's Life Of Brian.

It has been argued that the reports of Carthaginian child sacrifice were Roman inventions, used to justify the Roman destruction of Carthage.

These Carthaginian cemeteries may have been used as graves for stillborn infants or children who died very early.

Modern archeological excavations have been interpreted by some as confirming Plutarch's reports of Carthaginian child sacrifice. (Kelly A. MacFarlane, University of Alberta, Hittites and Phoenician)

In a single child cemetery called the Tophet, an estimated 20,000 urns were deposited between 400 BC and 200 BC, with the practice continuing until the early years of the Christian period.

The urns contained the charred bones of babies and 2-year-olds.

But most the child urns found in Carthage contain bones of fetuses, therefore of still born babies.

These remains have been interpreted by some to mean that after the birth of stillborn babies, the parents would sacrifice their youngest child.

In bad times (war, poor harvests) cremations became more frequent.

Bad times might have inspired the Carthaginians to obtain divine intervention via child sacrifice.

Or bad times may simply have increased child deaths from natural causes.


Roman amphitheatre at El Djem, by Kaptain Kobold

Professor Piero Bartoloni, Head of the Department of Phoenician-Punic Archaeology at Universita' di Sassari, Italy, relates: "In ancient times, for every ten children that were born, seven died within the first year and out of the remained three, only one became an adult. Now I ask: is it reasonable that, with such a high level of infant mortality, these people killed their own children?"

According to those who criticised the Phoenicians, children were sacrificed to the god Baal Hammon and the godess Tanit.

According to the critics:

Carthaginians began to buy children for the purpose of sacrifice or even to raise servant children instead of offering up their own.

However, in times of crisis or calamity, like war, drought or famine, their priests demanded the flower of their youth.

Special ceremonies during extreme crisis saw up to 200 children of the most affluent and powerful families slain and tossed into the burning pyre.

The few Carthaginian texts which have survived make absolutely no mention of child sacrifice, though most of them relate to matters entirely unrelated to religion, such as the practice of agriculture.

In 146 B.C., Rome wiped the Carthaginian capital off the map.



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