Ancient Carthaginians really did sacrifice their children

Jan 23, 2014
Ancient Carthaginians really did sacrifice their children
Sacrificed children were buried at locations known as tophets. Credit: Josephine Quinn

(Phys.org) —After decades of scholarship denying that the Carthaginians sacrificed their children, new research has found 'overwhelming' evidence that this ancient civilisation really did carry out the practice.

A collaborative paper by academics from institutions across the globe, including Oxford University, suggests that Carthaginian parents ritually sacrificed young children as an offering to the gods.

The paper argues that well-meaning attempts to interpret the 'tophets' – ancient infant burial grounds – simply as child cemeteries are misguided.

And the practice of child sacrifice could even hold the key to why the civilisation was founded in the first place.

The research pulls together literary, epigraphical, archaeological and historical evidence and confirms the Greek and Roman account of events that held sway until the 1970s, when scholars began to argue that the theory was simply anti-Carthaginian propaganda.

The paper is published in the journal Antiquity.

Dr Josephine Quinn of Oxford University's Faculty of Classics, an author of the paper, said: 'It's becoming increasingly clear that the stories about Carthaginian child sacrifice are true. This is something the Romans and Greeks said the Carthaginians did and it was part of the popular history of Carthage in the 18th and 19th centuries.

'But in the 20th century, people increasingly took the view that this was racist propaganda on the part of the Greeks and Romans against their political enemy, and that Carthage should be saved from this terrible slander.

'What we are saying now is that the archaeological, literary, and documentary evidence for child sacrifice is overwhelming and that instead of dismissing it out of hand, we should try to understand it.'

The city-state of ancient Carthage was a Phoenician colony located in what is now Tunisia. It operated from around 800BC until 146BC, when it was destroyed by the Romans.

Children – both male and female, and mostly a few weeks old – were sacrificed by the Carthaginians at locations known as tophets. The practice was also carried out by their neighbours at other Phoenician colonies in Sicily, Sardinia and Malta. Dedications from the children's parents to the gods are inscribed on slabs of stone above their cremated remains, ending with the explanation that the god or gods concerned had 'heard my voice and blessed me'.

Dr Quinn said: 'People have tried to argue that these archaeological sites are cemeteries for children who were stillborn or died young, but quite apart from the fact that a weak, sick or dead child would be a pretty poor offering to a god, and that animal remains are found in the same sites treated in exactly the same way, it's hard to imagine how the death of a child could count as the answer to a prayer.

'It's very difficult for us to recapture people's motivations for carrying out this practice or why parents would agree to it, but it's worth trying.

'Perhaps it was out of profound religious piety, or a sense that the good the sacrifice could bring the family or community as a whole outweighed the life of the child.

'We have to remember the high level of mortality among children – it would have been sensible for parents not to get too attached to a child that might well not make its first birthday.'

Dr Quinn added: 'We think of it as a slander because we view it in our own terms. But people looked at it differently 2,500 years ago.

'Indeed, contemporary Greek and Roman writers tended to describe the practice as more of an eccentricity or historical oddity – they're not actually very critical.

'We should not imagine that ancient people thought like us and were horrified by the same things.'

The backlash against the notion of Carthaginian child sacrifice began in the second half of the 20th century and was led by scholars from Tunisia and Italy, the very countries in which tophets have been found.

Dr Quinn added: 'Carthage was far bigger than Athens and for many centuries much more important than Rome, but it is something of a forgotten city today.

'If we accept that child sacrifice happened on some scale, it begins to explain why the colony was founded in the first place.

'Perhaps the reason the people who established Carthage and its neighbours left their original home of Phoenicia – modern-day Lebanon – was because others there disapproved of their unusual religious practice.

'Child abandonment was common in the ancient world, and human sacrifice is found in many historical societies, but child sacrifice is relatively uncommon. Perhaps the future Carthaginians were like the Pilgrim Fathers leaving from Plymouth – they were so fervent in their devotion to the gods that they weren't welcome at home any more.

'Dismissing the idea of child sacrifice stops us seeing the bigger picture.'

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julianpenrod
1 / 5 (11) Jan 23, 2014
A hodge podge of inconsistency demonstrating the pathetic nature of "truth" today.
Among other things, in the '70's, the propagandistic nature of accusations against Carthage were wholeheartedly accepted as an example of political lies, so common then, especially in denouncing Iron Curtain countries. Today, however, it seems the war against Islam is calling for unquestioning acceptance of vicious lies, so we are being "instructed" that what those in positions of "authority" tell us, to bloody another's reputation, must be accepted!
Note, too, such things as the diffident comment, about "child sacrifice", that "people looked at things differently". Yet we are ordered to discount Phil Robertson's description of blacks as accepting conditions, even in the Old South, a depiction that would lead to concluding conditions were not that bad, back then!
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (10) Jan 23, 2014
And, if "people looked at things differently", perhaps they would, counter to the article, see even sick children as a blessing. And may even have favored their animals so much that they would put them in a cemetery.
Overall, though, note the progression from the accounts of "scholars" that Carthaginians did sacrifice their children to descriptions by "scholars" that they didn't to claims by "scholars" again that they did! Shills for the lie factory called "science" would say that this "proves" "science's" "superiority", because it's willing to admit when it's wrong. And yet, each time, it presents its inevitably to be discounted lies as absolutely true. If religion changed its mind as much as "science", "science' would order religion outlawed! But this does fit with things like the article in the New York Times, continuing the discussion about how most "discoveries" today cannot be replicated! How soon, for example, before they admit vaccines cause autism?
Whydening Gyre
1 / 5 (2) Jan 23, 2014
Has any one actually autopsied remains to try and determine a cause of death?

IMO, "god or gods concerned had 'heard my voice and blessed me'. " is a pretty vague reference. Taking the writings of 2500 years ago in light of a single context is dangerously assumptive. Like they said, times were different & people were different. But I don't think THAT different...
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.6 / 5 (10) Jan 23, 2014
Shills for the lie factory called "science" would say that this "proves" "science's" "superiority"
You only say these things because you have no respect for evidence. Evidence tells us that infanticide was common in the past. Why? Because religions condoned and demanded it.

Did the ancient inhabitants of Jerusalem throw defective babies into the Gehenna ravine? 'Let moloch have them!' Is the rumor.

We know how the Joshuan hordes treated canaanite women and children.

"9Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks. " psm137

-They sang gleefully. How many pious judeo/xian/Islamists have taken such direction to heart?
Whydening Gyre
4.3 / 5 (3) Jan 23, 2014
Did the ancient inhabitants of Jerusalem throw defective babies into the Gehenna ravine? 'Let moloch have them!' Is the rumor.

We know how the Joshuan hordes treated canaanite women and children.

"9Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks. " psm137

-They sang gleefully. How many pious judeo/xian/Islamists have taken such direction to heart?

One thing I'll give ya for sure, Otto, is that you know your biblical history/references. Better than 99% of Christians, it would appear.
This not in any way a slam, BTW. Just say "thank you" and walk on...
malapropism
5 / 5 (2) Jan 23, 2014
Has any one actually autopsied remains to try and determine a cause of death?


I imagine it's unfortunately difficult to get very much of any use in figuring out the cause of death from a cremated corpse. From the article:
Dedications from the children's parents to the gods are inscribed on slabs of stone above their cremated remains
I'm assuming that "their cremated remains" refers to the children, not to the parents, but admittedly due to the vagaries of the English language and the author's grammar, this could be up for debate.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2014
Has any one actually autopsied remains to try and determine a cause of death?


I imagine it's unfortunately difficult to get very much of any use in figuring out the cause of death from a cremated corpse. From the article:
Dedications from the children's parents to the gods are inscribed on slabs of stone above their cremated remains
I'm assuming that "their cremated remains" refers to the children, not to the parents, but admittedly due to the vagaries of the English language and the author's grammar, this could be up for debate.

My bad, Malo. Guess I should ease up on the coffee...
loneislander
5 / 5 (7) Jan 24, 2014
People today cut parts of genitals off babies without anesthetics out of deep religious adherence. Religious fervor can generate momentum, Salem-witch-trial-like momentum, that can produce unspeakable acts of violence. Some of them, like circumcision, become endemic in some religions and carry on for long periods. What needs to be understood? Just having religion around plus adding a lot of time just has to produce this kind of stuff. These child sacrifices are not harder to do for the religious than cutting some skin off a baby.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (7) Jan 24, 2014
@julianpenrod
If religion changed its mind as much as "science",

science does not "change its mind"
it continually investigates and experiments
it continually evolves into better and better explanations of the reality around us

unlike religion
which forces its dogmatic system of judgment upon all people, believers and non-believers alike

religion is based on faith, which is, by definition, belief in something in the absence of proof, whereas science is the belief in something only WITH proof, evidence, demonstrated and tested, repeatable experimentation, empirical data and its ability to make accurate predictions

infanticide was common. Still is in places
and in most places it is promoted/condoned by religion
StillWind
1 / 5 (10) Jan 24, 2014
Hmmm, more than 50 million babies have been sacrificed in America since Roe v Wade. What god do you suppose we pray to?
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (9) Jan 24, 2014
Hmmm, more than 50 million babies have been sacrificed in America since Roe v Wade. What god do you suppose we pray to?


are you referring to abortion?

and are you saying that abortion is the same thing as infanticide?

you DO know that there are FREE on-line dictionaries????

alfie_null
4.5 / 5 (8) Jan 24, 2014
Hmmm, more than 50 million babies have been sacrificed in America since Roe v Wade. What god do you suppose we pray to?

I'm inferring you mean you wish the government to interject itself to stop the practice. Because it's certainly not part of some organized (e.g. religious) activity.

How do you feel about having the government play a greater role in preventing discomfort, pain, death? Should it be housing homeless people, and caring for the mentally ill? Should it be helping support the families of those who are unable or unwilling to hold a job? In the same sense as you use the word, the children of those families are certainly being sacrificed.

Should the government be covering the costs of medical procedures for people who are ill and can't afford treatment? Or should those people rot away painfully and die?

I'd guess you don't agree with all the above. Just curious if you think you can draw a line somewhere and yet stay on the high road, morally.
Sinister1812
5 / 5 (2) Jan 24, 2014
Ancient Carthaginians really did sacrifice their children


Seeing some of the disrespectful and violent kids these days, they should start doing it now!
billpress11
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 24, 2014
Hmmm, more than 50 million babies have been sacrificed in America since Roe v Wade. What god do you suppose we pray to?

Considering the fact that the irresponsible are multiplying so much faster than the responsible maybe that number should have been 100 million.
thewhitelilyblog
1 / 5 (8) Jan 24, 2014
It's difficult to imagine this conversation without someone bringing up our own child sacrifice. We've given 55 million in the last forty years at the god Moloch's feet. So that sex will not be connected to fertility. It's working, see the ruined economy and vacant faces, Moloch's blessing.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.4 / 5 (7) Jan 24, 2014
It's difficult to imagine this conversation without someone bringing up our own child sacrifice. We've given 55 million in the last forty years at the god Moloch's feet. So that sex will not be connected to fertility. It's working, see the ruined economy and vacant faces
Well aren't you poetic. Prenatal infanticide, ONE BILLION worldwide in the last 100 years, and still the world is overcrowded. Why? Religion forces women to do nothing but make and raise babies until it kills them.

This is what makes abortion a necessity in this world. We kill them in the womb. Religions would rather they grow up to die on the battlefield, by design. 'Quiverfull'.

Without religion there would be no need for abortion.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.2 / 5 (6) Jan 24, 2014
you know your biblical history/references. Better than 99% of Christians
Religionists pick and choose what makes them feel good and ignore the rest. But they never edit out the nasty bits do they? Those always remain for the times when they need to take what the infidel has in order to feed their starving children.

They do edit according to their pleasure as I am learning about the NIV version. They took their 'god-breathed' book and rearranged the conflicting versions of creation for instance by changing tenses.

And this passage:

"3 Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one's youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court." psm127

-The last word has always been 'gate'. They obscured the entire meaning of this passage because making babies to fight battles is distasteful to them.
>>
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.3 / 5 (7) Jan 24, 2014
Their rationale is that 'gates' were sometimes elaborate structures where court proceedings were sometimes held. But gates were also the last line of defense where the enemy would seek to enter your city. 'Children of our youth' refers to those babies that women can bear as early and as often as possible.

Maximizing reproduction was the key to outgrowing and overrunning your enemies. Conquest is the predominant theme of the OT. For bible editors to change the meaning of psalms127 in an obvious attempt to obscure this message, is dispicable beyond words.

But typical. A critical examination of the holy books shows that they are full of similar such adulterations and forgeries.

The same sort of person who changed psm127 also tacked 11 verses onto the end of mark to make it match the later gospels. The church had for centuries insisted that mark was not the first gospel, in order to hide this fact.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 24, 2014
Compare the proper translation "meet the enemy in the gate" vs "contend with their opponents in court."

"The meaning is, that they would do honor to the family, and gratify the heart of the parent, by their valor in defending their city and home, or in attacking the cities of the enemies of their country."
billpress11
5 / 5 (8) Jan 24, 2014
Genocide was also committed in the battle of Jericho.

Joshua 6 21 And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.

grpugh
1 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2014
Seems that most have lost any connection with the article preferring to cast the issue in pseudo-religious terms, not caring for the truth but just their attitudes toward the ideas.

I looked at the original in Antiquities, have any of the posters?

Captain Stumpy
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 25, 2014
Seems that most have lost any connection with the article preferring to cast the issue in pseudo-religious terms, not caring for the truth but just their attitudes toward the ideas.

I looked at the original in Antiquities, have any of the posters?

@grpugh
according to the Antiquities site, "...the verdict on the Phoenician practice of child sacrifice is, at best, not proven"
but i did not access the PDF file to see the contents
feel free to add excerpts in comments here

whenever religion is mentioned it turns into a similar deluge ...
but you cannot really remove the religious overtones of the actions of the Carthaginian's, either, as it was most likely the largest influence in the process of justifying the child sacrifice.

is there another more compelling reason to justify the sacrifice of a child in the article?
feel free to expound if there is something
baudrunner
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 25, 2014
Carthage at the time was the place for summer villas and extravagant holidays. It was the gathering place for the very rich and elite - Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians etc. - and these do not tend to have much in the way of moral values, let alone religion. Burying these children in marked graves with religious symbolism is no different than the practice is today, and does nothing to bring the character of these nihilists into a more acceptable framework for analysis. This is how these murderers vented their egotism. In Rome they might have said, "Do that in Carthage, but don't do that here!"
RichardBlumenthal
3 / 5 (2) Jan 26, 2014
A point of information: many, probably most of the references in the Torah concerning the absolute prohibition of child sacrifice, mentions the burning (cremation) of sons and daughters, a practice of some of the cultures encountered by the Hebrews after leaving Egypt.
baudrunner
1 / 5 (1) Jan 29, 2014
It is possible that humans had an inferiority complex because the sons of the gods were so perfect. Ancient Greeks used to throw their hairy babies on the city dump; circumcision is emulation of the gods, because they were born without foreskins - the ancient beginnings of caste-centric socialism, with throwbacks evident today in the form of bigotry and racism.

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