Carthage and Rome: murderous twins

Hey Dido, say we EACH had a city....

Hey Dido, say we EACH had a city....

I left off in this thread on the historical background of the main characters in my forthcoming book by asking you to savor a certain sense of mystery:

At the beginning of the so-called Hellenistic era (ie, the death of Alexander), Carthage was a superpower and Rome all but unknown. 177 years later, Rome was the superpower, and Carthage was completely razed. And our world would forever after be Roman. What happened in those 177 years?

Before I go on, please, remember that my book will not be a history lesson; it is a story of characters, from Hannibal and Scipio to modern people you know, who illustrate a theme that you, I hope, will recognize in your own life.

That said, in these posts I’m amusing myself with a bit of history. And so back to the mystery. It actually gets more mysterious for a while, because Carthage and Rome were … friends.

That might be overstating things, but they were a) extremely alike in some ways and b) entirely tolerant of each other for many centuries.

If you believe Roman legends, the two cities were founded almost at the same time–Carthage in 814 BCE by the beautiful and wily queen Dido, and Rome a few generations later by the descendants of Aeneas, a Trojan survivor and Dido’s erstwhile lover. Dido and Aeneas are pictured together above. (The lewd version is here.)

Rome and Carthage then evolved almost as twins: two polytheistic city-states that shook off tyrants and became proud republics, with popular assemblies, councils of elders, and two annually-elected presidents–the Romans called them consuls, the Carthaginians suffetes.

Carthaginian empire

Carthaginian empire

To the extent that they were also different, this actually helped them to get along. Rome was agrarian, provincial and essentially land-locked in central Italy. It had no navy at all! When it had to fight, it drafted all male citizens. Carthage, by contrast, was maritime, controlled a vast sea empire and made profits from trading. When it had to fight, it hired mercenaries to do the fighting on the citizens’ behalf.

So for centuries the Romans worried about their neighbors in Italy, and the Carthaginians about their profits and sea routes, and both sides were happy. They had treaties of friendship. There seemed to be no problem.

To be continued.

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10 thoughts on “Carthage and Rome: murderous twins

  1. There is a broader historical significance to the lewd version. The key grip (for lighting) has wandered into the picture. Before this time, the key grip was thought to be mythical.

  2. “They had treaties of friendship. There seemed to be no problem.”

    That seems to be about as much of a concluding sentence as I see in many Economist articles. The key difference: this one will be continued…

  3. Carthage would appear to be a sort of precursor of Britain, which also had a sea empire, even larger than Carthage’s.

    And, like Carthage, Britain didn’t use conscripts to fight its wars…….well, at least until 1916.

    • Actually conscription was practised strenuously, but on behalf of Britain’s major service – by naval press gangs. A plague of the coast in Napoleonic times; keeping workforces safe from them was an essential management skill for people like the lighthouse-building Stevenson clan.

  4. The “key grip”, Mr Crotchety? You lost me this time. Admittedly, though, Aeneas seems to have a firm grip, whatever it’s called.

    Are we really that cryptic, Jonathan?

    Christopher: Yes, in one way, Carthage was sort of like an early British naval and trading empire. But Britain and its offshoots (US) also lead to an Anglophone cultural cosmopolitanism, which Carthage did not but the many Greek city-states and empires did. That’s why the era was called Hellenistic (roughly = “Anglo-Saxon”) rather than, say, Punistic.
    Later, of course, there was the Pax Romana, which Britain explicitly tried to recreate with the Pax Britannica.

  5. Mr. C and Mrs. S:

    The Screen Actors Guild would require precision here. According to Wikipedia, there are Best Boys Electric and Best Boys Grip, as assistants to the gaffer who does the lighting and the key grip who does electrical, camera and crane dollies, respectively.

    I think Mr. C is very observant-the torch bearer in the painting is likely, then, a Best Boy Gaffer. He might be designated as a Best Boy Dolly or Dolly Gaffer. Today that means camera dollies, but given the subject matter of the painting Dolly Gaffer is aptly descriptive. He certainly appears earnest in the painting, doesn’t he? Clearly a boy committed to the details of the task then at hand.


  6. Thank you, Steve. Thank you. I have a feeling that some of the more blunt observers didn’t even notice the chubby naked boy with wings. It’s like that detective game where you show someone a picture for a moment and then ask him to describe everything he remembers from the scene. Or, maybe you just have to believe in Angels before you can see them. Wait. I’m starting to creep myself out. How are the Giants looking this spring?

    Jonathan, I’m with you. If not cryptic, some are nonchalant. Here I am reading about something horribly dire and then the article is wrapped up with something almost flippant. This is comforting to people like me who never do anything about bad situations (except vote occasionally).

  7. Mr. C-I will have to get back to you on the Giants-I haven’t really followed them reall closely since Ron Marichal, Fillip Alou, Jimmy Davenport, Willie C, Willie M and Orlando Cepeda. Um…I really don’t feel that old. But the new park is incredible and worth a visit.

    Maybe you can come for a game and my band can play before gametime-they haven’t called us yet. I can see it—Betty and the Boomers Play AT&T Park …kinduv like fantasy baseball but of the rock star mentality…


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