Category Archives: Places
What if we throw into the mix the names Bomilcar, Hasdrabul, Hamilcar and Terrence?
If you’ve got the answer, well done!
One could say that geographically and historically Carthage has been always the bridesmaid…but never the bride.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves; let us begin at the beginning.
Though practical metals were far from the be-all-and-end-all of Carthaginian trade.
Their immense fleets (both trade and naval) saw them wheel and deal in lead, stones, garum (a salty fish sauce used as a condiment), fish, skins, hides, ivory, salt, exotic animals, timber, textiles, glass, pottery, wine, gold and the pound-for-pound most valuable commodity of the ancient world, purple dye.
Well, first it gained its independence from the Phoenicians around 650 BC.
Though the fledgling state seems to initially have been governed along monarchical lines, there is evidence for an advanced and sophisticated political system via the adoption of an oligarchic constitution by the sixth century BC.
But it was the fascination with Sicily that set Carthage on an inevitable crash course with the Greeks, themselves keen to expand their sphere of influence into what became known as Magna Graecia.
This now quintessentially Italian isle was anything but in the ancient world and for 200 years (from the fifth century BC onwards) it set the stage for a tit-for-tat war between the Greeks and Carthaginians.
Indeed, Greek mistakes were often at the heart of Roman expansion.
What happened next is well known: The Punic Wars, Hannibal and his elephants, initial success, and ultimate failure.
Rarely does history roll over the points in such a clear and stark fashion, but this is one moment we can pinpoint and say from here on in… Europe had Africa in its thrall.
Overlooked, undervalued, and a postscript to the main attraction… even so, Carthage somehow survived the sword and salt of Rome.
True, it may have had little in the way of original and distinctive art as well as a pagan pantheon that was derided by contemporaries (for its practice of child sacrifice). Nonetheless, it is well worth more than a mere fleeting thought.
Two issues rise starkly out of the noble intentions of our forefathers; the system… and the results.
But let’s deal with the latter first; to see if any means can justify such ends!
Despite this technical independence, Athenian democracy did little to cover itself in glory… even when its self-determinism was tangible rather than merely theoretical.
It is this state-sanctioned murder of one of the first great minds of our culture that forever leaves Athenian democracy with an indelible stain.
But can the means do much to exonerate such rancorous ends? Well… you be the judge.
The Nuts and Bolts
Athenian democracy evolved as any ‘work in progress’ democracy should and as such the citizens contributing to the various bodies of state had sometimes more and sometimes less involvement/power at different times.
Despite its selectively egalitarian nature, the referendum-style Assembly was by no means a political free-for-all. The business of the day was dictated by the Council (boule). This 500 strong body was the nearest thing that Athens had to an executive or cabinet.
One of which was the courts. 6,000 judges were appointed a year and they would congregate in the agora to be assigned trials for the day.
The day-to-day running of the mundane affairs of state was in the hands of the 1,200 archai. 1,100 of these former-day civil servants were chosen by lot with a further 100 being voted for by the Assembly. Only those voted in could hold the same office twice (with the exception, by numerical necessity, of those who went into the boule).
The only offices not attainable by lot were the 10 associated with the armed forces. Consequently, these generals (strategoi) were the only people who could hope to carve out a political niche for themselves.
The democrats of Athens believed that demokratia was intrinsically bound to liberty and equality; they defined the terms thus:
Liberty = the ability to live as one pleased and the freedom to participate in politics.
Equality = the right to speak in the Assembly and the right to a fair trial.
Free-speech (parrhesia) was thought to underpin both of these. Though many critics have pointed out exercising this was precisely what cost Socrates his life.
Ultimately the question must be one of self-determinism; were the ancient Athenians content to preside over the first functioning democracy the world has ever known?
Well, the fact that they made Democracy a goddess in the 4th century BC certainly suggests they had strong feelings towards its retention. As does the fact that they relinquished it so very reluctantly.