Our Little Carthaginian Cousin of Long Ago - C. V. Winlow


From the time that the Kada  entered the Mediterranean, Hanno, big boy though he was, became quite a nuisance. He got into everybody's way. Now he shouted, now threw his conical cap high into the air, and again risked his life in climbing a mast, and straining his eyes to catch a first glimpse of his home city. When the Island of Sicily was sighted, his excitement became even greater. From there south the deep blue waves, to which the Mediterranean owes some of its great charms, grew smoother and smoother. The atmosphere had that peculiar and sometimes tantalizing clearness which makes distant objects seem near at hand, so that when Utica, the sister city of Carthage, was sighted, Hanno could not understand why it took so long to reach the rocky promontory jutting into the sea on which it is perched.

In the inner recess of this same bay, the finest of all in northern Africa, lay Carthage itself, the most important by far of the Phoenician colonies.

According to tradition, Carthage was founded by Dido, a beautiful Phoenician princess of Tyre, eight hundred years before the birth of Christ. Dido's rich husband had been murdered by her brother Pygmalion, so the story runs, and Dido, fearing that Pygmalion would also cause her own death, contrived to secure some boats and escape. A large number of Tyrians accompanied her. And it was in this beautiful and restful spot, protected both from the occasionally violent sea winds, and to a large extent also from the hot, dry, sand-laden ~rinds of the desert, that they found refuge and established themselves, grew and thrived, developing especially on commercial lines, until they became the great merchant state of the ancient world.

Even before the harbor, or cothon, as it was called, was reached, numerous boats belonging to Carthage were seen. These were in the neighborhood of the bazaars, for merchandise found its way into the city through numerous channels. There were two main harbors, an outer for merchant ships, and an inner, reserved for men of war. Neither vessel nor foot passenger could enter this latter harbor without permission. It was capable of holding over two hundred ships, many of which, however, were not much larger than fishing smacks of to-day. Near this entrance rose an island on which was the Admiral's palace, a large building made of dressed stone and decorated in the Greek style, though without Greek taste. This was placed so that the Admiral could observe all that passed on the sea. No one, however, out in it, could see what went on inside this harbor, not even those who were in the outer cothon, which was separated from it by a double wall. There was a certain degree of magnificence in this protected place. Wide quays projected out on every side, even from the island. Above them were storehouses for rigging, and naval workshops. At the end of each of these rose two Ionic marble columns, thus forming two splendid galleries.

As soon as the Kada  was recognized, the iron chains stretched over the entrance to the first harbor were unfastened, and it glided in and was secured by one of the many mooring cables placed around the sides. There were strange-looking boats to be seen, some of which were unloading their stores. These included ivory, and precious stones from Africa, cattle and fruit from the Balearic Islands, metal work from India, silk from China, spices, rare instruments of music, gold,—in fact all the products of the known world. The shouts of command, as well as the chatter of idle sailors, for whom there were many quarters, made the scene a very lively one. Hanno, just home from the solitude of the sea, could not help exclaiming again and again, "Oh, how good to be home! Oh, how lively things are here!"

As Hanno and his uncle began to make their way through this noisy crowd, a trumpet sounded from the inner harbor. This was evidently a signal from the Admiral, for, shortly afterwards, two sharp-peaked war vessels made their way proudly through the rows of merchant ships on some unknown mission.

Scarcely had the travelers proceeded into the city, than they were accosted, for the news of their arrival had made its way quickly. First came some young fellows of Hanno's own age, who did not mind sacrificing their dignity in their efforts to reach him first. Just behind them an exceedingly pretty little girl, three or four years old, was retarding the eager steps of a youth.

This crowd, augmented by several others, made its way with much noise, first through the narrow streets of the commercial quarter, bordered by flat-roofed, tightly-packed houses, many of them six stories in height. It was plain to see in this section that Carthage, or Kirjath-Hadeschath, as her Phoenician citizens called her, did not make a vain boast when she claimed more than a half-million inhabitants. Here and there under a portico, or in the cool of one of the tower-flanked gates, clusters of people might be seen anxious to escape the heat of the day.

Hanno paid no attention to where they were going, so absorbed was he in questioning and answering. Suddenly they were startled by a child's screaming, and saw that little Mishath, who had run ahead and was walking backward in order to face them, had just escaped being run over by two mules, heavily laden with oil. The half-caste Carthaginian who was driving them, stopped in fright at what had happened, opened his thick lips and passed one hand on his woolly hair and the other against his flat nose in an indescribably comical manner. He seemed to expect instant death, and must have been greatly relieved at having only angry words hurled at him.

This danger passed, they were all suddenly separated and hustled to opposite sides, as the populace made way for a camel who needed the full width of the street, as he solemnly stalked along with his head raised high above the masses.

Everybody was in too good a humor to mind these interruptions and the party gayly made its way up one of the three great streets which led from the commercial quarter to a hill called the Byrsa, or Acropolis. This Byrsa, destined later to play an important part in the siege of Carthage, was surrounded by a high triple wall and was the best protected part of the city. It was reached by a stair-case of about sixty steps placed against the perpendicular walls in such a way that they could be easily destroyed in case of danger.

On the summit of the hill, commanding a view of the whole city, was the rich and beautiful temple dedicated to the god Esmoun (Aesculapius). It faced the rising sun, and was built by the side of a great paved public square. Stone statues, dumb worshipers of the mighty god, were arranged along the avenue leading to this place. Hanno and his uncle, anxious though they were to reach home, would have felt guilty of impiety not to have entered. They did not remain long, however.

A few minutes' walk from there brought them to a splendid residential section, probably the highest and most open in the city. The large houses here, mostly occupied by wealthy merchants, were built with considerable taste, many of them having been designed by Greek architects.

In this neighborhood Hanno could not restrain himself longer, and, despite the heat of the day, rushed with great speed into an elegantly carved portico, in front of a mansion of magnificent proportions, at the door of which an old slave of the family stood waiting to receive him.