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The Phoenicians - A Terrible Religion

The migrants who founded Carthage took the Phoenician religion with them and set up temples to their gods throughout the city. Removed to the west, many Phoenician gods changed their form and took new names. One of the leading Carthaginian deities was Baal-Hammon, a horned and bearded old man, god of both sky and fertility. In later times, Baal-Hammon became fused with Kronos (the Greek god who devoured his own children). Closely associated with Baal-Hammon was the goddess Tanit - probably the Carthaginian version of the Phoenician Astarte, the Babylonian Ishtar and the Greek Aphrodite (all goddesses of love and fertility).

The sacrifice of living creatures to appease wrathful gods was fairly widespread in ancient times, including, in some places, human sacrifice. The Carthaginians acquired special odium, because they regularly practised human sacrifice and self-mutilation, long after neighbouring Mediterranean people had abandoned it.

Through an error of translation nineteenth-century scholars 'discovered' a fearsome god, Moloch, thought to have been fed by the Carthaginians with live babies of noble families in exchange for his protection of the city. The concept of Moloch fired the imagination of the French writer Gustave Flaubert, who, after extensive research, completed in 1862 Salammbo, a novel about Carthage.

In the following passages he visualized the scene when the huge brass god had been dragged from its temple to the main square of Carthage for a mass sacrifice to save the city from the Romans.

'The priests of Moloch paced about on the flagstones, scanning the crowd. They needed an individual sacrifice, a voluntary offering which would spur others on.... To encourage the crowd, the priests drew bodkins from their girdles and slashed their faces. . . . Finally, a pale, terror-stricken man tottered out clutching a child; the small, black bundle lay briefly in the hands of the colossus before it sank into the dark opening of the god's belly....'


Mask Introduction The Phoenicians
Mask Page 2 Fortified Cities
Mask Page 3 Dido and the ox hide
Mask Page 4 A terrible religion
Mask Page 5 Sacrifices to Tanit