Theses Doctoral

An Archaeological History of Carthaginian Imperialism

Pilkington, Nathan Laughlin

Carthage is the least understood imperial actor in the ancient western Mediterranean. The present lack of understanding is primarily a result of the paucity of evidence available for historical study. No continuous Carthaginian literary or historical narrative survives. Due to the thorough nature of Roman destruction and subsequent re-use of the site, archaeological excavations at Carthage have recovered only limited portions of the built environment, material culture and just 6000 Carthaginian inscriptions.

As a result of these limitations, over the past century and half, historical study of Carthage during the 6th- 4th centuries BCE traditionally begins with the evidence preserved in the Greco-Roman sources. If Greco-Roman sources are taken as direct evidence of Carthaginian history, these sources document an increase in Carthaginian military activity within the western Mediterranean during the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Scholars have proposed three different dates for the creation of the Carthaginian Empire from this evidence: c. 650, c.550 or c. 480 BCE. Scholars have generally chosen one of these dates by correlating textual narratives with 'corroborating' archaeological evidence.

To give an example, certain scholars have argued that destruction layers visible at Phoenician sites in southwestern Sardinia c. 550-500 represent archaeological manifestations of the campaigns of Malchus and Mago's sons recorded in the sources. In contrast to previous studies of Carthaginian imperialism, my presentation begins with the evidence preserved in the archaeological and epigraphic records of Carthage, its colonies and dependencies. By switching evidentiary focus and interpretive method, I establish in this dissertation that the Carthaginian Empire of the 6th-4th centuries BCE, as recovered archaeologically and epigraphically, bears little resemblance to the narratives of the Greco-Roman sources.

More importantly, I demonstrate that Carthaginian imperial power leaves archaeological manifestations very similar to those of Athenian or Roman imperial power. Colonization, the establishment of metropolitan political institutions at dependent polities and the reorganization of trade into a metropolitan hub and spoke system are traceable for each of these imperial systems.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Harris, William
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 19, 2013