Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise And Fall Of An Ancient Civilization, by Richard Miles
Reading this book in many ways is like reading a Greek tragedy. One knows from the title the end of the play, and if one is familiar at all with ancient history, one knows that Carthage is going to be set up to be a tough rival to Rome but an ultimately unsuccessful one. And this book delivers exactly what one would expect from a narrative history written by a competent historian of the ancient world. If this book is not spectacular, it is at least solid and written by someone who has some insight and some degree of interest in wrestling with a subject that will be familiar to those readers who come into this with a great deal of knowledge about the Punic Wars and their outcome already and who are looking for a comfortable work. Those readers who know nothing about Carthage or its history will still find a great deal of interest here because the author does not assume knowledge on the part of his readership but rather gives the context of Carthage’s founding and its rise to power and how it became a powerful empire on its own right, and so this book is a solid introductory text to the history of Carthage as well.
In terms of its contents, this book is a bit shy of 400 pages and is divided into several chapters. The author begins with a prologue about the last days of Carthage before its destruction in 146 BC and an introduction about the recovery of Carthage. After that the author talks about the stress that Tyre and Sidon were under from the Assyrians that led them to seek greater wealth abroad (1), which led to the founding of Carthage at the crossroads of the Eastern and Western Mediterranean (2). After that there is a discussion of the relationship between the Greeks and early residents of Carthage (3) as well as the economy of war between Syracuse and Carthage over domination in Sicily (4) and Carthage’s struggle against Agathocles (5). The author moves on to the initial relations between Carthage and Rome (6) before looking at the First Punic War (7), the mercenary’s revolt that followed (8), and the rise of Barcid Spain (9). The author discusses Hannibal’s decisive move against Rome (10), his propaganda viewing himself as some sort of Heracles role (11) and his failure to capitalize on early victories and his eventual defeat (12). The author then closes with a look at the paired fate of Sciopio and Hannibal after the end of the war (13), the destruction of Carthage after a three-year siege (14), and a discussion of the ironies of Punic faith (15).
I would not say this is a perfect book. The author does not focus on the afterlife of Carthage except to mention that it was rebuilt by Augustus after his unification of the Mediterranean world under Roman rule. But when a book is nearly 400 pages and gives a great narrative history about a fairly obscure society its history, there is a lot to enjoy about it. And so it is with this book. If it seems like a Greek tragedy, that is because it is–we have a society that engages in quarrels and seeks empire and finds itself provoking a remorseless enemy who destroys it completely. And when one is telling material that meets the standards of a Greek tragedy, why not lead into it? That is precisely what the author does, leaning into the famous phrase that Cato used to describe the necessity of destroying Carthage and being unable to accept the success and glory of an enemy people. This particular book has the elements of a successful narrative history and the author is skillful enough to tell a good story from the historical sources available.