François-René de Chateaubriand

Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem et de Jérusalem à Paris

(Record of a Journey from Paris to Jerusalem and Back)

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved

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Part Seven: Tunis and Return to France

Carthage and its Neighbourhood

‘Carthage and its Neighbourhood’
A History of Rome to the Death of Cæsar - Walter Wybergh How, Henry Devenish Leigh (p286, 1896)
The British Library

I found, in the house of Monsieur and Madame Devoise, the most generous hospitality and the most amiable society imaginable; they had the goodness to allow me to remain for six weeks in the bosom of their family; and I finally enjoyed the repose for which I felt an extreme need. It was almost carnival time, and only laughter was countenanced, in spite of the Moors. The ashes of Dido, and the ruins of Carthage, were regaled with the sounds of a French violin. They would not have been troubled by the presence of Scipio, Hannibal, Marius, or even Cato of Utica, whom they would have forced to imbibe (since he liked wine) should he have taken it into his head to come and berate the gathering. Saint Louis alone would have received respect, in his capacity as a Frenchman, and that great and good king would not have taken it amiss that his subjects were amusing themselves in the very place where he had suffered so greatly.

The national character cannot be hidden. Our sailors say that in newly-founded colonies the Spaniards begin by building a church; the English, a tavern; and the French, a fort: and, I would add, a ballroom. In America, I found myself on the borders of Indian country: I learned that, on the first day, I should meet one of my compatriots amidst the Indians. Arriving among the Cayugas, a tribe that was part of the Iroquois Nation, my guide led me into a forest. In the midst of this forest we saw a kind of barn; I found in this barn a score of savages, men and women, daubed like sorcerers, bodies half-naked, ears pierced, raven-feathers on their heads, and rings through their nostrils. A little Frenchman powdered and curled in the old way, in an apple-green coat, and drugget jacket, with frilled shirt and cuffs, was scraping at a pocket violin, and playing Madelon Friquet (a soldier’s ballad: L’amante abandonnée) to the Iroquois. Monsieur Violet (his name) was a dancing master among the savages. They paid for his lessons in beaver-skins and bear-haunches: he had been a kitchen-boy in the service of General Rochambeau during the American War. Remaining in New York after the departure of our army, he resolved to teach the finer arts to the Americans. His aims had expanded with his success; this latter-day Orpheus brought civilization even to the migrant tribes of the New World. In speaking of the Indians, he always said: ‘These savage gentlemen, these savage ladies.’ He praised the agility of his pupils extravagantly: indeed, I have never seen such antics. Monsieur Violet, holding his little violin between chin and chest, tuned the fateful instrument; he cried in Iroquois: ‘To your places!’ And the whole party leapt about like a bunch of demons. Behold the genius of nations.

We also danced, therefore, on the ruins of Carthage. Having lived in Tunis just as one does in France, I will no longer pursue the daily record of my journal. I will discuss matters in general, and in the order in which they present themselves to my memory. But before speaking of Carthage and its ruins I must name the various people I met on the Barbary Coast. In addition to the French Consul, I often saw Monsieur Nijssen, the Dutch Consul (Antoine Nijssen: his father Arnold Hendrik Nijssen had also been consul); his brother-in-law, Monsieur Humbert (Jean Emile Humbert, who had married Thérèse Nijssen), a Dutch engineer-officer, was in command at La Goulette. It is with the latter that I visited the ruins of Carthage; I had much to praise myself for, regarding his kindness and courtesy. I also met Monsieur Lear (Tobias Lear), Consul of the United States. I was once recommended to General Washington in America. Monsieur Lear had occupied a place beside the great man (as Washington’s personal secretary): he was willing, in memory of my illustrious patron, to give me passage on a schooner belonging to the United States. This schooner landed me in Spain, as I will explain at the end of my itinerary. Finally, in Tunis, I met, as often at the legation as in the city, many young Frenchmen to whom my name was not entirely foreign. I must not forget the remainder of Monsieur Adanson’s interesting family (Jean-Baptiste Louis Adanson was dragoman and chancellor to the Consulate at Tunis. He had died in 1803. His brother was the eminent botanist Michel Adanson, who had died in Paris in August 1806).

If the multitude of travel writings wearies the author who wants to speak of Egypt and Judea these days, he will find an opposite embarrassment regarding the antiquities of Africa, due to the scarcity of documentation. There is no lack of Travels to Barbary, and I know thirty narratives concerning the kingdoms of Morocco, Algiers and Tunis. However, these narratives are inadequate. Among former Travels, we should note the Africa illustrata of Grammaye (Jean-Baptiste Gramaye) and the learned work of Shaw. The Missions of the Fathers of the Trinity and the Fathers of Mercy contain miracles of charity, but they do not speak, and have no reason to speak, of the Romans and Carthaginians. The Memoirs printed after Paul Lucas’ Voyages only contain the description of a civil war in Tunis. Shaw might have supplied what was lacking if he had extended his research to history, but unfortunately he only considers it in relation to geography. He barely touches, in passing, on the antiquities; Carthage, for example, occupies no more space than Tunis in his narrative. Among the travellers in more recent times, Lady Montague (Mary Wortley Montague), the Abbé Poiret (the naturalist Jean-Louis Marie Poiret), and Monsieur Desfontaines (the naturalist René-Louiche Desfontaines), mention a few words about Carthage, but without dwelling on the subject. In 1806, the year of my visit, a book with the title: Ragguaglio di alcuni monumenti di antichità ed arte, raccolti negli ultimi viaggi da un dilettante antiquario was published in Milan (by the archaeologist and numismatist Felice Carònni).

I think Carthage is dealt with in the book: I came upon the notice of it too late to obtain it from Italy. One might therefore say that the subject I am about to address is a new one; I will forge a new path; those who are more adept will follow.

Before speaking of Carthage, which is the sole object of interest here, we must first deal with Tunis. The city has almost retained its ancient name. The Greeks and Romans called it Tunes, and Diodorus adds the epithet White, Λευχόν because it is built on chalk hills: it is twelve miles from the ruins of Carthage, and almost at the edge of a lake whose water is salty. The lake communicates with the sea through a channel called La Goulette, and this channel is defended by a fort. Merchant vessels anchor beside the fort, where they can find shelter behind the pier of La Goulette, by paying a substantial anchorage fee.

Tunis,from the Saneeah Eftoor

‘Tunis,from the Saneeah Eftoor’
Belgium, the Rhine, Italy, Greece, and the Shores and Islands of the Mediterranean - George Newenham Wright, Thomas Allom, Leicester Silk Buckingham (p243, 1851)
The British Library

The Lake of Tunis may have served as a port for the fleets of the ancients; today, one of our boats would find it difficult to cross without going aground. One must take care to follow the main channel, indicated by piles driven into the mud. Abulfeda (Ishmail Abulfeda, the geographer and historian) noted an island in the lake which now serves as a lazaret (quarantine area). Travellers speak of the flamingos or phenicopters that animate this great pool of water, otherwise melancholy enough. When these beautiful birds fly in front of the sun, stretching out their necks before them and lengthening their legs behind, they look like arrows with rose-coloured fletching.

To reach Tunis, from the edge of the lake, one must cross terrain that serves the French as a promenade. The town is walled; and may be three miles in circumference, including the external suburb of Bled-el-Had-rah (the El Kadrah district). The houses are low; the streets, narrow; the shops, poor; the mosques, wretched. The people, who show themselves outside, infrequently, have something wild and haggard about them. Beneath the city gates one encounters those they call siddi or saints: they are Negroes and Negresses, quite naked, devoured by vermin, wallowing in their filth, and insolently eating the bread of charity. These vile creatures are under the immediate protection of Mahomet. European merchants, Turks enlisted at Smyrna, degenerate Moors, renegades and captives, compose the rest of the population.

The countryside around Tunis is pleasant: it reveals large plains planted with wheat and bordered by hills, shaded by olives and carob trees. An impressive modern aqueduct traverses a valley behind the town. The Bey has his country house at the end of this valley. From Tunis itself, one sees, to the south, the hills that I mentioned. To the east are the mountains of Mamelife (Hammam-Lif: the mountains are Jebel Resass): mountains singularly fractured, of a strange shape, at the foot of which lie the hot springs known to the ancients. To the west and north you can see the sea, the port of La Goulette, and the ruins of Carthage.

Ruins at Sbeitlah, (The Ancient Sufetula) Tunis

‘Ruins at Sbeitlah, (The Ancient Sufetula) Tunis’
Belgium, the Rhine, Italy, Greece, and the Shores and Islands of the Mediterranean - George Newenham Wright, Thomas Allom, Leicester Silk Buckingham (p513, 1851)
The British Library

The Tunisians however are less cruel and more civilized than the people of Algiers. They received the Moors of Andalusia, who live in the village of Thuburbo, thirty-six miles from Tunis, on the Mejerdah River (the Bagrada of antiquity, beside which Regulus killed the famous snake.) The current Bey is a clever man: he is trying to extricate himself from dependence on Algiers, to which Tunis has submitted since the conquest the Algerians made in 1757. This ruler speaks Italian, talks spiritedly, and understands European politics better than most Orientals. For the rest, we know Tunis was attacked by Saint Louis in 1270 and captured by Charles V in 1535. Since the death of Saint Louis is part of the history of Carthage, I will speak of it elsewhere. As for Charles V, he defeated the famous Barbarossa, and restored the king of Tunis to his throne, while obliging him however to pay a tribute to Spain: in that regard, one can consult the work of Robertson (William Robertson: History of Charles V: Book 5). Charles V retained the fort of La Goulette, but the Turks re-took it in 1574.

I will say nothing of the Tunis of the ancients, because we will soon see it figure in the wars of Rome and Carthage.

One further thing; I was presented, at Tunis, with a manuscript that treats of the current state of this kingdom, its government, commerce, revenues, army, and caravans. I have no wish to profit from this manuscript; I am ignorant of its author; but whoever he is it is only just that he receives the honour due to his work. I will give this excellent Memoir at the end of the Itinerary (the memoir truly deserved to gain the attention of critics, yet none noticed it). I now turn to the history and ruins of Carthage.

In the year 883BC, Dido, forced to flee her native land, arrived in Africa. Carthage, founded by this wife of Sichaeus, thus owed its origin to one of these tragic events that mark the birth of nations, and which seem the seed and presage of future evil, the fruit more or less delayed of all human society. We know the happy anachronisms of the Aeneid. Such is the privilege of genius that the poetic woes of Dido have become part of the glory of Carthage. At the sight of the ruins of this city, we look for the flames of the funeral pyre; we seem to hear the imprecations of a woman rejected; we admire those powerful fantasies that occupy the imagination, in a place filled with the grandest memories of history.

Certainly, when a dying monarch calls from the walls of Carthage to those gods hostile to Rome, and to hospitality’s divine avengers; when Venus, deaf to the vows of love, fulfils prayers of hatred, refusing Dido a descendant of Aeneas, yet granting her Hannibal; such wonders, expressed in fine language, can no longer be passed by in silence. History takes its place, then, among the Muses, and fiction becomes as weighty as truth.

After the death of Dido, the new colony adopted a form of government whose laws Aristotle praised (Politics: 2:11). The skilful balance of power between the two chief magistrates, the nobility, and the people, had this peculiarity that it endured for seven centuries without being destroyed: it was hardly shaken by popular insurrections and various conspiracies by the nobles. As civil wars, the source of public crime, are nevertheless the mothers of particular virtue, the republic gained more than it lost to these storms. If its destiny on earth was not as enduring as that of her rival, at least, at Carthage, freedom only succumbed when the motherland did so.

But as the freest nations are also the most passionate, we find that before the First Punic War the Carthaginians were engaged in shameful warfare. Carthage enchained those Spanish tribes whose courage was unable to defend their integrity; she allied herself with Xerxes, and lost a battle against Gelo, on the very day the Spartans perished at Thermopylae. Men, despite their prejudices, make such a fuss over noble sentiments that no one thinks of the eighty thousand Carthaginians slaughtered on the plains of Sicily, while the whole world speaks of those three hundred Spartans who died obeying the sacred laws of their country. It is the greatness of the cause, not the means, which leads to true fame, and honour has been in all ages the most enduring feature of glory.

After fighting in turn Agathocles of Syracuse, in Africa, and Pyrrhus, in Sicily, the Carthaginians took up arms against the Roman Republic. The causes of the First Punic War were trivial; but that war led Regulus (Marcus Atilius Regulus) to the gates of Carthage.

The Romans, not wishing to interrupt this great man’s run of victories, refused to send the Consuls Flaccus (Quintus Fulvius Flaccus, Consul 264BC, and Censor 231BC) and M. Aemilius (Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, Consul 232BC) to take his place; ordering him to remain in Africa as Proconsul. He complained of this honour; he wrote to the senate and begged them to remove him from command of the army; a matter of importance, as far as Regulus was concerned, demanded his presence in Italy. He owned a seven-acre field at Pupinium: the man who farmed this field having died, the farmer’s servant had fled with the horse and the agricultural implements. Regulus informed the senators that if his farm remained fallow, it would be unable to support his wife and children. The Senate ordered that Regulus’s field be cultivated at public expense; that money should be granted from the Treasury to replace the stolen goods, and that the Proconsul’s wife and children should be fed, during his absence, at the expense of the Roman people. In rightful admiration of this simplicity, Livy cries: ‘Oh, how preferable virtue is to wealth! The latter vanishes with those who possessed it; Regulus’s poverty is venerated yet!’

Regulus, marching from victory to victory, soon seized Tunis; the taking of that city provoked consternation among the Carthaginians; they asked the proconsul for peace. This Roman farmer proved that it is easier to drive a plough after winning victories than to direct glittering prosperity with a firm hand: the truly great man is created above all to shine in adversity; in success, he seems lost, and a stranger to fortune. Regulus proposed such hard conditions to his enemies, that they were forced to continue the war.

During these negotiations, fate led an individual to cross the seas who changed the course of events: a Spartan named Xantippe arrived to delay the fall of Carthage; he gave battle to the Romans beneath the walls of Tunis, destroyed their army, made Regulus a prisoner, re-embarked, and disappeared without leaving any further trace of himself to history (some authors accuse the Carthaginians of having killed him, through jealousy of his fame, but that remains unproven).

Regulus brought to Carthage, experienced the most inhuman treatment; they forced him to expiate his country’s harsh victories. Could those who, with such arrogance, paraded behind their chariots kings dragged from their thrones, women, and weeping children, hope that anyone should respect a citizen of Rome in chains? Carthage sued for peace once more; she sent ambassadors to Italy: Regulus accompanied them. His conquerors made him give his word that he would return in chains if the negotiations failed to achieve a fortunate outcome: it was hoped he would argue strongly for a peace that would return him to his native land.

Regulus, reaching the gates of Rome, refused to enter the city. There was an ancient law which forbade any foreigner to introduce the ambassadors of an enemy nation into the senate: Regulus, regarding himself as an envoy of the Carthaginians, revived the ancient custom on that occasion. The senators were therefore obliged to assemble outside the city walls. Regulus informed them that he came, by order of his masters, to ask for peace with the Roman people or an exchange of prisoners.

The ambassadors of Carthage, after stating the object of their mission, retired: Regulus wished to follow them, but the senators asked him to remain during their deliberations.

Pressed to give his advice, he expressed, forcibly, all the reasons why Rome should continue the war against Carthage. The senators, admiring his firmness, desired to save such a citizen: the Pontifex Maximus argued that he might be released from the oaths he had made.

‘Follow the advice I gave you,’ said the illustrious captive, in a voice which astonished the assembly, ‘and forget about Regulus: I shall not remain in Rome, after being a slave in Carthage. I will not bring the wrath of the gods upon you. I promised the enemy to surrender myself into their hands once more if you reject peace; I will keep my oath. Jupiter is not deceived by vain expiations: the blood of bulls and sheep cannot erase a lie, and sacrilege is punished sooner or later.

I am not ignorant of the fate that awaits me; but a crime would destroy my soul: pain can only break my body. Besides, there are no ills for those who know how to suffer; if they exceed nature’s powers of resistance, death releases us from them. Fathers Elect; cease to pity me: I dispose of myself, and nothing can make me change these sentiments. I shall return to Carthage; I will do my duty, and leave the rest to the gods.’

Marcus Atilius Regulus, Departing from Rome

‘Marcus Atilius Regulus, Departing from Rome’
Ludwig Gottlieb Portman, Jacobus Buys, 1794
The Rijksmuseum

Regulus gave a finishing touch to his magnanimity; in order to diminish the interest taken in him, and to escape vain compassion, he told the senators that the Carthaginians had made him drink a slow poison before leaving prison. ‘Thus,’ he added, ‘you will only be ridding me of a few moments of life that are not worth the trouble of being purchased by means of perjury.’ He rose, and left Rome without uttering another word, his gaze fixed on the ground, evading his wife and children; either because he was afraid of being moved by their farewells, or because, as a slave of Carthage, he deemed himself unworthy of the embraces of a Roman matron. He ended his life in dreadful torment, if, that is, the silence of Polybius and Diodorus on the subject does not outweigh the account offered by Roman historians. Regulus was a memorable example of what a sacred oath and the love of country can work in a brave soul. What if masculine pride plays some part in the resolution formed by such a spirit; to punishing oneself for having been defeated, is to be worthy of victory.

The Steadfastness of Marcus Atilius Regulus

‘The Steadfastness of Marcus Atilius Regulus’
Pieter de Jode (I), 1590 - 1632
The Rijksmuseum

After twenty-four years of fighting, a peace treaty ended the First Punic War. But the Romans were no longer a nation of farmers led by a senate of kings, erecting altars to Moderation and Lesser Fortune: they were men who felt they were made to command, men whom ambition drove incessantly to commit injustice. With a frivolous pretext, they invaded Sardinia, and congratulated themselves on achieving victory, despite the peace treaty, over the Carthaginians. They did not know that the avenger of violated faith was already at the gates of Saguntum, and that he would soon appear on the hills of Rome: here began the Second Punic War.

Hannibal seems to me to have been the greatest general of antiquity: if he is not the one we love most, he is the one who most astonishes us. He had neither Alexander’s heroism nor Caesar’s universal talent; but he surpassed both as a master of war. Ordinarily it is the love of country or glory that leads heroes to perform wonders: Hannibal was led solely by hatred. Possessed by the spirit of a new nation, he left the borders of Spain with an army composed of twenty different races. He traversed the Pyrenees and Gaul, subdued the enemy nations in his path, crossed rivers, and reached the foot of the Alps. Those mountains without roads, defended by barbarians, opposed their obstacles in vain to Hannibal. He descended, from their icy summits, upon Italy, crushed the first consular army on the banks of the Ticino, struck a second blow at Trebia, a third at Lake Trasimene (Trasimeno), and with a fourth stroke of his sword seemed to have obliterated Rome on the plain of Cannae (216BC). For sixteen years he made war, in the heart of Italy, unassisted; during those sixteen years, he revealed only a single fault, of the kind that decide the fate of empires, and which seem so alien to the nature of greatness, that one can reasonably attribute them to the designs of Providence.

Hannibal Crossing the Alps

‘Hannibal Crossing the Alps’
Antony van der Does, Nicolas de Liemaker, Peter Paul Rubens, 1635 - 1636
The Rijksmuseum

Tireless among dangers, possessed of inexhaustible resources, subtle, ingenious, eloquent, learned himself, and the author of several books, Hannibal possessed all the distinction that belongs to superiority of mind and strength of character, but lacked the noblest qualities of the spirit: cold, cruel, heartless, born to overthrow and not to found empires, he was much inferior in magnanimity to his rival.

The name of Scipio Africanus is one of the greatest in all history. The friend of the gods, the generous protector of misfortune and beauty, some of Scipio’s traits resemble those of our former knights. With him begins that Roman urbanity, which ornamented the minds of Cicero, Pompey, and Caesar, and which in those illustrious citizens replaced the rusticity of Cato and Fabricius.

Bust of Scipio Africanus

‘Bust of Scipio Africanus’
Paulus Pontius, unknown, 1638
The Rijksmuseum

Hannibal and Scipio met on the field of Zama (202BC); the one famous for his victories, the other for his virtues; both worthy of representing their mighty nations, and of disputing the empire of the world.

On the departure of Scipio’s fleet for Africa, the shores of Sicily were crowded with a vast host of soldiers and civilians. Four hundred transport vessels and fifty triremes filled the roads of Lilybaeum (Marsala). Three lanterns signalled the galley of Laelius, admiral of the fleet. Other vessels, depending on their size, carried one or two lamps. The world's eyes were fixed on this expedition designed to draw off Hannibal from Italy and decide the ultimate fate of Rome and Carthage. The fifth and sixth legions, who had been involved at the battle of Cannae, burnt with desire to ravage the homes of the victor. The general especially attracted attention: his devotion to the gods, his exploits in Spain, where he had avenged the death of his father and uncle, his plan to carry the war into Africa, a project that he had conceived alone, contrary to the opinion of the great Fabius; and lastly, the favour men accord to bold enterprises, to glory, beauty, and youth, made Scipio the object of all prayers and hopes.

The day of departure soon arrived. At dawn, Scipio appeared on the bridge of Laelius’ galley, in full view of the fleet and the multitude clothing the heights ashore. A herald raised his sceptre and commanded silence:

‘Gods and goddesses of the earth,’ Scipio cried, ‘and you, gods of the sea, accord this enterprise a fortunate outcome! May my plans reflect glory upon me and upon the people of Roman! Filled with joy, let us return to our homes one day, laden with enemy spoils; and may Carthage experience the ills with which she menaced my country!’

That said, they slew the sacrifice; Scipio threw its smoking entrails into the sea; the sails were unfurled to the sound of trumpets; and a favourable wind carried the entire fleet far from Sicilian shores.

The following day the coast of Africa was visible, and the promontory of Mercury (Cape Bon: Watan el-kibli); night fell, and the fleet was forced to drop anchor. On the return of daylight, seeing the coast ahead, Scipio asked the name of the nearest headland. ‘That is Cape Good,’ replied the pilot. At this auspicious name, the general, welcoming Roman good-fortune, ordered the prow of his galley to head towards the place designated by the gods.

The landing was accomplished without difficulty; consternation spread throughout the towns and countryside; the roads were filled with men, women and children, fleeing with their herds: it must have seemed like one of these great migrations of peoples, when entire nations, through the wrath, or by the will, of heaven, abandon the graves of their ancestors. Terror seized Carthage: there was a universal call to arms; the gates were shut; soldiers were assigned to the walls, as if the Romans were already prepared for an assault.

But Scipio had sent his fleet to Utica; he himself marched overland to that city, planning to besiege it: Massinissa joined him with two thousand cavalry.

That King of Numidia, had at first allied himself to the Carthaginians, and had fought the Romans in Spain; after a series of extraordinary adventures, losing and regaining his kingdom several times, he found himself a fugitive at the moment when Scipio landed in Africa. Syphax, a prince of the Gaetuli, who had married Sophonisba, the daughter of Hasdrubal Gisco, had just taken possession of Massinissa’s kingdom. The latter threw himself into the arms of Scipio and the Romans owed to him, in part, the success of their arms.

After a series of fortunate encounters, Scipio laid siege to Utica. The Carthaginians, commanded by Hasdrubal and Syphax, formed two separate camps in sight of the Roman entrenchments. Scipio managed to set fire to these two camps, whose tents were fashioned of reed mats in the Numidian manner. Forty thousand men thus perished in a single night. The victor, who on this occasion took a prodigious quantity of arms, immolated them in honour of Vulcan.

The Carthaginians were in no way discouraged: they ordered a vast military levy. Syphax, moved by the tears of Sophonisba, remained loyal to the vanquished, and offered his life again for the homeland of the woman he loved with passion. Ever favoured by the Heavens, Scipio defeated the enemy armies, took the towns dependent on them, captured Tunis, and threatened Carthage with utter destruction. Driven onwards by his fatal love, Syphax dared to reappear before the victors, with courage deserving of a better fate. Abandoned by his own on the battlefield, he threw himself alone upon the Roman squadrons: he hoped that his soldiers, ashamed of abandoning their king, would turn about and die alongside him: but the cowards continued their flight; and Syphax, whose horse was killed by a spear-thrust, fell alive into the hands of Massinissa.

It was a matter of great joy to the latter prince, to take prisoner the man who had stolen his crown from him; some time later, the fortunes of war placed Sophonisba, the wife of Syphax in Massinissa’s power. She threw herself at the feet of the victor.

‘I am your prisoner: such is the will of the gods and the effect of your courage and good-fortune; but by your knees, which I embrace, by this victorious hand that you allow me to touch, I implore you, O Massinissa, take me as your servant, save me from the horror of becoming the prey of some barbarian. Alas, it was but a moment ago that I, as you, was surrounded by the majesty of kings! Consider, you can not deny your race; you share the fact of being a Numidian with Syphax. My husband left the palace due to the gods’ anger: may you enter it under happier auspices! As a citizen of Carthage, as a daughter of Hasdrubal, judge what I may expect from the Romans. If I cannot remain as a slave of a prince born in my own country, if death alone can free me from the stranger’s yoke, then grant me that death: I will count it among your blessed gifts.’

Massinissa was moved by Sophonisba’s tears and her fate: she was in the full bloom of youth and of incomparable beauty. Her supplications, says Livy (History of Rome: 30.12), were less prayers than embraces. Massinissa, vanquished, promised her everything, and no less passionate than Syphax, made a wife of his prisoner.

Syphax, in chains, was presented to Scipio. This great man, who had once seen enthroned the man whom he now contemplated at his feet, was touched with compassion. Syphax had been an ally of the Romans; he blamed his defection on Sophonisba. ‘Those fatal wedding torches,’ he said, ‘reduced my palace to ashes; but one thing consoles me: the fury that destroyed my house will occupy my enemy’s bed; she will guarantee Massinissa a like fate to mine.’

Syphax thus hid, beneath the guise of hatred, the jealousy that drew those words from him, for that prince still loved Sophonisba. Scipio was not without uneasiness; he feared lest this daughter of Hasdrubal possess the power over Massinissa that she had exercised over Syphax. Massinissa’s passion seemed already violent in the extreme: he hastened to celebrate his marriage before he had relinquished his weapons; impatient to be united to Sophonisba, he lit the wedding torches before the household gods of Syphax, before those gods used to granting prayers against the Romans. Massinissa returned to meet Scipio; the latter, while praising the King of Numidia, issued a few minor reproaches regarding his conduct towards Sophonisba. Massinissa then recovered himself, and, fearful of incurring the displeasure of the Romans, sacrificed his love to his ambition. They heard him groaning in the depths of his tent, struggling against those generous feelings a man cannot wrest from his heart without violence. He summoned the officer charged with guarding the king’s poison chest: poison was what African princes employed to deliver them from life when they had fallen into calamities without remedy: thus, the crown, which amongst them was not sheltered from the whims of fortune, was at least safe from scorn. Massinissa mixed poison in a cup and sent it to Sophonisba. Then, addressing the officer charged with his sad message, said: ‘Tell the Queen that if I were the master, Massinissa would never be separated from Sophonisba. The gods of the Romans order otherwise. I have at least kept one of my promises: she shall not fall alive into the hands of her enemies, if she submits to her fate as a citizen of Carthage, daughter of Hasdrubal, and wife of Syphax and Massinissa.’

The officer went to Sophonisba, and communicated the king’s orders. ‘I welcome this nuptial gift with joy,’ she said, ‘since indeed a husband can grant his wife no other sort of present. Tell your master that in losing my life, I would at least have preserved my honour, if I had not married Massinissa on the eve of my death.’ She then swallowed the poison.

It was in these circumstances that the Carthaginians recalled Hannibal from Italy: he shed tears of rage; he accused his countrymen; he reproached the gods; he blamed himself for not having marched on Rome after the battle of Cannae. Never did a man, leaving his country to go into exile, feel more pain than Hannibal, tearing himself from a foreign land to return to his own native soil.

He landed on the coast of Africa, with those veteran soldiers who had, as he had, traversed Spain, Gaul, and Italy; who displayed more rods and axes (fasces) snatched from praetors, generals, and consuls, than all the magistrates of Rome had carried before them. Hannibal had been away from his homeland for thirty-six years: he left as a child, and had returned at an advanced age, as he himself told Scipio. What must the thoughts of that great man have been when he saw Carthage again, whose walls and people were almost strangers to him! Two of his brothers were dead; the companions of his childhood had vanished; generations had succeeded them; the temples filled with the ashes of the Romans were probably the only places Hannibal could recognize in that new Carthage. If its citizens had not been blind with envy, with what admiration would they have beheld that hero, who for thirty years had shed his blood for them in distant lands, and brought them inextinguishable glory! But when services rendered are so exceptional they exceed the bounds of understanding, they reap only ingratitude. Hannibal had the misfortune to be greater than the people amongst whom he was born, and his fate was to live and die on a foreign soil.

He led his army to Zama. Scipio pitched camp close to that of Hannibal. The Carthaginian general had a presentiment of the inconstancy of fortune; as he asked for an interview with the Roman general, in order to propose peace. A place for the rendezvous was agreed. When the two captains met, they remained silent, filled with admiration for one another. Hannibal finally spoke:

Meeting Between Hannibal and Scipio

‘Meeting Between Hannibal and Scipio’
Ludwig Gottlieb Portman, Jacobus Buys, 1796
The Rijksmuseum

‘Scipio, the gods have willed that your father was the first enemy general, in Italy, to whom I showed myself, weapons in hand; those same gods have ordered me today, to come here, unarmed, to request peace of his son. You have seen Carthaginians camped at the gates of Rome: the sound of your Roman camp is now heard within the very walls of Carthage. Leaving my country when only a child, I return full of days; long experience of good and evil fortune has taught me to judge things by reason and not by circumstance. The youth and happiness that have not yet forsaken you render you perhaps an enemy to repose: in prosperity one does not consider its opposite. You are the age I was at Cannae and Trasimene. See what I have been and, by my example, know the inconstancy of fate. He who speaks to you as a suppliant is that very Hannibal who, camped between the Tiber and the Teverone (Anio), and ready to storm Rome, deliberated on what he would do with your country. I sowed fear in the fields of your fathers, and I am reduced to begging you to save my country from such misery. Nothing is more uncertain than military success: a single instant may rob you of your glory and your hopes. To consent to peace is to be yourself the arbiter of your own destiny; to fight is to place your fate in the hands of the gods.’

To this considered speech, Scipio replied with more candour, but less eloquence: he rejected the peace proposals made to him by Hannibal as inadequate, and only battle remained. It is likely that the interests of his homeland were not the sole reason that prompted the Roman general to break with the Carthaginian, and that Scipio could not resist the desire to measure himself against Hannibal.

The day after this meeting, two armies, composed of veterans, led by the two greatest generals of the two largest nations of the world, advanced to contest, not the walls of Rome and Carthage, but the empire of the world, the reward for winning for this last battle.

Scipio placed spearmen in the front row, the principes (swordsmen) in the second, and the triarii (heavy infantry) in the rear. He broke the lines, with equally sized spaces, in order to open a passage for the Carthaginian elephants. The velites (light infantry) stationed in these gaps, would, depending on events, fall back behind the heavy infantry, or launch a hail of arrows and spears at the elephants. Laelius covered the left wing of the army with the Latin cavalry, while Massinissa commanded the Numidian horse on the right.

Hannibal ranged eighty elephants along the front of his army, whose first line was composed of Ligurian, Gauls, Balearics and Moors; the Carthaginians were in the second rank; behind them, the Bruttians formed a kind of reserve, which the general considered of little account. Hannibal’s cavalry faced the Roman cavalry; the Carthaginians, Laelius; and the Numidians, Massinissa. The Romans were first to sound the charge. They gave such a loud cry at that moment, that some of the elephants on the left wing of Hannibal’s army bolted in fright, throwing the Numidian horsemen into confusion. Massinissa, seeing their disorder, fell upon them, and put them to flight. The rest of the elephants, that had charged the Romans, were thrust back by the velites, and caused the right wing of the Carthaginians the same problem as the left. Thus, after the first engagement, Hannibal was left without cavalry and open on both flanks: powerful reasons, hidden from history, probably prevented him from contemplating retreat.

The Battle of Zama Between Scipio and Hannibal

‘The Battle of Zama Between Scipio and Hannibal’
Cornelis Cort, Giulio Romano, Antonio Lafreri, 1567
The Rijksmuseum

The infantry now fighting hand to hand, the soldiers of Scipio easily broke the front rank of the enemy, which consisted only of mercenaries. The Romans and Carthaginians found themselves face to face. The front line, in order to reach the second, being obliged to traverse heaps of corpses, broke rank, and were on the point of losing the victory. Scipio saw the danger and changed his order of battle. He moved the principes and triarii to the front, and placed spearmen to right and left; by this means he overcame the ranks of Hannibal’s army, he having already lost his cavalry, and the front line of his foot soldiers. The Carthaginian veterans sustained the glory they had acquired in so many battles. Among them, marked by their crowns, were common soldiers who had killed generals and consuls with their own hands. But the Roman cavalry, returning from pursuit of the enemy, charged these veteran companions of Hannibal from behind. Surrounded on all sides, they fought to the last breath, and only surrendered their colours with their lives. Hannibal himself, after attempting everything you might expect of a great general and an intrepid soldier, escaped along with a few horsemen.

Left as master of the field, Scipio gave high praise to the skill that his rival had shown during the combat. Was that from generosity or pride? Perhaps both, since Scipio was the conqueror and Hannibal the conquered.

The Battle of Zama ended the Second Punic war. Carthage sued for peace, and was only granted it on terms which foreshadowed her ruin. Hannibal, not daring to trust the good-faith of an ungrateful people, left his homeland. He wandered in foreign courts, seeking everywhere those where enemies to the Romans, and everywhere pursued by them: giving weak kings advice they were unable to follow, and learning by his own experience that to crowned hosts one should reveal neither glory nor misfortune. They say he met Scipio at Ephesus, and that in talking with his conqueror, the latter said: ‘In your opinion, Hannibal, who was the greatest general ever?’ – ‘Alexander,’ replied the Carthaginian, – ‘And the second greatest?’ Scipio asked. – ‘Pyrrhus.’ – ‘And the third?’ – ‘Myself.’ – ‘What if you had conquered me, then?’ Scipio asked, laughing. – ‘I would then have been placed above Alexander,’ said Hannibal: a comment which proves that the illustrious exile had learnt the art of flattery at the various courts, and possessed at the same time too much modesty and too much pride.

In the end, the Romans could not bring themselves to let Hannibal live. Alone, exiled and unhappy, he seemed to counterbalance the fortunes of the Capitol. They were humiliated to think that the world possessed a man whom they had conquered yet who was not afraid of their greatness. They sent an embassy, into the depths of Asia, to demand of King Prusias (Prusias I Cholus, of Bithynia) the death of his suppliant. Prusias had the cowardice to surrender Hannibal. Then that great man swallowed poison, saying: ‘Let us deliver the Romans from the fear that an old exile, betrayed and helpless, causes them.’

Hannibal's Suicide

‘Hannibal's Suicide’
Ludwig Gottlieb Portman, 1796
The Rijksmuseum

Scipio experienced like Hannibal the ills associated with glory. He ended his days at Liternum, in voluntary exile. It has been remarked, that Hannibal, Philopoemen, and Scipio died at almost the same moment, all three victims of the ingratitude of their country. The African had this well-known inscription engraved on his tomb:



Yet, after all, proscription and exile, which may cause common names to be forgotten, attract the gaze towards illustrious ones: happy virtue dazzles us; persecuted, it charms our eyes.

Carthage herself did not long survive Hannibal. Scipio Nasica (a cousin of Scipio Africanus), and the wisest senators, wished to retain a rival to Rome; but one cannot alter the destinies of empires. The blind hatred of old Cato prevailed, and the Romans, under the most frivolous of pretexts, began the Third Punic War.

First they used flagrant treachery to deprive their enemies of weapons. The Carthaginians, having sued unsuccessfully for peace, resolved to bury themselves amidst the ruins of their city. The Consuls Marcius Censorinus and Manius Manilius soon appeared beneath the walls of Carthage. Before laying siege to the city (148BC), they had recourse to two formidable rites: the evocation of the tutelary deities of the city, and the dedication of Hannibal’s homeland to the infernal gods.

‘You, God or Goddess, who protects the people and the republic of Carthage, spirit to whom the defence of this city is entrusted, abandon your ancient dwelling place; come and inhabit our temples. Let Rome and our sacrifices be more acceptable to you than the city and sacrifices of the Carthaginians!’

Turning then to the rite of dedication:

‘You, Pluto; you, baneful Jupiter; and you, divine Manes, strike the city of Carthage with terror; drag its people down to the underworld. I will devote the heads of our enemies to you, their goods, their towns, their fields; fulfil my prayer, and I will sacrifice three black ewes. Earth, mother of men, and you, Jupiter, I call on you to witness this.’

However, the consuls were repulsed with force. The spirit of Hannibal awoke in the besieged city. The women cut off their hair; they made bowstrings from it and rope for the military engines. Scipio, the second Africanus (Scipio Aemilianus Africanus), was serving at that time as a tribune in the Roman army. A few elderly men who had known the first Scipio in Africa were still alive, including the celebrated Massinissa. The Numidian king, who was over eighty years old, invited the young Scipio to his court; it is on the basis of their assumed meeting (Scipio had met Massinissa before. The later interview did not take place, since Massinissa was already dead when Scipio arrived at the court) that Cicero wrote that fine section of his De Re Publica, known as the Dream of Scipio. He has Aemilianus speak thus to Laelius, Philus, Manilius and Scaevola:

‘When I came to him, Massinissa, now an old man, embraced me with tears, and shortly afterward gazed at the heavens and said: “I thank you, sovereign Sun, and all of you lesser lights of heaven, that before I leave this life I have beheld, within my kingdom and beneath this roof, this Publius Cornelius Scipio, whose very name renews my strength, so utterly inseparable from my thoughts is the memory of that best and most formidable of men who first bore it.” In my sleep, I suppose in consequence of our conversation; since often our thoughts and speech by day have in sleep an effect akin to that which Ennius describes in his own case, regarding his dream of Homer, about whom in his waking hours he was perpetually thinking and talking; Africanus appeared to me, with an aspect that reminded me more of a statue of him than of his real face. I shuddered when I saw him. But he said: “Retain your presence of mind, Scipio; have no fear, and commit to memory what I shall say to you:

Do you see that city, which through me was made subject to the Roman people, but now renews its old hostility, and will not stay quiet,” – and from a high place full of stars, shining and splendid, he showed me Carthage – “against which you, being little more than a common soldier, are about to fight? In two years from now you, as Consul, will overthrow this city, and obtain in your own right the surname which up to this time you hold as an inheritance from me.... Know that for all who shall have preserved, nurtured, and enlarged their country, there is a fixed and sure place in heaven where they enjoy eternal happiness; for to the Supreme God who governs this whole universe nothing is more pleasing than those companies and unions of men called cities. Of these the rulers and preservers, going hence, return hither….I see you now, fixing your eyes on the dwelling-place and home of mankind, and if it seems to you small, as it truly is, then look always at heavenly things, and despise the earthly. For what reputation, what fame worth seeking, can you obtain from the speech of men? You will see that the inhabited places of the earth are scattered and of small extent, that between the spots – so to speak – that men inhabit there are vast solitary tracts interposed….To speak only of regions, known and cultivated, shall your name even cross the Caucasus, which you have in sight, or pass beyond the Ganges? Who, in those lands that lie to the extreme east or west, or under northern or southern skies, shall ever hear your name? All this determines, as you must see, within what narrow bounds your fame may seek to spread. Then, too, as regards the very persons who tell of your renown, how long will they speak of it? Even if the generations wished to transmit our praise from father to son, in unbroken succession, yet because of devastation by flood and fire, which will of necessity take place at fated intervals, we must fail of attaining not only eternal fame, but even that of very long duration…Therefore, were you to renounce the hope of returning to this place, where all things exist which are great and which excellent men can desire, of what worth would that human glory be which scarce extends to the smallest part of a single year? Determine to gaze on high, and behold continuously this dwelling-place, this eternal home, and you will neither give yourself to the flattery of the people, nor place your hope of well-being on the rewards men can bestow. Let Virtue herself by her own charms lead you to true honour.” Africanus fell silent, and I awoke’ (an edited version of Cicero’s: The Dream of Scipio).

This noble fiction written by a Roman consul, called the Father of his Country, does not trivialise history. If history is designed to preserve great names, and thoughts of genius, then great names and thoughts may be found here (the dream is an imitation of a passage from Plato’s Republic).

Scipio Aemilianus, appointed Consul by the wish of the people, was commanded to continue the siege of Carthage (which ended in 146BC). He first took the lower city, which bore the name of Megara or Magara (I will describe Carthage when speaking of its ruins). He then sought to close off the outer harbour by means of a causeway. The Carthaginians opened another exit from the port, and appeared out at sea, to the great astonishment of the Romans. They might have set fire to Scipio’s fleet, but the fatal hour had arrived for Carthage, and confusion seized the councils of that unfortunate city.

She was defended by a certain Hasdrubal (Hasdrubal the Boeotarch), a cruel man, who commanded thirty thousand mercenaries, and who treated the citizens as harshly as he did his enemies. The winter having passed in the manoeuvres I have described, in the spring Scipio attacked the inner harbour called the Cothon.

Soon mastering the walls of this port, he advanced into the great square of the city. Three streets opened on the square, and ascended the steep citadel known as the Byrsa. The people barricaded themselves in the houses along these streets: Scipio was obliged to besiege and capture each house in turn. The conflict lasted six days and six nights. One group of Roman soldiers forced the Carthaginians to retreat, while another group was occupied in dragging away, with hooks, the bodies crammed into the houses, or thrown into the streets. Many of the living were hurled, indifferently, into the grave-pits with the dead.

On the seventh day, a deputation appeared, dressed as supplicants; they merely sought the lives of those who had taken refuge in the citadel. Scipio granted them their request, with the exception of the Roman deserters who had gone over to the Carthaginians. Fifty thousand people; men and women, old and young, left the Byrsa.

At the summit of the citadel, stood a temple dedicated to Aesculapius. The deserters, numbering nine hundred in all, entrenched themselves behind the walls of this temple. Hasdrubal was in command; he had with him his wife and two children. The desperate band resisted the efforts of the Romans for some time, but driven out of the temple forecourt little by little, they shut themselves in the temple itself. Then Hasdrubal spurred on by love of life, secretly abandoning his companions in misfortune, his wife and children, went olive branch in hand, to embrace the knees of Scipio. Scipio promptly displayed him to the deserters. The latter, filled with rage, set fire to the temple, hurling dreadful imprecations at Hasdrubal.

As the flames began to emerge from the building, a woman appeared, dressed in her finest clothes, and holding the hands of her two children; it was Hasdrubal’s wife. She cast her glance over her enemies surrounding the citadel, and recognizing Scipio cried: ‘Roman, I do not ask Heaven to take revenge on you; you are merely following the rules of war: but I pray that you, and the gods of my country, may punish that traitor who has betrayed his wife, his children, his country and his gods! And as for you, Hasdrubal, Rome is already preparing the punishment for your crimes! Unworthy leader of Carthage, you are set to draw the chariot of your conqueror, while this fire shall save me, and my children, from slavery!’

With that, she killed her children, threw them into the flames, and leapt after them. All the deserters followed her example.

Thus, the city of Dido, Hannibal, and Sophonisba perished. Florus (Publius Annius Florus) would have us judge the magnitude of the disaster by the fire, which lasted seventeen whole days. Scipio wept over the fate of Carthage. At the sight of the fire that consumed the once flourishing city, he contemplated the rise and fall of empires, and uttered these lines of Homer, applying them to Rome’s future fate: ‘A time will come when the sacred walls of Troy, and warlike Priam and all his people, will perish.’ (Homer: Iliad IV:163-165) Corinth was destroyed the same year as Carthage, and a child in Corinth repeated, as Scipio had, a passage of Homer, on seeing his city turned to ashes. What was that man, whom all antiquity called to the fall of states and the spectacle of the calamity of nations, as if nothing could be great and tragic without his presence; as if all human suffering were under the protection and empire of that poet of Hector and Troy!

Scipio Mourns Carthage

‘Scipio Mourns Carthage’
Ludwig Gottlieb Portman, 1797
The Rijksmuseum

Carthage was not so ruined that a vengeful god failed to emerge from her ashes: Rome lost her way; she witnessed civil war in her midst; that corruption and discord began on the Punic shore. Firstly, Scipio, the destroyer of Carthage, was assassinated by those close to him; various children of King Massinissa, who had himself aided the Roman triumph, slew themselves on Sophonisba’s grave; the spoils of Syphax served Jugurtha by corrupting and enthralling the descendants of Regulus. ‘A city for sale,’ exclaimed that African prince on leaving the Capitol, ‘and doomed to swift destruction, if a buyer can be found!’ (Sallust: Jugurtha: 35.10) Soon Jugurtha forced a Roman army to pass beneath the yoke, almost within sight of Carthage, and performed that shameful ceremony as if to delight the shade of Hannibal: he fell, at last, into the hands of Gaius Marius, and lost his life immediately after Marius’s triumph in Rome (104BC). The lictors despoiling him, and tearing off his earrings, threw him naked into a pit, the king thus justifying, to his dying breath, all he had said of Roman greed.

But the victory obtained over that grand-son of Massinissa created that jealousy between Sulla and Marius that shrouded Rome in mourning. Forced to flee his rival, Marius sought refuge beside the tombs of Hanno and Hamilcar. A slave of Sextilius, the Prefect of Africa, brought Marius the order to leave the ruins that served as his retreat: ‘Go tell your lord,’ replied the formidable consul, ‘that you have seen Marius, a fugitive, seated amidst the ruins of Carthage.’ (Plutarch: Marius: 40:3-4)

‘Marius and Carthage,’ a poet and a historian claim, ‘consoled each other for their fate; both fallen from fortune, they forgave the gods.’ (Lucan: Pharsalia: II, in Jean-François Marmontel’s translation)

Roman freedom finally expired at the feet of enslaved and ruined Carthage. Vengeance was complete: it was a Scipio (Metellus Scipio) who died, in Africa, after the battle with Caesar (Thapsus, 46BC), and his corpse was the sport of those waves that bore the victorious vessels of his ancestors.

But Cato was yet alive, in Utica, and with him Rome and freedom still stood. Caesar approached: Cato decided that the gods of the country had forsaken him. He asked for his sword; a child brought it to him; Cato drew it from its sheath, touched the point, and said: ‘I am my own master!’ (Plutarch: Cato the Younger: 70.1) Then he lay down, and after twice reading through Plato’s dialogue on the immortality of the soul (Phaedo), fell asleep. The dawn chorus woke him: he though it the right moment to exchange a life lived for freedom for the life immortal: he dealt himself a wound in the stomach. He fell from his couch, struggling against death. They ran to him, they bound his wound: he recovered from his swoon, tore the bandage and rent his innards. He preferred to die for a sacred cause than live under the rule of a great man.

The destiny of republican Rome being accomplished, men and laws having altered, the fate of Carthage changed similarly. Tiberius Gracchus had already established a colony within the abandoned perimeter of Dido’s city; but this colony can scarcely have flourished, since Marius found a Carthage of huts and ruins. Julius Caesar, when in Africa, had a dream: he thought he saw, in sleep, a large army, calling out to him and shedding tears (Appian: Punic Wars: XX:136). Accordingly, he conceived the project of rebuilding Corinth and Carthage, whose armies the dream had apparently offered him. Augustus, who partook also of the horrors of bloody revolution, entirely rebuilt them, so accomplishing Caesar’s aim. Carthage rose from its ruins, and Strabo (XVII:3:15) assures us that by his day it was flourishing. It became the metropolis of Africa, and was famous for its courtesy and its schools. In turn it gave birth to great and fortunate spirits. To it, Tertullian addressed his Apologeticus pro Christianis. But, always cruel in her religion, Carthage persecuted the innocent Christians, as she had once burned children in honour of Saturn. She martyred the illustrious Cyprian, who oversaw a re-flowering of Latin eloquence. Arnobius (of Sicca) and Lactantius (Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius) distinguished themselves at Carthage: the latter earned there the nickname of the Christian Cicero.

Sixty years later, Augustine indulged, in the capital of Africa, a taste for pleasure which, like the prophet-king, he bemoaned the rest of his life. His fine imagination, touched by the fictions of poets, loved to seek out the remains of the Palace of Dido. The disenchantment that age brings, and the emptiness that follows pleasure, recalled Monica’s son to graver thoughts. Saint Ambrose completed the victory, and Augustine having become the Bishop of Hippo, was a model of virtue. His house was like a kind of monastery where nothing was affected, either as regards poverty or riches. Dressed in a modest way, but neatly and agreeably, the venerable prelate rejected expensive clothes, which were suited, he said, neither to his ministry, his body broken by age, nor his white hair. No women entered his home, not even his sister, a widow and servant of God. Strangers found a liberal hospitality at his table, but for himself, he lived only on fruit and vegetables. His main occupations were attending to the welfare of the poor, and preaching the word of God. He was surprised in the exercise of his duties by the Vandals, who came to besiege Hippo, in 431AD, and changed the face of Africa.


Cornelis Visscher (II), Anonymous, 1712 - 1714
The Rijksmuseum

The barbarians had already invaded the major provinces of the Empire; Rome itself had been sacked by Alaric (410AD). The Vandals, either driven on by the Visigoths or invited by Count Boniface (Comes Bonifacius), finally crossed from Spain to Africa. They were, according to Procopius (History of the Wars, Book III, chapter 3), of the race of Goths, and combined natural ferocity with religious fanaticism. Converted to Christianity, but of the Arian sect, they persecuted the Catholics with unheard-of fury. Their cruelty was without precedent: when they were repulsed from a city, they massacred their prisoners outside the walls. Leaving the bodies exposed to the sun, they charged the wind, so to speak, with carrying plague beyond those walls that their rage had been unable to take. Africa was terrified of this race of men, half-naked giants, who made beasts of burden of those they conquered, drove them in herds before them, and cut their throats when they grew weary.

Genseric established the seat of his empire in Carthage (439AD): he was worthy to command the barbarians God had entrusted to him. He was a sombre prince, subject to fits of the blackest melancholy, and seems to have possessed grandeur amidst the general shipwreck of the civilized world, simply because he mounted on its ruins.

Despite its misfortunes, a final vengeance was allowed the city of Dido. Genseric crosses the sea and seized Rome: he delivered it over to his soldiers for fourteen days and nights. He then re-embarked; the fleet of this latter-day Hannibal brought the spoils of Rome to Carthage, as the fleet of Scipio had carried the spoils of Carthage to Rome. All Genseric’s vessels,’ says Procopius, ‘arrived safely in Africa, except one that bore the statues of the gods’ (Procopius: History of the Wars: III.5.26). Firmly ensconced in his new empire, Genseric emerged from it each year to ravage Italy, Sicily, Illyria and Greece. The blind conquerors of those days felt they were nothing themselves, but were merely the instruments of eternal counsel. Hence the names they gave themselves, Scourge of God, or Ravager of Mankind; hence the rage to destroy by which they felt tormented, that thirst for blood they could not extinguish; hence the manner in which all things conspired for their success, the baseness of men, the lack of courage, virtue, talent, genius: for nothing obstructed the fulfilment of these judgments of heaven. Genseric’s fleet was ready; his soldiers were on board: where was he going? He did not know himself. ‘Prince,’ the pilot asked, ‘what nations will you assault?’ – ‘Those,’ the barbarian replied, ‘that God is presently angered against.’

Genseric died thirty-nine years after having taken Carthage. It was the only city in Africa whose walls he had not destroyed. He was succeeded by Huneric, one of his sons.

After a reign of eight years, Huneric was replaced on the throne by his cousin Gunthamund: he bore the sceptre thirteen years, and left the crown to his brother Thrasamund. Thrasamund reigned twenty-seven years in total. Ilderic, the son of Huneric and grandson of Genseric, inherited the Kingdom of Carthage. Gelimer, Ilderic’s cousin, conspired against him and had him thrown into a dungeon (530AD). The Emperor Justinian came to the defence of the deposed monarch, and Belisarius crossed to Africa. Gelimer made almost no resistance. The victorious Roman general entered Carthage. He went to the palace, where, by the whim of fortune, he ate the very meal that had been prepared for Gelimer, and was served by the officers of that prince. Nothing had changed at court, except its master, and that mattered little since his fortune had waned.

Belisarius, indeed, deserved his success. He was one of those men who appear at long intervals in sinful ages, to interrupt the laws proscribing virtue. Unfortunately, those noble souls who shine in the midst of baseness create no permanent change. They seem irrelevant to the affairs of their own day, exceptional but isolated in the present, they have no influence on the future. The world rolls over them without dragging them along; but they in turn fail to halt the world. In order for spirits of a higher nature to be useful to society, they must be born among a people who retain a love of order, religion and morality, and whose genius and character are relevant to its moral and political circumstances. In the age of Belisarius, events were great and men small: which is why the annals of that time, though filled with tragedy and destruction, revolt us and weary us. We seek, in history, not those revolutions that command and crush men, but those men who command revolutions, and are more powerful than fortune. A world thrown into chaos by barbarians inspires only horror and contempt; while we are forever fascinated by a petty quarrel between Sparta and Athens that took place in a tiny corner of Greece.

Gelimer, a prisoner in Constantinople, attended Belisarius’ triumph. Soon afterwards the monarch was reduced to becoming a labourer. In like case, philosophy may console a man of common nature, but can only increase the regrets of a truly regal heart. We know that Justinian did not put out the eyes of Belisarius. It would, even so, have been only a very small event in the long history of human ingratitude. As for Carthage, she saw a prince emerge from her walls to go and seat himself on the throne of the Caesars (610AD): that was Heraclius, who overthrew the tyrant Phocas. In 647AD, the Arabs made their first expedition to Africa. This expedition was followed by four more in the space of fifty years. Carthage fell under the Muslim yoke in 696. Most of its residents fled to Spain and Sicily. John the Patrician, general to the Emperor Leontius, occupied the city in 697, but the Saracens returned, permanently, in 698, and the daughter of Tyre became the prey of the children of Ishmael: the city being taken by Hasan (Hasan ibn an-Nu’man al-Ghassani), during the Caliphate of Abd-al-Malik. It is claimed that the new masters of Carthage razed it to the ground. However there were still significant ruins at the beginning of the ninth century, if it is true that the ambassadors of Charlemagne discovered the body of Saint Cyprian there. Towards the end of the century, the infidels formed a league against the Christians, and at their head, so the story goes, were the Saracens of Carthage. We also know that Saint Louis found a town rising from the ruins of the ancient city. Be that as it may, it offers today only the ruins of which I will speak. They are known throughout the region as the Bersach, which seems to be a corruption of the name Byrsa. When, in Tunis, you wish to visit Carthage, you must ask for the tower or torre of Almenara or Mastinaces: ventoso curru gloria: fame’s airy chariot! (Horace: Epistles II.I:177)


Richard Collin, 1675 - 1680
The Rijksmuseum

It is quite difficult to understand the plan of ancient Carthage, by following the accounts of historians. Polybius and Livy doubtless spoke at great length about the siege of that city, but we lack their descriptions. We are reduced to Latin abbreviators, such as Florus and Velleius Paterculus, who do not give details of the location. Later geographers only knew Roman Carthage. The most complete authority on the subject is the Greek Appian, who flourished nearly three centuries after the event, and whose declamatory style lacks precision and clarity. Rollin, who follows him, mingles his account inappropriately perhaps with that of Strabo, but spares me the trouble of translation.

‘It stood at the bottom of a gulf, surrounded by the sea in the form of a peninsula, whose neck, that is the isthmus which joined it to the continent, was a league and quarter in breadth (twenty-five stadia). The peninsula was eighteen miles round (three hundred and sixty stadia). On the west side projected a long point of land about twelve fathoms broad (half a stadium); which, advancing into the sea, separated it from a morass, and was fenced on all sides with rocks and a single wall. On the south side towards the continent, where stood the citadel called Byrsa, the city was surrounded by a triple wall thirty cubits high, exclusive of all the parapets and towers with which it was flanked all round at equal distances apart, each interval being fourscore fathoms. Every tower was four stories high, and the walls but two; they were arched, and in the lower part were stalls to hold three hundred elephants, with their fodder, and over these were stables for four thousand horses, and lofts for food. There likewise was room enough to lodge twenty thousand foot-soldiers and four thousand horsemen. All these were contained within the walls alone. In one place only, the walls were weak and low, and that was a neglected angle, which began at the neck of land above mentioned, and extended as far as the harbours, which were on the west side. Of these there were two, which communicated with each other, but had only one entrance, off seventy feet broad, and shut off with chains. The first was appropriated for the merchants, and had several distinct habitations for the seamen. The second or inner harbour was for the ships of war; in the midst of which stood an island called Cothon, lined, as the harbour was, with large quays, in which were distinct receptacles for sheltering from the weather two hundred and twenty ships; over these were magazines and storehouses wherein was lodged all that was needed for arming and equipping fleets. The entrance into each of these receptacles was adorned with two marble pillars of the Ionic order; so that both the harbour and the island represented on each side two magnificent galleries. In this island was the admiral’s palace; and as it stood opposite to the mouth of the harbour, he could from thence discover whatever was doing at sea, though no one, from thence, could see what was transacting in the inward part of the harbour. The merchants, in like manner, had no prospect of the men of war; the two ports being separated by a double wall, each having its particular gate that led to the city, without passing through the other harbour. So that Carthage may be divided into three parts: the harbour which was double, and called sometimes Cothon, from the little island of that name; the citadel, named Byrsa; and the city properly so called, where the inhabitants dwelt, which lay round the citadel and was called Megara.’ (Charles Rollin: Ancient History of the Egyptians, Carthaginians etc: BookII: PartII: Chapter II: Article I: Section II, anonymous English translation: Boston, published by Samuel Walker, 1823)

Virtually nothing remains of this first city other than the public and private cisterns; they are of surpassing beauty; and offer a fine idea of the monuments of the Carthaginians; but I have no idea whether the aqueduct that carried water to these cisterns ought to be assigned to the second Carthage. I rely, for the entire destruction of the city of Dido, on this passage from Florus (Epitome rerum romanorum: I:XXXI=II.15:Section 18): ‘Quanta urbs deleta sit, ut de caeteris taceam, vel ignium mora probari potest. Quippe per continuos XVII dies vix potuit incendium exstingui, quod domibus ac templis suis sponte hostes immiserant; ut quatenus urbs eripi Romanis non poterat, triumphus arderet: how mighty the city was which was destroyed is shown, to mention a single fact only, by the long duration of the fire; for it was only after seventeen days of continuous effort that the fires were, with difficulty, quenched, fires which the enemy had themselves kindled in their houses and temples, in order that, as the city could not be saved from the Romans, the materials for their triumph might be burnt.

Appian adds that what escaped the flames was demolished by order of the Roman senate. ‘Rome,’ says Velleius Paterculus (Historia Romana: I.XII.7), ‘already mistress of the world, did not feel safe as long as the name of Carthage survived: si nomen usquam stantis maneret Carthaginis.

Strabo, in his short clear description, evidently confuses different parts of the ancient city and the new:

και Καρχηδων δε έπίχερρονήσου τινος ίδρυται, etc.

‘Carthage is situated upon a peninsula, comprising a circuit of three hundred and sixty stadia, with a wall, of which sixty stadia of its length was across the neck of the peninsula, reaching from sea to sea. Here the Carthaginians kept their elephants, it being a wide open place. In the middle of the city was the acropolis, which they called Byrsa, a hill of tolerable height with dwellings round it. On the summit was the temple of Aesculapius, which was destroyed when the wife of Hasdrubal burnt herself to death there, on the capture of the city. Below the Acropolis were the harbours and the Cothon, a circular island, surrounded by a canal communicating with the sea (Euripus), and on every side of it (upon the canal) were situated sheds for vessels.’ (Strabo: Geography: XVII: 3.14)

On the word Karchedon in the original text, I observe, with other writers, that, according to Samuel Bochart, the Phoenician name of Carthage was Cartha-Hadath or Cartha-Hadtha, in other words the new city. The Greeks turned that into Karchedon, and the Romans Carthage. The names of the three parts of the city were also taken from the Phoenician: Magara from Magar, a storehouse; Byrsa from Bosra, a fortress; and Cothon from ratoun, a cutting; since it is not clear whether Cothon was an island.

After Strabo, we know nothing more of Carthage, except that she had become one of the largest and most beautiful cities in the world. Pliny, however, merely says: Colonia Carthago magnae in vestigiis Carthaginis; the colony of Carthago, amidst the ruins of mighty Carthage (Pliny: Natural History: V:24). Pomponius Mela, before Pliny, seems no more favourable: iam quidem iterum opulenta, etiam nunc tamen priorum excidio rerum quam ope praesentium clarior: now in fact opulent once more, yet even now more famous for the ruins of what was than for what exists in the present (De Chorographia: I:29) Yet Solinus said: alterum post urbem Romam terrarum decus: the glory of the world after the city of Rome (Gaius Julius Solinus: De Mirabilibus Mundi:XVIII). Other authors call her great and blessed: Carthago magna, felicitate reverenda.

The new Carthage suffered a fire during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, for we find that Emperor busy restoring the damaged colony.

Commodus, who stationed a fleet at Carthage to transport African corn to Rome, wished to change its name from Carthage to Urbs Commodianus. This folly of the unworthy son of a great man was soon forgotten.

The two Gordians (Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus, and his son, co-emperors briefly, in 238AD), having been proclaimed co-emperors of Africa, made Carthage the capital of the world during their momentary reign. It seems, however, that the Carthaginians showed little gratitude for, according to Capitolinus (Quintus Lutatius Catulus: Historia Augusta:Gordiani Tres:15), they rebelled against the Gordians in favour of Capelianus. Zosimus (Historia Nova:I) says moreover that the Carthaginians recognized Sabinianus as their emperor, while the younger Gordian succeeded Balbinus and Maximinus Thrax in Rome. Though we may allow, following Zonaras (Ioannes ‘John’ Zonaras: Epitome Historiarum: XII:16=577) that Carthage was favourable to the Gordians, those emperors had little time to beautify the city.

Several inscriptions, reported by the learned Dr. Shaw, show Hadrian, Septimius Severus, and Aurelian erecting monuments in various cities of Byzacena, and they surely did not neglect the capital of that rich province.

The tyrant Maxentius carried fire and sword to Africa, and triumphed over Carthage as the ancient enemy of Rome. One cannot view without a shudder that long series of madmen who, almost without interruption, governed the world from Tiberius to Constantine, and were joined, after this latter emperor, by the monsters of Byzantium. The people were no better than their rulers. A dreadful compact seemed to exist between nations and sovereigns: the latter to dare all, the former to suffer all.

Thus, what we know of the monuments of Carthage in the centuries we have just traversed amounts to very little: we learn, from the writings of Tertullian, Saint Cyprian, Lactantius, and Saint Augustine, from the canons of the councils of Carthage and from the Acts of the Martyrs, simply that Carthage possessed auditoriums, theatres, baths, and colonnades. The city was never well fortified, as Gordian I was unable to defend it; and long afterwards, Genseric and Belisarius entered it without difficulty.

I have several coins of the Vandal kings which prove that the arts were utterly eclipsed during the reign of these kings: thus it is unlikely that Carthage received any embellishment from her new masters. We know, on the contrary, that Genseric razed churches and theatres; all the pagan monuments were destroyed, on his orders: among others are mentioned the Temple of Memory and the street dedicated to the Goddess Celesta. This street was lined with beautiful buildings.

Justinian, after taking Carthage from the Vandals, built porticos, baths, churches and monasteries, as seen in Procopius’ De Aedificiis. The historian speaks, moreover, of a church built by the Carthaginians, on the shore, in honour of Saint Cyprian. That is all I have gathered concerning the monuments of a city that occupied such a high rank in history: let us pass now to its ruins.

The Ruins of Carthage

‘The Ruins of Carthage’
Belgium, the Rhine, Italy, Greece, and the Shores and Islands of the Mediterranean - George Newenham Wright, Thomas Allom, Leicester Silk Buckingham (p433, 1851)
The British Library

The vessel on which I had left Alexandria having arrived at the port of Tunis, we anchored opposite the ruins of Carthage: I gazed at them without being able to make out what they were; I saw some huts of the Moors, a Muslim shrine on the tip of a headland, and sheep grazing among ruins, ruins so little apparent that I could scarcely distinguish them from the land that bore them: this was Carthage.

…………………… devictae Carthaginis arces

procubuere, jacentque infausto in litore turres

eversae. Quantum illa metus, quantum illa laborum

Urbs dedit insultans Latio et laurentibus arvis!

nunc passim vix relliquias, vix nomina servans,

obruitur propriis non agnoscenda ruinis.

The walls of conquered Carthage lie low,

her towers shattered on the ill-fated shore.

What fear, what labour this city once caused Rome,

she that shamed Latium, and the Laurentian fields!

Now, barely a stone of her, barely her name survives,

razed, and unrecognized amidst her ruins.

(Jacopo Sannazaro: De partu Virginis:II.)

To visit the ruins, it is essential to follow a methodical plan. I will assume therefore that the reader is leaving with me from the La Goulette fort, which as we know and I have said, is located on the canal through which the lake of Tunis disgorges into the sea. Riding along the shore, after a half hour journey, heading east-north-east, you come upon salt marshes, stretching west to a fragment of wall quite near the large cisterns. Passing between the salt-marshes and the sea, you begin to find jetties extending quite far into the waves. The sea and jetties are on your right; on your left you will see a heap of ruins on irregular terrain; at the foot of these ruins is a round basin, fairly deep, which once communicated with the sea through a channel of which traces are still visible. This basin must, in my opinion, be the Cothon, or inner harbour of Carthage. The remains of the immense works that can be seen in the sea would, in this case, represent the outer breakwater. It seems to me that one can still distinguish some of the piles of the barrier Scipio constructed to close off the port. I also noticed a second inner channel, which may, if you will, be the cut made by the Carthaginians when they opened another passage for their fleet.

Forum, Port Militaire et Port Marchand de Carthage

‘Forum, Port Militaire et Port Marchand de Carthage’
De Carthage au Sahara - Pierre Bauron (41, 1893)
The British Library

This sentiment is directly opposed to that of Dr. Shaw, who places the ancient port of Carthage to the north and north-west of the peninsula, in the submerged marsh called El-Mersa, or the harbour. He assumes the port was silted up by winds from the northeast and the sediments of the River Bagrada. D’Anville, in his Géographie ancienne, and Bélidor (Bernard Forest de Bélidor), in his Architecture hydraulique, adopt his opinion. Travellers bow to these great authorities. I do not know what the opinion of the learned Italian is in this respect, I have not read his work (Felice Carònni: I mentioned the work above. His view seems similar to mine: see the preface to the third edition.)

I admit I am nervous at having to oppose men of merit as eminent as Shaw and D’Anville. The former has viewed the site, and the latter has divined it, if I may be forgiven the expression. One thing, however, encourages me: Monsieur Humbert, the engineer in charge of La Goulette, a very clever man, who has lived some length of time amidst the ruins of Carthage, absolutely rejects the hypothesis of the learned Englishman. One should certainly reject those alleged changes of place, those local accidents, by means of which people explain away the difficulties of a layout they do not understand. So I am uncertain if the Bagrada could have silted up the old port of Carthage, as Dr. Shaw supposes, or have produced on the shores of Utica all the changes he claims. The elevated portion of land north and north-west of the Isthmus of Carthage has not, either along the sea-shore, or in El-Mersa, the slightest indentation, which might provide shelter for a boat. To locate the Cothon in this position, we must have recourse to a kind of depression that, on Shaw’s own admission, only occupies a hundred square yards. On the ​​south-east, however, you encounter long embankments, arches which may have belonged to storehouses, or even docks for the galleys; you see canals dug by the hands of men, an internal basin large enough to have contained ancient vessels; and in the midst of this basin a small island.

History comes to my rescue. Scipio Africanus was busy fortifying Tunis, when he saw ships leaving Carthage to attack the Roman fleet at Utica (Livy: Ab Urbe Condita: XXX:X). If the port of Carthage had been to the north, across the isthmus, Scipio, located in Tunis, could not have seen the Carthaginian galleys; the terrain there hides the Gulf of Utica. But if we locate the port to the southeast, Scipio saw, as he was bound to see, his enemies appear.

When Scipio Aemilianus decided to close the outer harbour, he started his embankment at the tip of the cape of Carthage (Appian:VIII:XVIII:121). Now, the cape of Carthage is on the east, on the same bay as Tunis. Appian adds that this point of land was near the port; which is true if the port was in the southeast; false if the port was to the northwest. An embankment, leading from the furthest point of the isthmus of Carthage to enclose the area called El-Mersa on the north-west, is an absurd supposition.

Finally, after taking Cothon, Scipio attacked Byrsa, or the citadel (Appian:VIII:XVIII 127); the Cothon was therefore below the citadel: now, the latter was built on the highest hill of Carthage, a hill visible to the south-east. The Cothon if placed in the northwest would have been too far from Byrsa, while the basin that I indicated is precisely at the foot of the south-east hill.

If I labour this point more than is necessary for many readers, there are others who take a keen interest in the historical record, and who seek in a book only positive facts and knowledge. Is it not strange that in a city as famous as Carthage we have to search for the location of these same harbours, and that what constituted its greatest glory is precisely that which is the most forgotten?

Shaw seems to me to have been more fortunate with regard to the harbour indicated in the first book of the Aeneid. Some scholars believed that this harbour was a creation of the poet; others thought that Virgil intended to portray the harbour of Ithaca or that of Cartagena, or the Bay of Naples; but the singer of Dido was too scrupulous about painting an authentic scene to afford himself such license; he describes, with the most precise veracity, a harbour some distance away from Carthage. Let us hear Dr. Shaw speak:

‘Two leagues to the east-north-east of Seedy Doude (Sidi Abioud), and a little to the southward of the promontory of Mercury (Cape Bon: Watan el-kibli), is Low-hareah (El Haouaria), the Aquilaria of the Ancients, where Curio landed those troops that were afterwards defeated by Sabura. There are several fragments of antiquities at this place, but nothing remarkable: however, from the sea shore to this village, which is at half a miles distance, the interjacent mountain, from the level of the sea to the height of twenty or thirty foot, is all the way very artfully scooped and hollowed; small openings being carried up, in several places, to the surface, for the admission of fresh air; whilst large pillars and arches are left standing, at proper distances below, to support the mountain. These are the quarries which Strabo takes notice of (XVII:16); from whence the buildings of Carthage, Utica, and the many other adjacent cities, might receive their materials. Moreover, as the mountain above is all over shaded with trees; as the arches below lie open to the sea, having a large cliff on each side, with the island Aegimurus placed over against them; as there are likewise some fountains perpetually draining from the rocks, and seats for the weary labourer; we have little room to doubt (from such a concurrence of circumstances, so exactly corresponding to the cave which Virgil places somewhere in this gulf) that the following description is literally true, notwithstanding the opinion of some commentators who have thought it fictitious.’ (Shaw: Travels: Of the Sea Coast of the Zeugitania, or the Summer Circuit)

Est in secessu longo locus: insula portum

efficit obiectu laterum, quibus omnis ab alto

frangitur inque sinus scindit sese unda reductos.

Hinc atque hinc vastae rupes geminique minantur

in caelum scopuli, quorum sub vertice late

aequora tuta silent; tum silvis scaena coruscis

desuper horrentique atrum nemus imminet umbra.

Fronte sub adversa scopulis pendentibus antrum,

intus aquae dulces vivoque sedilia saxo,

nympharum domus…..

There is a place there in a deep inlet: an island forms a harbour

with the barrier of its bulk, on which every wave from the deep

breaks, and divides into diminishing ripples.

On this side and that, vast cliffs and twin crags loom in the sky,

under whose summits the whole sea is calm, far and wide:

then, above that, is a scene of glittering woods,

and a dark grove overhangs the water, with leafy shade:

under the headland opposite is a cave, curtained with rock,

inside it, fresh water, and seats of natural stone,

the home of Nymphs.

(Virgil: Aeneid: I: 159-168)

Now that we know the harbours, the rest need not detain us long. I will suppose us continuing our journey along the coast to the place from which the promontory of Carthage emerges. This cape, according to Dr. Shaw, was never part of the city.

Now we leave the sea, and turning left, we return south of the city ruins ranged round the amphitheatre of hills.

We first find the remains of a very large building that appears to have been part of a palace and a theatre. Above this building, ascending to the west, we come to the beautiful cisterns generally considered to be the only true remains of Carthage: they may have received the waters of an aqueduct the fragments of which one can see in the landscape. This aqueduct travelled a space of fifty miles, and ran from sources at Zawan (pronounced locally as Zauvan) and Zungar. There were temples built above the springs. The taller arches of the aqueduct were seventy feet high, and the pillars of these arches are six feet on each side. The cisterns are immense: they form a series of arches that spring one from another, and are bordered on their entire length by a corridor: it is truly a magnificent work.

Aqueduc Romain Allant de Zaghouan à Carthage

‘Aqueduc Romain Allant de Zaghouan à Carthage’
De Carthage au Sahara - Pierre Bauron (49, 1893)
The British Library

To travel from these public cisterns to the hill of Byrsa, one follows a rough track. At the foot of the hill lie a cemetery and a wretched village, perhaps the Tents of Lady Montague (Letter: Tunis: July 13th old style, 1718). The stables of the elephants of which Lady Montague speaks are underground chambers, and are unremarkable.) The summit of the acropolis offers level ground, strewn with small pieces of marble, and which is clearly the surrounds of ​​a palace or temple. If one opts for a palace, this is the palace of Dido; if one prefers the temple, it should be recognized as that of Aesculapius. There, two women rushed into the flames, one in order not to survive her disgrace, the other her city:

“O Sun, you who illuminate all the works of this world,

and you Juno, interpreter and knower of all my pain,

and Hecate howled to, in cities, at midnight crossroads,

you, avenging Furies, and you, gods of dying Elissa,

acknowledge this, direct your righteous will to my troubles,

and hear my prayer. If it must be that the accursed one

should reach the harbour, and sail to the shore:

if Jove’s destiny for him requires it, there his goal:

still, troubled in war by the armies of a proud race,

exiled from his territories, torn from Iulus’s embrace,

let him beg help, and watch the shameful death of his people:

then, when he has surrendered, to a peace without justice,

may he not enjoy his kingdom or the days he longed for,

but let him die before his time, and lie unburied on the sand.

This I pray, these last words I pour out with my blood.

Then, O Tyrians, pursue my hatred against his whole line

and the race to come, and offer it as a tribute to my ashes.

Let there be no love or treaties between our peoples.

Rise, some unknown avenger, from my dust, who will pursue

the Trojan colonists with fire and sword, now, or in time

to come, whenever the strength is granted him.

I pray that shore be opposed to shore, water to wave,

weapon to weapon: let them fight, them and their descendants.”


She had spoken, and in the midst of these words,

her servants saw she had fallen on the blade,

the sword frothed with blood, and her hands were stained.

(Virgil: Aeneid: IV: 608 et seq. Chateaubriand quotes from Louis de Fontanes free translation)

From the summit of the Byrsa, the eye embraces the ruins of Carthage, which are more numerous than is generally believed: they resemble those of Sparta, having nothing well preserved, but occupying a considerable space. I saw them in February; the figs, olive-trees and carobs already showed their first leaves, and large angelicas and acanthus formed tufts of verdure amongst the vari-coloured marble remains. I cast my gaze on the far-off isthmus, on twin seas, distant islands, a cheerful landscape, blue lakes, and azure mountains; I could see forests, boats, aqueducts, Moorish villages, Mohammedan hermitages; minarets and the white houses of Tunis. Thousands of starlings, gathered in battalions, assembling among the clouds, flew over my head. Surrounded by the grandest and most moving memories, I thought of Dido, Sophonisba, and the noble wife of Hasdrubal; I contemplated the vast plains where are buried the legions of Hannibal, Scipio and Caesar; my eyes sought to locate the site of Utica. Alas, the remains of that palace of Tiberius at Capri still exist, yet, at Utica, one seeks the house of Cato in vain! Finally, the dreadful Vandals, the rash Moors, passed in turn through my memory, which offered me, as a final picture, Saint Louis dying amidst the ruins of Carthage. Let the tale of the death of that prince, end this Itinerary: happy to return, so to speak, to my country, via an ancient monument to its virtues, and to complete at the tomb of that king of blessed memory this long pilgrimage to the tombs of great men.

When Saint Louis began his second voyage overseas, he was no longer younger. His weakened health would not allow him to remain long on horseback, nor support a weight of armour; but Louis had not lost his strength of soul. He gathered in Paris the great men of his kingdom; he described to them the sorry state of Palestine, and declared his resolve to go to the aid of his fellow Christians. At the same time he received the cross from the hands of the legate, and gave it to his three elder sons.

A host of nobles joined with him: the kings of Europe were ready to take up the banner. Charles of Sicily, Edward of England, Gaston de Bearn, the kings of Navarre and Aragon. Women showed the same zeal: La Dame de Poitiers, La Comtesse de Bretagne, Iolande de Bourgogne, Jeanne de Toulouse, Isabelle de France, Amicie de Courtenay, left the distaff that queens then employed, and followed their husbands overseas.

Saint Louis made his will; he left Agnes, the youngest of his daughters, ten thousand francs as a dowry, and four thousand francs to Queen Marguerite; he then appointed two regents of the kingdom, Matthieu, Abbot of Saint-Denis and Simon, Sire de Nesle, after which he took up the oriflamme.

This banner, which made its appearance among our armies during the reign of Louis le Gros, was a silk ensign attached to the end of a spear: it was ruby-red samite fashioned into a banner with three tails, with tufts of green silk about it (Du Cange: Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis:Auriflamma). It rested, in time of peace, on the altar of the Abbey of Saint-Denis, among the tombs of the kings, as if to declare that, from generation to generation, the French were faithful to God, honour, and the king. Saint Louis received the banner from the hands of the Abbot, as usual. He received the escarcelle at the same time (a belt, and purse) and the bourdon (a pilgrim’s staff), which was called, at that time, the consolation and sign of voyage (solatia et indicia itineris); a custom of the monarchy, so ancient that Charlemagne was buried with the golden escarcelle which he wore when he went to Italy.

Louis prayed at the tomb of the martyrs, and placed his kingdom under the protection of the patron saint of France (Saint Denis). The day after the ceremony, he walked barefoot, with his son, from the Palace of Justice to the church of Notre Dame. That same evening he left for Vincennes, where he bade farewell to Queen Marguerite, a good, kind queen, full of great simplicity, according to Robert de Sainceriaux (Sermon sur Saint Louis); then he forsook for ever the old oak-trees, venerable witnesses to his justice and his virtue.

‘Many a time it chanced in summer, that he would go and sit in the forest of Vincennes, after mass, and all who had business would come and talk with him, without hindrance from ushers or anyone.... I have seen him sometimes in summer, when to hear his people’s suits, he would come into the gardens of Paris, clad in a camel’s-hair coat, with a sleeveless surcoat of tiretaine, a cloak of black taffety round his neck, his hair well combed and without a quoif, and a white swansdown hat upon his head. He would cause a carpet to be spread, that we might sit round him; and all the people who had business before him stood round about, and then he caused their suits to be despatched, as I told you before, regarding the forest of Vincennes.’ (Sire de Joinville. Life of Saint Louis: Part 1)

Saint Louis sailed from Aigues-Mortes, on Tuesday the 1st of July 1270. Three courses of action had been suggested in the king’s council before setting sail: to land at Saint-Jean d’Acre, to attack Egypt, or to make a descent on Tunis. Unfortunately Saint Louis chose the latter advice, for a reason that seemed logical enough.

Tunis was then under the dominion of a prince whom Geoffrey of Beaulieu and Guillaume de Nangis called Omar el-Muley Moztanca. Historians of the time do not say why this prince chose to embrace the Christian religion, but it is quite likely that learning of the Crusader army, and not knowing where the storm would fall, he thought to evade it by sending ambassadors to France, and flattering the holy king by a conversion which he valued not at all. This deception by the infidel was guaranteed to bring upon him the storm which he sought to avert. Louis thought he would give Omar a chance to declare his intent, and that much of Africa would then become Christian, following the example of its prince.

A political reason was involved as well as this religious motive: the Tunisians infested the waves; they prevented our sending aid to the Christian princes of Palestine; they furnished horses, weapons and men to the sultans of Egypt; they were the centre of the communications that Baibars Bondoc-Dari (al-Malik al-Zahir Rukn al-Din Baibars al-Bunduqdari; Sultan of Egypt 1260-1277) entertained with the Moors of Morocco and Spain. It was important to destroy this nest of brigands, to facilitate expeditions to the Holy Land.

Saint Louis entered the Bay of Tunis in July 1270. At that time, a Moorish prince had undertaken to rebuild Carthage; several new houses already stood among the ruins and a castle stood on the hill of Byrsa. The Crusaders were struck by the beauty of the country covered with olive groves. Omar did not advance on the French; instead he threatened to kill all the Christians in his domains if a landing was attempted. These threats did not prevent the army disembarking; it camped on the isthmus of Carthage, and the chaplain of a king of France took possession of the site of Hannibal’s city with these words: I proclaim the rule here of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Louis, King of France, his servant. This same place had heard declarations in Gaetulian, Tyrian, Latin, Vandal, Greek and Arabic, and ever the same sentiments in varying language.

Saint Louis resolved, before besieging Tunis, to take Carthage, which was then a rich town, a trading port, and well-fortified. He drove the Saracens from a tower which defended the cisterns: the castle was stormed, and the new city followed the fate of the fortress. The princesses who accompanied their husbands disembarked at the port, and in one of those revolutions that the centuries bring, the great ladies of France established themselves in the ruins of Dido’s palace.

But fortune seemed to abandon Saint Louis once he had crossed the waves, as if fate had always intended him to show the infidels an example of heroism in adversity. He could not attack Tunis before receiving reinforcements from his brother, the King of Sicily. Forced to retreat to the isthmus, the army was attacked by a contagion that within a few days had carried off half his army. The African sun consumed men accustomed to live under a milder sky. To increase the misery of the crusaders, the Moors used machinery to raise burning sand dunes: releasing that arid dust to the south of the Christians, they created the effect of the kansim, the dreadful wind of the desert: an ingenious and terrible design, worthy of the wilderness that gave rise to the idea, and shows to what point mankind can take its genius for destruction. Continual fighting exhausted the army’s strength; the living proved unable to bury the dead; they threw the bodies into the camp’s moat, which was soon filled.

Already the Counts of Nemours, Montmorency and Vendôme were no more; the king had watched his darling son, the Comte de Nevers, die in his arms. He felt himself too struck by the disease. He realised from the first moment that the blow was mortal; a blow that would swiftly consume his body worn out by the fatigues of war, by the cares of the throne, and by those mortifications of religion that King Louis consecrated to his God and his people. Nevertheless he tried to conceal this evil, and hide the pain he felt at the loss of his son. Death visible on his brow, he was seen visiting the hospitals, as one of the Fathers of Mercy devoted, in that land, to the redemption of captives and the saving of plague victims. From holy works he passed to royal duties, saw to the safety of the camp, showed a fearless face to the enemy, or, seated outside his tent, dispensed justice to his subjects as he had beneath the oak-trees of Vincennes.

Philippe, Louis’ eldest son and heir, would not leave his father’s side; his father whom he saw was close to death. The king was finally forced to keep to his tent; then, unable to be useful to his people himself, he tried to ensure their future happiness by addressing this instruction to Philippe, which no Frenchman can read without shedding tears. It was written on his deathbed. Du Cange speaks of a manuscript that appears to have contained the original statement: the writing was firm, but altered: it proclaimed the final failure of that hand which traced the expression of so valiant a soul.

‘Fair son, my first injunction to thee, is that thou set thy heart to love God, for without this no man can be saved. Avoid doing aught which is displeasing to God to wit deadly sin. Rather shouldst thou suffer all manner of humiliation and torment than fall into deadly sin.

If God send thee adversity, receive it in patience, and give thanks to Our Lord, and think that thou hast deserved it, and that He will turn it all to good. If He give thee prosperity, thank heaven with humility; that through pride or otherwise thou mayest not be the worse for that which should make thee better. For one should not war against God with His own gifts.

Look that thou have in thy company good and true men, such as are not full of covetousness, be they men of religion or laymen, and talk often with them, and fly and shun the company of the wicked. Hearken gladly to the word of God, and treasure it in thy heart, and be zealous to procure prayers and pardons. Love thine own interest and good, and hate everything evil, wherever thou dost find it.

Be faithful and strict to maintain law and justice, and true towards thy subjects, turning neither to right nor left. Assist the right, and uphold the quarrel of the poor until the truth be made known. And if any man hath a suit against thee, do not prejudge it before knowing the truth; for thus shall thy councillors be more bold to judge according to truth, whether for or against thee. If thou dost hold anything that is another’s, either from thyself or from thy predecessors, if the fact is certain, give it back without delay.

Study how thy people and thy subjects may live in peace and in honesty under thee. Thy good towns likewise, and the customs of thy realm, preserve them in the same estate and in the same liberties in which they were maintained by thy predecessors.

Beware of going to war with Christians save after great deliberation; but if thou must needs do so, then protect Holy Church and those who have no part in the quarrel. If wars and disputes arise among thy subjects, make peace between them as soon as thou canst.

Be diligent to have good provosts and good bailiffs, and frequently inquire into their behaviour, and into the behaviour of thy household, whether there be in them any vice, or over-great covetousness, or falsehood, or trickery.

And finally, my very sweet son, I charge thee to have masses sung for my soul, and prayers said throughout my kingdom, and allot me a full and special share in all thy good works.

Fair and dear son, I give thee all the blessings that a good father may give his son; and may the blessed Trinity and all the Saints guard and preserve thee from all evil, and God give thee grace to do His will alway, so that He may be honoured through thee, and that thou and we after this mortal life may dwell together with Him, and praise Him without end. Amen.’ (Sire de Joinville, after Guillaume de Nangis: edited version)

Every man about to die, disabused of the things of this world, may address wise instructions to his children; but; when those instructions are supported by the example of a life of complete innocence; when they issue from the mouth of a great prince, a brave warrior and the humblest of hearts that ever existed; when they are the last expression of a divine soul who is returning to the eternal mansions; then happy are those who can glory in that, and say: ‘The man who wrote these instructions was my ancestral king!’

The disease progressing, Louis asked for extreme unction. He answered the prayers for the dying in a voice as strong as that with which he had given orders on the battlefield. He knelt at the foot of his bed to receive the holy sacrament, and they were obliged to support this latter day Saint Jerome, by the arms, in that communion. From that moment he ended all thoughts of this world, and considered himself free of his duty towards his people. Ah! What monarch had ever fulfilled those duties better! His charity extended to all men; he prayed for the infidels who had provoked the glory and misfortunes of his life, he invoked the patron saints of France; that France, so dear to his royal soul. On the morning of Monday the 25th of August, feeling that his end was nigh, he lay down on a bed of ashes, where he remained, his arms crossed on his chest, his eyes raised to heaven.

Such a spectacle, as was seen then, will never be seen again: the King of Sicily’s fleet appeared on the horizon; the plains and hills were covered with the Moorish army. Amid the remains of Carthage the Christian camp offered a scene of dreadful grief: no sound was heard thence; dying soldiers emerged from the hospital, and crawled through the ruins, to approach their expiring king. Louis was surrounded by his weeping family, sorrowing princes, fainting princesses. The ambassadors of the Emperor of Constantinople were present at the scene: they could tell all Greece of a death which Socrates would have admired. From the bed of ashes on which Saint Louis breathed his last, one could see the shores of Utica: all could compare the death of the Stoic and the Christian philosophers. More fortunate than Cato, Saint Louis was not obliged to read a treatise on the immortality of the soul to be convinced of the existence of a future life: he found invincible proof of it in his religion, his virtues and his misfortunes. Finally, at about three in the afternoon, the king, giving a deep sigh, pronounced these words distinctly: ‘Lord, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.’ (Psalm:5:8); and his soul flew to that holy temple which he was worthy of inhabiting.

Then the trumpets of the crusaders from Sicily were heard: their fleet arrived full of joy and freighted with aid, but in vain. There was no answer to their signal. Charles of Anjou was surprised and suspected some misfortune. He neared the shore; he saw the guards, the reversed lances, expressing their grief less by this military device expressing mourning than by their downcast faces. He flew to the tent of his royal brother: and found him lying dead on his bed of ashes. He threw himself on the sacred remains, watered them with his tears, respectfully kissed the saint’s feet, and showed those signs of tenderness and regret that might not have been expected of so lofty a soul. Louis’s face still revealed all the colours of life, even on his lips which were yet crimson.

Mort de Saint Louis

‘Mort de Saint Louis’
Georges Rouget, French, 1784 - 1869
The Yale University Art Gallery

Charles carried away his brother’s innards, which he deposited at Montreal near Salerno. The heart and the bones of the prince were destined for the abbey of Saint-Denis, but the soldiers were unwilling to let the beloved remains go, saying that the ashes of their sovereign were the army’s defence. It pleased God to grant the tomb of the great man a power which manifested itself by miracles. France, which remained un-consoled at having lost such a monarch from the earth, declared him their protector in heaven. Louis, set among the saints, thus became a kind of eternal king of our country. The populace rushed to build churches and chapels more beautiful than the simple palaces in which he had spent his life. The elderly knights who had accompanied him on his first crusade were the first to recognize the fresh powers accorded their king: ‘And I did build,’ says the Sire de Joinville, ‘an altar in honour of God and of Monseigneur Saint Loys’.

The death of Louis, so moving, so virtuous, so tranquil, with which the history of Carthage ends, seems like a sacrifice of peace offered in expiation of the fury, passion and crime for which this unfortunate city so long acted as the theatre. I have nothing more to say to my readers; it is time for them to return with me to my homeland.

I quitted Monsieur Devoise, who had shown me such noble hospitality. I embarked on the American schooner, on which, Monsieur Lear, as I have said, had obtained passage for me. We sailed from La Goulette on Monday, the 9th of March, 1807, and set course for Spain. We received instructions from an American frigate in the road of Algiers. I did not go on shore. Algiers is built in a delightful position, on a hill reminiscent of the lovely heights of Posilippo. We had sight of Spain on the 19th, at seven in the morning, not far from Cap de Gata, at the tip of the Kingdom of Granada. We followed the coast, and passed Malaga. Finally we dropped anchor on Good Friday, the 27th of March, in the bay of Gibraltar.

Gibraltar from Algeziras

‘Gibraltar from Algeziras’
Belgium, the Rhine, Italy, Greece, and the Shores and Islands of the Mediterranean - George Newenham Wright, Thomas Allom, Leicester Silk Buckingham (p220, 1851)
The British Library

I disembarked at Algeciras on Easter Monday. I left, on the 4th of April, for Cadiz, arriving two days later, where I was received with great politeness by the Consul and Vice-Consul of France, Messieurs Leroi and Canclaux. From Cadiz I travelled to Cordoba: I admired the mosque, which is now the cathedral of that city. I traversed ancient Baetica where the poets located the abode of happiness. I went up to Andujar, and retraced my steps to view Granada. The Alhambra seems worthy of a visit, even after visiting the temples of Greece. The valley of Granada is delightful, and very similar to that of Sparta; one may well understand the Moors regret for such a land.

I left Granada for Aranjuez, and travelled the region of that famous knight of La Mancha, whom I consider the noblest, bravest, kindest and least crack-brained of mortals. I saw the Tagus at Aranjuez, and arrived in Madrid on the 21st of April.

Monsieur de Beauharnais (François, VI Marquis de Beauharnais), Ambassador of France to the Spanish Court, overwhelmed me with kindness; he had once known my unfortunate brother, guillotined with my brother’s illustrious grandfather-in-law (Monsieur de Malesherbes). I left Madrid on the 24th of April. I visited the Escorial, built by Philip II in the mountainous wilderness of Old Castile. The court comes and establishes itself each year in this monastery, as if to grant the monks dead to the world a sight of all the passions, and receive from them those lessons from which the passions cannot benefit. There you can still see the funeral chapel where the kings of Spain are buried in similar tombs, arranged in ranks, such that all those ashes are labelled and stored in order, as in a museum of curiosities. There are empty sepulchres also, for rulers who have not yet descended to that place.

From the Escorial, I made my way to Segovia; the aqueduct of the city is one of the greatest works of the Romans; but we must leave Monsieur Laborde to describe those beautiful remains in his fine Voyage (Alexander Laborde: Voyage Pittoresque et Historique). At Burgos, a superb Gothic cathedral proclaimed that I was approaching my own country. I did not neglect the ashes of El Cid:

Don Rodrigue surtout n’a trait en son visage

Qui d’un homme de cœur ne soit la haute image,

Et sort d’une maison si féconde en guerriers,

Qu’ils y prennent naissance au milieu des lauriers.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Il adorait Chimene.

Don Rodrigue above all: in his visage,

Every trait reveals the heroic image,

His house so rich in soldiers of renown,

They seem born to wear the laurel crown.

………………………………He loved Chimene.

(Corneille: Le Cid: Act I)

At Miranda, I saluted the Ebro, which witnessed the first steps of Hannibal whose traces I had followed for so long.

I traversed Vittoria and the charming mountains of Biscay. On the 3rd of May, I set foot on the soil of France: I arrived in Bayonne on the 5th, having made a tour of the Mediterranean, in visiting Sparta, Athens, Smyrna, Constantinople, Rhodes, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Cairo, Carthage , Cordoba, Granada and Madrid.

When the ancient pilgrims had completed their journey to the Holy Land, they deposited their staff in Jerusalem, and took up that of a palmer for their return: I have brought back no such symbol of glory to my country, nor do I attach to my recent travels an importance they do not deserve. Twenty years ago I devoted myself to study in the midst of every misery and danger, diversa exilia et desertas quaerere terras: seeking distant exile, and deserted lands (Virgil: Aeneid: III.4); a host of pages in my notebooks have been traced in tents, in deserts, and amidst the waves; I have often grasped the pen without knowing how long my life might be prolonged; these are claims to indulgence, not entitlements to glory. I have said my farewells to the Muses in Les Martyrs, and I repeat them in these memoirs, which are simply the sequel to, or commentary on, the other work. If heaven grants me the rest I have never experienced, I will try to raise a monument, in silence, to my country; if Providence denies me that rest, I must think only of sheltering my latter days from those cares that plagued the earlier ones. I am no longer young, I no longer possess the desire for fame; I know that literature, whose commerce is so sweet when it is private, draws only storms upon us from the outside world; in any case I have written enough if my name should live on; too much if it is fated to die.

The End of Chateaubriand’s Itinerary