Imagens das páginas



B.C. 201-46 The history of Roman Africa commences at the close of the second Punic war, B.C. 201. The fall of Pyrrhus, the adventurous king of Epirus, B.C. 272, whose ambition was to surpass Alexander the Great in warlike achievements, had made the Romans masters of Southern Italy, and brought them face to face with the Carthaginians in the fair island of Sicily. For nearly two centuries and a half these rival nations had been watching each other's movements across the sea with jealousy and dismay. Success to the Romans on the first encounter on land mattered little to a maritime people like the Carthaginians, whose fleets were to be found in every port and inlet of the Mediterranean, and who reigned supreme as the one commercial people of the known world. The career of these ancient rulers of North Africa, illustrious from their spirit of adventure, unflagging energy, and wondrous commerce, is a chapter of romance. Hemmed in originally between mountain and sea on the Syrian coast, a little colony of Phænicians spread itself in a comparatively short period along the whole seaboard of the Mediterranean ; then passing the Pillars of Hercules it reached Sierra Leone in the south, eastward it touched the coast of Malabar, and northward skirted the inhospitable shores of the German Ocean. It seems strange that these Canaanites or Phænicians, the scorn of Israel, and the people against whom Joshua bent all his powers, should have enjoyed such an

unchecked career, making themselves sole navigators of every sea, and finally founding a city which stood unrivalled for more than 700 years. Through their hands, as Mommsen has observed, passed grain, ivory, and skins from Libya, slaves from the Soudan, purple and cedar from Tyre, frankincense from Arabia, copper from Cyprus, iron from Elba, tin from Cornwall, wine from Greece, silver from Spain, and gold and precious stones from Malabar. As a nation of traders and navigators they established themselves on the coast, and wherever they settled depots and factories of various kinds were erected. We do not find them in the interior of a country. Neither do we hear of alliances with the people with whom they came into contact, nor of their impressing barbarian tribes with any notions of the advantages of civilisation. In the field of intellectual acquirements the Carthaginian, as the descendant of the Phænician, has no place, and his skill in the gentler arts of life has no recognition. We find no native architecture, nor do we hear of any industrial art worth recording. Carthage, it is true, became the metropolis of their widespread kingdom, and one of the wealthiest cities of the world. But this was due, in a great measure, to its central position, and its convenience as an outlet for the vast produce of North Africa. Temples and stately edifices adorned its streets, and the remains of great constructional works still attest the solid grandeur of the city. But the architecture was the work of Greek, and not of Punic, artists; and the few sculptures of note, which may be assigned to a period anterior to the last Punic war, have nothing in common with the rude carvings which bear the impress of Carthaginian origin. On the other hand the art of navigation, the science of agriculture, the principles of trading, and a system of water supply combined with the construction of gigantic cisterns, which may still be seen at Carthage and on the outskirts of many towns in North Africa, became Rome's heritage from Phænicia. The distinguishing characteristic of Phænician architecture, or rather of building construction, is its massive and imposing strength, singularly deficient in fineness of detail, as M. Renan has observed, but with a general effect of power and grandeur. The few Phænician buildings existing are constructed with immense blocks of stone, such as the ramparts of Aradus, the foundations of the temple at Jerusalem, and the earlier portions of the great temple at Baalbec.

« AnteriorContinuar »