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510729.

CARTHAGE. Circa 350-320 BC. AV Stater (19mm, 9.20 g, 9h). Head of Tanit left, wearing wreath of grain ears, triple-pendant earring, and necklace with eight pendants / Horse standing right on exergue line; three pellets to right of foreleg. Jenkins & Lewis Group IIIh, 79 (same rev. die); CNP 1.5h; MAA 4. Superb EF, lustrous, small die break at edge on reverse. Well centered.


The North African metropolis of Carthage was the great rival of Rome for dominance in the post-Hellenistic Ancient World. Led by an exiled priestess from Tyre named Dido, Phoenician colonists from the Levant first colonized the Tunisian coast of North Africa in 814 BC. According to legend, upon landfall of her wandering band, Dido approached the local Berber chieftain requesting a bit of land for their refuge. The chief said she could have “as much land as could be encompassed by an oxhide.” Dido cleverly cut the hide into thin strips and stretched them around a large hill, which became the citadel called Byrsa, or “hide,” an alternate name for Carthage. Dido went on to become the first queen of Carthage, which quickly grew in wealth to become a maritime powerhouse in the western Mediterranean.

By the sixth century BC, Carthage had become a Republic run by a “senate” and two elected chief magistrates called Suffets. Military and naval leadership was concentrated in a few wealthy families, mainly the Magonids and Barcids. In the 480s BC, Carthage sought to wrest control of Sicily from the Greeks, leading to two centuries of bitter warfare. By 270 BC, Carthage controlled most of the island, as well as southern Spain and Sardinia. Fortresses and mints were established at diverse places to produce coins used to pay the largely mercenary army.


Gold Coinage

Carthage struck its first gold staters between 350 and 320 BC (see image at top). These were of a nearly pure alloy and, at about 9.4 grams, weighed about 15% more than the contemporary Macedonian gold staters of Philip II and Alexander III the Great. The obverse bore the image of the goddess Tanit, chief deity of Carthage, her hair wreathed in grain ears and her neck encircled by a multi-pendant necklace. The reverse depicted a free horse standing proudly, symbolic of Carthage’s much-feared cavalry arm. Varying numbers of pellets provided quality control at the mint. These beautiful coins represented a huge amount of buying power and attracted thousands of professional soldiers from many cities and tribal affiliations into Carthaginian service.

As time went on, Carthaginian staters were debased with silver and reduced in weight-- hence the much more numerous Carthage staters produced after @ 320 BC are now termed "electrum." Carthage also struck silver, billon and bronze coins, both at its main North African mint and at its fortress cities in Sicily and Spain. The Sicilian issues, based on Greek designs, are now termed “Siculo-Punic” (“Punic” is a Latin term for “Phoenician”) coins. The main purpose of all these coins was to pay the Carthaginian army and navy.


War With Rome

The stage was now set for the collision with Rome, newly dominant in Italy. Starting in 265 BC, Carthage and Rome fought three titanic wars that produced more death and destruction than any other world conflict before the 20th century.

After its narrow defeat in the First Punic War (265-241 BC), Carthage lost control of Sicily but compensated by conquering much of Spain, so that by 220 BC the city was once again ready to challenge Rome. In the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), the great Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca nearly destroyed Roman power with a string of devastating victories, but he was unable to deliver the coup de gras and eventually lost the final battle, and the war, at Zama on the outskirts of Carthage in 202 BC. Despite a punitive peace treaty, Carthage once again recovered its prosperity and Rome responded by preemptively attacking and destroying the city utterly in 149-146 BC.