Phoenician diasporas: Timaios of Tauromenion, Trogus, and Appian on the founding of Carthage and on child sacrifice (first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Phoenician diasporas: Timaios of Tauromenion, Trogus, and Appian on the founding of Carthage and on child sacrifice (first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 24, 2024,

Ancient authors: Timaios of Tauromenion on Sicily (early third century BCE), Histories = FGrHist 566 F82, as cited by Anonymous, On Women Distinguished in Wars / De Mulieribus 6 (link to Greek; link to FGrHist); Pompeius Trogus (first century BCE) as summarized by Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus 18.3-7 (link; link to Latin); Appian of Alexandria (second century CE), Roman Matters: Libyan Book 8.1-2 (link).

Comments: Justin’s (third or fourth century CE) summary of Trogus’ story (first century BCE) is the most extensive legendary account we have about the migration of Tyrians to northern Libya (or Africa) and the founding of Carthage. Earlier on (early third century BCE), Timaios of Tauromenion on Sicily had apparently described at least the role of Elissa in the migration, but this is only briefly summarized by a later anonymous author (perhaps first century BCE or CE) who gathers interesting stories about women and we do not have Timaios’ full account. Later on, Appian renarrates some of the earlier traditions. These accounts evidently gave a place for relations between the Tyrian immigrants and local Libyan populations. In Trogus’ account especially, there are also signs of the Greek or Roman stereotype of Phoenician or Punic “ingenuity,” which sometimes had the negative connotations of deception and trickery. Furthermore, Trogus zeroes in on the introduction of supposed Carthaginian child sacrifice to add to the negative portrayal of this people.

Works consulted: D. Levine Gera, Warrior Women: The Anonymous Tractatus De Mulieribus (Leiden: Brill, 1997).


Timaios of Tauromenion

[Portion of the story of Theiosso / Elissa / Deido and the migration]

Theiosso: Timaios says that this was what Elissa was called according to the language of the Phoenicians. She was the sister of Pygmalion, king of Tyre. Timaios says that she founded Carthage (Karchedon) in Libya. After her husband was killed by Pygmalion, she put her possessions on a ship and fled with some of the citizens, arriving at Libya after facing many sufferings. Because of her many wanderings she was calledDeido” by the Libyans, the locals. After founding the previously mentioned city, the king of Libya wanted to have her as his wife, but she refused. She was, however, pressured by the citizens. Pretending to perform a ritual that would release her from her oaths not to marry, she prepared a large fire beside her house. After starting the fire, she threw herself from the roof of her house into the fire.



[Tyrians’ migration]

(18.3) Since I am about to talk about the Carthaginians, a short account will be given regarding their origin. To some extent, I will trace back the history of the Tyrians, whose misfortunes were much to be pitied. The descent group (gens) of the Tyrians was founded by Phoenicians who, suffering from an earthquake and abandoning their country, settled at first near the Syrian lake, and afterwards on the coast near the sea. There they built a city, which, due to the abundance of fish, they named “Sidon,” for so the Phoenicians call a “fish” in their language. Many years after when their city was being stormed by the king of the Askalonians, they sailing away to the place where Tyre stands and built that city the year before the fall of Troy [imagining ca. 1200 BCE].

[Revolt of the enslaved]

The Persians harassed the Tyrians for a long time and in various ways, yet they in fact successfully resisted. Nonetheless, as the Tyrians’ strength was exhausted, they suffered the most cruel treatment from their slaves, who were then extraordinarily numerous. These traitors, having entered into a conspiracy, killed their masters and all the free people of the city. Becoming masters of the place in this way, the slaves took possession of the houses of their owners, assumed the government, appropriated wives to themselves, and became what they themselves were not: freemen. . . [omitted lengthy tale of the revolt of the slaves].

[Tale about Strato’s survival]

Out of so many thousands of slaves, there was one who was moved to compassion by the mild disposition of his aged master and the hard fortune of his little son. This slave did not look at them with savage fierceness but with humanity, affection, and pity. He hid them out of the way, therefore, as if they had been killed. The slaves came to deliberate about the condition of their government. They had resolved that a king should be elected from their own body, and that the person who first saw the rising sun should be preferred for the role. So the slave mentioned the matter to Strato (for that was the name of his master), who was then in hiding. Being instructed by Strato, and proceeding with the rest in the middle of the night to a certain plain, that slave alone kept his eye directed towards the west when they were all looking towards the east. At first, it seemed like madness to the others to look towards the west for the rising sun. However, when day began to advance and the rising luminary was shining on the highest parts of the city, this slave (while all the rest were watching to see the sun itself) was the first to point out to them the sunshine on the loftiest pinnacle of the town. This thought seemed above the intelligence of a slave. When they asked him who had put it into his head, he confessed that it was his master. It was then seen how far the abilities of freemen surpass those of slaves, who, though they may be first in viciousness, are not first in wisdom. The old man and his son were therefore spared, and the slaves, thinking that they had been preserved by the interposition of some deity, made Strato king. After his death, the throne descended to his son, and subsequently to his grandsons.

This atrocity of these slaves was widely noticed, and was a terrible example to the whole world. Alexander the Great, when he was engaging in his wars in the east some time later, having taking the city, crucified everyone who survived the siege in order to be an avenger for communal safety and in memory of the former massacre. Alexander only preserved the family of Strato, restoring the throne to his descendants. At the same time, he sent settlers that were free-born and guiltlesss to the island so that, since the class of slaves was destroyed, an entirely new generation might be established in the city. The Tyrians, being settled in this way under the auspices of Alexander, quickly grew powerful by frugality and industry.

[Migration and Tyrian colonies in northern Africa in the earlier era, imagined to take place in the 820s-810s BCE]

(18.4) Before the massacre of the masters by the slaves, when the Tyrians thrived in wealth and population, they sent a portion of their youth into Africa and founded Utica [in what is now northern Tunisia]. Meanwhile, their king Mutto died at Tyre, appointing as his heirs his son Pygmalion and his daughter Elissa, a maiden of extraordinary beauty. But the people gave the throne to Pygmalion, who was quite a boy. Elissa married Acherbas, her uncle, who was priest of Herakles [i.e. Melqart], a dignity next to that of the king.

Acherbas had great but concealed riches, having stored his gold not in his house but in the ground, because he feared the king. This was a fact about which report was not silent even though people had no certain knowledge of it. Pygmalion, excited by the account, and forgetful of the laws of humanity, murdered his uncle, who was also his brother-in-law, without the least regard for natural affection. Elissa long entertained a hatred to her brother for his crime. Finally, hiding her hatred and assuming mild looks for the time, she secretly contrived a plan for escape. She admited into her confidence some of the leading men of the city, in whom she saw that there was a similar hatred of the king and an equal desire to escape. She then addressed her brother in such a way as to deceive him: she pretended that she had a desire to move into his house so that the home of her husband might no longer remind her of him when she was wanting to forget him and so that the oppressive recollection of her sorrows, and that the sad remembrances of him might no longer be on her mind. To these words of his sister, Pygmalion was no unwilling listener, thinking that with her the gold of Acherbas would come to him. But Elissa put the attendants, who were sent by the king to assist in her moving, on board some vessels in the early part of the evening. Sailing out into the deep, she made them throw some loads of sand in sacks, as if it was money, into the sea. Then, shedding tears, she invoked Acherbas, entreating that he would favourably receive his wealth which he had left behind him, and accept that as an offering to his shade, which he had found to be the cause of his death. Next she addressed the attendants, and said that death had long been desired by her, but as for them, cruel torments and a direful end awaited them, for having disappointed the tyrant’s avarice of those treasures, in the hopes of obtaining which he had committed fratricide. Having struck terror into them all in this way, she took them with her as companions in her escape. Some bodies of senators, too, who were ready against that night, came to join her, and having offered a sacrifice to Herakles [Melqart], whose priest Acherbas had been, proceeded to seek a settlement in exile.

[Stop at Cyprus for wives]

(18.5) Their first landing place was the island of Cyprus, where the priest of Jupiter, with his wife and children, offered himself to Elissa, at the instigation of the gods, as her companion and the sharer of her fortunes, stipulating for the perpetual honour of the priesthood for himself and his descendants. The stipulation was received as a clear omen of good fortune. It was a custom among the Cyprians to send their daughters, on stated days before their marriage, to the sea-shore in order to prostitute themselves. From this they procured money for their marriage dowry and for paying for offerings to Venus [i.e. Astarte] for the preservation of their chastity in the future at the same time. Among these women, Elissa ordered about eighty to be seized and taken on board so that her men might have wives and her city would have a population.

While this was happening, Pygmalion, having heard of his sister’s flight and preparing to pursue her with insensitive hostility, was barely stopped by the prayers of his mother and the threats of the gods to remain quiet. The inspired diviners warned him that he would not escape with impunity if he interrupted the founding of a city that was to become the most prosperous in the world. By this means some respite was given to the fugitives.

[Arrival of migrants in northern Africa and founding of Carthage]

Arriving at a harbour of Africa, Elissa added to her interests the inhabitants of the coast (who rejoiced at the arrival of foreigners) and the opportunity of trading goods with them. She bargained for a piece of land that was the size of an ox-hide, so that she could refresh her companions who were tired from their long voyage until she could conveniently resume her progress. Then she directed the hide to be cut into the thinnest possible strips, and thus acquired a greater portion of land than she had apparently demanded. From this, the place had the name of “Byrsa” afterwards. As the people of the neighbourhood subsequently were gathering around her, bringing many articles to the strangers for sale in the hopes of an income and gradually making their homes there, some resemblance of a city arose from the interactions. Ambassadors from the people of Utica, too, brought them presents as relatives, and exhorted them to build a city where they had happened to obtain a settlement. The Africans also had an inclination to keep the foreigners there.

So, with the consent of everyone, Carthage was founded, with an annual tribute being established for the land which it was to occupy. When they began digging the foundations, an ox’s head was found. This was an omen that the city would in fact be wealthy, but that it woudl also be hard-working and always enslaved. The city was therefore moved to another place, where the head of a horse was found. That indicated that the people would be warlike and powerful, and indicated an auspicious site. In a short amount time, as the surrounding people came together on hearing report of the city, the inhabitants became numerous and the city itself extensive.

[Maxitanians’ relations with Carthaginians and Elissa’s noble death to avoid marriage to Maxitanian king]

(18.6) When the power of the Carthaginians had increased from success in their activities, Hiarbas, king of the Maxitanians wanted an interview with ten of the chief men of Carthage. Hiarbas demanded Elissa in marriage, threatening war in case of a refusal. The ambassadors were afraid to report this message to the queen. So they acted towards her with Punic ingenuity, saying that the king asked for some person to teach him and his Africans a more civilized way of life. However, who could be found that would leave his family and go to barbarians and people that were living like wild animals? Being then reproached by the queen, in case they refused a hard life for the benefit of their country, to which, should circumstances require, their life itself was due, they disclosed the king’s message, saying that she herself, if she wished her city to be secure, must do what she required of others. Being caught by this subtlety, she at last said (after calling for a long time with many tears and mournful lamentations on the name of her husband Acherbas), that she would go whereever the fate of her city called her. Taking three months for the accomplishment of her resolution, and having raised a funeral pile at the extremity of the city, she sacrificed many victims, as if she would appease the shade of her husband and make her offerings to him before her marriage. Then, taking a sword, she ascended the pile. Looking towards the people, she said that she would go to her husband as they had desired her. She put an end to her life with the sword. As long as Carthage remained unconquered, she was worshipped as a goddess.

[Introduction of child sacrifice and opposition by the gods]

This city was founded seventy-two years before Rome. Howevere, even though the bravery of its inhabitants made it famous in war, it was disturbed with various troubles internally that arose from dissensions. Being afflicted with a plague, alongside other disasters, they adopted a bloody and criminal sacred obligation as a remedy for the plague: they sacrificed human beings as victims and brought children – whose age triggers pity even among enemies – to the altars, entreating favour of the gods by shedding the blood of those for whose life the gods are generally accustomed to be entreated.

(18.7) Such criminal behaviour turned the gods against them. After they had long fought unsuccessfully in Sicily, and had transferred the war over to Sardinia, they were defeated in a great battle with the loss of the majority of their army. As a result of this disaster, they sentenced their general Malchus, under whose conduct they had both conquered a part of Sicily and achieved great exploits against the Africans, to remain in exile with the portion of his army that survived. . . [omitted detailed discussion of various wars and Carthaginian leaders].



[Phoenician migration, founding of Carthage and interaction with Libyans]

(1) The Phoenicians founded Carthage, in Libya, fifty years before the fall of Troy. Its founders were Zoros and Carchedon, or, as the Romans and Carthaginians themselves believe, Dido, a Tyrian woman, whose husband was murdered by Pygmalion, tyrant of Tyre. Although he tried to cover up the deed, she saw the murder in a dream. Taking plenty of money and men who were trying to escape the tyranny of Pygmalion, they came by ship to Libya [i.e. northern Africa], landing where Carthage now stands. They were driven away by the Libyans, but, for the purposes of founding a settlement, asked to be given as much land as an ox hide would cover. The Libyans laughed at the modest proposal of the Phoenicians, but were ashamed to refuse such a insignificant request. They were particularly intrigued to know how a town could be built within such a small space. So, because they wanted to see the nature of their ingenuity, they agreed to give the land, and swore an oath on it. The Phoenicians cut the hide into one very thin strip and laid it around what is now the acropolis of Carthage. It is from this that it gets its name, “Bursa” (“Hide”)

[Phoenician dominance over the area and further colonization]

(2) Using this as their base they proved better than their neighbors at fighting, and, being Phoenicians, plied the sea with their ships. Over the course of time they extended the city outside Bursa. While making themselves masters of Libya, they came to dominate much of the sea as well, and fought overseas campaigns in Sicily, Sardinia, and other Mediterranean islands, as well as Iberia. They sent out colonies to many places. Their empire matched the Greeks in power and was second in wealth after Persia.

[Clashes between Carthaginians and Romans]

Seven hundred years after the founding of the city, the Romans took Sicily from them, then Sardinia, and in a second war, Iberia too. Then they set about invading each other’s territory with great armies: the Carthaginians under the command of Hannibal ravaged Italy for sixteen consecutive years, and the Romans, with the elder Cornelius Scipio as their general, attacked Libya until they deprived Carthage of its dominance, ships, and elephants, and imposed an indemnity on them to be paid within a fixed time. This was the second treaty between Rome and Carthage, and it lasted fifty years, until they broke its terms and fought a third and final war against each other. In this war, under the command of the younger Scipio, Rome destroyed Carthage to the ground and declared it cursed. They regarded the site, however, as strategically important with regard to Libya, and recolonized it with their own people, very close to the site of the earlier settlement. . . [omitted detailed discussion of clashes].


Source of translations: Translation of Timaios by Harland in consultation with Joaquim Pinheiro, “Timaios (566),” in Jacoby Online. Brill´s New Jacoby, Second Edition, Part III, edited by Ian Worthington. Brill: Leiden, 2023; J.S. Watson, Justin, Cornelius Nepos, and Eutropius (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), public domain, adapted by Harland; H. White, Appian’s Roman History, 4 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1912-13), public domain, adapted by Harland.


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