The history of Carthage remains largely unknown during the first three centuries of its existence. This lack of sources concerning Carthage has even pushed historians like Otto Meltzer to doubt its existence prior to the 6th century BC However, from the 6th century, Carthage struggles against the Greeks and begins to dominate in the seas of the West. There was therefore a long period of development and progress.



During this obscure period of their annals, we know that the Carthaginians conquered step by step the whole region which extends from little Sirte to the frontier of Numidia. It is also known that they established a series of trading posts on the coast of Lesser and Greater Sirte. According to the first sources that we have, we know that at the beginning of the 6th century, the continental territory subject to Carthage was divided into three zones. The first, Zeugitane also called Carchedonia, included, in addition to the surroundings of Carthage, Hippone-Zaryte, Utica, Tunis, Clypea and a few other towns on the coast, then in the interior of the lands, Vacca, Bulla, Sicca, Zama. The second region was Byzacène in which were the cities of Hadrumète (Sousse), Little Leptis (Lemta), Thysdrus (El-Djem) and Tacapé (Gabès). In the third came what were called the emporias, a series of commercial warehouses staggered on the coast, from Tacapé to the great Leptis (Tripoli), and among which we must mention Macar, Oea and the supposed island Lotus-eaters (Djerba). Carthage thus holds at the beginning of the 6th century all the trade routes of Africa.

The Philene brothers

Strong of its possessions, Carthage will thus seek to extend in Sicily and in Spain where it will clash first of all with the Greeks, then later with the Romans. But it was in Cyrenaica that the first conflict broke out. The Greeks of Cyrene having sought to dispute a neutral ground with the Carthaginians who wanted to settle there, the two parties agreed, says Sallust, a Roman historian, on a compromise in order to avoid the conflict. It was necessary, for each of the protagonists, to send on both sides two ambassadors, leaving for some from Carthage, for others from Cyrene. The place on the coast where they were to meet would mark the boundary between the two states. Carthage then chose two brothers named Philenes whom the Cyreneans sought to deceive by arguing that they had left Carthage before the deadline. But the legend says that in order to clearly mark the point where they had arrived and not to lose an inch of territory, the Philenes were buried there alive. Later, the altars of the Philenes were erected on the same spot, in memory of this legend. We will then honor with a cult the heroic Carthaginians whose devotion allowed their City to conquer all the country of Syrtes as well as the countries of African populations of Nasamons and Lotus-eaters.

The fall of Tire

Carthage therefore begins, at the beginning of the 6th century, its expansion. But thousands of kilometers away, in present-day Lebanon, a striking fact will make Carthage the new epicenter of the Phoenician world. Indeed, when Nebuchadnezzar II acceded to the Babylonian throne, he besieged Tyr, the main Phoenician city for thirteen years (585-572). Some hypotheses presume that a kind of compromise is finally established between the Tyrians and the Babylonians at the end of which Tire retains a certain autonomy. But in 539, Cyrus II took Babylon and a new period began. Integrated into the Persian Achaemenid Empire, Tire lost its independence and Carthage then became the main Phoenician city. Then begins the so-called period of Carthaginian imperialism which will see the city greatly extend its influence around the Mediterranean. It will become, during this period, the great rival of the Greeks and the Romans…