Ancient Western history intrigues me, and any study of Roman history from before the time of Augustus and the Empire has always included the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. Much of early Roman history is wrapped up in its wars with Carthage, a civilization from across the Mediterranean Sea, on the coast of North Africa. Rome has always been an interesting study, but Richard Miles's Carthage Must Be Destroyed is my first foray into Carthaginian history. It's a wonderful book, though I do wish it had been a bit more than it actually was.
"Carthage must be destroyed" was uttered by Cato the Elder, a Roman statesman and general who fought in the Punic Wars, and is a fitting title for this book—though one that highlights one of the weaknesses of the book as well.
The book jacket promises that this book is a "full scale history" of Carthage. That's not totally accurate. While Miles does convey a great deal of information about how Carthage was formed as a colony of the Phoenicians but ended up becoming greater than its sire, Carthage Must Be Destroyed is almost entirely about Carthage as an empire, not Carthage as a place to live. We read how it became a great empire in itself, with colonies in modern-day Spain and Sicily, and how this eventually forced them to butt heads with the growing Roman influence in the Mediterranean. It's all about foreign affairs, meaning we learn relatively little about what life in Carthage was actually like. This may be due to a lack of sources and thus may not be Miles's fault. Taken as a whole, however, the book does not come as advertised.
That being said, Miles's work is quite comprehensive when it comes to Carthage's foreign relations and empire-building. An archaeologist as well as historian, Miles has led many digs where Carthage stood before its destruction. While he plumbs plenty of written sources and records, he also utilizes archaeological evidence to back up his statements. Many of the notes in the back of the book refer to pottery in certain areas and how inscriptions on the pottery indicate that there was more of a relationship between two civilizations, or money that was minted by certain leaders indicating something else. It's truly fascinating seeing how it's all pieced together.
There are very few Carthaginian written sources available. All of the written material from the time period comes from Roman and Greek historians, most of whom hated the Carthaginians. Miles admits up front that most of the available primary sources may not actually be that reliable. He does an admirable job of sifting through the sources, the archaeological evidence, and other historians' studies of the period to put together an interesting book that holds together quite well.
I much prefer footnotes to endnotes in history books; I hate thumbing back and forth, either having a bookmark on the notes page or my finger. Carthage Must Be Destroyed has an endnotes system, but it is understandable and actually quite useful. I stop even looking at the notes—mmainly they just quote the source, and the constant flipping of pages gets annoying—but I was riveted to Miles's notes.
This is because he uses the notes section not only to quote his sources but often to also address some ongoing controversies regarding the subject or to clarify exactly what he's talking about. Some of the notes run to a quarter of a page long as he gets into what other historians say about the subject or states why he's going with a particular interpretation of the evidence. With anything greatly controversial, he doesn't merely ignore the side he disagrees with so that the reader doesn't even know that there is a debate. He acknowledges both sides and states why he thinks the way he does. This would sidetrack the narrative of the book itself, but in the notes section, it's great.
Carthage Must Be Destroyed runs the gamut from Carthage's founding to its utter destruction and will keep anybody with any interest in the subject reading long into the night.