The Carthaginians were Africans

Study at Carthage : Mining in North Africa contributed to the Punic Wars

Lead and silver mining has, according to a study, strengthened the resilience of ancient Carthage during the wars against the Romans. This enabled the sea and trading power to prevent the economic collapse for a long time during the three Punic Wars (264 to 146 BC), researchers conclude from lead deposits in the mouth of the Medjerda River at the northeastern tip of what is now Tunisia.

From the lead values ​​in the delta near the ancient city of Utica, Hugo Delile's team from the University of Lyon draws conclusions about historical relationships in the "Proceedings" of the US National Academy of Sciences ("PNAS").

The Carthaginians held coastal areas in North Africa

"In the three Punic Wars, two of the greatest empires of antiquity fought for control of the western Mediterranean for over a century," the researchers write. At the beginning of this time the Carthaginian coastal areas - called Punians by the Romans - held in northern Africa and in Andalusia as well as several islands in the Mediterranean Sea. How Carthage financed the wars against the up-and-coming Rome has so far been little known - also because research has concentrated more on mining in Europe than in North Africa.

The researchers have now evaluated eight drill cores from the sediment of the Medjerda, the longest river in Tunisia. They were taken near the ancient city of Utica. 77 of the 146 samples analyzed from it had a low lead content, which is probably of natural origin. In the remaining 69 samples, the lead content was greatly increased, in some cases by a factor of 20.

"The most common silver ore is galena, a lead sulfide," writes the team. "Most silver mines are therefore also lead mines." The lead in the river sediment comes from the seepage water that is created when metal is extracted from ore. Delile's team differentiates between four phases of metal extraction in the region: According to this, the first phase began around 340 BC. BC, during the Greco-Punic Wars, which lasted until 307 BC. Lasted.

First Punic coins minted in Carthage

"It is noticeable that the beginning of this early lead pollution coincides with the first minting of Punic coins in Carthage in the middle of the fourth century BC," the researchers write.

The second mining phase begins around 275 BC. A decade before the beginning of the first Punic War (264 to 241 BC). It goes back to 180 BC. Around 20 years after the end of the second Punic War (218 to 201 BC). Previously it was believed that the Carthaginians won the reparations payments to Rome after the First Punic War, about 96 tons of silver, from their mines in what is now Spain. "We now suspect that the Tunisian mines also contributed to this expenditure, as Carthage lost its traditional sources of silver during the first two Punic Wars: Sardinia and Sicily in 241 BC and Spain in 201 BC," the study says .

In the third phase, from 180 to 95 BC BC, the lead came from other sources, as the isotope composition of the deposits reveals. They match several galena deposits in the area, of which only Bou Jaber and Slata are in the Medjerda catchment area. The researchers conclude that at least one of these two deposits was developed after the older deposits were largely depleted.

Was Rome trying to appropriate the metal resources?

These raw materials enabled Carthage to withstand the economic pressure: after the second Punic War it had lost the mines in southern Spain and had to pay Rome 375 tons of silver for reparations. "So there was a significant gap between what Carthage needed for money and what metal resources it had," the team said. This pressure drove Carthage to exploit further deposits on its remaining territory. The architecture of the cities at the time shows that the trading power was still very wealthy at that time - probably also because of the mining in its hinterland.

The team speculates that the prosperity of Carthage and its mines may have been a reason for the third Punic War (149 to 146 BC). Rome may have been tempted to eliminate its rival and appropriate its metal resources. The war ended with the destruction of the city of Carthage and the area became a Roman province.

In the fourth mining phase of 95 BC According to the study, there was further mining activity to 800 AD, but to a much lesser extent than before. (Stefan Parsch, dpa)

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page