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Lesson 2.4: The Life and Times of Carthage


Lesson 2.4: The Life and Times of Carthage


Topic 4: Power and authority


This lesson gives students insights into the importance of Carthage and its connections with peoples and powers in the Mediterranean from its founding as a Phoenician colony to its defeat by the Romans, its reconstruction, and final disappearance as a city. Carthage illustrates shared Mediterranean history as port, as a place with connections across the sea, and as a player in imperial power struggles in the Mediterranean during its existence.


Susan Douglass


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University




2014, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


1-5 class periods, depending upon allocation of reading (groups or individual, in class or flipped classroom)


• Students will identify the Phoenicians, describe their origins and the nature of their activities in the Mediterranean region, especially related to seafaring.

• They will describe key phases in the development of the city of Carthage based on primary source narratives and study of artifacts and archaeological remains, from its founding to its demise.

• They will locate Carthage on historical maps and describe and locate its efforts to colonize and conquer territory around the Mediterranean. • They will construct a narrative of what life was like in Carthage during different phases of the city’s existence.

• They will analyze the relationship of Carthage with various groups and powers and describe their significance.

• They will make critical assessments of the written and material sources on Carthage, analyzing point of view of historical narratives, assessing what artifacts and archaeological remains can and cannot reveal.


• Student Handout 2.4.1, Timeline of Carthage from founding to the Byzantines and the Muslims

• (Optional) Video, ca. 38:19 minutes “Carthage: The Rise and Fall” at The Ancient World Review

• Student Handouts 2.4.2a and 2.4.2b on the founding of Carthage, from history and literature

• Student Handout 2.4.3a Carthage’s North African Neighbors

• Student Handout 2.4.3b on Life in Punic Carthage, Mediterranean Metropolis

• Student Handout 2.4.4 on Roman Carthage.

• Student Handout 2.4.5 on the nature of warfare, from Procopius on the Vandal wars

Lesson Plan Text

1. Introduce the lesson on Carthage by locating it on a map and looking at the timeline in Student Handout 2.4.1. As an introduction, show several clips from the video, (ca. 38:19 minutes for the whole, divided into various topics) “Carthage: The Rise and Fall” at (The Ancient World Review). The introduction is from 0:00-1:28, a segment on building the city from 1:28-5:59, on the harbor & trade from 6:00-10:45. The rest of the video is on the contest with Rome, Hannibal, etc., which these lessons do not cover in detail. The video features 3 scholars of the period and excellent images. It could be viewed in class or assigned.

2. The next segment of the lesson covers primary sources on the founding story of Carthage, by a historian and a poet. Teachers who wish to use this material will have students compare the two (including a possible “Reader’s Theater” of the segments from the Aeneid of Virgil. Questions accompany both readings, including questions about why and how dramatic founding stories emerged.

3. The contest of empires is the usual focus of classroom study of Carthage and Rome, and usually omits the African context. Student Handout 2.4.3b provides a locator map and brief overview of Carthage’s relations with Africa, and of three groups (Garamantes, Numidians, and Mauretanians). Read these as a group or individually. The second part of the handout has two excerpts from classical sources on Africa (Pliny and Strabo) written at around the same time, both used by later Europeans. Students first read Pliny and discuss the state of knowledge about African peoples, then read and contrast the second, which shows much more detailed knowledge, but also respect, and illustrates the importance of the African coast and interior. Assign students to use Strabo’s reading to list significant ways in which Africa was important to Carthage and Rome. Pre-reading: terms are explained in brackets, but note the map in which “Libya” refers to all of known Africa. Also important are various spellings for the same group.

4. The next part of the lesson explores maps, images and artifacts of life in Punic and Roman Carthage, using Student Handouts 2.4.3a and 2.4.4. Students may be assigned in groups to read and study the images as a first exercise, and then to read the primary source accounts about Carthage from Herodotus and Aristotle, and from Polybius on what happened to the people in conquered cities. Have students work in pairs, write 10 descriptive notes from the readings, and report on their impressions of life in Punic and Roman Carthage based on the readings.

5. This lesson can stand alone as a supplement to classroom study of the Barbarian Migrations It uses Student Handout 2.4.5, a set of short readings from the Procopius’ history of the Vandal Wars. It is not intended to be read in full (except possibly by Roman war buffs or gamers). Short segments can be assigned to students in pairs, with one question each. Its purpose is to explore the nature of warfare in late Rome during the period of the Barbarian Migrations. Its subject is Justinian’s re-conquest of North Africa from the Vandals. The readings illuminate Roman relations with the tribes, their use in the army, challenges of naval warfare, and the effect of conquest on the population of the cities and surrounding peoples.

6. Historian Julia Clancy-Smith, in providing guidance for this project, stated that “Rome would not have been Rome without Carthage.” Have students create a presentation, stage a debate about whether Rome or Carthage was more important, or write an essay on what Carthage meant to the Mediterranean region. The objective is to have students marshal evidence from their use of the handouts and other learning. The introductory video is a useful tool.



Susan Douglass, “Lesson 2.4: The Life and Times of Carthage,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed January 19, 2018,

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