A new study suggests the Carthaginians sacrificed their own infant children, burying them with sacrificed animals and ritual inscriptions in special cemeteries to give thanks for favors from the gods. So this wasn't Greek and Roman propaganda after all.

Image: Giraud Patrick/Wikimedia Commons.

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Oh, I don't know. Not that human beings wouldn't sacrifice their children — too many ancient and modern examples for that — but this case, maybe yes, maybe no.

Looking at the Guardian story, if the children were intended as a sacrifice, wouldn't the inscription be "hear my voice and bless me", rather than "heard my voice and blessed me"? People tend to make big sacrifices for things they want, rather than things they already have.

On the one hand, Ms. Quinn says "it cannot be that so many children conveniently happened to die at just the right time to become an offering". On the other hand, according to the story, she also said "although hundreds of remains were found, there were far too few to represent all the stillbirth and infant deaths of Carthage. According to Quinn, there were perhaps 25 such burials a year, for a city of perhaps 500,000 people." So is the problem there were too few or too many? I dunno, 25 from a population that size doesn't sound like too many bodies to be brought to the temple by especially religious parents to be disposed of. Maybe it was more customary for dead children to be buried with their families; has anyone analyzed the graveyards to find out?

According to the cited paper dismissing widespread human sacrifice "an alternative hypothesis acknowledges that while the Carthaginians may have occasionally sacrificed humans, as did their contemporaries, the extreme youth of Tophet individuals suggests these cemeteries were not only for the sacrificed, but also for the very young, however they died...Most of the sample fell within the period prenatal to 5-to-6 postnatal months, with a significant presence of prenates. Rather than indicating sacrifice as the agent of death, this age distribution is consistent with modern-day data on perinatal mortality, which at Carthage would also have been exacerbated by numerous diseases common in other major cities, such as Rome and Pompeii." So is anyone claiming the Carthaginians were yanking fetuses out of the womb for the gods?