Limestone stela with images of the goddess Tanit
From Carthage (modern Tunisia), north Africa
1st century AD
Set up over sacrificial victims
This stela comes from a religious precinct in Carthage known as the tophet. Here such stelae were set up over burial urns containing the cremated bodies of babies, small children and animals which had been sacrificed to the goddess Tanit and her consort Baal Hammon. It belongs late in the series of such monuments and has two images of the goddess, one in female form, the other in the traditional form of a triangle, crescent moon and sun disc. In spite of the classical influence shown in the two caducei, or snake-entwined staffs, the stela retains essentially Canaanite iconography.
The Canaanites of the Levant coast, known as Phoenicians from about the tenth century BC onwards, grew rich by supplying luxury materials to Mesopotamia, Egypt and Iran. Their natural harbours became major ports for handling international shipping. Commercial contacts were expanded across the Mediterranean and resulted in the establishment of Phoenician colonies. According to tradition, Carthage was founded in 814 BC, but evidence suggests the earliest occupation of the settlement was actually about 730 BC. It rapidly became the leading Phoenician colony, and the city came into conflict first with the Greeks and then with the Romans. The Romans called the Carthaginians Poeni, from which the term Punic derives.
J.N. Tubb, Canaanites (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)