According to legend, Carthage was founded by the Phoenician Queen Elyssa (better known as Dido) sometime around 814 BCE.

When they got to Africa, Elyssa asked the Berber ruler, a man named Iarbus, if she could buy some land to for her people to start a city. He said that she could buy as much land as she could cover with the skin of a dead ox. She told her people to cut the skin into very thin strips. They laid all the strips out to mark the borders. This gave them a very big piece of land. Elyssa and her people built a city on the land. The city was named Carthage, and Elyssa was its first queen. Carthage grew and became a very rich city. Many Berbers also went to live there

The city (in modern-day Tunisia, North Africa) was originally known as Kart-hadasht (new city) to distinguish it from the older Phoenician city of Utica nearby. The Greeks called the city Karchedon and the Romans turned this name into Carthago. Originally a small port on the coast, established only as a stop for Phoenician traders to re-supply or repair their ships, Carthage grew to become the most powerful city in the Mediterranean before the rise of Rome.

A great trade centre

After the fall of the great Phoenician city of Tyre to Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, those Tyrians who were able to escape fled to Carthage with whatever wealth they had. Since many whom Alexander spared were those rich enough to buy their lives, these refugees landed in the city with considerable means and established Carthage as the new centre of Phoenician trade. The Carthaginians then drove the native Africans from the area, enslaved many of them, and exacted tribute from the rest. From a small town on the coast, the city grew in size and grandeur with enormous estates covering miles of acreage. Not even one hundred years passed before Carthage was the richest city in the Mediterranean. The aristocrats lived in palaces, the less affluent in modest but attractive homes, while tribute and tariffs regularly increased the city’s wealth on top of the lucrative business in trade. The harbour was immense, with 220 docks, gleaming columns which rose around it in a half-circle, and was ornamented with Greek sculpture. The Carthaginian trading ships sailed daily to ports all around the Mediterranean Sea while their navy, supreme in the region, kept them safe and, also, opened new territories for trade and resources through conquest.


This is a 3D rendition of what Carthage might have looked like at the height of its power. In the foreground you can see the Cothon, the city's famous military harbour. It was this expansion which first brought Carthage into conflict with Rome. When Rome was weaker than Carthage, she posed no threat. The Carthaginian navy had long been able to enforce the treaty which kept Rome from trading in the western Mediterranean.