When we remember ancient Carthage in modern textbooks and documentaries, it’s usually seen through the lens of Roman dominance, a warped shell of a culture with little more to do in history but fall to the greatest power of the ancient world.
Richard Miles takes the title of his detailed exploration of the rise and fall of the Carthaginian city-state from the declaration of Roman statesman Cato the Elder: “Carthage Must Be Destroyed.” Carthage and Rome can’t exist in the Mediterranean together. This town ain’t big enough for the both of us, so let’s run them out before they run us out.
It’s a tale as old as civilization. Cultures compete, they clash, the victor writes the histories. It is with this understanding that Miles sets out to chronicle the true history of the power that nearly toppled a young Roman Republic, using sources from throughout the ancient world to document the roots and ascent of Carthage, followed by its legendary clashes with Rome in the Punic Wars, and finally its devastation at the hands of the Romans in 146 BC.
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Carthage Must Be Destroyed is its completeness. Miles’ ambitious agenda is to chronicle not just Carthage as it relates to the rise of Rome (the dominant perspective of many historical texts), but Carthage as it relates to the whole of the Western world at the time. Carthage, he shows us, was a vibrant power all its own, and very nearly triumphed in the Punic clashes. It’s astounding, though not surprising, that Carthage’s tremendous influence over the Mediterranean world during its heyday is not looked upon with more significance. Miles is a gifted historian with the storytelling power to explain not only how this happened, but why it happened, and why it matters.
Though you might find yourself reading through the book’s early chapters with a desire to get on to the wars, the ultimate result of Carthage Must Be Destroyed is a rewarding, fully formed historical text with the power to reinvigorate interest in a lost empire and add color to the already vibrant field of ancient history. For fans of tomes devoted to the ancient Western world, Carthage Must Be Destroyed is sure to become indispensable.