(I just now added a short addendum at the bottom of this post.)
Some historical fables endure for millennia as “truth.” Ancient Rome, for example, had its own “holocaust” narrative that persists today, 2,300 years later. It consisted of the claim that Rome’s competitor, Carthage, threw their children into bonfires as sacrifices to Baal. (“Baal” was the Phoenician word for “God.” The Jewish word is “Yahweh.” For Muslims it is “Allah.”)
Ancient Greeks and Hebrews had made this same claim about “child sacrifices” regarding Canaanites, who lived in what is now Lebanon, and who were ancestors of the Carthaginians in North Africa. This claim was rather hypocritical, since the Greeks and Romans routinely disposed of their unwanted or inconvenient children by tossing them outside to perish of hunger and exposure.
The general rule among we humans is that the more graphic our lies, the more likely our lies are a false projection of our own behavior. Therefore, since the ancient Hebrews accused the Canaanites of child sacrifices, it is likely that the ancient Hebrews (not the Canaanites) were the ones doing child sacrifices, or something like it. We falsely accuse people of atrocities in order to conceal our own atrocities. This is human nature.
The truth about Carthage (and their ancestors, the Phoenicians) is that they cremated their dead in temples that the Hebrews called Tophets. This is what the enemies of Carthage called “child sacrifices” for propaganda purposes, which is like claiming that Hindus indulge in “child sacrifices” for cremating their dead. For Christians, Tophets later became synonymous with hell. In the Hebrew Bible, Canaanites sacrificed their children to the gods Moloch and Baal by burning them alive.
In reality, after the Canannites (i.e. Phoenicians, and later the Carthaginians) cremated the dead, they put the ashes in sacred urns. They also cremated dead animals. Here again the hypocrisy of Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans is striking, since Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans practiced animal sacrifices, including “holocausts” (a Greek word) in which animals in Jerusalem, for example, were thrown into a ritual bonfires twice a day.
We falsely accuse people of atrocities in order to conceal (and justify) our own atrocities. The more outrageous our own actual atrocities, the more outlandish our lies about other people’s alleged atrocities.
Carthage (headquartered in what is now Tunis, Tunisia) was a technologically advanced Empire when Rome was just a village. As Rome grew, its interests conflicted with Carthage’s interests, and the two powers ended up fighting three major wars. In the second war, the Carthaginian general Hannibal never lost a single battle with the Romans, and he almost destroyed Rome forever. Most of his battles with the Romans were fought in Italy, but Hannibal never marched on Rome itself, for reasons that are obscure. However many parts of southern Italy defected to him.
With each war against Carthage, the Romans increased their claims about Carthaginian “child sacrifices.” Chief among the accusers was Roman Senator Cato the Elder, who spent his entire life envying Carthage’s commercial success, and who concluded every speech with the words, “Carthage must be destroyed!” (The neoliberal Cato Institute in Washington DC, funded by the notorious Koch brothers, is named for Cato the Liar.) Even today many people still believe the Roman lies, and still regard Carthaginians as evil. Such is the power of self-righteous propaganda among self-righteous peasants.
In 1857, French novelist Gustav Flaubert write a novel titled Salammbô, which echoed the narrative about Carthaginian “child sacrifices,” and portrayed Carthaginians as debauched sexual deviants. Flaubert claimed that his novel had been “painstakingly researched.” Here’s a quote…
The brazen arms were working more quickly. They paused no longer.
Every time a child was placed in them, the priests of Moloch spread out their hands upon him to burden the child with the crimes of the people, vociferating: “They are not men but oxen!” And the multitude round about repeated: “Oxen! oxen!” The devout exclaimed: “Lord! Eat!”
Readers love this nonsense.
In 146 BC Rome launched its third and final war on Carthage, and won. The Romans then proceeded to obliterate Carthage’s buildings, people, language, culture, and civilization. Roman legions burned Carthage to the ground, slaughtered the city’s men, women, and children, and threw the corpses into mass graves. The flames roared for seventeen days, and afterward the Romans spent a full year obliterating whatever was left. They wanted posterity to know nothing about Carthaginian culture (except that Carthage was “evil” and performed “child sacrifices”) and in this they succeeded. When we think of ancient Mediterranean civilizations, we think of Egypt, Greece, and Rome — but not the Carthaginian Empire. History, as always, is written by the victors. And the masses, as always, defend whatever lies the victors tell them.
The same year the Romans destroyed Carthage (146 BC) they destroyed the Greek city of Corinth, slaughtering all the men, and enslaving all the women and children. Such savagery inspires today’s moral pygmies, and it is they who most readily believe historical myths, since it makes them feel “superior.”
While Roman soldiers were destroying Carthage, Roman senators were stealing the soldiers’ farms back home in Italy, thereby expanding the Senators’ wealth, and creating a permanent Roman underclass. After a senator stole a farm, he used slaves to work it, causing hundreds of thousands of homeless Italians to converge on Rome as beggars. Roman soldiers had exterminated Carthage (which had never done them any personal harm), and had dutifully echoed the claims about “child sacrifices,” only to be sacrificed themselves to the oligarchs’ greed.
It is the same today. Nothing has changed. For example, the peasants dutifully believe whatever the corporate media outlets tell them about North Korea, while the oligarchs pound them further into poverty each day. But at least the peasants “triumphed” over “gassed Jews” and “child sacrifices.” At least they are “better” than North Koreans.
The images below of the Carthaginian “Baal” are derived from a fabrication by the Roman “historian” (i.e. propagandist) Diodorus Siculus. Other famous Roman “historians” repeated the same lies (e.g. Plutarch). Philo Judaeus (a Roman Jew) also repeated it, as did Tertullian (a Roman Christian).
Today, most archaeologists still champion the “child sacrifice” claims about Carthage. Archaeologists who do not believe the claims must keep a low profile, since it is blasphemy to question the narrative, just as it is blasphemy to question the “six million gassed” narrative.
One other thing: in my opinion what made the Roman Republic and Empire it so militaristic and expansive was its collective neurosis, caused by a vast gulf between Rome’s “democratic” rhetoric and its oligarchic reality. In Italy’s rural areas, most estates were worked by slaves. In large cities, most Romans lived in poverty. Among average Romans, the impoverished ninety-nine percent coped with their misery by imagining that Roman society was more “egalitarian” and “democratic” than other societies, and by telling themselves, “At least we aren’t barbarians.”
In other words, the Empire of Rome, like today’s Empire of Neoliberalism, was an Empire of Lies. The British Empire was another Empire of Lies. It too was unequal and oligarchic, yet British society claimed to be “democratic.”
It takes a lot of energy to maintain an Empire of Lies, just as it takes energy for an individual to maintain neurotic self-delusion and denial. Maintaining pretenses and cognitive dissonance is taxing.
With neurotic empires, the void between their bullshit and their reality lies at the core of their culture. The void is a cancer that must continually be fed with bullshit pretenses, distractions, entertainment, imaginary “threats,” and outward expansion for booty — always more booty. The cancer MUST be fed.
When a neurotic Empire encounters outside competitors that are not neurotic, the neurotic Empire regards them as existential threats, since their very existence is a spotlight on the cancer at the neurotic Empire’s core.
For example, there were many cities in the Carthaginian Empire, and some still survive as ruins. One city, Kerkouane on the north coast of Tunisia, proves that average Carthaginians had many more luxuries than did average Romans. Each Carthaginian house had large spacious bathrooms, whereas most Romans lived homeless on the street, or in multi-story apartment blocks, with entire families in one dark, dank room. The average Roman’s toilet was a chamber pot. Only rich Romans had amenities. And the gap between the rich and the rest was always widening.
Roman society could not tolerate the fact that average Carthaginians were much happier than average Romans, and enjoyed much more luxury and equality than did average Romans. Such factors filled Cato the Liar (mentioned above) with envy and hatred. “Carthage must be destroyed!”
Put more simply, when an evil empire encounters paradise, the empire despises it, is terrified by it, and becomes obsessed with destroying it. Paradise is a “threat.” Paradise is “hell,” and is pure evil. (“They sacrifice children to their evil god!” Or, “They gas Jews!”)
Each time Rome destroyed Carthage, the Carthaginians eventually recovered, and became once again happy and prosperous. This drove Rome mad. It was intolerable. It was an outrage. The Carthaginians refused to “leave Rome in peace” (that is, the Carthaginians refused to become as evil and neurotic as the Romans).
Thus, by the end of the Third Punic War, the Romans annihilated Carthage once and for all. Carthage was destroyed by the evil Roman monster, and the monster in turn was eventually destroyed by its own internal cancer. It will be the same with today’s Neoliberal Empire.