The power which the Hellenes and even the Italians possessed, of civilizing and assimilating to themselves the nations susceptible of culture with whom they came into contact, was wholly wanting in the Phoenicians. In the field of Roman conquest the Iberian and the Celtic languages have disappeared before the Romanic tongue; the Berbers of Africa speak at the present day the same language as they spoke in the times of the Hannos and the Barcides.
Their Political Qualities
Above all, the Phoenicians, like the rest of the Aramaean nations as compared with the Indo-Germans, lacked the instinct of political life --the noble idea of self-governing freedom. During the most flourishing times of Sidon and Tyre the land of the Phoenicians was a perpetual apple of contention between the powers that ruled on the Euphrates and on the Nile, and was subject sometimes to the Assyrians, sometimes to the Egyptians. With half its power Hellenic cities would have made themselves independent; but the prudent men of Sidon calculated that the closing of the caravan-routes to the east or of the ports of Egypt would cost them more than the heaviest tribute, and so they punctually paid their taxes, as it might happen, to Nineveh or to Memphis, and even, if they could not avoid it, helped with their ships to fight the battles of the kings. And, as at home the Phoenicians patiently bore the oppression of their masters, so also abroad they were by no means inclined to exchange the peaceful career of commerce for a policy of conquest. Their settlements were factories. It was of more moment in their view to deal in buying and selling with the natives than to acquire extensive territories in distant lands, and to carry out there the slow and difficult work of colonization. They avoided war even with their rivals; they allowed themselves to be supplanted in Egypt, Greece, Italy, and the east of Sicily almost without resistance; and in the great naval battles, which were fought in early times for the supremacy of the western Mediterranean, at Alalia (217) and at Cumae (280), it was the Etruscans, and not the Phoenicians, that bore the brunt of the struggle with the Greeks. If rivalry could not be avoided, they compromised the matter as best they could; no attempt was ever made by the Phoenicians to conquer Caere or Massilia. Still less, of course, were the Phoenicians disposed to enter on aggressive war. On the only occasion in earlier times when they took the field on the offensive--in the great Sicilian expedition of the African Phoenicians which ended in their defeat at Himera by Gelo of Syracuse (274)--it was simply as dutiful subjects of the great-king and in order to avoid taking part in the campaign against the Hellenes of the east, that they entered the lists against the Hellenes of the west; just as their Syrian kinsmen were in fact obliged in that same year to share the defeat of the Persians at Salamis(1).
This was not the result of cowardice; navigation in unknown waters and with armed vessels requires brave hearts, and that such were to be found among the Phoenicians, they often showed. Still less was it the result of any lack of tenacity and idiosyncrasy of national feeling; on the contrary the Aramaeans defended their nationality with the weapons of intellect as well as with their blood against all the allurements of Greek civilization and all the coercive measures of eastern and western despots, and that with an obstinacy which no Indo- Germanic people has ever equalled, and which to us who are Occidentals seems to be sometimes more, sometimes less, than human. It was the result of that want of political instinct, which amidst all their lively sense of the ties of race, and amidst all their faithful attachment to the city of their fathers, formed the most essential feature in the character of the Phoenicians. Liberty had no charms for them, and they lusted not after dominion; "quietly they lived," says the Book of Judges, "after the manner of the Sidonians, careless and secure, and in possession of riches."
Of all the Phoenician settlements none attained a more rapid and secure prosperity than those which were established by the Tyrians and Sidonians on the south coast of Spain and the north coast of Africa-- regions that lay beyond the reach of the arm of the great-king and the dangerous rivalry of the mariners of Greece, and in which the natives held the same relation to the strangers as the Indians in America held to the Europeans. Among the numerous and flourishing Phoenician cities along these shores, the most prominent by far was the "new town," Karthada or, as the Occidentals called it, Karchedon or Carthago. Although not the earliest settlement of the Phoenicians in this region, and originally perhaps a dependency of the adjoining Utica, the oldest of the Phoenician towns in Libya, it soon outstripped its neighbours and even the motherland through the incomparable advantages of its situation and the energetic activity of its inhabitants. It was situated not far from the (former) mouth of the Bagradas (Mejerda), which flows through the richest corn district of northern Africa, and was placed on a fertile rising ground, still occupied with country houses and covered with groves of olive and orange trees, falling off in a gentle slope towards the plain, and terminating towards the sea in a sea-girt promontory. Lying in the heart of the great North-African roadstead, the Gulf of Tunis, at the very spot where that beautiful basin affords the best anchorage for vessels of larger size, and where drinkable spring water is got close by the shore, the place proved singularly favourable for agriculture and commerce and for the exchange of their respective commodities--so favourable, that not only was the Tyrian settlement in that quarter the first of Phoenician mercantile cities, but even in the Roman period Carthage was no sooner restored than it became the third city in the empire, and even now, under circumstances far from favourable and on a site far less judiciously chosen, there exists and flourishes in that quarter a city of a hundred thousand inhabitants. The prosperity, agricultural, mercantile, and industrial, of a city so situated and so peopled, needs no explanation; but the question requires an answer--in what way did this settlement come to attain a development of political power, such as no other Phoenician city possessed?
Carthage Heads The Western Phoenicians In Opposition To The Hellenes
That the Phoenician stock did not even in Carthage renounce its policy of passiveness, there is no lack of evidence to prove.