Isocrates, the senior contemporary of Aristotle, says that the Carthaginians had an oligarchical government at home, but a monarchical government in the field; and thus the office of the Carthaginian general may be correctly described by Roman writers as a dictatorship, although the gerusiasts attached to him must have practically at least restricted his power and, after he had laid down his office, a regular official reckoning--unknown among the Romans--awaited him. There existed no fixed term of office for the general, and for this very reason he was doubtless different from the annual king, from whom Aristotle also expressly distinguishes him. The combination however of several offices in one person was not unusual among the Carthaginians, and it is not therefore surprising that often the same person appears as at once general and shofete.
But the gerusia and the magistrates were subordinate to the corporation of the Hundred and Four (in round numbers the Hundred), or the Judges, the main bulwark of the Carthaginian oligarchy. It had no place in the original constitution of Carthage, but, like the Spartan ephorate, it originated in an aristocratic opposition to the monarchical elements of that constitution. As public offices were purchasable and the number of members forming the supreme board was small, a single Carthaginian family, eminent above all others in wealth and military renown, the clan of Mago,(8) threatened to unite in its own hands the management of the state in peace and war and the administration of justice. This led, nearly about the time of the decemvirs, to an alteration of the constitution and to the appointment of this new board. We know that the holding of the quaestorship gave a title to admission into the body of judges, but that the candidate had nevertheless to be elected by certain self-electing Boards of Five (Pentarchies); and that the judges, although presumably by law chosen from year to year, practically remained in office for a longer period or indeed for life, for which reason they are usually called "senators" by the Greeks and Romans. Obscure as are the details, we recognize clearly the nature of the body as an oligarchical board constituted by aristocratic cooptation; an isolated but characteristic indication of which is found in the fact that there were in Carthage special baths for the judges over and above the common baths for the citizens. They were primarily intended to act as political jurymen, who summoned the generals in particular, but beyond doubt the shofetes and gerusiasts also when circumstances required, to a reckoning on resigning office, and inflicted even capital punishment at pleasure, often with the most reckless cruelty. Of course in this as in every instance, where administrative functionaries are subjected to the control of another body, the real centre of power passed over from the controlled to the controlling authority; and it is easy to understand on the one hand how the latter came to interfere in all matters of administration--the gerusia for instance submitted important despatches first to the judges, and then to the people --and on the other hand how fear of the control at home, which regularly meted out its award according to success, hampered the Carthaginian statesman and general in council and action.
The body of citizens in Carthage, though not expressly restricted, as in Sparta, to the attitude of passive bystanders in the business of the state, appears to have had but a very slight amount of practical influence on it In the elections to the gerusia a system of open corruption was the rule; in the nomination of a general the people were consulted, but only after the nomination had really been made by proposal on the part of the gerusia; and other questions only went to the people when the gerusia thought fit or could not otherwise agree. Assemblies of the people with judicial functions were unknown in Carthage. The powerlessness of the citizens probably in the main resulted from their political organization; the Carthaginian mess- associations, which are mentioned in this connection and compared with the Spartan Pheiditia, were probably guilds under oligarchical management. Mention is made even of a distinction between "burgesses of the city" and "manual labourers," which leads us to infer that the latter held a very inferior position, perhaps beyond the pale of law.
Character Of The Government
On a comprehensive view of its several elements, the Carthaginian constitution appears to have been a government of capitalists, such as might naturally arise in a burgess-community which had no middle class of moderate means but consisted on the one hand of an urban rabble without property and living from hand to mouth, and on the other hand of great merchants, planters, and genteel overseers. The system of repairing the fortunes of decayed grandees at the expense of the subjects, by despatching them as tax-assessors and taskwork-overseers to the dependent communities--that infallible token of a rotten urban oligarchy--was not wanting in Carthage; Aristotle describes it as the main cause of the tried durability of the Carthaginian constitution. Up to his time no revolution worth mentioning had taken place in Carthage either from above or from below. The multitude remained without leaders in consequence of the material advantages which the governing oligarchy was able to offer to all ambitious or necessitous men of rank, and was satisfied with the crumbs, which in the form of electoral corruption or otherwise fell to it from the table of the rich. A democratic opposition indeed could not fail with such a government to emerge; but at the time of the first Punic war it was still quite powerless. At a later period, partly under the influence of the defeats which were sustained, its political influence appears on the increase, and that far more rapidly than the influence of the similar party at the same period in Rome; the popular assemblies began to give the ultimate decision in political questions, and broke down the omnipotence of the Carthaginian oligarchy.