Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Queen Elissar, a princess of Tyre founded Carthage

Queen Elissar, a princess of Tyre founded Carthage.
Her metropolis rose in its high-noon to be called a "shining city," ruling 300 other cities around the western Mediterranean and leading the Phoenician Punic world.

In the harbor of ancient Tyre in Phoenicia, the fisherman chant "Ela--eee--sa, Ela--eee--sa," as they haul in their nets. They cannot say why; maybe it's for luck, or maybe it's a lament for their princess who left her homeland never to return.

Elissar or Elissa (Elishat, in Phoenician) was a princess of Tyre. She was Jezebel's grandniece — Princess Jezebel of Tyre was Queen of Israel. Her brother, Pygmalion king of Tyre, murdered her husband, the high priest. She escaped tyranny in her country and founded Carthage and thereafter its Phoenician Punic dominions. Carthage became later a great center of the western Mediterranean in its high-noon. One of its most famous sons was Hannibal who defied Rome.

Details of her life are sketchy and confusing, however, following is what one can deduce from various sources. According to Justin, Princess Elissar was the daughter of King Matten or Muttoial of Tyre (Belus II of classical literature). After his death, the throne was jointly bequeathed to her and her brother, Pygmalian. She was married to her uncle Acherbas (Sychaeus of classical literature), High Priest of Melqart and a man of authority and riches like that of a king. Tyrannical Pygmalion, a lover of gold and intrigue, was eager to be acquire the authority and fortune of Acherbas. He assassinated him in the Temple and kept his evil deed a secret for a long time from his sister. He cheated her with fictions about his death. Meanwhile, the people of Tyre were pressing for a single sovereign that caused dissensions within the royal family.

Legend has it that the ghost of Acherbas appeared to Elissar in a dream and told her what had happened to him. Further, he told her where she could find his treasure. Further, he advised her to leave Tyre for fear of her life. Elissar and her supporters seized the treasure of gold. However, because she was threatened and frightened, Elissar decided to trick and flee her brother. Not to awaken her brother's suspicions, she made it known that she wanted to travel and send him offerings. Acherbas approved thinking that Elissar would send him riches. He provided her with ships. During the night, Elissar had her treasures of gold hidden in the hold of the ships and had bags filled with sands laid out onboard, also. Once at sea she had the sand bags thrown overboard, calling that an offering in memory of her murdered husband. The servants feared that loss of the treasure would enrage the king against and they would suffer his reprisal. Consequently, they decided to pay allegiance to Elissar and accompany her on a voyage. Elissar's supports, as well as additional senators and priests of Melqart joined the group. Consequently, they left the country in secret, leaving behind their homeland forever. They traveled first to the island of Cyprus to get supplies for a longer journey. There, twenty virgins who were devoted to serve in the Temple of Ashtarte (Venus) as vestal virgins, renounced their vows, and married in the Tyrinian entourage that accompanied the princess. Thereafter, Elissar and her company, "the vagrants" faced the open sea in search for a new place to settle.

Very early in ancient history, Phoenician sailors had visited the far corners of the Mediterranean sea and established commercial relations with the local people. Sidonian Phoenicians had established trading posts in the 16th century B.C. at Utica which is relatively close to where Carthage was later to be established. Their main objective was commercial to compete with their Tyrinian Phoenician brothers who had a colony at Utica. Archaeological evidence of the early settlements have been found. The position of Utica towards Carthage was precisely that of Sidon towards Tyre. It was the more ancient city of the two, and it preserved a certain kind of position without actual power. Carthage and Utica competed, like Tyre and Sidon and they were at one time always spoken of together.

Elissar and her Tyrinian entourage, including her priests and temple maidens of Ashtarte, crossed the length of the Mediterranean in several ships and settled the shores of what's today modern Tunisia. Her expedition came and negotiated with the local inhabitants on purchasing a piece of land. Sailing into the Gulf of Tunis she spied a headland that would be the perfect spot for a city and chose the very site called Cambe or Caccabe which was an ancient Sidonian Phoenician trading post. However, some records indicate that the goddess Tanit (Juno in Latin) indicated the spot were to found the city. The natives there weren't too happy about the newcomers, but Elissar was able to make a deal with their king Japon: she promised him a fair amount of money and rent for many years for as much land as she could mark out with a bull's skin.

The king thought he was getting the better end of the deal, but he soon noticed that the woman he was dealing with was smarter than he had expected. This purchase contained some intrigue while the size of the land was thought not to exceed a "Bull's Hide," it actually was a lot larger then ever thought. The trick she and her expedition employed was that they cutup a bull's hide into very thin which they sewed together into one long string. Then they took the seashore as one edge for the piece of land and laid the skin into a half-circle. Consequently, Elissar and her company got a much bigger piece of land than the king had thought possible. The Carthaginians continued to pay rent for the land until the 6th century BC. That hilltop today is called the "Byrsa." Byrsa means "ox hide." However, there is some confusion over the word; some believe that it refers to the Phoenician word borsa which means citadel or fortress. King Japon was very impressed by Elissar's great mathematical talents and asked her to marry him. She refused, so he had a huge university built, hoping to find another young lady with similar talents instead. On that "carved" site, Elissar and her colonial entourage founded a new city ca. 814 BC.3 They called it 'Qart-Haddasht' (Carthage) which comes from two Phoenician words that mean 'New Land." In memory of their Tyrinian origin, the people of Carthage paid an annual tribute to the temple of Melqart of Tyre in Phoenicia.

The city of Carthage slowly gained its independence from Tyre though it was initially controlled by its own magistrates carrying the title of suffetes It kept close links with Tyre, the metropolis, until 332 BC. The colonization of Carthage, and thereafter, the territories around the western Mediterranean were a very successful endeavor that gave rise to the powerful Phoenician Punic dominions. A western Mediterranean Phoenicians become known as Carthaginians. Later, Punic, a name used by the Romans to refer to western Mediterranean Phoenicians, was applied to all Carthaginians and the 300 city states and lands they came to occupy. The Carthaginian were very captivated with their queen and many believe that she was thought to be a goddess who came to be known Tanit.


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