A possible Carthaginian inscription on human sacrifice

While surfing for more literary references to human sacrifice at Carthage, I happened across a Punic inscription which may be relevant. 

Now treat this with caution.  I have done no literature search.  The author, Bennie H. Reynolds, and the standing of this article, are both unknown to me.  But the publication is from Brill, which gives it a certain standing.[1]

On p.141 we get this (an abbreviated version without vocalisation appears first, and then this):

wayyaliku harabima adonba`al bena garaskin haraba wahamlakot bena hanna haraba `olaša watamaku hemata agraginta wašutu [he]

The generals offered Adonba`al, son of Garaskin the general and Hamlakot the son of Hanna’ the general [as] a sacrifice, then they seized Agrigentum, and the Agrigentines surrendered (made peace)

But the text could also be translated, I gather (p.140), as:

Generals Idnibal son of Gisco the Great and Himilco son of Hanno the Great proceeded at dawn; they seized Agrigentum, and they [the Agrigentines] made peace.[2]

Readers of my last article will, of course, recognise the similarity to the campaign of Hannibal and Himilco against Agrigentum described by Diodorus.

Only specialists in Punic and related semitic tongues could comment usefully on which version is correct.  But it is nevertheless interesting to read of this.

Update: A reader writes to tell me that the inscription in question may be found in the Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum,  where it has the reference number CIS, vol. 1, 5510. 

I have also found a paper by J. C. Quinn online discussing the Carthage “tophet” here.[3]  There is also Schwartz’ paper here[4].

  1. [1]Bennie H. Reynolds, “Molek: Dead or Alive? The meaning and derivation of mlk and ###”, in Human sacrifice in Jewish and Christian tradition, ed. K. Finsterbusch &c, Leiden: Brill, 2007, p.133-150.
  2. [2]Charles Krahmalkov, Phoenician-Punic Dictionary, OLA 90, Leuven:Peeters, 2000, p.373-4.
  3. [3]J. C. Quinn, The cultures of the tophet: identification and identity in the Phoenician diaspora, in E. S. Gruin, (ed.) Cultural Identity and the Peoples of the Ancient Mediterranean, 2011, p.388-413.
  4. [4]J. H. Schwartz &c, Skeletal Remains from Punic Carthage Do Not Support Systematic Sacrifice of Infants, PLoS ONE 5(2), 2010.

5 thoughts on “A possible Carthaginian inscription on human sacrifice

  1. In reply to both your posts, I highly suggest you see the recent osteoarchaeological studies of the infants by Schwartz et.al. which are freely available.

    The inscription you are studying is highly controversial and there is no accepted reading. However, the first translation is not at all proximate to what a Punic scholar would propose, whereas translation #2 is….

    YLK suggests movement (either “went” or “proceeded”…the ‘LS’ is likely a place or time)

    See Schmitz’s publication for the basis of Krahmalkov, as this is most widely debated and also used.

    A cautionary note on your sources…They are all Greco-Roman. Think about the inherent and built in biases. See Momigliano, Alien Wisdom for help.

  2. Do you have the bibliographic details and a link to the Schwartz and Schmitz papers, to which you refer?

    Do you have any idea WHY the subject of Carthaginian child sacrifice is arousing strong feelings, by the way?

    Your comments on the inscription are interesting — thank you. A non-punic reader like myself can have no opinion on the interpretation of the inscription, but I’d certainly like to see some other opinions on it.

    On your last point, Momigliano is not accessible to me, but I wouldn’t take the point very seriously anyway. What I want to see, on any question, is all the data tabulated. The analysis of this data is secondary to me.

    Indeed I tend to feel that we should always view a priori arguments to discard data with suspicion. It seems methodologically unsound to do that filtering up front.

    For of course we may, if we choose, discard all that the classical sources tell us about the Carthaginians on the grounds that they are biased. Of course they are biased. Indeed I have heard it suggested that modern writers have been known to be biased too. Some deviants have even suggested that I myself might be biased too, unthinkable as that might seem. In other words, bias is commonplace.

    But if we did decide to ignore all the Graeco-Roman testimony, that would make writing any account of the history of the period impossible. So in fact we never do this process of total rejection.

    Instead of discarding all their testimony, we in practice fall back on some version of the highly subjective practice of invoking this bias only when we wish to dispose of their testimony; yet forgetting all about their bias whenever we wish to make use of what they say. It gets dressed up in pretty words; but the practical effect can often be just this.

    This seems to be the most common process whereby the opinions of the period in which a post-renaissance writer lives on any controversial subject are projected back into antiquity; by the selective suppression and equally selective acceptance of data.

    No doubt some of our data about antiquity is mistaken. It must be, I agree.

    But the only way we can determine that, rather than imposing an a priori prejudice, is to see the ancient data that demonstrates that other data is mistaken.

    For the primary cause of anachronism is ourselves, of course.

  3. As I read the inscription, english version, I see nothing that confirms any sort of child sacrifice in either version. The words ‘a sacrifice’ in the first version indicate that it would be a general offering not specifically a child.

    I, of course, opt for the second reading as it makes more sense and doesn’t try to fit someone’s modern day agenda.

  4. If you would send me an email, I will be happy to send you the requested data and the relevant bibliography. I do not seem to be able to send a link to you through the contact from, which has the relevant stuff.

    It is perfectly possible to write histories of peoples in antiquity without the Greco-Roman evidence. Actually it is generally better to discard their structuring biases. The data left behind by Greeks or Romans normally pales in comparison to texts, epigraphs, and other forms of ‘internal’ evidence.

    Schwartz can be found in the link below.


  5. Mr. Pearse, I’ve stumbled across this site discussing my old paper about CIS i 5510. I can send you a copy if you contact me at Eastern Michigan University. Sincerely, Philip C. Schmitz

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