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BT KN’NYM – Punic house

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Reconstruction of the Phoenician house
Reconstruction of the Phoenician house

The most important building for any civilization, culture or family is undoubtedly the house. Whether it is a snow refuge in the polar regions or tents in African deserts, the house always serves the same function for its users, and allows scientists to learn, at least to a small extent, the everyday life of peoples from the past.

Phoenicians or their western cousins ​​- the Punics were not as culturally conservative as we think. Regardless of where the colonizers were, the colonized were not moved away from the newly established settlements. It is worth noting that ancient colonization in no way resembles the Western European conquest of the world in modern times. The Greek or Phoenician colonies were not controlled by the “metropolis” (speaking of the Punics, it is worth mentioning the behaviour of the inhabitants of Cadiz during the Second Punic War or the Uttyka during the last siege of Carthage). -metropolis on the colony-natives plane it was different, even more human. Relations between Phoenicians and Sicilians, Libyans, Berbers, Celts, Thartesans, Nuragami and Iberians were based, whenever possible, on commercial and military cooperation. nature of the Middle East, it influenced the local peoples as well as the swarthy newcomers from overseas.

Knowing this, it becomes clear that the Phoenician cities in Sicily, Sardinia, Africa and Spain were different from each other. Both in terms of architecture and “nationality”. To go to the homes of the Punics, let’s first get to know the residential architecture of the metropolis – Kaanan.

Cedar – the main export of Phoenicians since the Bronze Age has been the main building material. It was used in large cities as well as in smaller villages or individual commercial establishments. In addition to wood, mud bricks and stones from the most conveniently located quarries were used as building materials. City centres formed two- and sometimes multi-storey houses (which Strabo describes when referring to Tire). On each floor, a long and narrow corridor led to the living quarters along its long walls. Such houses, like today in Arab cities, did not have windows from the street. Rural houses, built outside the city walls, were single-story and often surrounded by walls. The entrance led to a corridor, and from there it was possible to get to usually about 10 rooms (some of them were used as warehouses). The wall surrounding the building was supposed to protect against wind and unexpected attacks, as well as provide a sense of security and privacy.

Iberia, 4000 km from the Levant, already at the turn of the 10th and 9th centuries BCE began to be the target of the expeditions of Phoenician ships. The few colonists never had the opportunity to conquer the local peoples, so they settled and traded in raw materials thanks to treaties concluded with the Celto-Iberian aristocracy. Luxurious goods regularly handed over to warlords, gave the Phoenicians the right to use, for example, silver mines and farmland. Major cities with great harbours arose at river mouths. Each of them was associated with smaller inland settlements, serving as watchtowers and trading posts. Over time, the southern Iberian peninsula was covered by a dense network of Punic trade routes. We know what the houses in the Phoenician Hisfani looked like thanks to the archaeological work carried out in Cadiz (Phoenician Gadir). One or two-story square buildings were built on a limestone foundation. The ground floor consisted of several rooms arranged around the largest of them located in the centre of the building. The ceiling of the “living room” rested on a brick column. The walls were built of bricks or stone (opus africanum). Of course, the storeys have not survived, but it seems certain that in the densely populated harbours there were two-storey “tenement houses”. Contact with the Phoenicians had a clear impact on the local construction. Until now, oval residential buildings have started to take the form of squares and rectangles, and organic building materials have been slowly abandoned.

In the cities of Sicily, you can clearly see their multiculturalism. Typically Greek objects are “pressed” into the form of a crowded, bustling, Middle Eastern Punic city. There are wider and planned streets in the settlements. The main squares were not only for commercial purposes. They were often placed in the centre of the settlement and not at the ports – as was usually the case in Iberia and Africa. There were public utility buildings around the agoras. Homes of ordinary citizens did not differ from those mentioned earlier, but cisterns and sewage systems were becoming a standard.

Carthage as the most important Punic city is an example of the most advanced construction. The appearance of the city itself is a topic for another article, so I will focus only on houses. The suburbs of the city were full of cramped, thin sheds inhabited by the poorest social strata. Due to the fact that they were made of organic raw materials, no trace of them has remained to this day. Megara – a district full of necropolises, farmland and gardens was inhabited by the highest social classes. Square houses were fenced with walls and the space was filled with trees and shrubs. The buildings were built of sandstone and bricks painted with lime on the outside and covered with stucco on the inside. The ground floor did not have windows for defence reasons. On the first floor, there were loggias supplying the interior with the fresh air needed on the hot coast of Tunisia. In the middle of the building, ponds or wells were dug to collect rainwater and allow air to flow through the opening in the roof. Rooms were placed around this small open square. The standard was bathtubs made of red cement, sewage system and terracotta kitchens. The floors were covered with red mortar (Punic pavement, popular later in republican and imperial Rome) with white and black pebbles stuck in it. These were often arranged in the popular Tanit sign. Byrsa – the city centre was built up with high, multi-story tenement houses and public utility buildings. The buildings resembled Roman insulae but were not open to the outside. In keeping with Levantine tradition, they had few windows, the only source of air and light was the small window openings and the empty square in the centre of the rectangular object. Each “tenement house” was inhabited by many families in difficult, unsanitary conditions, as we can guess. Buildings of this type with a system of pipes were connected to cisterns collecting rainwater. The Punics put a lot of effort into collecting and saving water because that in Carthage was always lacking. The Thousand Amphora Spring – the only source of fresh water in the area, was insufficient to support 250,000 inhabitants.

Objects resembling Megara’s “palaces” were built outside the walls of Carthage. These were the homes of the aristocracy, which controlled the lands cultivated by the indigenous Libyans. The buildings were surrounded by walls, often towers were placed in their corners. Larger windows and balconies were placed only on the upper floors to facilitate defence in the event of frequent peasant revolts or wild Berber invasions. There were special facilities for the storage of agricultural produce on the property.

Punic civilization has been treated in the scientific world for the last two centuries as a stop on Rome’s road to power. This erroneous and harmful approach has distorted the way Carthage and Punics are perceived by modern people. The Phoenicians from the west were an extremely interesting, colourful and mysterious people, which you will see more than once again!


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