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Work Carthaginian votive stele. Priest offering the head of a sacrificed bovine on an altar
Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Levant
© 1978 RMN / Gérard Blot / Christian Jean
Near Eastern Antiquities
Discovered in Tunisia in the late 19th century, this fragmentary stele was acquired by the Louvre in 1891. It shows a scene of sacrifice in which a priest offers up on the altar the head of a slaughtered bovine. This type of representation is uncommon in the iconography of the numerous Carthaginian steles found in North Africa. It affords important evidence of the ritual practices of the Phoenician and Punic world.
In the land of Salambo
This fragmentary stele was most likely discovered near Carthage, perhaps even at the site of the famous Tophet of Salambo, a vast sacred precinct where, according to an ancient literary tradition now disputed, human sacrifices were carried out. This piece was part of the collection of Commandant Philibert Marchant, who presented it to the Louvre in 1891.
A Carthaginian votive stele of Greco-Roman inspiration
At the top is a register consisting of undulating lines in relief, evoking the sea, weaving between small circular motifs, like rosettes with barely suggested petals. Beneath this is a scene of animal sacrifice: a figure - presumably a priest or dedicator - is shown in profile, with his right arm raised in a sign of greeting and an incense burner in his left hand.
He approaches a stone altar on which sits the head of a slaughtered bovine. The realism of the beard, the hair, and the folds of the dress suggests a Greco-Roman stylistic influence, allowing the stele to be dated to the 2nd century BC. This was a time of constant contact between Carthage, Greece, and Rome. It might even come from the period of Roman occupation that followed the destruction of the Punic metropolis in 156 BC. It is noteworthy that this type of scene is rare among the motifs on Phoenician and Punic steles, with only two other such examples known, also found in Carthage.
Evidence of Phoenician and Punic religious practices
The scene represents a Phoenician tradition inherited by the colony of Carthage, whereby the divinity was offered the head of the sacrificed animal, which was placed on an altar. Epigraphic evidence helps reconstruct the sacrificial system established by the leading strata of Carthaginian society: numerous tariffs surviving from the 2nd to 4th centuries BC reveal the type of animals sacrificed and the sums to be paid for each private ritual. It is also known that a system of taxation was established, which obliged private individuals to make sacrificial offerings of meat and to visit the sanctuaries regularly, depending on the importance of the rite and of the sacrificial victim. As in Greece, sacrifice was also nourishment: each meal of meat could stand for a sacrifice, and every sacrifice of an animal was the occasion to feast on meat.
BibliographyFrom Hannibal to Saint Augustin, Exposition, Atlanta,1994.
Moscati Sabatino, Les Phéniciens, Milan, Bompiani, 1998.
2nd century BC
Gift of Commandant Marchant, 1888
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