Work Punic stele with triangular pediment
Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Levant
© 1992 RMN
Near Eastern Antiquities
This is one of a group of Punic steles discovered near Constantine in Algeria in 1875. This type of votive monument to a divinity is often inscribed and decorated with religious symbols, offering an insight into the beliefs of the Punic civilization. The heir to Phoenician culture, this civilization extended over a large part of the Mediterranean from the great city of Carthage between the 9th and the 2nd centuries BC.
Some hundred steles discovered
Dating from the 2nd century BC, this votive stele was discovered in Algeria in 1875, together with some hundred others, by Lazare Costa, an Italian antiquarian from Constantine. An enthusiastic amateur archaeologist, Costa visited all the civil engineering sites and agricultural development projects in Constantine and its environs. Thus it was that on the slopes of the hill of el-Hofra - then being prepared for the planting of a vineyard - he discovered the greater part of these monuments, today in the Louvre.
A fine example of a Punic dedicatory monument
This stele has a triangular pediment and champlevé decoration. At the apex of the pediment is the letter A, immediately beneath which is the sign of the goddess Tanit: a bar with upturned ends, holding on the left the shaft of a caduceus. Above this figure is a crescent, its limbs pointing downward. The iconography as a whole is typical of the steles produced at Cirta. Halfway up, a rectangle recessed in the stone has a three-line dedicatory inscription in Punic script: "To the Lord, to Ba'al Hammon and to Tanit / of Baal; vow sworn by Arish, son of / Ba'al'azor; may you hear his voice, bless him!"
Evidence of Punic and Phoenician religious beliefs
On the stele, running from top to bottom, are three symbols.
The caduceus, generally accepted as Greek in origin, was introduced by Carthage to North Africa and Sicily in the 5th century BC. The attribute of Hermes, it may also be that of his local equivalent in the Punic pantheon responsible for conducting souls to the afterlife. The caduceus would then symbolize this role of psychopomp. However, one might well wonder whether the Numidians of Cirta (modern Constantine) in the late 2nd century BC - the approximate date of the stele here - would have preserved this understanding, or whether the caduceus might not rather have lost its original significance. The Numidians, a North African people contemporary with the Carthaginians and the Romans, upheld the Punic culture of Carthage long after the city's destruction by the Romans in 146 BC.
Always represented with its limbs pointing downward, the crescent is often associated with the sign of the goddess Tanit found beneath. It is Syro-Phoenician in origin and, along with the star and the disk that sometimes accompany it, refers to the celestial world, the abode of the chief deities of the pantheon, one of whom is the goddess Tanit.
Finally, there is the sign of the goddess herself, made up of three parts: the base, formed of a triangle or trapezium; a horizontal bar, whose ends in the vast majority of cases are turned up more or less perpendicular to the bar; and the slightly flattened circle on top of the bar.
BibliographyBertrandy François, Sznycer Maurice, Les Stèles puniques de Constantine, musée du Louvre, département des Antiquités orientales, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1987.
IIe siècle avant J.-C.
Sanctuaire d'el-Hofra, Constantine (ancienne Cirta), Algérie
H. : 44,50 cm. ; L. : 20 cm. ; Pr. : 9,50 cm.
Ancienne collection Costa, acquisition 1877 , 1877
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