Document Type : Research Article


PhD Candidate in Historical Archaeology, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran.


In a narration of Trogus, dated to the first century AD, is quoted that a decree from Darius I sent to the people of Carthage, in which Darius forbade the Carthaginians from sacrificing humans and eating dog meat and asked them to burn their dead instead of burying them in the ground. Traditions such as human sacrifice and eating dog meat have been prevalent among the Carthaginians for centuries. But why did the Achaemenid emperor issue such an order to the people of Carthage? To answer this question, it is necessary to compare historical narratives with archaeological evidence. According to evidence such as the Elephantine papyri, the Achaemenids interfered in the religious affairs of the occupied territories only if in one land the observance of a religious tradition by one people contradicted the religious beliefs of another people, and this contradiction led to religious conflicts. Darius's order was issued on the verge of the Battle of Marathon. At the same time, the Carthaginians were engaged in a decisive battle with the Greeks for control of the island of Sicily. By sending aid and troops to Carthage, Darius could not only defeat the Greeks in Athens, but also cause them trouble on the Sicilian front. The bulk of Darius's expeditionary forces were probably Iranians, and human sacrifice and eating dog meat were unfamiliar to them. According to this article, Darius's order could prevent religious conflicts between the Iranians and the Carthaginians on the verge of an important battle with the Greeks.


Main Subjects

Extended Abstract

Study of the political, social and cultural dimensions of the decree of Darius I to the people of Carthage


One of the topics mentioned in classical texts is the narration of a decree that Darius I sent to Carthage and asked the Carthaginians to give up some of their traditions and rituals (Justinus, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, 19. 1). From the second half of the 7th century BC, the grounds for conflict between the Greeks and the Carthaginians became more prepared (Ameling 2011: 42). The reason for the formation of these conflicts was the beginning of the Greek attempts to expand their influence in western Sicily and near the Phoenician settlements. Military conflicts between the Greeks and the Phoenicians opened the door of Carthage to the Sicilian wars. Carthage soon took control of Sicily's Phoenician settlers and entered into military conflicts on the island. It was under such circumstances that Darius's envoys came to Carthage and took the order of the Achaemenid emperor with them. Description of this command from Trogus (1st century BC) has been quoted by Justinus (the historian of 2nd and 3rd centuries AD):

During the course of these transactions, ambassadors came to Carthage from Darius king of Persia, bringing an edict, by which the Carthaginians were forbidden to offer human sacrifices, and to eat dog's flesh, and were commanded to burn the bodies of the dead rather than bury them in the earth; and requesting, at the same time, assistance against Greece, on which Darius was about to make war. The Carthaginians declined giving him aid, on account of their continual wars with their neighbours, but, that they might not appear uncompliant in everything, willingly submitted to the decree.  (Justinus, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus 19. 1)

The main question is why and in which historical context this decree was issued?

Evidence of human sacrifice and eating dog meat in Carthage

In a narration from Theophrastus, there is information about human sacrifice ceremonies in Carthage (Hughes 1991: 116 cited from Theophrastus 13. 22-6 ). There is another narration from Cleitarchus, speaks about burning children as human sacrifice in Carthage (Mosca 1975: 22). In a part of the book of Levicitus, Yahweh asks Moses to tell to the Israelites not to pass their children through the fire for a god called Molech (Levicitus 18. 21). In 1921, intact evidence of a Phoenician temple in Salammbȏ, near the northern port of Tunis, was first identified. On one of the stelae obtained from the Tanit Temple in Salammbȏ, there is a relief that shows picture of a person holding a naked child and wearing a thin dress. This relief has been dated to 7th-4th centuries BC that is almost contemporary with the Achaemenid period. In the early horizon of the Tanit Temple, the remains of jars containing ashes have been found, inside which a number of deciduous teeth have been reported (MacKendrick 1980: 8).

There is also important evidence of eating dog meat in Carthage. We know from historical accounts that this tradition has been practiced since ancient times among the Berber peoples from Egypt to North Africa and even the Canary Islands (Simoons, 1994: 227).

Such traditions was not acceptable for Iranian peoples. We do not have meaningful evidence about human sacrifice and eating dog meat from Achaemenid sites. But we know, similar traditions has been continued in non-central Achaemenid territory. So why the Achaemenid king forbade the Carthaginians from this traditions?


Darius sent the decree to the people of Carthage around 491 BC and before the Battle of Marathon. It seems, he wanted to conspire with the Carthaginians against the Greeks. The Carthaginians spent all their money on the conflict with the Greeks and got into trouble. Under such circumstances, Carthage naturally needed a military and political supporter, and that supporter could be the Achaemenid Empire. Darius's military support of the Carthaginians and Phoenicians against the Greek immigrants probably must have been accompanied by sending troops to Carthage and Sicily. Military forces, most of whom were Iranians and Persians, and traditions such as human sacrifice and eating dog meat, were unfamiliar and unacceptable to them. The continuation of these religious traditions in the midst of the Sicilian wars could cause religious conflict between the Iranians and the Carthaginians. According to the papyri of Elephantine, we know that the Achaemenid Empire was interfering in religious issues just for preventing a conflict between two groups of people and Darius's order to the Carthaginians can be considered as a strategy to prevent a religious conflict between the Iranians and the allied Carthaginians

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