Lesson from Carthage: How to catch an octopus, defeat an empire

Almost all that remains of the ancient city of Carthage is a small harbor on the peninsula outside Tunis. The Romans leveled and burned the rest of the city at the end of the Third Punic War. Many more recent cities have since been built over the rest of the Carthaginian remains. “Carthage” is now an upscale suburb of Tunis.

From Google Maps:


The harbor is now a fishing port, used by the small, colorful boats that are common in many Tunisian ports.







IMG2587Stacked along the dock were piles of ceramics, each threaded with ropes or netting. These are octopus traps. Thinking they have found a good rock nook, octopuses slide inside the submerged containers. When the fishermen pull on cords, the jostling alarm causes the octopus inhabitants to hunker down. Fear is their undoing. There is an unfortunate echo of the two-thousand-year-old history of this harbor, as the Carthaginians used a similar strategy of holing up, one that the Romans overcame, ending Carthage’s rule.

Now, though, the harbor is peaceful, inhabited by fish-scrounging cats, a few local kids at play, and fishermen joking as the stow their pots.





8 thoughts on “Lesson from Carthage: How to catch an octopus, defeat an empire

  1. John Salmond

    a not-very-encouraging life lesson. Though faced with a focussed & unfeeling superior force, perhaps the lesson is to be found outside the box

  2. John Salmond

    now Rome and Carthage are idle stories, plain people carry on living in the sea and sun. But maybe after us the same won’t be the case

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Human (and pre-human) life and culture in this whole region has waxed and waned over the millenia, often driven by climate. The next centuries are predicted to dry up considerably, esp if N Atlantic ice melts faster, with knock-on effect to winds from Atlantic into Mediterranean.

  3. Kay MacKenzie

    Thanks to you both. Lovely, progressive Tunisia. I envy you the visit there, especially the Med and the food. Enjoy the harissa! Kay


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