During the era of Roman republic, Punic Carthage was not only the aemula Romae in the sense of political hostility and rivalry in the struggle for supremacy in the Western mediterranean. In Greek and Latin texts which are, with very few exceptions, written by either Roman or pro-Roman authors, Carthage is consequently depicted as a city that is on the one hand the non-Roman ‚Other‘ par excellence. On the other hand Carthage bears a number of similarities to Rome, to whose destiny it is fatally linked.


While the pertinent literary discourses from the early Roman historians down to the Augustan and imperial poets have been investigated extensively for centuries, it has escaped scholarly attention that the close link between Rome and the north African metropolis as literary and intellectual spaces survived the destruction of the Punic city and the Augustan resettlement and continued, albeit transformed, until late antiquity. Rome by itself is of interest as a centre of politics and culture and as the meeting-point of the intellectual elite of the entire Roman empire. Carthage is the major centre of culture and of church politics in western North Africa, where a prominent series of members of these intellectual elites was recruited, studied or taught. There is abundant scholarship on late antique Rome (the ‚Romidee‘) and sufficiant research on Christian North Africa. A comprehensive comparative study of Rome and Carthage as intellectual spaces during the later Roman empire is however still a desideratum. This project aimed at filling this gap, at least partially.


The following issues may give an overview of the various findings:

Central themes of the ancient tales about Punic Carthage remain persistent until Late Antiquity. Tertullian and Augustine both use Dido as an exemplary character for contemporary moral discourses. Similarly, the topic of decadence coined by writers of the 2nd and 1st centuries BC using the example of the Roman-Carthaginian antagonism are transferred to late antique circumstances.

Just as the late antique urbs Roma, Carthage is depicted by Christian writers as a sort of heterotopia, as a place of sins and temptation. This is not only discernible in Augustine’s Confessiones, but also in less prominent writers such as Salvianus. The countermodel is no longer collective Roman virtus, but a well organised and, in Christian terms, properly governed citizenry.

If it supports an author’s argumentation, Carthage is separated from or even subordinated to Rome. In a sermon delivered in Carthage in 401, Augustine interprets the pagan gods as (urban) Roman gods who have no place in Carthage anyway. So Carthage is again Non-Rome, in a sense of non-pagan.

On the eve of the Vandal invasion there is a similar struggle of claiming sacred spaces as it has taken place at Rome about fifty years before. In Quotvultdeus’s account of the Christian rededication of the Temple of the Dea Caelestis some traits can be found known from the works of Symmachus, Ambrose and Prudentius.

Already for the classical rhetors, the cityscape served as a mnemonic device for abstract concepts. Starting from his mental image of Carthage, Augustine not only develops a theory of the human mind but also of the trinity as its divine counterpart. With a slightly different emphasis, he conceives the Roman cityscape as a space of reference. In the works he published after the Sack of Rome (410 AD), the city is predominantly informed by loca sancta and martyrs‘ tombs. These do not, however, constitute a new urbs aeterna, but are mere signifiers whose ideal counterparts can only become reality in the mind of an individual.  

Further activities

In spite of being primarily interested in literary texts, we constantly aim at collaboration with the neighbouring disciplines such as archaeology and ancient history. In autumn 2014 Felix Mundt held a lecture together with Eva Winter (Jena). By taking the example of imperial Cyzicus, it was studied how the intellectual spaces conjured up in literature (e.g. historiography and panegyric) really mirror the partially reconstructable material ‚reality‘ and how on the other hand the formation of hypotheses among modern archaeologists is still influenced by ancient texts which often are products of rhetorical creative power rather than of empirical observation and autopsy.

In January 2016 the research group (C-6) Cityscaping was happy to welcome Leif Scheuermann as a Senior Fellow within the project who is an internationally renowned expert in the field of digital humanities. In the course of his habilitation project on the Roman cityscape in the works of Cicero he is developing innovative tools and methods suitable especially for the work of literary scholars and historians. In several workshops and presentations with doctoral fellows and members of Topoi, he impressively demonstrated how GIS based data management may be fruitful for the exploration of literary spaces. In December 2016 Therese Fuhrer organized together with her doctoral student Johannes Singer an interdisciplinary round table discussion on Carthage in the Augustan period at the LMU Munich. Presentations of our work to a broader audience include guest lectures at the DAI Berlin (February 2013), at the University of Kent (GB), Canterbury (November 2015), at the department of Classics at Graz University (January 2015), at the Classics department, University of Mainz (February 2015), at Gent University (September 2015), and a workshop on Carthage in late antiquity with high school students from all over Germany during the “August-Boeckh-Winterakademie“ at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin  (February 2016).