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The Carthaginian Empire was one of the greatest empires in history. After crushing the silly Roman savages in the Punic Wars, they went on to establish territory and conquer the western world. The gods, generous and benevolent in their gifts, demand fealty from their people for their numerous blessings. Therefore, Carthaginians must make the ultimate sacrifice through blood.

The religion of Carthage demand child sacrifice of infants that are in perfect health. These are tossed into a fire pit as an offering after a lengthy ritual. All true Carthaginian families are called to make this sacrifice and participate in the tradition to sustain the eternal hunger of their deities. These offerings must be made frequently at temples around the city, as the gods' hunger is ravenous. Families must sacrifice their own children, as it is a personal offering of something precious and valuable to you. None would dare decieve the gods with such an atrocious trick. Unlike the uncouth, Roman barbarians, true carthiginans know their duty.

However, this presents a problem. With most children dying young in the ancient world, a family would be hard-pressed to kill a healthy child and sacrifice their future legacy. Medical knowledge was also lacking, meaning many women would die in childbirth and put a further strain on society.

With these conditions, how could a city sustain a steady population growth whilst maintaining an empire?

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    $\begingroup$ All depends on how many children are need to be sacrificed. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Sep 11 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ Furthermore, there are writings that indicate that Carthaginian families regularly adopted/purchased orphans to nurture and eventually sacrifice. Your assertion that the sacrifice had to be one's own flesh and blood seems misplaced. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Sep 11 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP: But anything written about Carthage by the Romans has to be examined for the possibility that it's propaganda. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 12 at 3:44
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed. The Romans were well known for smearing their enemies in the histories. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Sep 12 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexp I believe your excerpt was from an author who lived in the second century. Carthage was, as you know, destroyed by Rome in 146 BC. That's 350, maybe 400 years. It's not exactly an authoritative source and it's well known historians even well after that period simply made things up to match what we'd now call audience expectations. I doubt we'll ever have any certainty on this issue of Cartage and child sacrifice. The Romans did a really "professional" job in trying to wipe them from history. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Sep 12 at 10:02
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Population sustainability in this scenario is not as hard as you think. Firstly, yes there was a high infant mortality rate in older times, but that doesn't mean that it was all the babies that were considered sickly to begin with. Many of those babies would die of disease or even things like what we now call SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and would have been considered to be in perfect health at the time. So, adding another mortality to the cause, if your Carthaginian family is comprised of true believers, wouldn't even be that much of an emotional stretch, let alone make too much of a dent in the numbers. Infant mortality was a part of life back then and therefore while it was still an emotional trauma, it carried nowhere near the intensity we feel today when it is such a rarity.

Secondly, families may have had high mortality rates but they also had high pregnancy rates. Carthage, Rome etc. would have considered abstinence the most effective form of birth control and evidence indicates that it was seldom employed. Many wives had far more pregnancies than modern wives and this helped drive up numbers. It wasn't particularly rare for some mothers to have been pregnant to a count in the teens whereas by today's standards that would be considered very extreme.

Finally, as unpalatable as this may sound, modern statistics show that the single worst thing you can do to support population growth is engage in gender equity in both education and the workforce. Take a look at modern developed countries that support gender equity in the workplace and in education, and you'll see that if they're growing, it's because of immigration. Their birth rates are at either zero population growth or worse. Other countries with different priorities and values continue to increase the size of their populations internally.

Personally, I think child sacrifice is abhorrent and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if the Carthaginians don't even engage in the practice, but rather it's propaganda spread by the backward Romans to make them look bad. But if they were to do it, given their culture they would still grow, but perhaps just a little bit slower than they otherwise would, especially if you cap the sacrifice to a single one per couple in their lifetime which should be sufficient.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Romans (at least the upper classes) did have a number of quite effective birth control methods, and presumably the Carthaginians did also. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 12 at 3:51
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf do you have some links for that? I do know they had a few approaches that they believed in, ranging from Silphium through to crocodile feces, and the ancient Chinese used to poison themselves with lead and mercury to reduce their fertility, but I'm yet to come across an objective study as to the relative efficacy of any of these methods. Not disagreeing with you per se but I'm genuinely curious about any references you have regarding how well their methods worked. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Sep 12 at 4:04
  • $\begingroup$ @TimBII: We know quite a few Roman families in detail... For example, how many siblings did C. Julius Caesar have? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 12 at 6:14
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    $\begingroup$ For all old times and all nations most effective "birth control method" was "postnatal abortion", i.e. killing newborns by one way or another. There were some other methods like inducing miscarriages with some herbs. But they were less common due to lack of speciaists and much higher risk for a woman. not having sex was not an option, because connection between sex and pregnancy is not that obviouse as it seems now. $\endgroup$ – ksbes Sep 12 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ @ksbes: Just about any primitive stone age tribe had figured out the link between having sex and pregnancy. The Romans did indeed allow for exposure of unwanted newborns, but they definitely had effective contraception methods (including, for example, pessaries and irrigations) (and, of course, some ineffective methods). $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 12 at 12:09

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