Sunday, October 04, 2015

Review of Quinn and Vella (eds.), The Punic Mediterranean

Josephine Crawley Quinn, Nicholas Vella, The Punic Mediterranean: Identities and Identification from Phoenician Settlement to Roman Rule. British School at Rome studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xxvi, 376. ISBN 9781107055278. $125.00.

Reviewed by Carolina López-Ruiz, The Ohio State University (


This important collection of essays explores current debates about Phoenician culture in its western Mediterranean aspects, a field of growing interest.1 Its authors examine what we call “Punic” culture, that is, the western Phoenician colonial world after the sixth century (all dates BCE), marked by the rise of Carthage. The contributors agree that the name Punic (from the Latin for “Phoenician,” or “Carthaginian,” poenus, punicus) does not correspond with a clearly defined and distinct identity, but should be treated as a subset of the broader “Phoenician world,” slippery, vague, and complex as that term might be in turn. The ultimate (and frustrating) difficulty for historians and archaeologists is how to discuss those cultures (Phoenicians, Sardinians, Iberians, Numidians, and others) who left little or no literary evidence and no surviving self-defining narratives, without creating artificial modern categories shaped by material evidence, institutional projects, and intellectual trends. How do we bridge the gaps and correct for the biases in the Greek and Roman sources in order to form a more authentic view of the “Phoenicians” that is not Hellenocentric or Romanocentric? Do the cultural differences reflected in material practices reflect a separate identity between western and eastern Phoenicians? In general, the chapters all build on current views of the construction of identities and postcolonial theory, offering a fresh perspective on old and recent archaeological materials and (in fewer cases) written materials.

Cross-file under Punic Watch.