Carthage was a very famous city in the ancient world. First settled by the Phoenicians, this crucial city was right on the Mediterranean Sea. Carthage came to be known as the master of the Mediterranean Sea trade. It fell during the Punic Wars, and then later came under Caesar Augustus, who reigned from 27 BC to AD 14. This is the Caesar Augustus of the Gospel narratives in the birth of Christ. Under Caesar Augustus, Rome took control of Carthage, and it became a great Roman city. It was second only to Rome in the Roman Empire, rivaling Alexandria from time to time for that position, but most give the honor to Carthage.
At any given time in these centuries, the population of Carthage could be 250,000 people. It had all the telltale signs of a Roman city. There were theaters in the Republic buildings. There were the extensive baths. There were aqueducts for getting water across the city and even out into the fields for farming. There was an extensive Roman road system. Soldiers were kept at Carthage. It was a busy port city and a prosperous city.
It also has quite a role in church history. It was the home of Tertullian, the great church father, from 160 to 220. Tertullian is the one who gave us the word Trinity and brought together the biblical teaching of who God is in his Trinitarian being. And so we have the word Trinity coined at Carthage.
In 203, Carthage was the site of the martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas. Those brave young women and the story of their martyrdom, courage, and stand for Christ took place at Carthage. In the 250s, Cyprian was bishop of Carthage. This was on the heels of the Decian persecution, an intense persecution by the Roman emperor Decius. After the persecution relented, folks were allowed back into the church. It created quite a controversy. It was known as the Donatist controversy that raged throughout the church from the fourth to the sixth centuries, and a key player in that controversy was Cyprian.
In 397, it was the site of the Third Council of Carthage, and the topic of discussion was the New Testament canon. Coming out of that council was an affirmation of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. So Carthage played a role in the Canon controversies during the development of the early church.
In 416, the Pelagians were condemned at Carthage, so the city played a role in the development of the doctrine of original sin. What a fascinating city with a rich history both in terms of the ancient world and in church history.
As Rome was sacked by the Barbarians in 410, Carthage was sacked by the Vandals in 429. Carthage became the capital of the Vandal Empire, which spanned across the North African coast, having the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the vast Sahara Desert to the south.
Islam came on the scene in the 600s and began to threaten from the east. At the end of the 600s, at the Battle of Carthage, Carthage fell to Islam. It was dominated by Islamic control. There was a brief time during the Crusades when Carthage was retaken, but only for a short time. It remained Muslim throughout the era of the Reformation and right on to the present day.
Carthage in the present day is a suburb of Tunis, the capital city of the northern African nation of Tunisia. Tunisia is the first government of North Africa to give protection for religious freedom, but the nation itself is still dominated by Islam. And while there is a church there going back to those early centuries, the church suffers persecution in our present day.