Cults Myths and Legends of Ancient Sicily
4.1 Cults of Eastern Origin: Baal

With this name, which means "master" or "lord", the Semites indicated the male divinity, the spirit of male fertility.

An embodiment of natural forces, Baal was linked to agriculture. The deity, also known by the name of Baal Hammon, was already known in the East in the XNUMXth century. BC, and the Carthaginians spread the cult among other peoples of the Mediterranean. Later, with the Romanization of the Mediterranean, the cult of Baal was identified by the Romans with that of Saturn and by the Greeks with that of Cronos.

When Phenicia came under the hegemony of the Jews, the god of the pre-Israelite peoples was associated with the devil, as hostile to the deity worshiped by the Jews. The name Baal-Zebub,  meaning "lord of the flies", [1] was replaced first, in the contemptuous form of Baal-Zebul which meant "lord of the dung" and finally in Beelzebub, name used to indicate the lord of the devils. He was also called by the Jews "Molech“, Which in Hebrew means“ king of ignominy ”, due to the human sacrifices that were offered to him and which saw children as innocent victims. 

baal-altar

The sacrifice took place in open and enclosed shrines called “Tofet”, where the urns containing the remains of cremated children were buried.

tophet

Tofet have been found in Carthage, in Punic Africa, in Sicily a Mozia [2] and also in Sardinia.

mozia-il-tophet

The sacrifice concerned the first-born of the noblest families, even if, often, subterfuges were used to spare them: in fact, the even more barbaric habit of buying or kidnapping foreign children who were fed and then sacrificed in place of children was not rare. true.

Diodorus Siculus (lib. XX.14) tells us that during the siege of Carthage, which occurred by Agatocles in 310 BC, the Carthaginians reproached themselves for having abandoned the tradition by sacrificing foreign children and, seeing the enemy at the gates, hastened to ask forgiveness from the gods by sacrificing two hundred children chosen from the most prominent families in the city.

The innocent victims of such barbarism were sacrificed before being cremated. Diodoro tells about it:

"In Carthage there was a bronze statue of Cronos, hands outstretched, with the palm turned up and tilted towards the ground, so that the child, placed on top of them, rolled and fell into a pit full of flames".

It was thought that the Tophets did not only function as a sanctuary for the sacrifice of small victims, but also as a necropolis. This would be corroborated by the fact that, in a period in which infant mortality was to be high, there is no evidence, in the official necropolises, of consistent burials of newborns.

To explain the significance of this type of sacrifice it has been hypothesized that it served to renew divine energy through the blood of the best children. The fire, then, would give a new divine life to the sacrificed children, thus alleviating the pain of the parents.

Human beings were not always immolated in the Tofet, sometimes lambs or other small animals were used instead, as evidenced, in the Tofet di Motya, by the findings of seven layers of depositions of cinerary urns containing the remains of sacrifices, some of which of animals [3]. The remains indicate that the Tophet was used starting from the 397th. sec. BC, and that the use continued even after the abandonment of the island, which took place after XNUMX BC.

In 1825, in Solunto, a large Hellenistic statue representing Baal Hammon was found, exhibited at the Museum of Palermo [4].

Another testimony of the cult of Baal is found in Marsala, the ancient Lillibeo, where a stele was found which, in addition to an inscription in Punic dedicated to Baal, represents an offering to the divinity and some symbols of the Phoenician religion. Punic[5]. The stele is now in the Regional Archaeological Museum of Palermo.

[1] Ambrogio Donini: A brief history of religions p.26

[2] The ancient city of “Motia” is located in the current islet of S. Pantaleo just north of Marsala, about 1600 m. from the coast.

[3] Vincenzo Tusa and Ernesto De Miro: Western Sicily p.56.

[4] Filippo Coarelli and Mario Torelli: Sicily “Archaeological Guides Laterza” p.41.

[5] Vincenzo Tusa and Ernesto De Miro: Western Sicily p.29

 

Ignazio Caloggero

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Cults Myths and Legends of Ancient Sicily by Ignazio Caloggero

Baal

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