Cults Myths and Legends of Ancient Sicily
4.2 Cults of Eastern Origin: Tanit

Tanit can be considered the Carthaginian version of the Phoenician Astarte, whose cult would be documented since the second millennium BC. She was the goddess of love and fecundity, characteristics that led to identify her with Aphrodite. The syncretic bond that unites Tanit to Aphrodite would be evidenced by the hypothesis that in Erice, in the same place where the temple of Venus Ericina stood, a temple dedicated to the goddess rose first.

Tanit's symbol was the truncated pyramid bearing a rectangular bar on top. The sun and crescent moon appear on this bar. This symbol can be observed in most of the stems of the Punic necropolis, from Mediterranean Africa, to Sardinia, to Sicily, to the Iberian peninsula.

Stele of the Tophet of Carthage

Tanit was considered by the Carthaginians to be Baal's wife, and she too, at least in the initial phase, was sacrificed to children. This would be evidenced by the fact that in the tophet of Motya, near urns containing the bones of children, figures representing the goddess were found. In a second phase, as it happened for the god Baal, also for Tanit, the children were replaced by animals.

Indications of a transformation towards less bloody sacrificial forms, probably due to a certain form of Hellenization of the rite, are testified to Selinunte, where recent excavations have brought to light the Punic settlement. Sacred areas have been identified, similar to the tophet of Motya, where the sacrificial remains are those of small animals.

Also in Selinunte two mosaics on the floor have been found that symbolize Tanit: one in a house, the other in a pronaos (the portico that preceded the cell in Doric temples) of the ancient temple A [1].

Selinunte Archaeological Park. Tanit symbol

At the Regional Archaeological Museum of Palermo there are funeral niches from the 2st century AD, coming from Lillibeo, which present Greek, Punic and Roman elements at the same time. In fact, the Punic symbols of Tanit [XNUMX] are accompanied by inscriptions in Greek, while the representations of the furnishings inside the aedicules are Roman.

Stele of Lillibeo at the Regional Archaeological Museum of Palermo

Other testimonies of the Tanit cult can be found in the Queen cave, near Palermo, on whose walls there are drawings depicting various animals and two typical ones signs of Tanit.

[1] Vincenzo Tusa and Ernesto De Miro: Western Sicily p.107

[2] A triangle on whose vertex there are a horizontal line and a disk that schematize a female figure.

Ignazio Caloggero


Cults Myths and Legends of Ancient Sicily by Ignazio Caloggero




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