Carthaginian Mask and Priest

Carthaginian Mask and Priest

So while looking up masks from ancient Carthage, I came across this gleeful-looking specimen fashioned out of terra cotta. Carthage started out a Phoenician colony on the northwest African coast, and much of their surviving material culture shows influence from around the Mediterranean basin, but certain designs of this mask suggested native African influences to me. The grooves in particular evoke traditional Sudanic scarifications, which can take the form of simple lines, rows of dots, or more elaborate symbols. In addition, the very ritual of masking itself has a deeply rooted history in West and Central Africa, where it commonly serves a religious function. No one is certain what Carthaginians did with their masks (the Romans did a thorough job sacking Carthage itself at the end of their bitter conflict), but religious rituals are indeed among the hypotheses put forward.

In the upper left is my sketch of the mask itself, whereas the bottom right depicts how a Carthaginian guy with those scarifications might have looked in life. He is supposed to represent a priest of Baal’Hammon, the primary Carthaginian god (and the one invoked in Hannibal Barca’s name), so I gave him a headdress of ostrich plumes in emulation of the god’s own crown as shown in ancient sculptures.

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