After the ancient southwestern Sicilian city of Selinunte was pillaged by Carthaginian (i.e., Punic) forces between 409 and 406 BCE, the Greek city became Punic for a time. The Carthaginians built a new town, recycling the materials and reclaiming temples from the magnificent Greek community that preceded it. Throughout today’s archaeological site, some ruins of homes and temples possess symbols of Carthaginian spiritual devotion.
Here, pictured, we see a mosaic created in the cement with fragments of white marble. The image represents the goddess Tanit flanked by two caducei or staffs. Tanit was revered by Punic peoples throughout the western Mediterranean and the north coast of Africa. She is the Punic heavenly goddess of war, a virginal mother, a nurse, a protector, and a symbol of fertility. Placing this image in your home was a request for protection, harmony, prosperity, and fertility. The triangular body is rooted in the earth, while the circular “head” represents a connection to the upper world. Arms lifted are an act of prayer. The two staffs represent the moon (crescent, at left) and a bull. The moon staff helped the goddess, also a psychopomp, safely guide souls between upper and lower worlds. The staff could also represent willingness of peaceful communication and negotiation.
Tanit was the consort of the supreme god Baal, the sun god who represents male fertility and prosperity often represented by a bull image, hence the staff at Tanit’s right. Baal and Tanit are of equal importance in the lexicon of ancient Punic gods.