Tanit: The Phoenician Moon Goddess of Carthage

Tanit, also known as Tenit, holds a significant place in Phoenician and Carthaginian mythology. She is primarily recognized from various inscriptions discovered along the North African coast. Tanit is closely associated with the goddess Astarte and is a central figure in the religious beliefs of these ancient civilizations. This article explores the origins, symbolism, and religious significance of Tanit, shedding light on her role as a moon goddess.

Her symbol is the triangular device with horizontal bars supporting a moon disc. Both deities are described as «ladies of the sanctuary».

Tanit was the the supreme goddess of Carthage, known as the «face of Baal,» until she was usurped by the Roman goddess Juno, and survived as the goddess Caelestis who also was worshipped in the Carthaginian temple. A.G.H.

 

The Origins of Tanit

Phoenician and Pontic Connections

Tanit’s origins can be traced back to the Phoenician and Pontic cultures. The Phoenicians, a seafaring civilization, were renowned for their intricate mythological pantheon. Tanit emerged as a prominent deity within this pantheon, signifying her importance in their religious practices. Her influence extended beyond Phoenicia, reaching the Carthaginian city-state in North Africa.

North African Inscriptions

Our knowledge of Tanit largely stems from inscriptions discovered along the North African coast. These inscriptions provide valuable insights into her worship and significance in the region. The presence of these inscriptions underscores the enduring legacy of Tanit in North African culture.

Association with Astarte

Tanit is closely associated with the goddess Astarte, further emphasizing her role in Phoenician and Carthaginian mythology. These two deities are often described as «ladies of the sanctuary,» suggesting their importance in religious rituals and ceremonies.

 

The Symbolism of Tanit

The Triangular Device

One of the most distinctive symbols associated with Tanit is a triangular device. This symbol serves as a key identifier of her worship and can be found in various representations. The triangular device signifies Tanit’s connection to the lunar aspect of her mythology.

Moon Disc and Horizontal Bars

Another integral element of Tanit’s symbolism is the moon disc supported by horizontal bars. This celestial imagery reinforces her status as a moon goddess. The moon disc represents the lunar cycle and its significance in the agricultural and religious calendars of these ancient civilizations.

Significance of the Symbols

The symbols associated with Tanit hold deep religious and cultural significance. They are a testament to her role as a celestial deity, closely linked to the moon’s cycles and fertility rites. The symbolism reflects the interconnectedness of nature, religion, and daily life in Phoenician and Carthaginian societies.

 

The Role of Tanit in Carthaginian Religion

Supreme Goddess of Carthage

In Carthaginian religion, Tanit occupied a central and revered position as the supreme goddess of Carthage. She played a pivotal role in the spiritual life of the city, overseeing various aspects of worship and ritual.

The «Face of Baal»

Tanit was often referred to as the «face of Baal,» highlighting her connection to this prominent Phoenician deity. This association with Baal further solidified her role as a significant figure in the pantheon.

Her Connection with Other Deities

Tanit’s influence extended beyond her own mythology. She was interconnected with other deities and played a vital role in the religious cosmology of the ancient Carthaginians. Her presence was felt in various rituals and ceremonies that sought to honor and appease the gods.

 

The Usurpation by Juno

The Arrival of the Roman Goddess

The decline of Carthage and the rise of the Roman Empire brought significant changes to the religious landscape. With the Roman conquest, the goddess Juno began to gain prominence in the region. This marked a turning point in the worship of Tanit.

Tanit’s Diminished Status

As Juno’s influence grew, Tanit’s status as the supreme goddess of Carthage began to wane. Her once-central role in religious life was gradually eclipsed by the Roman goddess.

The Transition to Caelestis

Despite her diminished status, Tanit’s legacy endured in the form of the goddess Caelestis. This transition reflects the adaptability of ancient religious beliefs as they merged with new cultural influences.

 

The Worship of Caelestis in Carthage

The Continuation of Tanit’s Legacy

Caelestis, the goddess who succeeded Tanit, continued to be worshipped in the Carthaginian temple. While her attributes may have evolved, the presence of the temple served as a reminder of Tanit’s enduring legacy.

Religious Practices and Beliefs

The worship of Caelestis, and by extension, the remnants of Tanit’s cult, included various religious practices and beliefs. These encompassed rituals, sacrifices, and ceremonies aimed at appeasing the gods and securing their favor.

The Carthaginian Temple

The temple dedicated to Caelestis in Carthage served as a focal point for religious activities. It stood as a testament to the evolving religious landscape and the lasting impact of Tanit on the region’s spirituality.


Source:

Jordan, Michael, Encyclopedia of Gods, New York, Facts On File, Inc. 1993, p. 251