Places: Salammbô

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1862 (English translation, 1886)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: Third century b.c.e.

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Carthage

*Carthage. SalammbôAncient North African city, whose ruins can now be found in the marshland northeast of Tunis. In classical times Carthage stood on a peninsula (the modern coastline has been much altered by wind-driven sand). It was originally a Phoenician colony founded in the ninth century b.c.e., but it grew to become Rome’s greatest rival, the conflicts between the two imperially ambitious city-states being known as the Punic Wars. The great Carthaginian hero of the first Punic War (264-241 b.c.e.), Hamilcar Barca, is one of the principal characters of Salammbô.

Flaubert imagines Carthage protected on its landward side by a moat, a rampart of turf, and a two-story wall thirty cubits (about 45 feet) high. This would make Carthage virtually impregnable, although the aqueduct carrying the city’s water supply, which runs obliquely across the narrowest part of the peninsula, would be an obvious point of vulnerability. Within the outer wall is Malqua, a quarter inhabited by seamen and dyers. The inner city is laid out in tiers, like an amphitheater, blurred boundaries still delineating three ancient quarters, each one studded with temples. The hill of the Acropolis is a confused mass of monuments and temples. Megara is the newest part of the city, extending to a cliff where a huge lighthouse stands. The suburb of Mouloya clings to the slope behind the lighthouse, with the Teveste gate at its further edge; it is by this route that Salammbô leaves the city when she goes to the barbarian camp.

Megara’s palace

Megara’s palace. The tallest building in the city, constructed from yellow-flecked Numidian marble; the home of Hamilcar Barca. Salammbô, his daughter and a priestess of Tanit, lives in the topmost of its four terraced stories. The adjoining grounds enclose numerous subsidiary structures, including winepresses, bakeries, warehouses, arsenals, lion pits, a prison, and an elephant enclosure. Also enclosed is a garden, which is the site of an opulent feast celebrating the end of the war. Here Hamilcar entertains the mercenaries who helped him withstand the might of Rome.


*Utica and *Hippo Zarytus. Small cities neighboring Carthage, independent but allied with her. Both are attacked in the novel by the mercenary army, and the territory between them, which includes several smaller towns and the Pass of the Battle-Axe, where the crucial battle is fought, is hotly disputed in the war between Hamilcar’s forces and the rebellious forces.

Temple of Tanit

Temple of Tanit. A sprawling edifice with abundant grounds arranged in three enclosures, situated at the foot of the Acropolis. A rectangular tower, flanked by two long porticoes, contains an inner sanctum where only priests may go. The principal idol of Tanit is encircled by twelve blue crystal globes mounted on monstrous statues in such a manner that they can be rotated. Behind the chariot on which the idol stands is a covert containing the sacred Zaïmph: the veil of Tanit, symbolic of the city’s fortunes, whose theft by Mâtho is of tremendous significance.

The accounts of Phoenician mythology current in Flaubert’s day imagined Tanit as one element in a supreme triad whose other elements were Baal-Ammon and Eschmoûn. Flaubert presumed, as many of his contemporaries did, that the fearsome and bloodthirsty pagan god named Moloch in the Old Testament was Baal-Ammon, so the other temples featured in the plot as significant locations are the Temple of Moloch and the Temple of Eschmoûn, both close neighbors of the Temple of Tanit in Flaubert’s city plan. In the sacrificial ceremony featured in chapter 13, Moloch’s brazen idol and effigies, representing many other aspects of Baal, are brought through the streets to the square in front of the Temple of Eschmoûn, their gathering symbolizing a city in crisis.

BibliographyBrombert, Victor. The Novels of Flaubert: A Study of Themes and Techniques. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966. Chapter 3 discusses “Salammbô: The Epic of Immobility.”Culler, Jonathan. Flaubert: The Uses of Uncertainty. Rev. ed. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985. Salammbô is discussed in chapter 3.Green, Anne. Flaubert and the Historical Novel: Salammbô Reassessed. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982. A detailed study of the text and its literary context.Sherrington, R. J. Three Novels by Flaubert: A Study of Techniques. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1970. Chapter 4 is a 78-page analysis of Salammbô.Spencer, Philip. Flaubert. Winchester, Mass.: Faber & Faber, 1952. One of surprisingly few comprehensive biographical and critical studies of the author in English; probably the best general introduction to the man and his works.
Categories: Places