Both Augustine’s parents are likely to have been of Berber stock, but Romanized and Latin-speaking. Numidian peasants of the fourth century spoke not Latin but Punic, inherited from the Phoenician settlers who came from Tyre and Sidon a millennium before to set up their trading station and maritime power at Carthage. In Hannibal they had once offered a frightening threat to Rome’s ambitions to conquer the Mediterranean. As Romans settled in their North African provinces, many took Berber- or Punic-speaking wives. In the second century ad Apuleius, of Madauros near Thagaste, author of the Golden Ass, had a Punic-speaking wife. In Augustine’s time the Punic-speakers retained a consciousness of their old Phoenician forefathers, and could manifest a lack of enthusiasm for the Roman administration of their country now established for over five centuries. Latin culture was a veneer; those who had it tended to despise those who had not. Augustine acquired a conversational knowledge of the patois, and never speaks of Punic language or culture with the least touch of scorn as the pagan Maximus of Madauros did. But his parents and nurses spoke to him in Latin, and education at the Thagaste school was principally in Latin language and literature, a subject which ancient men called ‘grammar’, taught by the grammaticus.
Sunday, August 02, 2009
PHOENICIAN WATCH: Augustine of Hippo was a native speaker of Punic, as the late Henry Chadwick reminds us in an about-to-be-published-posthumously biography: