I've been reading the Federalist Papers and, in the 63rd, Madison writes,

"It adds no small weight to all these considerations, to recollect that history informs us of no long-lived republic which had not a senate. Sparta, Rome, and Carthage are, in fact, the only states to whom that character can be applied. In each of the two first there was a senate for life. The constitution of the senate in the last is less known. Circumstantial evidence makes it probable that it was not different in this particular from the two others. "

I looked into this to see if new evidence had been found on whether or not the senate was for life and I found conflicting evidence. Was the Carthaginian Senate for life or not?

  • 8
    Maybe you could add your conflicting evidence and sources to your question so we aren't just reiterating what you already have found.
    – justCal
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 1:23
  • English wikipedia says that the member of this "senate" held office for life.
    – Santiago
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 13:04
  • 1
    It probably should be pointed out that life expectancy in those times was less than a third what it is today (20-30 years. 47.5 if you managed to make it to age 10). The average US Senate term is quite likely longer than the average in any of those 3 societies.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 14:35
  • 3
    @T.E.D.: That is a well-known fallacy - because "life expectancy at birth" was overwhelmed by an infant death rate above 50%. "life expectancy at 18 (or 21)" was likely double (or close to it) of "life expectancy at birth" in these civilizations. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 17:14
  • 1
    @PieterGeerkens and skewed further by the large number of people doing heavy and dangerous manual labour, something senators would not be subject to. Someone working in a mine, quarry, or as a field soldier is far more likely to die young than someone holding an office job even now.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 5:35

1 Answer 1



Unfortunately, we can't be sure, but it is likely that the Carthaginian senate was for life at some point during its long history.


The main problem in determining whether or not Carthaginian senators served for life lies in the ancient sources. The qualifications of senators and the precise functions of the senate are also far from clear, and even defining the senate itself is difficult as, in the Punic language,

....there seems not to have existed a word for the 'senate' as a whole.

Source: The Cambridge Ancient History, vol VI

Punic sources are lost so Aristotle provides the most information (in Politics, which has some of the information from his lost work on the Carthagian constitution) but, as the Cambridge Ancient History (CAH) observes,

His aim and method was to generalize not analyse. This led him to compare institutions which seem to have little in common, such as the ephors of Sparta and the Court of the Hundred at Carthage, only because both exercised essentially a right of control.

Dexter Hoyos, in ‘The Carthaginians’, points to problems with other sources:

Livy once mentions a smaller senatorial body.... Greek writers, including Polybius and Diodorus, do not help clarity by mentioning at various times a Carthaginian gerousia (‘body of elders’), synkletos (‘summoned body’) and synedrion (‘sitting body’), without explaining the distinctions.

However, the term ‘senate’ is widely used by modern academics writing about Carthage even though it cannot be clearly defined.

When considering the issue of life-membership, we need to look first at the comparisons made by ancient writers. On this, CAH says

It is certain that supreme authority lay with a senate or council, which Aristotle and Polybius compare with the Spartan gerousia and the Senate of Rome...

This comparison with the Roman senate and the Spartan gerousia is problematic as these two bodies were very different. However, there are similarities in that members of both the Roman senate (initially) and the Spartan gerousia could be broadly described as aristocratic (for Sparta, in the sense that only Spartiates, a small minority in Laconia, were eligible), and they also served for life. It would seem rash to assume that the same held true for Carthaginian senators as we cannot even be certain

how senators themselves were recruited, or even how many there were at any time, although two or even three hundred is likely

(source: Dexter Hoyos, ‘The Carthaginians’)

That said, if Carthaginian senators were from privileged backgrounds (which seems likely based on the available evidence), it would not be unreasonable to state that lifetime membership was more likely than not. The Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World goes so far as to state

There was a powerful ‘senate’ of several hundred life-members

but there are few other modern sources which make such a definite statement (here is one).

Finally, we should also not forget that there were several political upheavals in Carthage over the centuries and we certainly cannot assume that life-membership of the senate or the form and power of the senate remained unchanged during all that time.

Other sources:

Richard Miles, 'Carthage Must Be Destroyed'

M. I. Finley, 'Politics in the Ancient World

David Abulafia, 'The Great Sea'





Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.