By Matthew Millan
Shafts of broken sunlight filtered through the clouds, and illuminated the sprawling ruins that hug the Mediterranean. It was such a lovely spring day in my beloved Tunis, even as the so-named Arab Spring was turning to Autumn. I worked my way through this vast scape of Roman ruins, and tried to picture the shattered city that lay under them, once the greatest rival in the known world to Roman supremacy, but ultimately reduced to ashes by the sword of the Republic.
As I wound past a stunning villa and a well-preserved amphitheater, my mind absently wandered back to the burgeoning troubles of the country I had just left, a country that I called home for the past year. In a twisted form of irony, the famed Roman ruins that dot the Libyan coast were under attack by a modern group of iconoclasts. While living in Benghazi, we watched the news in horror as a group of shadowy men slipped into the breathtaking World Heritage site near Sabratha, and began to systematically tear down the ruins in a twisted attempt to erase their memory…and thus strike them from the pages of history. All over Libya, groups like these were coalescing in the vacuum left by the Gaddafi’s fall. Just a few blocks from my house in Benghazi, a group of Islamists stormed the two WWII Allied cemeteries and smashed every headstone. In other towns, the great tombs of the Sufi saints were razed to the ground in a pique of frenzy.
Whether it is the book-burning bonfires of Nazi Germany or the Islamic State’s destruction of the ancient Syrian town of Palmyra, it seems that the strictest ideologies do everything in their power to erase pieces of the past. The bigger picture poses a grave threat to these ideologies, ideologies that can only thrive on division and incompleteness. For as we arrange every piece into the fresco of human history, we begin to see that the trajectories of all civilizations originate from the same source. Follow these lines back through the eras, and we all end up in the Great Rift Valley. In this way, every piece of every civilization belongs to all of us, and every piece should be preserved…lest we forget our past.
As the now-implied sun passed its zenith, I approached three pillars, marble sentinels standing proudly over the Tunisian capital. Shattered and weather-beaten, they hint of a past when Rome’s imperium blanketed the known world. Yet just beyond these pillars, and 20 meters below, lay the foundation of the city that Rome attempted to conceal from eyes of history. The city that once stood in its way for supremacy over the known world. The city that the Roman She-Wolf feared above all. And though the iconoclasts of another time tried to make us forget, there she stood before me. Carthage.