the Roman origin of ‘Punic faith’


Punic faith 1 – Birmingham Post – 24 December 1958

What do you understand by the following? (a) Punic faith; (b) a Pyrrhic victory; (c) Canicular days; (d) Draconian measures; (e) a Nonce-word.

Punic faith 2 – Birmingham Post – 24 December 1958

(a) Faithlessnessthe Carthaginians having a sad reputation for treachery; (b) A victory won at too great a cost—Pyrrhus routed the Romans but lost the flower of his army; (c) The dog-days—those about the rising of the dog-star, Sirius; (d) Sever measures—from the code of Draco (an Athenian lawgiver), which was noted for its severity; (e) A word used “only for the nonce”—coined for the occasion.

from The Birmingham Post & Birmingham Gazette (Birmingham, Warwickshire) – 24th December 1958



The phrase Punic faith denotes perfidy, treachery, bad faith.

It translates classical Latin Pūnica fidēs, of same meaning; the adjective Pūnicus (earlier Poenicus, from Poeni, the Carthaginians, literally the Phoenicians) meant Carthaginian, literally Phoenician.

Founded by the Phoenicians around 814 BC, the city of Carthage, on the coast of North Africa, near present-day Tunis, became a major force in the Mediterranean and came into conflict with Rome in the Punic Wars; it was finally destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC.

Phoenicia (in Latin Phoenīcē, Phoenīcĭa) was a country on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean, corresponding to modern Lebanon and the coastal plains of Syria. It consisted of a number of city states, including Tyre and Sidon, and was a flourishing centre of Mediterranean trade and colonisation during the early part of the 1st millennium BC.

The English phrase is first recorded in A briefe discourse of the Spanish state with a dialogue annexed intituled Philobasilis (London, 1590), by the otherwise unknown Edward Daunce, who makes Philobasilis say to Philopolis:

The retinue of your kings wiues ouerflowing all places of Iustice [is] no lesse daungerous to your peace, than the punicke faith to the auncient Romaines.

This is the beginning of a letter by one H. S. Creger, that The Baytown Sun (Baytown, Texas) published on 17th October 1961:

Wake up America and get the Communists out of the United Nations or get the UN out of the United States. The records show that the U.N. is but a propaganda forum for the Communists and their embassies mere spawning grounds for spies, thieves, saboteurs and anarchists while our courts often are soft enough to let these criminals hide behind the fifth amendment. So long as we fraternize with criminals we are sure to get “hooked.”
Our high officials are derelict of duty to let these international outlaws steal vital secrets, sabotage defense efforts and spread anarchy among our juveniles, students and the lunatic fringe of society. A Senate study shows that Communists have violated over 1,000 treaties and agreements since coming to power and used the veto 99 times in the UN to block world agreements. With such Punic faith, how can anyone want to negotiate further with them?

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