Destroyed Cities and States


The motif of once great towns, cities or empires that have since crumbled is prominent throughout the Waste Land. The significance of the destruction of these high points of cultural, spiritual and artistic civilisation is obvious and Eliot refers to past greatness as a way of indicating to us how low the modern world has sunk. Here are a few examples:




Phoenicia was an ancient state that occupied the land now covered by Israel, Lebanon and Syria. It flourished between 1500 B.C. and 300 B.C. and it is thought to have invented the phonetic alphabet that is the forerunner to almost all modern Western alphabets. As a result of their great trading power, the Phoenicians spread this alphabet throughout the Mediterranean region. The Phoenicians were conquered by the Persians in about 500 BC and thereafter their culture and influence fell into decline with many Phoenicians leaving to the Phoenician colony of Carthage.




According to Roman legend, Carthage was founded in about 800 BC by Queen Dido when she fled from Phoenicia after her brother, King Pygmalion, murdered her husband. The city was established on the northern tip of Africa in the area that is now known as Tunisia and it went on to become a powerful trading city, sometimes called the Shining City, that threatened Roman dominance of the Mediterranean. Following a series of wars between Rome and Carthage called the Punic Wars that lasted for 120 years from 264 B.C to 146 B.C. the Roman army eventually defeated the Carthaginians and destroyed the city. There is a legend that the Romans salted the earth around the site to ensure that nothing would ever grow there again, although this is unlikely to actually be true. The battle of Mylae was a naval battle in the first Punic war which the Romans eventually won.




A city in Ancient Greece, founded by Alexander the Great and residence of the great Greek playwright Homer. From 1919 to 1922 Greek and Turkish forces were fighting for control of the city following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War One. The city was eventually destroyed in a great fire in 1922 shortly after the Turkish army regained control of it.