Information we have got about Phoenician religion is mainly based on biblical references, on relatively recent traditions and on epic-mithologic texts come to light in Ras Shamra (Ugarit), according to which, two subsequent and different phases can be traced in the religious experience. In the first phase, as it generally happened in Cananean religion, the great forces of nature were worshipped.
From the I millenium BC, instead, local divinities took on special relevance, usually referred to as baal (gentleman) or baalat (lady); as well as divinities still linked to the natural forces and phenomena there are also esoteric, solar or vegetation divinities. As a whole, the Phoenician pantheon is dominated by a triad whose names vary from a city to another and put together a king of Gods with a mother goddess of fecondity, a young God whose fate is, every year, to be born, die and to be born again, like vegetation during the seasons cycle. For instance, Carthage religious life generally sticks to Tyre pattern. The dominating God is Baal Hammon; the mother goddess, Astarte’s or Mesopotamian Ishtar’s sister is Tanit. The young God, God of the solar disc or of vegetation, is both Melqart, Tyrus divinity, and Eshmun, the God of recovery, confused both with Apollo and with Asclepio, the same way Melqart will be with Eracle. (Fernand Braudel)
However, one of the most important figures of the Phoenician pantheon was always Ashart/Astante also known as Innin to the Sumers, as Ishtar to the Babylonians and to the Assyrs, as Iside, fecondity and love goddess, to the Egyptians. Worshipping took place in the temples, but more often outside (open air) on rises and near trees. The betiles bore high importance. Of the habit of human sacrifice, especially children sacrifice, proof is also given by the archeology thanks to the discovery of “tophet”. “This special place has been interpreted in different ways: the sources report that it was the place where the eldest (first born) children from the most important families in the city were sacrificed to obtain prosperity by Gods. Afterwards, instead of sacrifying children, animals’ first born were sacrified. The discoveries effected and the tests carried out on the bones highlight that the tophet is a necropolis where dead born children or children dead soon after their birth were buried together with sacrified animals as good omen. There are proofs of one and the other hypothesis, but many experts stand for the second one”. (Carlo Tronchetti).
The most peculiar feature of the Carthaginian religion is the astonishing rise of Tanit worship who, from the V century, dethroned the old god Baal Hammon. Carthage then lived under the “Tanit sign”: a triangle surmounted by a disc and in between, a horizontal line. A human figure is easily evoked, especially when the horizaontal line is lifted at its ends like raised arms. (Fernand Braudel)