270px-Dido Cochet Louvre ENT2000.10

Queen Dido

In Roman mythology, Dido, also called Elissa, was the founder and first Queen of Carthage. She was originally a Tyrian princess, but fled when her brother assassinated her husband. She was deified after her death and worshipped in Carthage.

In Myth

Founding Carthage

When the old King of Tyre died, he left Dido, his daughter, and Pygmalion, his son, as joint heirs. However, Pygmalion took absolute control. Dido married her uncle or cousin Acerbas, the priest of Melqart (equated with the Greek Heracles). Acerbas was the second most powerful man in Tyre, after the king, and possessed vast sums of wealth (according to a rumour). In an attempt to gain this wealth, Pygmalion had Acerbas murdered. Dido ordered her servants to throw Acerbas' bags of gold in the sea (in truth, the bags were filled with sand) and asked them to join her in fleeing Tyre, rather than facing the wrath of Pygmalion. She was joined by several senators, soldiers and other supporters.

The group landed in Cyprrus, where they captured 80 young women to serve as wives for the men. Here they were joined by a priest of Jupiter. The exiles set sail for Africa.


Carthage in 264 BC. Carthage eventually conquered most of Spain before falling to the expanding Roman Republic.

Dido and her followers landed in Africa, where they asked the Berber king Iarbas for land. Iarbas complied, allowing her enough land that was encompassed by an oxhide. Dido cleverly cut the oxhide into thin strips and gained the entirety of a hill. There, she began to build a city, urged on by the Phoenician colony of Utica. The city grew wealthy due to trade and eventually conquered Utica and subjected the Numidian and Libyan Berbers.

Aeneas and Dido

Aeneas recounts his adventures to Dido

In the Aneeid

Dido is a major character in the Aeneid, written by Virgil. In the Aeneid, the titular character Aeneas lands in Carthage, where he and his party is welcomed by Dido. They fall in love, but Aeneas leaves to pursue his destiny in Italy. Dido commits suicide while still in sight of Aeneas' ships, cursing him and his descendants with her dying breath:

400px-Death Dido Cayot Louvre MR1780

The suicide of Queen Dido

Thou Sun, who view'st at once the world below;
Thou Juno, guardian of the nuptial vow;
Thou Hecate hearken from thy dark abodes!
Ye Furies, fiends, and violated gods,
All pow'rs invok'd with Dido's dying breath,
Attend her curses and avenge her death!
If so the Fates ordain, Jove commands,
Th' ungrateful wretch should find the Latian lands,
Yet let a race untam'd, and haughty foes,
His peaceful entrance with dire arms oppose:
Oppress'd with numbers in th' unequal field,
His men discourag'd, and himself expell'd,
Let him for succor sue from place to place,
Torn from his subjects, and his son's embrace.
First, let him see his friends in battle slain,
And their untimely fate lament in vain;
And when, at length, the cruel war shall cease,
On hard conditions may he buy his peace:
Nor let him then enjoy supreme command;
But fall, untimely, by some hostile hand,
And lie unburied on the barren sand!
These are my pray'rs, and this my dying will;
And you, my Tyrians, ev'ry curse fulfil.
Perpetual hate and mortal wars proclaim,
Against the prince, the people, and the name.
These grateful off'rings on my grave bestow;
Nor league, nor love, the hostile nations know!
Now, and from hence, in ev'ry future age,
When rage excites your arms, and strength supplies the rage
Rise some avenger of our Libyan blood,
With fire and sword pursue the perjur'd brood;
Our arms, our seas, our shores, oppos'd to theirs;
And the same hate descend on all our heirs!"
"Dear pledges of my love, while Heav'n so pleas'd,
Receive a soul, of mortal anguish eas'd:
My fatal course is finish'd; and I go,
A glorious name, among the ghosts below.
A lofty city by my hands is rais'd,
Pygmalion punish'd, and my lord appeas'd.
What could my fortune have afforded more,
Had the false Trojan never touch'd my shore!"
Then kiss'd the couch; and, "Must I die," she said,
"And unreveng'd? 'T is doubly to be dead!
Yet ev'n this death with pleasure I receive:
On any terms, 't is better than to live.
These flames, from far, may the false Trojan view;
These boding omens his base flight pursue!"
(Aeneid Book 4)

The "avenger" of Libyan blood is a reference to Hannibal Barca and she foretells Aeneas' struggles with the native Latin inhabitants of Italy.

725px-Guercino Morte di Didone

The death of Dido

In Popular Culture

  • The story of the oxhide is commemorated in the Isoperimetric problem, also known as Dido's problem
  • In Rome (during Italy's governance by the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini), she was demonised because she represented anti-Roman sentiment, Semitic ethnicity, feminine virtue and a civilised Africa
    • The streets of Rome's new quarters were named after Aeneid characters, with the notable exception of Dido
    • The British Royal Navy employed Dido-class cruisers against Fascist Italy during World War II
Preceded by:
None, Title created
Queen of Carthage
Succeeded by
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