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Salammbo is a historical novel by Gustave Flaubert. It is set in Carthage during the 3rd century BC, immediately before and during the Mercenary Revolt which took place shortly after the First Punic War. Flaubert's main source was Book I of Polybius's Histories. It was not a particularly well-studied period of history and required a great deal of work from the author, who enthusiastically left behind the realism of his masterpiece Madame Bovary for this tale of blood and thunder. After the First Punic War, Carthage is unable to fulfill promises made to its army of mercenaries, and finds itself under attack. The fictional title character, a priestess and the daughter of Hamilcar Barca, an aristocratic Carthaginian general, is the object of the obsessive lust of Matho, a leader of the mercenaries. With the help of the scheming freed slave, Spendius, Matho steals the sacred veil of Carthage, the Zaïmph, prompting Salammbô to enter the mercenaries' camp in an attempt to steal it back. The Zaïmph is an ornate bejewelled veil draped about the statue of the goddess Tanit in the sanctum sanctorum of her temple: the veil is the city's guardian and touching it will bring death to the perpetrator.

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