The Punic Wars
Carthage was a city-state on the Greek model that had been
founded by Phoenicians from Tyre in the 8th century. It was the
strongest city in the Western Mediterranean by the 3rd century
and its wealth rested on trade. Carthaginian merchants went from
one end of the Mediterranean to the other, the city's fleets
were huge, and its army was one of the best in the ancient world.
It was Carthage that pried loose the Greek hold on the western
ports, and Carthaginian merchants traded as far north as England
(for Cornish tin) and down the West African coast (for gold and
Like Rome, Carthage learned how to make use of the manpower
of its conquered peoples, incorporating them into the Carthaginian
army as auxiliaries. Unlike Rome, but like the Greeks, the Carthaginians
also made extensive use of mercenaries.
By the early 200s, Carthage had expanded not only across North
Africa but had control of the Belearic Islands, Sardinia, Corsica,
and much of Sicily. She took the goods from these regions, and
her own fertile hinterland, and shipped them to eastern ports.
Once Rome had conquered most of Italy, it was only a matter
of time before these two ambitious and powerful empires came
face to face with one another. But both sides drifted unintentionally
into hostilities, with drastic consequences for both.
Origins of the First Punic War
Carthage had, in the 260s, control of much of Sicily. This
mattered little to Rome, for it had few direct interests there.
Thus, when a complicated little dispute arose in the city of
Messana in 264, and one side appealed to Carthage while the other
appealed to Rome, no one thought it was any more than a local
Messana was a port city controlling the Straits and so when
a Carthaginian fleet was invited in by one side, Rome felt it
had to respond in some way. An expeditionary force caused the
Punic (the Roman word for Carthaginian) fleet to withdraw and
that could well have been that.
The Punic admiral's retreat was ill-received at home, and
Carthage responded with a larger force, prying out the Romans.
Now the issue was more serious, and Rome responded with a consular
army. Again Rome won an easy victory--so easy, in fact, that
the consul decided to press into the interior in search of more.
The line of this story should be obvious by now. Carthage
responded with a still-larger army, about 50,000. And Rome answered
in kind, winning such quick victories in 262 that they won nearly
the entire island. Further victories, however, were much harder
to win, as it became apparent that Rome would have to win control
of the sea if it was to keep its gains in Sicily.
The war, so thoughtlessly begun, would last 20 years. Neither
side had sought a major conflict, but neither side knew how to
withdraw once the issue was joined.
The First Punic War
This was was fought on a scale much larger than Rome had before
attempted. The main battles were fought at sea, to support key
sieges and expeditions, for Carthage was a first-rate naval power.
But land battles were fought in Corsica, Sardinia, Africa and
Sicily. Both sides regularly kept fleets of 100 to 200 ships
and armies of 50,000 to 70,000 in the field for year after year.
Rome made many mistakes in this war, and suffered terrible
losses for it. Romans were not sailors, and they lost more ships
in the war than did Carthage--600 ships lost over the course
of 20 years. Every time Rome won a significant victory, the advantage
was frittered away by incompetent generals or a timid Senate.
One of the great weaknesses of the Republic was that it elected
new generals every year, a system that served well enough except
in times of extended crises.
Rome prevailed at last in 241. Carthage, exhausted more than
beaten, sued for peace and accepted harsh terms. The city itself,
however, remained unconquered. And her merchant fleets continued
to generate wealth.
Results of the First Punic War
Rome imposed a heavy indemnity on Carthage, to compensate
her for her losses. She also forced Carthage to give up all claims
to Sicily. Thus, as the result of this war, Rome won an easy
income and a new province. It was the first step in the creation
of the Roman empire.
Rome also learned some important lessons in this war. For
one thing, Romans learned how to make war at sea. It is too much
to say they learned to be sailors--even at the end of the Republic,
they were still hiring Greeks to captain their ships--but they
learned how to conduct naval warfare in an eminently Roman fashion.
The Romans were not particularly good sailors, and they found
themselves outclassed by the Carthaginian navy. After suffering
heavy losses in sea battles, the Romans made adjustments, just
as they did in land warfare. They hired more Greek captains,
for one thing, but one of the more interesting adjustments was
technological: the corvus.
The corvus (Latin for crow) was a plank that was hinged at
one end to the side of a Roman ship, and that had a heavy spike
in the other end. The plank was held up by ropes. The Roman ship
would maneuver alongside a Carthaginian ship and the rope would
be released. The corvus crashed downward, its beak driving into
the other ship's deck, whereupon Roman infantry dashed across.
Once the Romans had boarded the enemy, they could engage in
hand- to-hand combat, at which they excelled. This is typical
of the very pragmatic and ordinary ways in which Romans solved
their military problems. It is typical, too, in that the Romans
seemed always to have to lose a few battles before they would
make a change; but, once they decided to change, their innovations
were devastatingly effective.
Rome learned, too, how to conduct war on a massive scale.
The Senate learned how to finance such a war, how to find the
men for the armies, how to find the supplies, how to build fleets
(over and over), how to conduct politics on the home front in
times of war. All these were lessons it would apply again in
Rome was now a Mediterranean power, though it perhaps did
not yet recognize the fact. She still had no real interest in
trade, but her Greek allies in southern Italy certainly did.
She had not looked beyond Sicily when she started the war, but
her ambition was certainly whetted by war's end.
The war was settled, but the conflict was not over. And both
sides knew it.
Origins of the Second Punic War
The peace treaty had put Carthage in an impossible position.
Carthage had to fight to regain her position or wither away to
insignificance, a fate she would not accept willingly. Moreover,
Rome continued to be aggressive, acquiring Corsica in the 220s.
Not long after the end of the First Punic War, Carthage acquired
a genuine hero: Hamilcar Barca. This member of a noble Carthaginian
family conquered much of Spain, acquiring in the process great
quantities of Spanish bullion, gaining Spanish cavalry as auxiliaries,
and forging in the process a field army of great skill and experience.
Hamilcar hated Rome and longed to be the man who would avenge
the shame of the First Punic War. As the years went by, however,
he began to realize it was not fated for him, and he taught his
son both his skill in battle and his hatred of Rome.
His son's name was Hannibal.
Hamilcar died when Hannibal was still a young man. The son
spent some time dealing with the inevitable rebellions, but quickly
established himself as an even greater leader than his father.
Hannibal was, by all accounts both ancient and modern, a military
genius. Because he eventually was on the losing side, he is also
rather a figure of tragedy.
When he marched on Rome, at the age of 25, he cast a shadow
over the entire history of the Roman Republic.
Outbreak of War
Hannibal was determined to fight Rome, a war that he viewed
as inevitable. He was concerned to fight at a time propitious
to himself and to Carthage, and he was determined to fight the
war on Carthaginian terms.
Hannibal's plan was both desperate and brilliant. Rome's great
strength was her nearly endless reserves of manpower, the result
of her system of alliances throughout Italy. But those alliances
were exploitative; Rome's allies were unhappy with their treatment
and unhappy with Rome's seemingly endless wars.
So, Hannibal would invade Italy itself. His army would by
itself be far too small to achieve victory, but he believed the
Italian allies were so deeply disaffected that he would only
have to win a few early victories and proclaim the liberty of
the Italian allies, and they would desert Rome. Without her allied
reserves, Rome's armies could not stand against Hannibals superior
Everything depended on those two elements: early and convincing
victories, and the defection of the Italian allies. Hannibal
was gambling everything on these.
War came in 218, when a quarrel broke out over the Roman colony
of Saguntum. The Romans believed they could easily contain Hannibal
in Spain, but he gave the Roman army the slip and was across
the Pyrenees almost before the Romans knew what had happened.
Hannibal Crosses the Alps
Hannibal's march into Italy is legendary. The Roman Senate
felt secure from land invasion and took too few precautions.
Their confidence is understandable. There was Hannibal in Spain.
He had to fight his way through a Roman army, cross the Pyrenees
(themselves a difficult range of mountains), then fight his way
across southern France, for this area was under Roman control,
then cross the formidable Alps.
The scope of the accomplishment is sometimes overlooked in
survey textbooks. Crossing the Alps was remarkable, but Hannibal
did much more than that.
When word came that Hannibal had escaped from Spain, Rome
was concerned but not panicked. The Senate sent a second army
to hold the bridges at the Rhone River. This river is deep and
swift in its lower courses. The Romans were sure they could prevent
Hannibal from crossing, then defeat him in their own good time
in southern Gaul.
Again Hannibal fooled them. He slipped northward, avoiding
Roman sentries, and crossed the river on pontoons and by swimming.
The crossing was treacherous; not only was the river in spring
flood, but if he were discovered by the Romans during the crossing,
his army would have been destroyed on the spot. Most remarkable
about the crossing was the elephants. The river was too deep
for the elephants to wade, and no pontoon bridge would hold them.
So he had bladders filled with air -- elephant water wings --
and floated the beasts across, not without loss.
Once across, Hannibal marched quickly south again and caught
the Roman army entirely by surprise. He won a resounding victory,
and now nothing stood between him and Italy. Except the Alps.
The crossing of the Alps was a heroic effort. Many classical
authors told the story; the account by Livy is as good as any.
The mountains themselves were dangerous, of course, but they
were made even more dangerous by the fact that local tribes cheerfully
fought anyone who entered their mountains, so Hannibal had to
fight his way over the mountains. He arrived in Italy with only
26,000 men and about two dozen elephants. So, while it is true
that Hannibal brought his elephants across the Alps, he did so
only at great loss. Most died either at the Rhone or in the Alps.
Hannibal was now (early 217) in Italy. This was the first
crucial test of his war strategy: he proclaimed the liberty of
the Gauls, those Germanic tribes who had settled in northern
Italy and who had not been long under Roman rule. Few rallied
to Hannibal's call. This did not dismay him, for he knew that
he would have to prove his ability to defend them before they
would risk Rome's wrath.
The Romans were now thoroughly alarmed. Hannibal had escaped
from one trap after another and was earning for himself a reputation
among the Romans for almost superhuman cunning. So the Senate
sent both consuls north to meet the Carthaginian.
Each Roman consul had at his command an army of 20,000, so
Hannibal was outnumbered almost 2 to 1. Moreover, the Romans
took up a position along the Trebia River. Hannibal did not dare
to cross the river in the face of superior forces, but neither
did he have the luxury of long maneuvering. He had to win victories,
quickly and decisively, if he political side of his strategy
was going to work.
Hannibal again out-foxed the Romans. Finding a place to cross
a few miles up river, Hannibal moved most of his forces by night,
leaving only a handful of men behind. These he instructed to
keep the fires burning, to talk loudly, bang pans, and generally
give the impression that the Carthaginian army was still in camp.
He crossed the river in darkness, and at dawn was able to
surprise the Romans by showing up behind them, trapping the Romans
against the river. The result was a stunning victory for Hannibal.
Of the 40,000 Roman soldiers, barely 10,000 were able to return
to Rome. A number of Gallic tribes now came over to Hannibal.
Both aspects of his strategy were working.
The Romans quickly fielded another army, for the heart of
Roman strength was in central and southern Italy. This second
army met Hannibal at Lake Trasimene (217). Once again Hannibal
outfoxed them, destroying another consular army.
In a single year, Hannibal had destroyed two full Roman armies.
But the political side of his equation was not in fact working.
The Italian allies did not leave the side of the Romans. Many
of the Italian cities had made war with Rome and been defeated.
They knew Rome's strength and would not lightly test it. Roman
armies were still in the field and Rome itself was unconquered.
Hannibal still had to prove himself.
Hannibal was concerned. If the Romans were to play a waiting
game, refusing to meet him in open battle, then his plans would
go awry. Everything depended on risking the fortunes of war.
Roman politics played directly into his hands. Roman consuls
were elected annually. A consulship was the pinnacle of a great
man's political career, and the crowning glory was to fight some
great battle during one's tenure of office. The temptation of
Hannibal was too great to resist.
The consuls for the year 216 campaigned on the promise of
sure victory. The previous consuls had been fools, had played
to Hannibal's strengths. They had a plan that would nullify the
fox, bring him to open battle where the strength of Roman arms
would overwhelm him.
Which was precisely what Hannibal wanted.
Battle of Cannae
The losses at the Trebia River and Lake Trasimine were devastating.
In the crisis, the Senate chose Fabius Maximus to be dictator.
Fabius Maximus undertook an entirely different strategy toward
the invader. He avoided pitched battles and instead kept his
army at Hannibal's heels. In the meantime, he worked fervently
to keep the allies loyal, promising that Rome would protect them.
The strategy worked. In these critical months, few cities
left Rome's side, which meant that the full force of Roman resources
was scarcely dented. Hannibal was in danger of losing the political
side of his gamble even as he was winning the military side brilliantly.
Fabius Maximus' tactics were hardly designed to rouse the
admiration of the common people, or to stir the hearts of ambitious
politicians. When the term of the dictatorship was up, Rome once
again held consular elections, and the winners had campaigned
specifically on the promise that they had a plan for achieving
a swift, decisive victory over the devious Carthaginian.
So, in 216, once again Roman consuls led Roman armies against
Hannibal. The Senate voted them double armies; with a normal
consular army nominally at 20,000, a double army would be 40,000.
Since both consuls were operating together, this should have
produced 80,000 men; the promise of the consuls was that overwhelming
force would carry the day. It is a measure of how badly Hannibal
had hurt Rome that the double consular armies numbered only 70,000.
Nevertheless, the odds were better than 2 to 1 in favor of
the Romans. Moreover, the consuls were sure they had learned
a valuable lesson. Hannibal was notoriously tricky; indeed, Carthaginians
could not beat a Roman army in open combat but could succeed
only by ruses. So, this time, they would bring the fox out into
the open where he could not trick them.
Near Cannae, in central Italy, Hannibal obliged the Romans.
The field was indeed wide open - there was no possibility of
surprise. The Roman front was much wider than the Carthaginian
front, and Hannibal must surely be flanked.
The fox still knew some tricks, though. When the Romans advanced,
with most of their strength in the center, Hannibal gave way
before them. The Roman front closed around the Carthaginian infantry
and it indeed looked as though Rome would win.
But on the flanks were the cavalry for both contestants, and
the Punic cavalry defeated the Roman. Once they won the field,
they were able to attack the rear of the advancing Roman infantry.
Thus, even though the Roman infantry nearly surrounded the Carthaginian,
the Romans were in turn surrounded by horsemen.
At this point, the Carthaginians counter-attacked. Trapped,
with nowhere to retreat, the Roman lines dissolved into chaos.
Thousands of Romans died. The consul Varo perished in the battle.
Fleeing Romans were hamstrung (that is, the pursuer rather than
trying to kill the fleeing enemy simply slashed at the man's
hamstring muscle, returning later to kill the crippled man).
Out of the 70,000 Romans to take the field, about 10,000 survived;
the survivors were placed in two special legions that were forced
to remain under service for the duration of the war, as a punishment
for their failure.
It was a terrible slaughter. When the first survivors staggered
back to Rome, they were met with disbelief. As more arrived,
disbelief changed to horror. Hannibal now had defeated the equivalent
of eight consular armies in the space of two years. No one before
or after him ever had such brilliant success against Roman arms.
The Battle of Cannae has served as a classic example of a
double-envelopment maneuver, a way for an inferior force to defeat
a superior force on open terrain. Hannibal is still studied in
Results of the Battle of Cannae
Hannibal had given the orders to hamstring the enemy himself.
He understood clearly that he had to inflict terrible losses
in order to convince the Italian allies that it was safer to
follow Carthage than Rome. Cannae certainly had its effect.
Most notably, the city of Capua defected to Hannibal. Capua,
south of Rome, was the second largest city in Italy. It was an
industrial center and was an invaluable prize to both sides.
Lesser cities joined Capua in deserting Rome.
But not enough. Hannibal won the military side of his gamble--he
had defeated Rome repeatedly. He had understood from the beginning,
however, that Rome would always return to the field so long as
her alliance system held, and here, in 216 and 215, in the wake
of Cannae, the alliance system in fact did hold, despite the
loss of Capua.
It held in large part due to the conduct of the Romans in
this crisis. After Cannae, the Roman Senate went into continuous
session, in order to demonstrate to the people that its leaders
had not abandoned the city and were tending to the public business.
After the initial panic, the Senate and people of Rome settled
into a mood of grim defense.
Fabius Maximus was again given command of a Roman army and
he again employed his tactics of harassment; this is still known
as Fabian tactics. He played an important role in keeping the
allies close, for he used his much-reduced army to protect cities
from attack by Hannibal. The Carthaginian army was too small
to settle in for a long siege because they had always to fear
that Fabius Maximus would arrive and disrupt the siege. The allies
came to believe that Rome could indeed protect them from the
Because the allies held, Rome was able to build up her strength
once again. By the year 212, Rome had 25 legions (about 8 consular
armies) in the field.
212 was perhaps the height of Hannibal's strength in Italy,
but in reality he had lost when Rome did not collapse after Cannae.
He gained Tarentum in 212, the largest port in Italy, but in
211 Rome recaptured Capua, more than offsetting Tarentum.
During these years, both sides ravaged the countryside in
an attempt to starve the enemy. Hannibal, moreover, began to
use force to terrorize cities into alliance with him. He acquired
a reputation for being bloodthirsty and ruthless, to go with
his reputation for cunning. In some cases, just the rumor that
Hannibal was in the neighborhood was enough to make Roman troops
The Romans, in their turn, took to burning fields themselves,
trying to starve Hannibal out, trying to weary his men. Since
all the campaigning was now in southern Italy, it being a Roman
goal to keep Hannibal confined to the south, the result was that
certain districts found themselves repeatedly plundered. Year
after year the crops were burned. Vineyards were destroyed, orchards
chopped down or burned, villages and even towns razed to the
It was a war of attrition now. Hannibal sought to stay alive
long enough to find a way of inflicting further major defeats
on Rome. The Romans, on the other hand, did all they could to
avoid a pitched battle, yet still keep Hannibal in check and
keep him from escaping to the north (where he had allies among
The Metaurus River
The climax of this phase of the war came in 207, when Hannibal's
brother sought to join forces with him in Italy. Hannibal's younger
brother, Hasdrubal, had been fighting in Spain. Indeed, there
had been fighting in Spain ever since Hannibal left there, and
the campaigns were tough and hard- fought. Even as the goal in
Italy was to keep Hannibal bottled up, so the goal in Spain was
to keep Hasdrubal bottled up.
But by 208, Hannibal's position was becoming desperate. He
sent word to his brother that he had to come to Italy at all
And he did so. Hasdrubal duplicated his big brother's accomplishments:
he gave the Romans in Spain the slip, crossed the Pyrenees, crossed
the Rhone River, crossed the Alps (with elephants). He fought
his way down the Italian peninsula.
Many know Hannibal; few know Hasdrubal. The best way to be
famous, it appears, is to be first.
The goal of this great effort was for the two brothers to
join forces, and this of course was exactly what the Romans were
determined to prevent. The two got quite close, within a day
or two's march.
But Hasdrubal was forced to battle at the Metaurus River,
and the Romans won a resounding victory there. Hasdrubal himself
was killed in the battle. When Hannibal learned of this, he retreated
south again, unwilling to give battle in his turn.
The Metaurus River was the last significant battle in Italy
of the Second Punic War. From 207 onward, Hannibal's only thought
was how to preserve his army and how to preserve Carthage itself.
For a time, it seemed that the best way to protect Carthage
was to remain in Italy. If Rome mounted a major invasion of Africa,
she would have to so weaken Italy that Hannibal could again threaten
Rome. The situation was a standoff that neither side could afford
The deadlock was broken by another figure from the Spanish
theatre of the war: Scipio. Like Hasdrubal, and indeed like Hannibal
himself, Scipio had learned generalship in the difficult campaigning
in Spain. Like them, he had built up an army that was both battle-tested
and fiercely loyal to their commander.
In 205, Scipio ran for consul on the platform that he could
defeat Carthage and bring the long war to a close. His success
in Spain helped, and he won. He gathered a large army of volunteers
and landed in Africa in 204.
From the time he landed, Carthage began appealing to Hannibal
to return to Africa. This was no small trick, for the Romans
were waiting for Hannibal to do just that. Hannibal had to find
a way to get his 20,000 men to a seaport undetected by Roman
armies. At the same time, a Carthaginian transport fleet had
to make its way to the port undetected by Roman navies.
It took two years of maneuvering before he was able to accomplish
the fleet. Much to the dismay of Rome, in 202 Hannibal escaped
from Italy with his army intact. He returned to Carthage and
raised more troops locally, then turned to meet Scipio.
The Battle of Zama
The two met near Zama, in the desert about 50 miles from Carthage.
Both sides had about 25,000 men. For once, the Romans had the
better cavalry, for Scipio had brought with him his superb Spanish
horesement. But Hannibal, on home ground in Africa now, had his
These were war elephants, specially trained, and Hannibal
staked the battle on them. He ranged his elephants, perhaps a
hundred or so, in front of his infantry. When the battle began,
he sent them en masse against the Roman lines, like a cavalry
It must have been terrifying to the Romans, but Scipio had
prepared them. He knew of Hannibal's plans and had his own plan
in place. He had his troops spread in normal battle formation.
When the elephants charged, the men re-formed into columns, leaving
wide alleys between.
To aid the elephants, the men were instructed to shout, bang
metal on metal, and general make as much noise as possible, causing
the beasts to shy away from the noise and into the alley ways.
And as they went passed, archers shot at their riders. With great
faith in their commander, the Roman troops executed the plan
perfectly. The elephants passed right through the Roman lines.
While the beasts eventually got turned back around, the massed
charge on which Hannibal had depended, was utterly ineffective.
Now the real battle began. Scipio used much the same tactics
at Zama as Hannibal had at Cannae. He allowed his infantry to
give way while his cavalry executed a flanking maneuver. The
cavalry was almost immediately successful. The Carthaginian infantry
fought hard, though, and the battle lasted most of the day. In
the end, Hannibal was defeated so completely that he immediately
returned to Carthage and advised the city to surrender.
The End of the Second Punic War
In 202 BC Rome's second war with Carthage came to an end.
Rome again forced Carthage to pay a terrible price: this time,
Carthage had to give up her entire empire. Spain, the islands,
North Africa, her navy, her army, all of it was either gone or
drastically reduced. All that was left to her was the city itself,
a hinterland of some thirty miles, and a miniscule army to protect
against desert tribes.
Carthage was allowed no foreign policy but became a client
of Rome. Indeed, a ditch marked the limits of Carthaginian territory,
and it was part of the peace treaty that should armed Carthaginians
cross that border it automatically meant war with Rome.
Hannibal himself went east, forbidden to live in his native
city. He took service with various eastern kings, and for some
years rumors shook Rome that Hannibal was consipiring with this
or that king to raise an army and march again on Italy. When
Hannibal finally died, somewhat mysteriously and before his time,
it was believed that he had been poisoned, either at the behest
of the Senate or by an eastern king seeking to curry favor with
Results of the Second Punic War
The Second Punic War was a turning point in Roman history,
with profound implications for the Republic. The most immediate
and obvious effect was the acquisition of empire: in the space
of fifty years Rome had acquired most of the western Mediterranean.
The Republic now had to adjust its finances, administration,
foreign policy and alliance system to rule these new territories.
It seems self-evident, but it is worth stressing that these
territories were indeed conquered lands, and Rome had to keep
large numbers of men in the army in order to secure them. The
army therefore continued to play a crucial role in every aspect
of Roman society, for it was the keystone of the empire.
The only power left in the Mediterranean was Greece, and it
was only a matter of time before these two clashed. Indeed, even
as Rome fought with Hannibal she found time to quarrel with Macedonia
and to fight a few skirmishes known as the First Macedonian War.
As the name implies, there would be more.
The war with Hannibal, and Hannibal himself, was viewed by
the Romans themselves in nearly mythic terms. Later Romans saw
this as Rome's heroic age, a time when the villains were most
villainous and the heroes most heroic. It was an age when all
Romans were virtuous and everything worked.
Although Hannibal never again actually threatened Rome, his
memory did constantly. He became a monster, a cruel and crafty
invader who was stopped only by epic courage and perseverance.
It is a measure of the fear his name inspired that long after
he was dead and gone, parents would scold naughty children with
the warning that if they weren't good, Hannibal would come to
get them in the night.
Italy itself suffered cruelly in the war. Hannibal spent fourteen
years there, mostly in southern Italy. During much of this time,
both sides ruthlessly burned fields and orchards, slaughtered
livestock, and destroyed villages. As the years went by, the
steep hillsides began to lose their topsoil. By war's end, southern
Italy was permanently impoverished. In fact, in our own century,
in the 1960s, the Italian government began to attempt to recover
and reclaim the land from Hannibal, an effort that still goes
on fitfully. Hannibal's legacy outlived Rome itself.
Third Punic War
The Third Punic War was a brief, tawdry affair, unworthy of
the heroism of the previous conflicts. If ever there was a war
that could be called unnecessary, this one would qualify.
Despite all the penalties and all the impediments, Carthage
recovered economically. Rome had taken away her empire and the
financial burden that went with it, but had left her free to
pursue trade as she willed. Carthage paid off her war indemnity
and by the middle of the second century, was flourishing.
This did not set well with many Roman senators. Rome had acquired
a good deal of fertile land along the coast of North Africa,
and a number of senators had invested in olives and grain there.
But these were goods in which Carthage traded as well, and Carthage
was rather better at it.
A faction within the Senate, led by Cato the Elder, began
to agitate against Carthage. Was it right, they asked, that Carthage
should prosper while Romans toiled? Was Carthage's new prosperity
not potentially dangerous? After all, the city had twice troubled
Rome. And, in any case, Carthage was harming Roman mercantile
Cato took the lead in these arguments. He was a prestigious
statesman with a prestigious reputation. He was the classic virtuous
Roman and he didn't mind that others knew it. His public career
was spotless, his marriage was perfect, his oratory was compelling,
his values were conservative, and all in all he got on some people's
Cato began to urge that the only sure defense against a resurgent
Carthage was to destroy it. Rome would never be safe so long
as Carthage stood. He made a campaign of it: Carthago delenda
est! -- Carthage must be destroyed! In the 150s this was
Cato's slogan, repeated endlessly. At parties he would bring
it up -- Carthago delenda est! In the Senate he might
be speaking on any subject, but always found a way to work in
his slogan: the harbor at Ostia should be expanded . . . and
Carthage must be destroyed! the appointment of Gaius Gaius to
provincial governor should be approved . . . and Carthage must
be destroyed! A vote of thanks to a loyal tribal chieftain .
. . and Carthage must be destroyed!
In the end, Cato got his wish. I might claim that Rome went
to war simply to hush the old boy up, but alas Carthage gave
Rome all the excuse it needed.
The neighboring African tribes learned soon enough that the
Carthaginians did not dare to cross the Roman-imposed frontier.
They learned to raid the Punic hinterland, then race across the
border to perfect safety. These raids gradually became serious
and Carthage chose finally to defend itself.
Carthage re-armed. In 149 the tribesmen again raided, but
this time a Punic army followed them and destroyed their camps.
With Cato's slogan ringing in their ears, with their jealousy
of Carthage's economic success, the Roman senate decreed that
the terms of the treaty had been violated and it duly declared
In a nice irony, it was a descendant of Scipio Africanus who
led the siege of Carthage. Scipio Aemilianus was typical of a
new generation of Roman politician -- well-educated, cultured,
politically amoral, ambitious. He gave Rome its final victory.
Even so, it took three years. The Romans dithered and competed
for the honor of victory, while the people of Carthage fought
fiercely, knowing their fate. The great city walls were not breached
until 146, and it took a week of street fighting for the Romans
to work their way to the citadel. After some further resistance,
the starving garrison surrendered.
Cato's slogan was implemented in typical thorough-going Roman
style. The walls of Carthage were torn down, the city put to
the torch. The citizens were sold into slavery and the Senate
passed a decree that no one could live where Carthage once stood.
Scipio Aemelianus received a triumph for his victory.
So ended the Third Punic War. It had no real consequences,
other than the destruction of the city became legendary (among
the legends was that the earth around Carthage was salted so
nothing could grow -- not so). The real victory over Carthage
was achieved in 202. If the sad business of 146 meant anything,
it showed that Hannibal's shadow still hung over Rome.
Rome in 146 BC
The first half of the second century also saw the wars with
Macedonia, by which parts of Greece also became a Roman province.
Rome did not really want to conquer Greece, for Romans generally
admired Greek culture, but once involved they could find no remedy
for eternal Greek disorder than conquest.
The Fourth Macedonian War came to a conclusion in 146, the
same year as the Third Punic War. Rome by now was more than capable
of carrying on wars on multiple fronts, at least if they were
not too large. She was a true imperial power.
By 146, Rome had been at war for nearly a hundred years, almost
without respite. The effort had taken its toll. The city now
ruled an empire that stretched from one end of the Mediterranean
to the other, but it ruled that empire with a government that
had been designed to rule a city-state.
The strains would prove too great for the Republic. It took
another hundred years for the Republic to fall apart, and that
is the subject of the next narrative.