Punic Wars: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Carthaginian Empire through the Punic Wars

The Punic Wars are a series of three wars fought between Rome and Carthage from 264 to 146 BC.[1] At the time, they were probably the largest wars that had ever taken place.[2] The term Punic comes from the Latin word Punicus (or Poenicus), meaning "Carthaginian", with reference to the Carthaginians' Phoenician ancestry.

The main cause of the Punic Wars was the clash of interests between the existing Carthaginian Empire and the expanding Roman Republic. The Romans were initially interested in expansion via Sicily (which at that time was a cultural melting pot), part of which lay under Carthaginian control. At the start of the first Punic War, Carthage was the dominant power of the Western Mediterranean, with an extensive maritime empire, while Rome was the rapidly ascending power in Italy, but lacked the naval power of Carthage. By the end of the third war, after more than a hundred years and the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of soldiers from both sides, Rome had conquered Carthage's empire and razed the city, becoming the most powerful state of the Western Mediterranean. With the end of the Macedonian Wars — which ran concurrently with the Punic Wars — and the defeat of the Seleucid King Antiochus III the Great in the Roman–Syrian War (Treaty of Apamea, 188 BC) in the eastern sea, Rome emerged as the dominant Mediterranean power and one of the most powerful cities in the classical world.

The Roman victories over Carthage in these wars gave Rome a preeminent status it would retain until the fifth century AD.



Depiction of Hannibal and his army crossing the Alps during the Second Punic War.

In 264 BC, Carthage was a large port-city located on the coast of modern Tunisia. Founded by the Phoenicians in the middle of the 9th century BC, it was a powerful city-state with a large and lucrative commercial empire. Of the great city-states in the western Mediterranean, only Rome rivaled it in power, wealth, and population. While Carthage's navy was the largest in the ancient world at the time, it did not maintain a large, permanent, standing army. Instead, it relied on mercenaries, hired with its considerable wealth, to fight its wars.[3] However, most of the officers who commanded the armies were Carthaginian citizens. The Carthaginians were famed for their abilities as sailors, and unlike their armies, many Carthaginians from the lower classes served in their navy, which provided them with a stable income and career.

In 264 BC the Roman Republic had gained control of the Italian peninsula south of the Po river. Unlike Carthage, Rome had large standing armies made up almost entirely of Roman citizens. On the other hand, at the start of the First Punic War the Romans had no standing navy, and were thus at a disadvantage until they began to construct their own large fleets during the war.

First Punic War (264 to 241 BC)

The First Punic War (264 BC - 241 BC) was fought partly on land in Sicily and Africa, but was also a naval war to a large extent. The struggle was costly to both powers, but after more than 20 years of war, Rome emerged victorious, at last conquering the island of Sicily and forcing the defeated Carthage to pay a massive tribute. The effect of the long war destabilized Carthage. In the confusion, Rome annexed Sardinia and then seized Corsica a few years later when Carthage was plunged into the Mercenary War.


The first Punic war began as a local conflict in Sicily between Hiero II of Syracuse, and the Mamertines of Messina. The Mamertines had the bad judgment to enlist the aid of the Carthaginian navy, and then betray the Carthaginians by entreating the Roman Senate for aid against Carthage. The Romans sent a garrison to secure Messina, and the outraged Carthaginians then lent aid to Syracuse. With the two powers now embroiled in a local conflict, tensions quickly escalated into a full-scale war between Carthage and Rome for the control of Sicily.

The War at Sea

After a vicious defeat at the Battle of Agrigentum in 261 BC, the Carthaginian leadership resolved to avoid further direct land-based engagements with the powerful Roman legions, and concentrated on the sea, where they believed they had an advantage.

Initially, the experienced Carthaginian navy prevailed against the fledgling Roman Navy in the Battle of the Lipari Islands in 260 BC. Rome responded by drastically expanding its navy in a very short time. Within two months the Romans had a fleet of over 100 warships. Because they knew that they could not outmaneuver the Carthaginians in the traditional tactics of ramming and sinking enemy ships, the Romans added an "assault bridge" to Roman ships, known as a corvus. This hinged bridge would swing onto enemy vessels with a pointed spike at the end and quickly stop them. Then shipboard Roman legionaries were able to board and capture Carthaginian ships through hand-to-hand fighting, a skill that the Romans were more comfortable with. This innovative Roman tactic reduced the Carthaginian navy's advantage in ship-to-ship engagements, and allowed Rome's superior infantry to be brought to bear in naval conflicts. However, the corvus was also cumbersome and dangerous, and was eventually phased out as the Roman navy became more experienced and tactically proficient.

Save for the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Tunis in Africa, and two naval engagements, the First Punic War was nearly an unbroken string of Roman victories. In 241 BC, Carthage signed a peace treaty under the terms of which they evacuated Sicily and paid Rome a large war indemnity.[4]


At war's end, Rome's navies were powerful enough to prevent the amphibious invasion of Italy, control the important and rich sea trade routes, and invade other shores.

In 238 BC the mercenary troops of Carthage revolted (see Mercenary War) and Rome took the opportunity to take the islands of Corsica and Sardinia from Carthage as well. From that point on, the Romans effectively controlled the Mediterranean, referring to it as "Mare Nostrum" ("our sea").

Carthage spent the years following the First Punic War improving its finances and expanding its colonial empire in Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula, modern Spain and Portugal), under the Barcid family. Rome's attention was mostly concentrated on the Illyrian Wars. In 219 BC Hannibal, the son of Hamilcar Barca, attacked Saguntum in Hispania, a city allied to Rome, beginning the Second Punic War.

Interval between the First and Second Punic Wars

According to Polybius there had been several trade agreements between Rome and Carthage; even a mutual alliance against king Pyrrhus of Epirus. When Rome and Carthage made peace in 241 BC, Rome secured the release of all 8,000 prisoners of war without ransom and, furthermore, received a considerable amount of silver as a war indemnity. However, Carthage refused to deliver to Rome the Roman deserters serving among their troops. A first issue for dispute was that the initial treaty, agreed upon by Hamilcar Barca and the Roman commander in Sicily, had a clause stipulating that the Roman popular assembly had to accept the treaty in order for it to be valid. The assembly not only rejected the treaty but increased the indemnity Carthage had to pay.

Carthage had a liquidity problem and attempted to gain financial help from Egypt, a mutual ally of Rome and Carthage, but failed. This resulted in delay of payments owed to the mercenary troops that had served Carthage in Sicily, leading to a climate of mutual mistrust and, finally, a revolt supported by the Libyan natives, known as the Mercenary War (240-238 BC). During this war Rome and Syracuse both aided Carthage, although traders from Italy seem to have done business with the insurgents. Some of them were caught and punished by Carthage, aggravating the political climate which had started to improve in recognition of the old alliance and treaties.

During the uprising in the Punic mainland, the mercenary troops in Corsica and Sardinia toppled Punic rule and briefly established their own, but were expelled by a native uprising. After securing aid from Rome, the exiled mercenaries then regained authority on the island. For several years a brutal campaign was fought to quell the insurgent natives. Like many Sicilians, they would ultimately rise again in support of Carthage during the Second Punic War.

Eventually, Rome annexed Corsica and Sardinia by revisiting the terms of the treaty that ended the first Punic War. As Carthage was under siege and engaged in a difficult civil war, they begrudgingly accepted the loss of these islands and the subsequent Roman conditions for ongoing peace, which also increased the war indemnity levied against Carthage after the first Punic War. This eventually plunged relations between the two powers to a new low point.

After Carthage emerged victorious from the Mercenary War there were two opposing factions, the reformist party was led by Hamilcar Barca while the other more conservative faction was represented by Hanno the Great and the old Carthaginian aristocracy. Hamilcar had led the initial Carthaginian peace negotiations and was blamed for the clause that allowed the Roman popular assembly to increase the war indemnity and annex Corsica and Sardinia, but his superlative generalship was instrumental in enabling Carthage to ultimately quell the mercenary uprising, ironically fought against many of the same mercenary troops he had trained. Hamilcar ultimately left Carthage for the Iberian peninsula where he captured rich silver mines and subdued many tribes who fortified his army with levies of native troops.

Hanno had lost many elephants and soldiers when he became complacent after a victory in the Mercenary War. Further, when he and Hamilcar were supreme commanders of Carthage's field armies, the soldiers had supported Hamilcar when his and Hamilcar's personalities clashed. On the other hand he was responsible for the greatest territorial expansion of Carthage's hinterland during his rule as strategus and wanted to continue such expansion. However the Numidian king of the relevant area was now a son-in-law of Hamilcar and had supported Carthage during a crucial moment in the Mercenary War. While Hamilcar was able to obtain the resources for his aim, the Numidians in the Atlas Mountains were not conquered, like Hanno suggested, but became vassals of Carthage.

The Iberian conquest was begun by Hamilcar Barca and his other son-in-law, Hasdrubal the Fair, who ruled relatively independently of Carthage and signed the Ebro treaty with Rome. Hamilcar died in battle in 228 BC. Around this time, Hasdrubal became Carthaginian commander in Iberia (229 BC). He maintained this post for some eight years until 221 BC. Soon the Romans became aware of a burgeoning alliance between Carthage and the Celts of the Po river valley in northern Italy. The latter were amassing forces to invade Italy, presumably with Carthaginian backing. Thus, the Romans pre-emptively invaded the Po region in 225 BC. By 220 BC, the Romans had annexed the area as Gallia Cisalpina [5]. Hasdrubal was assassinated around the same time (221 BC), bringing Hannibal to the fore. It seems that, having apparently dealt with the threat of a Gaulo-Carthaginian invasion of Italy (and perhaps with the original Carthaginian commander killed), the Romans lulled themselves into a false sense of security. Thus, Hannibal took the Romans by surprise a mere two years later (218 BC) by merely reviving and adapting the original Gaulo-Carthaginian invasion plan of his brother-in-law Hasdrubal.

After Hasdrubal's assassination, Hamilcar's young sons took over, with Hannibal becoming the strategus of Iberia, although this decision was not undisputed in Carthage. The output of the Iberian silver mines allowed for the financing of a standing army and the payment of the war indemnity to Rome. The mines also served as a tool for political influence, creating a faction in Carthage's magistrate that was called the Barcino.

In 219 BC Hannibal attacked the town of Saguntum, which stood under the special protection of Rome. According to Roman tradition, Hannibal had been made to swear by his father never to be a friend of Rome, and he certainly did not take a conciliatory attitude when the Romans berated him for crossing the river Iberus (Ebro) which Carthage was bound by treaty not to cross. Hannibal did not cross the Ebro River (Saguntum was near modern Valencia - well south of the river) in arms, and the Saguntines provoked his attack by attacking their neighboring tribes who were Carthaginian protectorates and by massacring pro-Punic factions in their city. Rome had no legal protection pact with any tribe south of the Ebro River. Nonetheless, they asked Carthage to hand Hannibal over, and when the Carthaginian oligarchy refused, Rome declared war on Carthage.

The Barcid Empire

The 'Barcid Empire' consisted of the Punic territories in Iberia. According to the historian Pedro Barceló, it can be described as a private military-economic hegemony backed by the two independent powers, Carthage and Gades. These shared the profits with the Barcid family and were responsible according to Mediterranean diplomatic customs. Gades played a minor role in this field, but Hannibal visited the local temple to conduct ceremonies before launching his campaign against Rome. The Barcid Empire was strongly influenced by the Hellenic Empires of the Mediterranean and for example, contrary to Carthage, it minted many coins in its short time of existence.[6]

Second Punic War (218 BC to 201 BC)

The Second Punic War (218 BC – 201 BC) is most remembered for the Carthaginian Hannibal's crossing of the Alps. He and his army invaded Italy from the north and resoundingly defeated the Roman army in several battles, but never achieved the ultimate goal of causing a political break between Rome and its allies.

While fighting Hannibal in Italy, Hispania and Sicily, Rome also simultaneously fought against Macedon in the First Macedonian War. Eventually, the war was taken to Africa, where Carthage was defeated at the Battle of Zama by Scipio Africanus. The end of the war saw Carthage's control reduced to only the city itself.

Hannibal's feat in crossing the Alps with war elephants passed into European legend: a fresco detail, ca. 1510, Capitoline Museums, Rome

There were three military theaters in this war: Italy, where Hannibal defeated the Roman legions repeatedly; Hispania, where Hasdrubal, a younger brother of Hannibal, defended the Carthaginian colonial cities with mixed success until eventually retreating into Italy; and Sicily, where the Romans held military supremacy.


Hannibal was a master tactician who knew that the Roman cavalry was, as a rule, weak and vulnerable. He therefore enlisted superior cavalry into his armies, with devastating effect on the Roman legions.

After assaulting Saguntum, Hannibal surprised the Romans in 218 BC by directly invading Italy. He led a large army of mercenaries composed mainly of Iberians, and three dozen elephants through the Alps. (It is still debated if Hannibal used African Forest Elephants, Asian Elephants or even both species as historical traditions indicate both possibilities. The use of African Bush Elephants, commonly known as African elephants, has been ruled out.) This move had a double edged effect. Although Hannibal surprised the Romans and thoroughly beat them on the battlefields of Italy, he lost his only siege engines and most of his elephants to the cold temperatures and icy mountain paths. In the end it allowed him to defeat the Romans in the field, but not in the strategically crucial city of Rome itself, thus making him unable to win the war.

Hannibal defeated the Roman legions in several major engagements, including the Battle of the Trebia, the Battle of Lake Trasimene and most famously at the Battle of Cannae, but his long-term strategy failed. Lacking siege engines and sufficient manpower to take the city of Rome itself, he had planned to turn the Italian allies against Rome and starve the city out through a siege. However, with the exception of a few of the southern city-states, the majority of the Roman allies remained loyal and continued to fight alongside Rome, despite Hannibal's near-invincible army devastating the Italian countryside. Rome also exhibited an impressive ability to draft army after army of conscripts after each crushing defeat by Hannibal, allowing them to recover from the defeats at Cannae and elsewhere and keep Hannibal cut off from aid.

More importantly, Hannibal never successfully received any significant reinforcements from Carthage. Despite his many pleas, Carthage only ever sent reinforcements successfully to Hispania. This lack of reinforcements prevented Hannibal from decisively ending the conflict by conquering Rome through force of arms.

The Roman army under Quintus Fabius Maximus intentionally deprived Hannibal of open battle, while making it difficult for Hannibal to forage for supplies. Nevertheless, Rome was also incapable of bringing the conflict in the Italian theatre to a decisive close. Not only were they contending with Hannibal in Italy, and his brother Hasdrubal in Hispania, but Rome had embroiled itself in yet another foreign war, the first of its Macedonian wars against Carthage's ally Philip V, at the same time.

Through Hannibal's inability to take strategically important Italian cities, the general loyalty Italian allies showed to Rome, and Rome's own inability to counter Hannibal as a master general, Hannibal's campaign continued in Italy inconclusively for sixteen years. Though he managed to sustain for 15 years, he did so only by ravaging farm lands, keeping his army healthy, which brought anger among the Roman's subject states. Realizing that Hannibal's army was outrunning its supply lines quickly, Rome took countermeasures against Hannibal's home base in Africa by sea command and stopped the flow of supplies. Hannibal quickly turned back and rushed to home defense, but was soundly defeated in the Battle of Zama.

Hasdrubal's campaign to reinforce Hannibal

In Hispania, a young Roman commander, Publius Cornelius Scipio (later to be given the agnomen Africanus because of his feats during this war), eventually defeated the Carthaginian forces under Hasdrubal. Abandoning Hispania, Hasdrubal moved to bring his mercenary army into Italy to reinforce Hannibal.

Third Punic War (149 B.C to 146 B.C)

The Third Punic War (149 B.C. - 146 B.C.) involved an extended siege of Carthage, ending in the city's thorough destruction. The resurgence of the struggle can be explained by growing anti-Roman agitations in Hispania and Greece, and the visible improvement of Carthaginian wealth and martial power in the fifty years since the Second War.

With no military, Carthage suffered raids from its neighbour Numidia. Under the terms of the treaty with Rome, such disputes were arbitrated by the Roman Senate. Because Numidia was a favored client state of Rome, Roman rulings were slanted heavily to favor the Numidians. After some fifty years of this condition, Carthage had managed to discharge its war indemnity to Rome, and considered itself no longer bound by the restrictions of the treaty, although Rome believed otherwise. Carthage mustered an army to repel Numidian forces. It immediately lost the war with Numidia, placing itself in debt yet again, this time to Numidia.

This new-found Punic militarism alarmed many Romans, including Cato the Elder who after a voyage to Carthage, ended all his speeches, no matter what the topic, by saying: "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam." - "Furthermore, I think that Carthage must be destroyed".

In 149 BC, in an attempt to draw Carthage into open conflict, Rome made a series of escalating demands, one being the surrender of three hundred children of the nobility as hostages, and finally ending with the near-impossible demand that the city be demolished and rebuilt away from the coast, deeper into Africa. When the Carthaginians refused this last demand, Rome declared the Third Punic War. Having previously relied on mercenaries to fight their wars for them, the Carthaginians were now forced into a more active role in the defense of their city. They made thousands of makeshift weapons in a short amount of time, even using women's hair for catapult strings, and were able to hold off an initial Roman attack. A second offensive under the command of Scipio Aemilianus resulted in a three-year siege before he breached the walls, sacked the city, and systematically burned Carthage to the ground in 146 B.C. The popular story that the ground was sown with salt was invented in the nineteenth century - there is no mention of this in the ancient sources.

After Rome emerged as victorious, significant Carthaginian settlements, such as those in Mauritania, were taken over and aggrandized by the Romans. Volubilis, for example, was an important Roman town situated near the westernmost border of Roman conquests. It was built on the site of the previous Carthaginian settlement, but that settlement overlies an earlier neolithic habitation.[7]


  1. ^ Chris Scarre, "The Wars with Carthage," The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome (London: Penguin Books, 1995), 24-25.
  2. ^ Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, p. 13
  3. ^ Carthaginian - Definitions from Dictionary.com
  4. ^ Eckstein, Arthur M. Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate War, and the Rise of Rome University of California Press (1 April 2009)ISBN:978-0520259928 p. 167 [1]
  5. ^ Fagan, Garret G. "The History of Ancient Rome". Lecture 13: "The Second Punic War". Teaching Company, "Great Courses" series.
  6. ^ Pedro Barceló, Karthago und die Iberische Halbinsel vor den Barkiden
  7. ^ C.Michael Hogan, Volubilis, Megalithic Portal, ed. A. Burnham (2007)

See also

  • Pubic Wars, a pun on the Punic Wars, is the name given to the rivalry between the pornographic magazines Playboy and Penthouse during the 1960s and 1970s.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PUNIC WARS, a name specially appropriated to the wars between Rome and Carthage in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. The origin of these conflicts is to be sought in the position which Rome acquired about 275 B.C. as suzerain and protector of all Italy. Her new obligation to safeguard the peninsula against foreign interference made it necessary that she should not allow the neighbouring island of Sicily to fall into the hands of a strong and expansive power. Carthage, on the other hand, had long been anxious to conquer Sicily and so to complete the chain of island posts by which she controlled the western Mediterranean.

First Punic War (264-241 B.e. 1). - The proximate cause of the first outbreak was a crisis in the city of Messana, commanding the straits between Italy and Sicily. A band of Campanian mercenaries, which had forcibly esablished itself within the town and was being hard pressed in 264 by Hiero II. of Syracuse, applied for help both to Rome and Carthage and thus brought a force from either power upon the scene. The Carthaginians, arriving first, occupied Messana and effected a reconciliation with Hiero. The Roman commander nevertheless persisted in throwing troops into the city, and by seizing the person of the Carthaginian admiral during a parley,induced him to withdraw his garrison. The Romans thus won an important strategic post, but their aggression was met by a declaration of war from Carthage and Syracuse.

Operations began with a joint attack upon Messana, which the Romans easily repelled. In 263 they advanced with a considerable force into Hiero's territory and induced him to seek peace and alliance with them. Having thus secured their foothold on the island they set themselves to wrest it completely from Carthage. In 262 they besieged and captured the enemy's base at Agrigentum, and proved that Punic mercenary troops could not stand before the infantry of the legions. But they made little impression upon the Carthaginian fortresses in the west of the island and upon the towns of the interior which mostly sided against them. Thus in the following campaigns their army was practically brought to a standstill.

In 260 the war entered upon a new phase. Convinced that they could gain no serious advantage so long as the Carthaginians controlled the sea and communicated freely with their island possessions, the Romans built their first large fleet of standard battleships. At Mylae, off the north Sicilian coast, their admiral C. Duilius defeated a Carthaginian squadron of superior manoeuvring capacity by a novel application of grappling and 1 The chronology here given is the traditional one, but recent researches tend to show that many events have been antedated by one year.

a boarding tactics. This victory left Rome free to land a force on Corsica and expel the Carthaginians (259), but did not suffice to loosen their grasp on Sicily.

After two more years of desultory warfare the Romans decided to carry the war into the enemy's home territory. A large armament sailed out in 256, repelled a vigorous attack by the entire Carthaginian fleet off Cape Ecnomus (near Agrigenturn) and established a fortified camp on African soil at Clypea. The Carthaginians, whose citizen levy was utterly disorganized, could neither keep the field against the invaders nor prevent their subjects from revolting. A single campaign compelled them to sue for peace, but the terms which the Roman commander Atilius Regulus offered were intolerably harsh. Accordingly they equipped a new army in which, by the advice of a Greek captain of mercenaries named Xanthippus, cavalry and elephants formed the strongest arm. In 255, under Xanthippus's command, they offered battle to Regulus, who had taken up position with an inadequate force near Tunes, outmanoeuvred him and destroyed the bulk of his army. A second Roman armament, which subsequently reached Africa after defeating the full Carthaginian fleet off Cape Hermaeum, did not venture to reopen the campaign, but withdrew all the remaining troops.

The Romans now directed their efforts once more against Sicily. In 254 they carried the important fortress of Panormus (Palermo) by an attack from the sea; but when Carthage threw reinforcements into the island the war again came to a standstill. In 251 at last the Roman general L. Metellus brought about a pitched battle near Panormus in which the enemy's force was effectively crippled. This victory was followed by an investment of the chief Punic base at Lilybaeum by land and sea. The besiegers met with a gallant resistance, and in 249 were compelled to withdraw by the loss of their fleet in a surprise attack upon the neighbouring harbour of Drepanum (Trapani), in which the admiral Claudius Pulcher was repulsed with a loss of 93 ships. Meanwhile other losses in storms on the high seas so reduced the Roman fleet that the attack upon Sicily had to be suspended. At the same time the Carthaginians, who felt no less severely the financial strain of the prolonged struggle and had a war in Africa on their hands, reduced their armaments and made no attempt to deliver a counter-attack. The only noteworthy feature of the ensuing campaigns is the skilful guerilla war waged by a new Carthaginian commander, Hamilcar Barca, from his strong positions on Mt Ercte (247-244) and Mt Eryx (244-242) in Western Sicily, by which he effectually screened Lilybaeum from the Roman land army.

In 242 Rome resumed operations on sea. By a magnificent effort on the part of private citizens a fleet of 200 warships was equipped and sent out to renew the blockade of Lilybaeum. The Carthaginians hastily collected a relief force, but in a battle fought off the Aegates or Aegusae islands (west of Drepana) their fleet was caught at a disadvantage and mostly sunk or captured (March io, 241). This victory, by giving the Romans undisputed command of the sea, rendered certain the ultimate fall of the Punic strongholds in Sicily. The Carthaginians accordingly opened negotiations and consented to a peace by which they ceded Sicily and the Lipari Islands to Rome and paid an indemnity of 3200 talents (about £800,000).

The Interval between the First and Second Wars (241-218 B.C.). - The loss of naval supremacy not only deprived Carthage of her predominance in the western Mediterranean, but exposed her oversea empire to disintegration under renewed attacks by Rome. The temper of the Roman people was soon made manifest during a conflict which broke out between the Carthaginians and their discontented mercenaries. Italian traders were allowed to traffic in munitions of war with the mutineers, and a gross breach of the treaty was perpetrated when a Roman force was sent to occupy Sardinia, whose insurgent garrison had offered to surrender the island (239). To the remonstrances of Carthage the Romans replied with a direct declaration of war, and only withheld their attack upon the formal cession of Sardinia and Corsica and the payment of a further indemnity.

From this episode it became clear that Rome intended to use her victory to the utmost. To avoid complete humiliation Carthage had no resource but to humiliate her adversary. The recent complications of foreign and internal strife had indeed so weakened the Punic power that the prospect of renewing the war under favourable circumstances seemed remote enough. But the scheme of preparing for a fresh conflict found a worthy champion in Hamilcar Barca, who sought to compensate for the loss of Sicily by acquiring a dominion in Spain where Carthage might gain new wealth and form a fresh base of operations against Rome. Invested with an unrestricted foreign command, he spent the rest of his life in founding a Spanish empire (236-228). His work was continued by his son-in-law Hasdrubal and his son Hannibal, who was placed at the head of the army in 220. These conquests aroused the suspicions of Rome, which in a treaty with Hasdrubal confined the Carthaginians to the south of the Ebro, and also guaranteed the independence of Saguntum, a town on the east coast which pretended to a Greek origin. In 219 Hannibal laid siege to Saguntum and carried the town in spite of a stubborn defence. It has always been a debateable point whether his attack contravened the new treaty. The Romans certainly took this view and sent to Carthage to demand Hannibal's surrender. But his defiant policy was too popular to be disavowed; the Carthaginian council upheld Hannibal's action, and drew upon itself an immediate declaration of war.

Second Punic War (218-201 B.e.): a. The "Hannibalic" War. - It seemed as though the superiority of the Romans at sea must enable them to choose the field of battle. They decided to embark one army for Spain and another for Sicily and Africa. But before their preparations were complete Hannibal began that series of operations by which he dictated the course of the war for the greater part of its duration. Realizing that so long as Rome commanded the resources of an undivided Italian confederacy no foreign attack could beat her down beyond recovery, he conceived the plan of cutting off her supply of strength at the source by carrying the war into Italy and causing a disruption of the League. His chances of ever reaching Italy seemed small, for the sea was guarded by the Roman fleets and the land route was long and arduous. But the very boldness of his enterprise contributed to its success; after a six months' march through Spain and Gaul and over the Alps, which the Romans were nowhere in time to oppose, Hannibal arrived in the plain of the Po with 20,000 foot and 6000 horse, the pick of his African and Spanish levies (autumn 218: for details see Hannibal) .

His further advance was here disputed by some Roman troops which had been recalled from the Spanish expedition. But the superiority of the Carthaginian cavalry and the spread of insurrection among the Gaulish inhabitants forced the defenders to fall back upon the Apennines. At the end of the year the Roman army was reinforced by the division from Sicily and led out to battle on the banks of the Trebia. Hannibal, by superior tactics, repelled the assailants with heavy loss, and thus made his position in north Italy secure.

In 217 the campaign opened in Etruria, into which the invading army, largely reinforced by Gauls, penetrated by an unguarded pass. A rash pursuit by the Roman field force led to its being entrapped on the shore of Lake Trasimene and destroyed with a loss of 40,000 men. This catastrophe left Rome completely uncovered; but Hannibal, having resolved not to attack the capital before he could collect a more overwhelming force, directed his march towards the south of Italy, where he hoped to stir up the peoples who had formerly been Rome's most stubborn enemies. The natives, however, were everywhere slow to join the Carthaginians, and a new Roman army under the dictator Q. Fabius Maximus ("Cunctator"), which, without ever daring to close with Hannibal, persistently dogged his steps on his forays through Apulia and 'Campania, prevented his acquiring a permanent base of operations.

The eventful campaign of 216 was begun by a new aggressive move on the part of Rome. An exceptionally strong field army, estimated at 85,000 men, was sent forth in order to crush the Carthaginians in open battle. On a level plain near Cannae in Apulia, which Hannibal had chosen for his battle-ground, the Roman legions delivered their attack. Hannibal deliberately allowed his centre to be driven in by their superior numbers, while Hasdrubal's cavalry wheeled round so as to take the enemy in flank and rear. The Romans, surrounded on all sides and so cramped that their superior numbers aggravated their plight, were practically annihilated, and the loss of citizens was perhaps greater than in any other defeat that befel the Republic. The moral effect of the battle was no less momentous. The south Italian nations at last found courage to secede from Rome, the leaders of the movement being the people of Capua, the second greatest town of Italy. Reinforcements were sent from Carthage, and several neutral powers prepared to throw their weight into the scale on Hannibal's behalf. At first sight it seems strange that the battle of Cannae did not decide the war. But the resources of Rome, though terribly reduced in respect both of men and of money, were not yet exhausted. In north and central Italy the insurrection spread but little, and could be sufficiently guarded against with small detachments. In the south the Greek towns of the coast remained loyal, and the numerous Latin colonies continued to render important service by interrupting free communication between the rebels and detaining part of their forces. In Rome itself the quarrels between the nobles and commons, which had previously unsettled her policy, gave way to a unanimity unparalleled in the annals of the Republic. The guidance of operations was henceforth left to the senate, which by maintaining a firm and persistent policy until the conflict was brought to a successful end earned its greatest title to fame.

The subsequent campaigns of the Italian War assume a new character. Though the Romans contrived at times to raise 200,000 men, they could only spare a moderate force for field operations. Their generals, among whom the veterans Fabius and M. Claudius Marcellus frequently held the most important commands, rarely ventured to engage Hannibal in the open, and contented themselves with observing him or skirmishing against his detachments. Hannibal, whose recent accessions of strength were largely discounted by the necessity of assigning troops to protect his new allies or secure their wavering loyalty, was still too weak to undertake a vigorous offensive. In the ensuing years the war resolved itself into a multiplicity of minor engagements which need not be followed out in detail. In 216 and 215 the chief seat of war was Campania, where Hannibal vainly attempted to establish himself on the coast and experienced a severe repulse at Nola. In 214 the main Carthaginian force was transferred to Apulia in hopes of capturing Tarentum. Though Croton and Locri on the Calabrian coast had fallen into his hands, Hannibal still lacked a suitable harbour by which he might have secured his oversea communications. For two years he watched in vain for an opportunity of surprising the town, while the Romans narrowed down the sphere of revolt in Campania and defeated other Carthaginian commanders. In 212 the greater part of Tarentum and other cities of the southern seaboard at last came into Hannibal's power. But in the same year the Romans found themselves strong enough to place Capua under blockade. They severely defeated a Carthaginian relief force, and could not be permanently dislodged even by Hannibal himself. In 211 Hannibal made a last effort to relieve his allies by a feint upon Rome itself, but the besiegers refused to be drawn away from their entrenchments, and eventually Capua was starved into surrender. Its fall was a sign that no power could in the long run uphold a rival Italian coalition against Rome. After a year of desultory fighting the Romans in 209 gained a further important success by recovering Tarentum. Though Hannibal from time to time still won isolated engagements, yet slowly but surely he was being driven back into the extreme south of the peninsula.

In 207 the arrival of a fresh invading force produced a new crisis. Hasdrubal, who in 209-208 had marched overland from Spain, appeared in north Italy with a force scarcely inferior to the army which his brother had brought in 218. After levying contingents of Gauls and Ligurians he marched down the east coast with the object of joining hands with his brother in central Italy for a direct attack upon Rome. By this time the drain of men and money was telling so severely upon her confederacy that some of her most loyal allies protested their inability to render further help. Yet by a supreme effort the Romans raised their war establishment to the highest total yet attained and sent a strong field army against either Carthaginian leader. The danger to Rome was chiefly averted by the prompt insight and enterprise of the consul C. Nero, who commanded the main army in the south. Having discovered that Hannibal would not advance beyond Apulia until his brother had established communications with him, Nero slipped away with part of his troops and arrived in time to reinforce his colleague Livius, whose force had recently got into touch with Hasdrubal near Sena Gallica (Sinigaglia). The combined Roman army frustrated an attempt of Hasdrubal to elude it and forced him to fight on the banks of the Metaurus. The battle was evenly contested until Nero by a dexterous flanking movement cut the enemy's retreat. Hasdrubal himself fell and the bulk of his army was destroyed.

The campaign of 207 decided the war in Italy. Though Hannibal still maintained himself for some years in Calabria, this was chiefly due to the exhaustion of Rome after the prodigious strain of past years and the consequent reduction of her armaments. In 203 Italy was finally cleared of Carthaginian troops. Hannibal, in accordance with orders from home, sailed back to Africa, and another expedition under his brother Mago, which had sailed to Liguria in 205 and endeavoured to rouse the slumbering discontent in Cisalpine Gaul and Etruria, was driven back on the coast and withdrawn about the same time. b. The Subsidiary Campaigns. - Concurrently with the great struggle in Italy the Second Punic War was fought out on several other fields. It will suffice merely to allude to the First Macedonian War (214-205) which King Philip V. commenced when the Roman power seemed to be breaking up after Cannae. The diversions which Roman diplomacy provided for Philip in Greece and the maintenance of a patrol squadron in the Adriatic prevented any effective co-operation on his part with Hannibal.

In view of the complete stagnation of agriculture in Italy the Romans had to look to Sardinia and Sicily for their food supply. Sardinia was attacked by a Carthaginian a armament in 215, but a small Roman force sufficed S ly. to repel the invasion. In Sicily a more serious conflict broke out. Some isolated attacks by Punic squadrons were easily frustrated by the strong Roman fleet. But in 215 internal complications arose. The death of Hiero II., Rome's steadfast friend, left the kingdom of Syracuse to his inexperienced grandson Hieronymus. Flattered by the promises of Carthaginian emissaries the young prince abruptly broke with the Romans, but before hostilities commenced he was assassinated. The Syracusan people now repudiated the monarchy and resumed their republican constitution, but they were misled by false threats of terrible punishment at the hands of Rome to play into the hands of the Carthaginians. The attacks of a Roman army and fleet under Marcellus which speedily appeared before the town were completely baffled by the mechanical contrivances of the Syracusan mathematician Archimedes (213). Meantime the revolt against Rome spread in the interior, and a Carthaginian fleet established itself in the towns of the south coast. In 212 Marcellus at last broke through the defence of Syracuse and in spite of the arrival of a Carthaginian relief force mastered the town by slow degrees. A guerilla warfare succeeded in which the Carthaginians maintained the upper hand until in 210 they lost their base at Agrigentum. Thereupon they were rapidly dislodged from their remaining positions, and by the end of the year Sicily was wholly under the power of Rome. The conflict in Spain was second in importance to the Italian War alone. From this country the Carthaginians drew large supplies of troops and money which might serve to reinforce Hannibal; hence it was in the interest of the Romans to challenge their enemy within his Spanish domain.

Though the force which Rome at first spared for this war was small in numbers and rested entirely upon its own resources, the generals Publius and Gnaeus Scipio by skilful strategy and diplomacy not only won over the peoples north of the Ebro and defeated the Carthaginian leader Hasdrubal Barca in his attempts to restore communication with Italy, but'carried their arms along the east coast into the heart of the enemy's domain. But eventually their successes were nullified by a rash advance. Deserted by their native contingents and cut off by Carthaginian cavalry, among which the Numidian prince Massinissa rendered conspicuous service, the Roman generals were slain and their troops were destroyed in detail (212 or 211).

Disturbances in Africa prevented the Punic commanders from reaping the full fruit of their success. Before long the fall of Capua enabled Rome to transfer troops from Italy to Spain, and in 209 the best Roman general of the day, the young son and namesake of the recently slain P. Scipio, was placed in command. The new leader signalized his arrival by a bold and successful coup-de-main upon the great arsenal of Carthago Nova. Though he failed to prevent Hasdrubal Barca from marching away to Italy, Scipio profited by his departure to push back the remaining hostile forces the more rapidly. A last effort by the Carthaginians to retrieve their losses with a fresh army was frustrated by a great victory at Ilipa (near Corduba), and by the end of 206 they were completely driven out of the peninsula.

In 205 Scipio, who had returned to Rome to hold the consulship, proposed to follow up his victories by an attack upon the home territory of Carthage. Though the presence of Hannibal in Italy at first deterred the senate from sanctioning this policy, the general popularity of the scheme overbore all resistance. Scipio was granted a force which he organized and supplemented in Sicily, and in 204 sailed across to Africa. He was here met by a combined levy of Carthage and King Syphax of Numidia, and for a time penned to the shore near Utica. But in the winter he extricated himself by a surprise attack upon the enemy's camp, which resulted in the total loss of the allied force by sword or flame. In the campaign of 203 a new Carthaginian force was destroyed by Scipio on the Great Plains not far from Utica, their ally Syphax was captured, and the renegade Massinissa (q.v.) reinstated in the kingdom from which Syphax had recently expelled him. These disasters induced the Carthaginians to sue for peace, but before the very moderate terms which Scipio offered could be definitely accepted a sudden reversal of opinion caused them to recall Hannibal's army for a final trial of war, and to break off negotiations. In 202 Hannibal assumed command of a composite force of citizen and mercenary levies stiffened with a corps of his veteran Italian troops. After an abortive conference with Scipio he prepared for a decisive battle at Zama (an inland site not yet identified with certainty). Scipio's force was smaller in numbers, but well trained throughout and greatly superior in cavalry. His infantry, after evading an attack by the Carthaginian elephants, cut through the first two lines of the enemy, but was unable to break the reserve corps of veterans. The battle was ultimately decided by the cavalry of the Romans and their new ally Massinissa, which by a manoeuvre recalling the tactics of Cannae took Hannibal's line in the rear and completely destroyed it. The Carthaginians having thus lost their last army again applied for peace and accepted the terms which Scipio offered. They were compelled to cede Spain and the Mediterranean islands still in their hands, to surrender their warships, to pay an indemnity of io,000 talents (about £2,400,000) within fifty years and to forfeit their independence in affairs of war and foreign policy.

The Second Punic War, by far the greatest struggle in which either power engaged, had thus ended in the complete triumph of Rome. This triumph is not to be explained in the main by any faultiness in the Carthaginians' method of attack. The history of the First Punic War, and that of the Second outside of Italy, prove that the Romans were irresistible on neutral or Carthaginian ground. Carthage could only hope to win by invading Italy and using the enemy's home resources against him. The failure of Hannibal's brilliant endeavour to realize these conditions was not due to any strategical mistakes on his part. It was caused by the indomitable strength of will of the Romans, whose character during this period appears at its best, and to the compactness of their Italian confederacy, which no shock of defeat or strain of war could entirely disintegrate. It is this spectacle of individual genius overborne by corporate and persevering effort which lends to the Second Punic War its peculiar interest.

The Third Punic War (149-146 B.C.) - The political power of Carthage henceforth remained quite insignificant, but its commerce and material resources revived in the 2nd century with such rapidity as to excite the jealousy of the growing mercantile population of Rome and the alarm of its more timid statesmen. Under the influence of these feelings the conviction - sedulously fostered by Cato the Elder, the Censor - that "Carthage must be destroyed" overbore the scruples of more clear-sighted statesmen. A cases belli was readily found in a formal breach of the treaty, committed by the Carthaginians in 154, when they resisted Massinissa's aggressions by force of arms. A Roman army was despatched to Africa, and although the Carthaginians consented to make reparation by giving hostages and surrendering their arms, they were goaded into revolt by the further stipulation that they must emigrate to some inland site where they would be debarred from commerce. By a desperate effort they created a new war equipment and prepared their city for a siege (149). The Roman attack for two years completely miscarried, until in 147 the command was given to a young officer who had distinguished himself in the early operations of the war - Scipio Aemilianus, the adoptive grandson of the former conqueror of Carthage. Scipio made the blockade stringent by walling off the isthmus on which the town lay and by cutting off its sources of supplies from oversea. His main attack was delivered on the harbour side, where he effected an entrance in the face of a determined and ingenious resistance. The struggle did not cease until he had carried house by house the streets that led up to the citadel. Of a population probably exceeding half a million only 50,000 remained at the final surrender. The survivors were sold into slavery; the city was razed to the ground and its site condemned by solemn imprecations to lie desolate for ever.. The territory of Carthage, which had recently been much narrowed by Massinissa's encroachments, was converted into a Roman province under the name of "Africa." Bibliography. - I. Ancient Authorities. For the First Punic War Polybius, bk. 1, provides a trustworthy and impartial account, but owing to his conciseness leaves many problems of chronology and strategy unexplained. For the Second War bks. 2 and 3 of Polybius present a complete and detailed record down to Cannae; bks. 7-15 contain fragmentary notices of which the most continuous deal with the campaigns of Scipio. Livy (bks. 23-30) gives a continuous and detailed narrative, partly based upon Polybius and other good authorities, partly upon untrustworthy Roman annalists. The Third War is described in Appian's Res Libycae, chs. 67 sqq., and the fragments of Polybius, bks. 36-39.

The subsidiary authorities are: Diodorus, bks. 20-27, 32;_ Appian, Res Libycae, Hispanicae, Hannibalicae; Zonaras's epitome of Dio Cassius, frs. 43, 54, 57; Plutarch's Lives of Fabius and Marcellus; Cornelius Nepos's Lives of Hamilcar and Hannibal, and short references in Justin, Eutropius, Aurelius Victor and Orosius. The sources and methods of composition of these authors have been discussed in numerous articles and dissertations, mostly German, of which the most important are mentioned in Niese's work (quoted below). These essays have brought out few certain results, but they tend to show that the narratives, so far as they are not based on Polybius or earlier authorities, are of little value.

2. Modern Works. a. For general accounts, see the respective passages in the general histories of Rome, especially Mommsen (Eng. trans., 1894, vol. ii.), and Ihne (Eng. trans., vol. ii.); also C. Neumann, Das Zeitalter der punischen, Kriege (Breslau, 1883), and R. B. Smith, Rome and Carthage (London, 1881).

b. For the First War. - O. Meltzer, Geschichte der Karthager, ii. 252-356 (Berlin, 1879-1886); J. Beloch, Griechische Geschichte, vol. iii. pt. i. pp. 664-684 (Strassburg, 1893-1904); B. Niese, Geschichte der griechischen and makedonischen Staaten, ii. 1 74199 (Gotha, 1893-1903); W. W. Tarn, "The Fleets of the First Punic War," in Journal of Hellenic Studies (1907), pp. 48-60. For The War Africa. the chronology, see F. Reuss, in Philologus (1900, pp. 102-148, and especially P. Varese, in Studi di storia antica, vol. iii. (Rome, 1902).

c. For the period 241-238.-0. Gilbert, Rom and Karthago 513-536 A.U.C. (Leipzig, 1876); Meltzer, op. cit. ii. 357-456.

d. For the Second War. - T. Arnold, The Second Punic War (ed. W. T. Arnold; London, 1886); T. A. Dodge, Great Captains, Hannibal (Boston and New York, 1889); G. Bossi, in Studi di storia e diritto, vols. x.-xiii.; P. Cantalupi, Le Legioni romane nella guerra d'Annibale (Studi di storia antica, 1891, i. 3-48); Th. Zielinski, Die letzten Jahre des zweiten punischen Krieges (Leipzig, 1880).

e. Special articles. - On Sicily: Niese, op. cit. ii. 505-561. On Spain: J. Frantz, Die Kriege der Scipionen in Spanien (Munich, 1883).

For further bibliographical references consult B. Niese, Grundriss der riimischen Geschichte, pp. 81-88, 94-108, 138-142 (Munich, 1906). See also the articles on chief personages (especially HANNIBAL and Sci p io), and under ROME: Ancient History; CARTHAGE; SICILY. (M. 0. B. C.)

<< Pundit

Punishment >>

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|250px|Empire of Carthage through the Punic Wars]] The Punic Wars were a series of three wars fought between Rome and Carthage between 264 and 146 BC[1], and were probably the largest wars in the ancient world.[2] They are known as the Punic Wars because the Latin term for Carthaginian was Punici (older Poenici, from their Phoenician ancestry).

The main cause of the Punic Wars was the clash of interests between the existing empire of Carthage and the expanding Roman Republic. Carthage lost the three wars.

  • First Punic War 264 to 241 BC. Hannibal's father Hamilcar Barca was the Carthaginian general.
  • Second Punic War 218 to 201 BC. Hannibal was the Carthaginian general. Hannibal used a tactic of crossing the Alps with elephants in order to attack Rome where they were weak, because they had centralized their defence on the coast, expecting a naval attack from Carthage.
  • Third Punic War 149 to 146 BC. Carthage was defeated at last.


Carthage was a trading nation founded by Phoenicians. It was the dominant sea power in the western Mediterranean. It was a maritime empire, in contrast to the land-based Roman empire. The Romans decided they needed Sicily, which was then in Carthaginian hands. The consequence was a series of wars which lasted over a hundred years, and ended in the utter destruction of Carthage.


  1. Chris Scarre, "The Wars with Carthage," The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome (London: Penguin Books, 1995), 24-25.
  2. Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, p. 13

Other websites

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address