The Punic Wars

People always want more. The Romans were no different. The Punic Wars were a series of conflicts between the Romans and the Carthaginians for control over the Medierranean Sea, and they defined Rome during its republic period. 

The First Punic War (264-241 BC) occurred over the island of Sicily. The Romans allied themselves with Syracuse and decided to help Messina (which asked for both Carthage’s and Rome’s help) by attacking the Carthaginians. Then they laid siege to Akragas, Carthage’s main fort, and captured it, thus shifting the focus of the battles from land to water. The Romans had one tiny, little problem: they had no ships. Luckily, they were able to capture a Carthaginian ship and largely copied it, and added a corvus (or raven) which was essentially a plank with a spike to attach boats so that Roman soldiers could board. The Romans then proceeded to win battles at Mylae, Sulci, and Ecnomus. The Carthaginian navy was so battered that Rome tried to invade Carthage, but was fought off by Xanthippus. At Cape Hermaeum, the Carthaginian navy was again defeated, but a storm destroyed much of Rome’s fleet. 

The Romans were able to rebuild and took Palermo. The Carthaginians tried to retake the city with elephants but were held back. However, bright skies were ahead for Carthage. They won at both Lilybaeum and Drepana, and had destroyed the Roman fleet at Phintias. At this point, both sides were broke and had no more money. However, Rome was able to lend money from its patricians and raise yet another fleet. This fleet laid siege to Lilybaeum and Drepana once more, but this time Carthage failed to relieve these strongholds. The war ended with the Treaty of Lutatius, with Carthage forced to pay 3,200 silver talents and Sicily annexed by Rome.

After the war, the Carthaginians had nothing to pay their soldiers with, so they revolted. After Sardinia revolted, Carthage wanted to retake their land. Rome claimed this to be an act of war, demanded the turnover of Sardinia and Corsica, and received 1,200 more talents. To gain silver mines in Iberia, Rome and Carthage signed the Ebro treaty, which limited Carthage to south of the Ebro River. Rome also signed a treaty with Saguntum, a city south of the Ebro River. Thus, another dubious claim set the stage for the next conflict.

The Second Punic War (218-201 BC) began when Saguntum was attacked by Carthage, which led Rome to declare war. Rome took Malta, and was planning to invade Carthage once more, but one man had other plans. Hannibal evaded the Roman forces by going through Iberia and then south through the Alps, even bringing 37 elephants with him. He defeated the Roman-aligned Taurini in North Italy, and defeated the Romans at Ticinus. This caused most of the Gauls to side with him, beginning a string of Carthaginian annihilations at Lake Trasimene, Cannae, and Silva Litana. During this time, Quintus Fabius Maximus was appointed dictator, but he was unwilling to attack Hannibal head on. Many cities were beginning to defect to the Carthaginian side.

However, eventually Hannibal was forced to the south of Italy, where he was confined. Many cities went back to Rome. In the interim, Syracuse also turned to Carthage, where it was then sieged and it eventually fell. Notably, Archimedes was killed during this time, as he invented war machines to aid his city. However, Hannibal’s brother Hadsdrubal invaded Italy from the north yet again. Due to Roman trickery, Hannibal was left unaware of this fact, and the invasion failed. The Roman Publius Scipio was able to take Iberia. Furthermore, his other brother Mago failed to reach Hannibal as well. 

Scipio looked to invade Carthage. He allied with a Masinissa, a Numidian prince (who was left without land after a different king allied with Carthage), and united the kingdom at Cirta. Hannibal was then recalled back home, where Rome proceeded to create a treaty that was refused. At Zama, the Carthage forces were annihilated, and Rome won decisively. The truce called for hostages, another fine of 10,000 talents, no land outside Africa, no war elephants, only 10 warships, and couldn’t attack anyone without Roman permission. Scipio also received the name “Africannus”.

Masinissa then proceeded to attack Carthage repeatedly over 48 years. Carthage could not fight back as Rome always denied their requests to defend themselves. Carthage finally had enough and tried fighting back. They lost, and Rome decided to declare war again for the final time in the Third Punic War (149-146 BC). Rome tried to take the city, but with fire ships (ships set on fire) and the camp running rampant with disease, Carthage was able to defend for a while underneath Hasdrubal. Scipio Aemillanus, the adopted grandson of Africanus became consul and defeated what was left of the Carthaginian fleet twice. Then, he attacked Carthage at night and lost. Hasdrubal reacted by heading into the city, torturing Roman prisoners, and killing any Carthaginian dissenters. Scipio was able to take everything but the city, and cut it off from the sea. Then, the massacre began, with Scipio killing everyone in the first five days and accepting prisoners on the last day. Carthage was razed, but salt was not put in the ground. 

What’s the moral of the story here? Rome was a power hungry society who was willing to play dirty for society? Never trust an enemy? I don’t know. It’s 2 in the morning and I want to go to sleep. But the Punic Wars were cool I guess.

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