THE PUNIC WARS
Summary: A trio of deadly wars which took place between the third and second centuries B.C.
Date: First Punic War (264 BC to 241 BC); Second Punic War (218 BC to 201 BC) and Third Punic War (149 BC – 146 BC)
Combatants: The Roman republic versus the Carthaginian empire
Location: Southern Europe and Northern Africa
- Introduction -
Between the third and second centuries BC occurred one of the bloodiest extended conflicts in Roman history. The Empire of Carthage and the Republic of Rome had been expanding too significantly to ignore each other any longer. Greed, ambition and a refusal to coexist drove them to a trio of deadly wars which claimed the lives of almost one and a half million people.
- The First War-
The First Punic War (264 BC to 241 BC) sprung from a minor conflict between inhabitants of Sicily and an Italian mercenary group known as the Mamertini. The Mamertini requested help from both Rome and Carthage. The Carthaginians felt betrayed by the mercenaries’ appeal to Rome so they sided with a neighbouring city against the Mamertini. Backing the mercenaries, Roman troops attacked the Carthaginians, capturing one of their admirals.
Sadly, this brief exchange resulted in a vicious war between Rome and Carthage, lasting twenty-three years. Much fighting took place in and around the island of Sicily, but conflicts also occurred in other locations such as northern Africa. Navies played a large role in the First Punic War and overall it happened that the Romans had a far superior fleet. They lost only one major sea battle and were mostly dominant on land, so as a matter of course Carthage was soon forced to surrender. On Rome’s conditions.
- The Third War-
In 149 B.C., under great public pressure to destroy Carthage for good, Rome once again declared war on their arch-enemy. For some time now, Carthage had been regaining strength and influence after the last war. Many Romans thought that now would be the best time to rid themselves of this constant threat. Their extraordinary excuse was the fact that the Carthaginians had merely resisted acts of aggression by one of their African allies. Without delay, a Roman army set sail for Africa.
For two long years a direct siege on the city of Carthage failed, until finally, a brilliant new commander was commissioned. This man, the adopted Grandson of the famous Scipio Africanus from the Second Punic War, was called Scipio Aemilianus. Masterfully, Rome’s new field commander set about capturing the city. Even after Carthage’s walls were breached, however, it’s people fought on viciously. Finally, after a long, desperate street by street struggle, the city was defeated. A mere fifth of the population, formerly numbering a quarter of a million, had survived. After this defeat the Romans completed their work by razing the city and salting it. Now no plants could grow in the formerly magnificent city of Carthage.
After one hundred and seventeen years of on and off fighting, the might of Carthage had been destroyed. The Republic of Rome had conquered and was victorious. The Republic, however, was not to last much longer. Greed would create internal strife, and ambition would cause the mightiest to take the power for themselves. But that time had not yet come. For now, the Romans celebrated the end of a bloody, seemingly endless conflict.
Researched and Written By
Cody B. Mitchell
- The Second War-
Rome broke their treaty with Carthage, in 218 B.C., by occupying the Island of Sardinia. War was only briefly avoided because Carthage, in desperation, agreed to cede both Sardinia and Corsica to Roman ownership. Meantime, upcoming general Hannibal was winning much land for Carthage in Spain. Unfortunately, however, he attacked - whether knowingly or not - an ally of Rome. Rome, hearing of this incident, called for Hannibal to surrender himself and, when both Hannibal and the Carthaginian leadership refused, Rome declared war on Carthage.
Hannibal, a brilliant strategist, decided to promptly march his men straight over the alps, a treacherous journey, and presently came striding into Italy. Caught off guard, the Romans were defeated time after time by Hannibal’s army. In one battle alone, one in five men of fighting age were casualties. By 212 B.C. the war started turning Rome’s way. A second army under Hannibal’s brother, Hasdrubal, was destroyed and Hasdrubal was killed. Now a brilliant Roman general, named Scipio Africanus, was sent to Africa. When Hannibal eventually made it back in an effort to defend his homeland, his army was convincingly and easily destroyed by Scipio. Finally, Carthage was again forced to plead for mercy.