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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 ivory).

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 quarrel.

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 later struggles.

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 generalship.

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.

Initial Battles

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 military acadamies.

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 invader.

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.

Later Campaigns

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 retreat.

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 ground.

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 Gauls).

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 costs.

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 to maintain.

Scipio Africanus

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 elephants.

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 charge.

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 the Senate.

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 interests.

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 nerves.

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 war.

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.

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Copyright 1999, Ellis L. Knox. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.The contents of ORB are copyright 1995-1999 Laura V. Blanchard and Carolyn Schriber except as otherwise indicated herein.