The Punic Wars & Hannibal of Carthage rome mrdonn org/hannibal

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The Punic Wars & Hannibal of Carthage

A long time ago, when Rome was still a Republic, a big fight broke out between Rome and Carthage. Carthage was an ancient city-state in North Africa, about 300 miles from Rome. 

Carthage and Rome had never liked each other, but they had, for the most part, left each other alone in the past. Both cities were busy building empires of their own. Carthage had grown into a huge empire.  Carthage had a strong army, a strong navy, and a strong government. 

First Punic War-264-214 BCE: One day, Rome took a good look at how big Carthage was getting. The problem, as Rome saw it, was that Carthage controlled three islands off the coast of Italy. That was too close for comfort. Rome decided that Carthage needed to join the Republic. Carthage disagreed. Carthage and Rome fought for 20 years. This was the first Punic War. Nobody won. After 20 years of fighting, all they had accomplished was to kill a lot of people and to cause a lot of hatred. 

To end the fighting, Carthage offered Rome a deal. Carthage said: “If you’ll go away and leave us alone, we’ll give you the island of Sicily.” Rome took the deal. They also took Sardinia and Corsica, the other two islands off the coast of Italy. 

Carthage was furious. But they were tired of fighting Rome. Carthage decided to fight Spain instead, and make up the land they had lost there. Hamilcar, the Carthaginian general, took his army and his nine-year-old son, Hannibal, and left for Spain. Before he left home, he made his son swear that as soon as he was old enough, Hannibal would fight the Romans and make them pay for all the lives they had cost. Hannibal promised. That was the beginning of the legend of Hannibal, military genius.

Hannibal: Over the next several years, while fighting in Spain, Hannibal learned to be a strong leader. His Dad and his men had taught him well. But mostly, he was naturally tricky. Hannibal won most of his battles by coming up with clever ideas. 

One time, while fighting at sea, Hannibal had his men dump barrels full of live snakes onto the deck of an enemy ship. The enemy had not expected Hannibal to do that. They weren’t prepared to fight snakes. Hannibal won that battle easily.

A few years after his Dad died, the soldiers in Spain chose him to be their new general. He was only 26 years old at the time. Hannibal did not hesitate. He took the job, married a Spanish princess, and started wars with several cities in Spain. His plan was to conquer all of Spain.

Second Punic War- 218-201 BCE: One of the cities he attacked happened to be good friends with Rome. Rome decided to lend a hand. But Rome did not send help to Spain. They declared war on Carthage, Hannibal’s hometown and the center of the Carthage Empire.

That was fine with Hannibal. He had never forgotten the promise he had made to his father. He had orders from Carthage to fight Rome. He needed to take Rome by surprise. He decided to attack Rome from the north. Rome would never expect that.  Hannibal’s plan was to march 90,000 foot soldiers, 12,000 cavalry, and 37 elephants from Spain, through Gaul, over the Alps, into Italy, and then take Rome by force. 

His plan did not work as expected. The route was more rugged that he had expected. He lost nearly all his elephants and half his men on the trip. He expected people in Northern Italy to help him. They did help him by leaving him alone, but they would not join his army. Carthage did not have a strong navy to use to send supplies. 

Hannibal came up with a new plan. Instead of marching on Rome, he drove Rome crazy by attacking smaller outposts and stealing food and weapons, food intended for Rome. Hannibal and his men stayed on the Italian peninsula for 15 years, causing trouble where he could.

In 203 BCE, Rome had had it with Hannibal. They couldn’t catch him, so they attacked Carthage instead. Carthage, in a panic, called Hannibal home. Before Hannibal could arrive, Carthage had agreed to peace terms with Rome. Terms:

  • Carthage would leave Spain, Gaul, and Italy

  • Carthage would reduce their navy to 20 warships

  • Carthage had to pay 5000 talents (the money of the time) in war damages

Once Hannibal arrived home, the leaders in Carthage changed their minds. They decided not to honor their peace terms. Rome was furious. They sent an army to Carthage. Hannibal’s army lost, but Hannibal managed to get away. If possible, Rome was even more furious. Carthage had not kept their promise. Again. Rome still did not have their hands on Hannibal. 

This time, the peace terms were more severe. Terms:

  • Carthage would leave Spain, Gaul, and Italy

  • Carthage would reduce their navy to 10 warships

  • Carthage had to pay 10000 talents (the money of the time) in war damages, in 50 equal annual payments, over the next 50 years.

Carthage called it quits. They left Spain. They left Gaul. They left Italy. They reduced their navy. They paid the talents they owed each year, promptly. The 2nd Punic War was finally over. 

That did not stop Hannibal, though. Hannibal spent the rest of his life fighting the growing power of ancient Rome. The Romans never stopped looking for him. In spite of all their best efforts, the Romans did not catch up with Hannibal until he was 64 years old! Even then, they didn’t get him. He chose to die by swallowing the poison he kept in his ring.

Hannibal still ranks as one of the most magnificent military minds in history and one of the world’s greatest generals.

Third Punic War- 149-146 BCE: While Rome was busy at other tasks and in other parts of the world, the city of Carthage was growing strong again.  Soon Carthage felt strong enough to fight Rome.  The third Punic war started.  The Romans and Carthage fought for several years but Rome was too strong.  The Romans defeated Carthage again.  But this time Rome had had enough.  They rounded up all the people of Carthage and sold them into slavery.  They tore down every building in the city, then spread salt over all the farms and fields around where Carthage had been.  Thus the land was no good for growing food.  There was no longer a city of Carthage.

Rome emerged as the pre-eminent power in the Mediterranean and Carthage lay in ruin for over one hundred years until it was finally re-built following the death of Julius Caesar. The Punic Wars provided Rome with the training, the navy, and the wealth to expand from a small city to an empire which would rule the known world.

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