THE PUNIC WARS The Punic Wars began as a dispute over the island of Sicily. Tyrants had taken over various parts of the city and had applied to both Carthage and Rome for help. The Romans, who wanted to expand their empire, did not want Carthage to expand into Sicily. They sent Appius Claudius Caudex to Sicily. After taking Messana, the Sicilian city that originally applied for help, and forming an alliance with Heiro II, the tyrant who had taken control of Syracuse, Rome had control of Sicily and war had begun with Carthage.
Romans were not used to naval battles. They had to develop new weapons for their navy to aid them in the war. One of these new technologies was the corvus. It allowed Romans to turn naval battles into land battle by helping soldiers board enemy ships. The war was going in either direction. Carthage won some and then Rome Won some. A famous Roman loss was the Battle of Drepana where it is said that the Romans lost because Claudius Pulcher threw the sacred chickens overboard.
Eventually the Carthaginians named a general Hamilcar Barca, in charge of the Carthaginian forces. He uses guerilla tactics to defeat the Romans at many land sites. However, in 241 BCE, the Roman navy destroyed the Carthaginian fleet at Aegates Islands and won the war.
The Second Punic War began because of Carthaginian aggression and the hatred of Hannibal Barca. Hannibal Barca was the grandson of the General Hamilcar Barca. At a young age Hannibal took an oath of eternal hatred towards Rome. Hannibal, against the advice of his advisors, he marched into Roman territory and took Saguntum, a Roman city. Rome declares war on Carthage in 218 BCE. The Romans suffered many early defeats at Ticinus River and at Trebia River, where one of their consuls was killed. The worst defeat in Roman history happened during this war at the Battle of Cannae in 216 BCE.
Hannibal allied himself with many enemies of Rome and besieges the city after his brother was mercilessly killed at Metarus River. All the while the Romans have sent Scipio Africanus, a young commander, to Africa. Scipio convinces an ally of Hannibal, the Numidian king Massinissa, to turn his back on Hannibal and join Rome. With Massinissa’s help Hannibal is recalled to Carthage to defend the city against Scipio’s forces. He is defeated at the Battle of Zama in 202 BCE.
The Third Punic War was more of a siege than a war. The Romans under Scipio Aemilianus, the grandson of Scipio Africanus, destroyed Carthage and burned it to the ground.
The Punic Wars were a display of Roman military strength and genius. They showed that they were able to lose battles but win wars. While the Punic Wars were a cause for celebration, the accounts of the destruction of Carthage according to Polybius said that Scipio Aemilianus wept at the thought of this happening to Rome. Whatever did he mean?