WH1: The Rise of Rome 4: Expansionism Beyond Italy—The Punic Wars After their victory in the 2nd Punic War, Rome remained enraged at Carthage since Carthage had almost destroyed them. Cato, one of Rome’s great statesman, is recorded as ending all his speeches, regardless of their subject, by stating "I also think that Carthage should be destroyed." Now, we will trace the steps by which Rome extended beyond ITALY and became a world superpower.
The first challenge was CARTHAGE, called PUNICUS by the Romans. It was founded by the PHOENICIANS from TYRE in the 9th century BCE and was located on the NORTH coast of Africa and was a TRADING POST with commerce from the backcountry of Africa (“Carthage” means NEW CITY in Phoenician). Carthage became a REPUBLIC in the 6th century BCE and in time dominated the African coast and the Mediterranean west of SICILY, held outposts on the European coast, with colonies in SPAIN and SICILY. This growth of the Carthaginian Empire occurred while Rome was CONSOLIDATING its control over the Italian peninsula.
Ando so, when Rome finished consolidating its control over the Italian peninsula, the CARTHAGINIAN EMPIRE already encompassed the North African coast from the Strait of Gibraltar to western Libya. Likewise, their control extended to EUROPE (southern Spain) and, in the Mediterranean, CORSICA and SARDINIA. These holdings gave Carthage control over most of the Mediterranean’s COMMERCIAL TRADE. Further, peoples from all over the empire sent soldiers and provisions---all this was supplemented by SILVER and GOLD from Spanish mines.
Carthage was vastly SUPERIOR to Rome in civilization yet they had extremely primitive RELIGIOUS PRACTICES that were enforced even among CONQUERED PEOPLES. For example, they demanded that the eldest child in a family be sacrificed, usually by being BURNED ALIVE, on the arms of the idol MOLOCH. Conquered people were treated with ARROGANCE and BRUTALITY even when they cooperated, and INHUMAN FEROCITY when they rebelled.
Like ATHENS, Carthage had a much more reliable and strong NAVY than ARMY. It was said by a Carthaginian Admiral “no one could wash his hands in the Mediterranean without the consent of Carthage.” Carthage also had civil and military engineers that could out-do the Romans in civil and military construction. With rich trade, customs duties, and TRIBUTES from subjects, Carthage was one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
Until the conquest of TARENTUM, whose citizens were long-time enemies of Carthage, Rome had no desire to compete with CARTHAGE in sea commerce. But now, Rome became the champion of ITALIAN GREEKS vs. CARTHAGE, who were their competitors. Rome could not accept the closed sea policy of Carthage nor could they accept Carthaginian domination of the straits below ITALY and SICILY. When a group of Sicilians appealed to Rome for aid, the SENATE first rejected the plea, but the POPULAR ASSEMBLY, encouraged by reports of new lands and looting, vowed to intervene. It was in the national interest to hold the straits, but it was a fateful step, the first for ROME beyond ITALY, and would mean another 60 years of WAR and CRISIS.
And so, in the middle of the third century BCE, conflict was inevitable since Rome's power now extended to Italy’s southern tip. Here, virtually within swimming distance, is SICILY, the WESTERN HALF of which was controlled by Carthage. It was the Sicilian city of MESSANA which revolted against the Carthaginians, leading to Roman intervention and the first of three Punic Wars which were DISASTROUS for the Carthaginians.
First PUNIC WAR (c. 265-241 BCE): The chief source of history for this war was POLYBIUS, a Greek who had access to the records of leaders on both sides but was NOT an eye-witness to the conflict—he wrote about ONE CENTURY after the event.
Rome won early victories on land in SICILY, but to win the war—to defeat Carthage—they had to face them on the SEA. Rome had a navy, but it was very SMALL. Carthage had 180 QUINQUEREMES, or battleships of the highest class. In 260 BC, Rome built 100 of the same class in TWO MONTHS. Legend: Rome used a captured Punic keel as a model and built all 100 essentially at one time. “Land Lubber” crews were taught to row in wooden frames on shore. A consul, DUILIUS, who probably never was on a ship before, was made admiral.
The ROMANS were no match for the Carthaginian crews. So, Duilius suspended a light drawbridge from the mast, with an IRON SPIKE on the bottom. When the Carthaginian ships approached to ram, the drawbridge dropped to its deck, and the spike held it close. The Roman soldiers stormed on board, and MASSACRED the unarmed Carthaginian oarsmen. In 241, the Roman Fleet destroyed the Carthaginian Fleet, and the war ENDED. It was the first time since the rise of the Carthaginian empire that they were no longer the masters of the SEA.
The terms that Rome imposed on CARTHAGE were very harsh. Carthage had to (1) evacuate Sicily, which now became part of the ROMAN EMPIRE; (2) pay an indemnity of 3200 talents (3-5 million $$$) and stay away from Roman waters. Despite the high cost of the war for Rome (23 years, 200,000 men, 500 ships, loss in trade, and loss of 1/6 of the citizens of Rome) she won and could dictate the terms of PEACE. Internal dissent within Carthage allowed Rome to also annex CORSICA and SARDINIA.
The acquisition of CORSICA, SICILY, and SARDINIA allowed ROME to take the first step in becoming a WORLD EMPIRE. Now the most critical question: should the overseas peoples be incorporated into the Empire as allies, or should they be given subject status? A few towns were given ALLY status, but most were treated as SUBJECTS, and were forced to pay TRIBUTE to Rome. So, the Republic DID NOT extend the generous policy followed in ITALY. And, during all this time, Carthage was planning REVENGE, especially for Rome’s seizure of Corsica. Carthage began concentrating on creating colonies and alliances on the strategically located IBERIAN peninsula and recruiting armies in preparation for a new assault. It was this expansionism into Spain that would provide Carthage with the resources and strategic positioning that it would need to fight the SECOND PUNIC WAR.
The FIRST PUNIC WAR ended only in a TEMPORARY TRUCE; the second, or HANNIBALIC WAR, was decisive. It ended FOREVER the IMPERIAL power of Carthage and left Rome in control of the WESTERN Mediterranean.
HANNIBAL, at age 26, became the ruler of CARTHAGE in 226 BC. He had been taught from boyhood that his task was to defeat the ROMANS, and was a military GENIUS. He would use the resources that Carthage had amassed in Spain to wage a war of ATTRITION against Rome that would last many years.
As Rome watched with trepidation the increased Carthaginian influence and presence in IBERIA following the First Punic War, an opportunity emerged that would create a Roman presence in Carthaginian territory. SAGUNTUM, a Spanish city, made overtures to Rome for alliance and protection. When Hannibal came to power, he initially didn’t provoke this alliance since the time was not yet right for conflict with Rome. However, Saguntum began trying to influence other Spanish cities, and so Hannibal attacked and conquered it despite WARNINGS from Rome.
Rome initially tried to resolve the problem using DIPLOMACY; it demanded that Carthage relieve Hannibal and relinquish him to Roman authority. Carthage refused, and so the Second Punic War began c. 218 BCE. However, Rome would now face a VASTLY SUPERIOR force in the form of an ARMY than it did during the First Punic War.
Hannibal’s army marched from Spain, and, in September 218 BCE, crossed the ALPS and invaded ITALY. He chose this route to get around the ROMAN control of the sea. The entourage included 40,000 foot soldiers, 8,000 cavalry, and 25 elephant. HANNIBAL reached Italy in 218 BCE and DEFEATED the Romans at TREBIA RIVER. On the shores of Lake Trasimene in the spring of 217, only 10,000 of the 40,000 Romans escaped. Within TWO MONTHS he had conquered much of northern Italy.
HANNIBAL’S strategy was clear. He would not attack the city of Rome, but would instead cast himself as the deliverer of the Italian people from Roman Rule. But here was Hannibal’s only MISTAKE. The alliances that Rome built held, thus turning the 2nd Punic (or HANNIBALIC) war into a war of ATTRITION. Hannibal was in Italy for 14 years. Let’s examine how this happened.
It was unclear to the Romans whether they could effectively engage Hannibal in open-field warfare. Hannibal was absolutely certain that Rome’s ALLIES would defect and join him, but the alliances HELD (remember the strategy of offering Roman citizenship instead of treating conquered peoples as SLAVES?).
And so, instead of INVADING Rome, Hannibal headed SOUTH. To counter their losses, the Romans made Quintus Fabius Maximus their dictator. His strategy was to AVOID open warfare with the stronger Carthaginian army in favor of a GUERILLA campaign until Hannibal was weakened sufficiently to be fought using CONVENTIONAL TACTICS. But the Romans lost patience with this strategy; they began calling him “THE DELAYER” and he eventually LOST POWER. He was replaced by two inexperienced CONSULS.
Hannibal continued his march into southern Italy, ravaging the countryside as he moved forward. Now opting for a FRONTAL ASSAULT, 80,000 Roman troops were sent against him at CANNAE—a force that greatly outnumbered the Carthaginians. In the greatest DEFEAT in Roman history, the army was completely DESTROYED, thus showing that FABIUS’ strategy was CORRECT.
The situation worsened for Rome. In southern Italy, Roman allies flocked to Hannibal’s side. PHILIP V, the king of MACEDON who also controlled HELLADIC Greece, became Hannibal’s ally as did all of SICILY. Yet--and this is CRITICAL—Rome’s CENTRAL ITALIAN allies did not DEFECT to Hannibal.
Hannibal’s army continued to devastate the Italian countryside. However, he lacked the troop NUMBERS and the necessary SUPPLIES to lay siege to Rome. In fact, in 211 BCE, Hannibal led his forces to the walls of Rome but could not attack it because of his own weakened state. The Romans were aware of Hannibal’s weakened state—and became so confident that they auctioned the land that Hannibal occupied—and it sold at FULL PRICE!
The key problem for Hannibal is that he was heavily dependent on SPAIN for reinforcements. And so, if Spain could be conquered, then Hannibal would be cut off.
Rome turned the SUBJUGATION of Carthaginian Spain over to PUBLIUS CORNELIUS SCIPIO, who would later be called SCIPIO AFRICANUS because of his defeat of Carthage in Africa. By 206 BCE Scipio had conquered Spain for Rome. Hannibal was now cut off.
With Spain now securely under Roman control, SCIPIO invaded AFRICA in 204 BCE and forced Carthage to sue for peace. As a condition of the treaty, Hannibal was forced to retreat from Italy—he had WON every major yet LOST the war! Having returned to Carthage, in 202 BCE Hannibal lost his final battle against the Romans under Scipio.
The victory in the second Punic War was a DEFINING MOMENT in the creation/consolidation of the ROMAN EMPIRE. Except for the relatively remote SOUTH, Rome’s alliances HELD FIRM–this led to Rome’s ability to PROSECUTE the war against overwhelming odds and desperate circumstances.
As a result of the Second Punic War, Rome was vaulted from a REGIONAL to an INTERNATIONAL empire. Rome now controlled NORTH AFRICA, SPAIN, and the most important islands (Corsica and Sardinia) in the WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA. Further, since Philip V had allied himself with Hannibal, Rome now began turning its attention towards the conquest of the HELLENISTIC kingdoms.
Throughout the first half of the 2nd century BCE (c. 200-150 BCE) CARTHAGE began regaining its COMMERCIAL prosperity; this aroused Roman suspicion. Fearing a resurrected Carthage, Rome demanded that the Carthaginians abandon their city and move inland into NORTH AFRICA. When the Carthaginians REFUSED, the Roman SENATE declared war. And so began the Third Punic War (149-146 BCE).
The 3rd Punic War resulted in the end of Carthage. Rome laid siege to Carthage itself, executing even non-combatants and selling the survivors into SLAVERY. Carthage’s harbor and the city itself were DESTROYED, and the countryside sown with SALT to make it uninhabitable.
Independent Scholarship Challenge: Read Appian’s account of the Hannibalic Wars. Note that the Greek transliteration is present in parallel. Summarize Appian’s account in a brief report. Using the Greek lexicon, can you identify any Greek words that correspond to their English counterparts?