Punic Wars > Carthaginians
The Phoenicians established numerous colonial cities along the coasts of the Mediterranean to provide safe harbors for their merchant fleets, to maintain a Phoenician monopoly on an area's natural resources, and to conduct trade free of outside interference. They were also motivated to found these cities by a desire to satisfy the demand for trade goods or to escape the necessity of paying tribute to the succession of empires that ruled Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos, and by fear of complete Greek colonization of that part of the Mediterranean suitable for commerce. The Phoenicians lacked the population or necessity to establish large self-sustaining cities abroad, and most of their colonial cities had fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, but Carthage and a few others developed larger populations.
Sarcophagus of a priest, showing a bearded man with his hand raised; ancient Carthaginian funerary art now located in the Louvre, Paris
Although Strabo's claim that the Tyrians founded three hundred colonies along the west African coast is clearly exaggerated, colonies were established in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Iberia, and to a much lesser extent, on the arid coast of Libya. The Phoenicians were active in Cyprus, Sardinia, Corsica, the Balearic Islands, Crete, and Sicily, as well as on the European mainland at present-day Genoa in Italy and Marseille in present-day France. The settlements at Crete and Sicily were in perpetual conflict with the Greeks, but the Phoenicians managed to control all of Sicily for a limited time. The entire area later came under the leadership and protection of Carthage, which in turn dispatched its own colonists to found new cities or to reinforce those that declined with the loss of primacy of Tyre and Sidon.
The first colonies were settled on the two paths to Iberia's mineral wealth — along the North African coast and on Sicily, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands. The centre of the Phoenician world was Tyre, which served as its economic and political hub. The power of this city waned following numerous sieges by Babylonia, and then its later voluntary submission to the Persian king Cambyses and incorporation within the Persian empire. Supremacy passed to Sidon, and then to Carthage, before Tyre's eventual destruction by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. Each colony paid tribute to either Tyre or Sidon, but neither city had actual control of the colonies. This changed with the rise of Carthage, since the Carthaginians appointed their own magistrates to rule the towns and Carthage retained much direct control over the colonies. This policy resulted in a number of Iberian towns siding with the Romans during the Punic Wars.
In 509 BC, a treaty was signed between Carthage and Rome indicating a division of influence and commercial activities. This is the first known source indicating that Carthage had gained control over Sicily and Sardinia.
By the beginning of the 5th century BC, Carthage had become the commercial center of the West Mediterranean region, a position it retained until overthrown by the Roman Republic. The city had conquered most of the old Phoenician colonies (including Hadrumetum, Utica, Hippo Diarrhytus and Kerkouane), subjugated the Libyan tribes (with the Numidian and Mauretanian kingdoms remaining more or less independent), and taken control of the entire North African coast from modern Morocco to the borders of Egypt (not including the Cyrenaica, which was eventually incorporated into Hellenistic Egypt). Its influence had also extended into the Mediterranean, taking control over Sardinia, Malta, the Balearic Islands, and the western half of Sicily, where coastal fortresses such as Motya or Lilybaeum secured its possessions. Important colonies had also been established on the Iberian Peninsula. Their cultural influence in the Iberian Peninsula is documented, but the degree of their political influence before the conquest by Hamilcar Barca is disputed.
Carthage's economic successes, and its dependence on shipping to conduct most of its trade, led to the creation of a powerful Carthaginian navy. This, coupled with its success and growing hegemony, brought Carthage into increasing conflict with the Greeks of Syracuse, the other major power contending for control of the central Mediterranean.
The island of Sicily, lying at Carthage's doorstep, became the arena on which this conflict played out. From their earliest days, both the Greeks and Phoenicians had been attracted to the large island, establishing a large number of colonies and trading posts along its coast; battles had been fought between these settlements for centuries.
When Agathocles died in 288 BC, a large company of Italian mercenaries who had previously been held in his service found themselves suddenly without employment. Rather than leave Sicily, they seized the city of Messana. Naming themselves Mamertines (or "sons of Mars"), they became a law unto themselves, terrorizing the surrounding countryside.
The Mamertines became a growing threat to Carthage and Syracuse alike. In 265 BC, Hiero II, former general of Pyrrhus and the new tyrant of Syracuse, took action against them. Faced with a vastly superior force, the Mamertines divided into two factions, one advocating surrender to Carthage, the other preferring to seek aid from Rome. While the Roman Senate debated the best course of action, the Carthaginians eagerly agreed to send a garrison to Messana. A Carthaginian garrison was admitted to the city, and a Carthaginian fleet sailed into the Messanan harbor. However, soon afterwards they began negotiating with Hiero. Alarmed, the Mamertines sent another embassy to Rome asking them to expel the Carthaginians.
Hiero's intervention had placed Carthage's military forces directly across the narrow channel of water that separated Sicily from Italy. Moreover, the presence of the Carthaginian fleet gave them effective control over this channel, the Strait of Messina, and demonstrated a clear and present danger to nearby Rome and her interests.
As a result, the Roman Assembly, although reluctant to ally with a band of mercenaries, sent an expeditionary force to return control of Messana to the Mamertines.
The Roman attack on the Carthaginian forces at Messana triggered the first of the Punic Wars. Over the course of the next century, these three major conflicts between Rome and Carthage would determine the course of Western civilization. The wars included a Carthaginian invasion led by Hannibal Barca, which nearly prevented the rise of the Roman Empire.
In 256-255 BC the Romans, under the command of Marcus Atilius Regulus, landed in Africa and after suffering some initial defeats the Carthaginian forces eventually repelled the Roman invasion.
Shortly after the First Punic War, Carthage faced a major mercenary revolt which changed the internal political landscape of Carthage (bringing the Barcid family to prominence), and affected Carthage's international standing, as Rome used the events of the war to base a claim by which it seized Sardinia and Corsica.
Adorned Statue of the Punic Goddess Tanit, 5th-3rd centuries BC, from the necropolis of Puig des Molins, Ibiza (Spain), now housed in the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia (Barcelona)
The Second Punic War lasted from 218 to 202 BC and involved combatants in the western and eastern Mediterranean, with the participation of the Berbers on Carthage's side. The war is marked by Hannibal's surprising overland journey and his costly crossing of the Alps, followed by his reinforcement by Gaulish allies and crushing victories over Roman armies in the battle of the Trebia and the giant ambush at Trasimene. Against his skill on the battlefield the Romans deployed the Fabian strategy. But because of the increasing unpopularity of this approach, the Romans resorted to a further major field battle. The result was the crushing Roman defeat at Cannae.
In consequence many Roman allies went over to Carthage, prolonging the war in Italy for over a decade, during which more Roman armies were destroyed on the battlefield. Despite these setbacks, the Roman forces were more capable in siegecraft than the Carthaginians and recaptured all the major cities that had joined the enemy, as well as defeating a Carthaginian attempt to reinforce Hannibal at the battle of the Metaurus. In the meantime in Iberia, which served as the main source of manpower for the Carthaginian army, a second Roman expedition under Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major took New Carthage by assault and ended Carthaginian rule over Iberia in the battle of Ilipa. The final showdown was the battle of Zama in Africa between Scipio Africanus and Hannibal, resulting in the latter's defeat and the imposition of harsh peace conditions on Carthage, which ceased to be a major power and became a Roman client-state.
The Third Punic War (149 BC to 146 BC) was the third and last of the Punic Wars. The war was a much smaller engagement than the two previous Punic Wars and primarily consisted of a single main action, the Battle of Carthage, but resulted in the complete destruction of the city of Carthage, the annexation of all remaining Carthaginian territory by Rome, and the death or enslavement of thousands of Carthaginians. The Third Punic War ended Carthage's independent existence.
+ Cultures List