Greek and Roman historians did not exaggerate when they defined the first two Punic wars (there were three in total) as the most important in the history of the Ancient World. In the military confrontation of the two strongest powers of the Western Mediterranean, the fate of not only Rome and Carthage but also the future of European civilization was decided: whether it should be based on Greek-Latin culture or the culture of the Semitic East.
The foundation and political structure of Carthage
Carthage (“New City”) was founded by immigrants from the Phoenician city of Thira on the fertile land of northern Africa on the banks of a large and convenient harbor. The Phoenicians, which in Greek means “catchers of purple,” or, as the Romans called them, the Puns, were famous among the ancient peoples of the Mediterranean as the most brave and skillful sailors and merchants. The extremely favorable conditions for the development of agriculture and maritime trade laid the foundation for the power and wealth of Carthage. To the III century. BC e. he turned into the most powerful power of the Western Mediterranean, subjugating not only North African tribes, but also Phoenician colonies in Africa, on the Iberian Peninsula, on the northwest coast of Sicily and nearby islands.
Carthage was considered the richest city in the world. All sea trade between the West and the East of the Mediterranean went through its harbor. There were hundreds of ships carrying goods from around the world. Built up by multi-storey buildings, during the period of its highest prosperity the city totaled up to 700 thousand inhabitants. In its political structure, Carthage was an oligarchic republic. All power belonged to a small circle of aristocratic clans, from which the council of elders — the Senate — and the council of one hundred and four were elected. The Senate owned the highest legislative power, and the council of one hundred and four was the supreme regulatory body; all magistracy obeyed him. The executive power was exercised by suffixes, the main duty of which was to lead the army and navy. They were elected for a period of one year. There was a popular assembly in Carthage, but it did not play a big role in government. It was usually convened in cases when serious disagreements arose within the Carthaginian government.
Opponents and competitors of Carthage
Serious competition to the Carthaginians was only the Greek colonies in Sicily and Southern Italy, but, first in alliance with the Etruscans, and then with the Romans, Carthage was able to significantly limit the sea trade of the Greeks. Since the end of the 5th century BC e. for a hundred years there was a continuous struggle between Carthage and the Greeks of Sicily for the possession of the island. The stronghold of the Greeks in this struggle was the largest Greek city of Sicily – Syracuse. Four times the Carthaginians captured almost the entire island, but could not take the city. In turn, the Syracusans besieged their enemies in their fortresses on the northwest coast of the island and in Carthage itself. In the III century. BC e. Carthage owned most of Sicily, and the Syracuse king Hieron II tried to live in peace with the punas, realizing, however, that Carthage would not calm down until it conquered the whole island.
By this time, a third force had appeared in the political arena of the Mediterranean – Rome, with eager interest watching what was happening. Rome, subordinated to the 70s. III c. BC e. the territory of present-day Italy, he felt already strong enough to face off against the great Carthage, who looked down on Rome. Indeed, neither the Italian Greeks subordinate to Rome, nor the Romans themselves had such high-speed five-deck ships – a penter, which the Carthaginian shipbuilders built, or equal to the Pooners of naval commanders. True, in clashes on land their forces turned out to be equal. Carthage had a well-trained mercenary army, recruited from the warlike neighboring tribes, a magnificent Numidian cavalry, fighting elephants. But this army was unreliable. Mercenaries served only as long as they were paid. The slightest delay in the payment of money could turn the army into an enemy and put the state on the brink of death. The Roman militia – the police – consisted of citizens for whom the interests of their city were their own. They themselves decided – to be or not to be a war, and fought to the last with bitterness and firmness.
First Punic War
When the Sicilian city of Messana appealed to Rome for help in the fight against Hieron II, the senators referred the issue to the popular assembly: after all, the help of Messana turned into a war not so much with Syracuse as with Carthage. The citizens of Rome voted for the war. So in 265 BC. e. the long and debilitating First Punic War began. Rome thereby claimed the role of a great power. He entered the world political arena.
Military operations took place mainly in Sicily and lasted 24 years. At first things went well for Rome. Hieron II went over to his side, and in the third year of the war, the new allies besieged the Puns in their fortresses on the northwestern coast of the island. But defeating the Carthaginians by the forces of the land army alone was impossible, and Rome proceeded to create a fleet. In one year, with the help of the Greek allies, 100 penters and 30 triremes were built. The claim that the Romans first plunged the oars into the water is hardly an exaggeration. The navy throughout the history of Rome remained a stepson. Navy service was less prestigious than legion service. Naval officers were recruited mostly from Italian Greeks, and crews from allies and slaves.
The Romans did not like the sea. Therefore, as far as possible, they tried to turn sea battles into land battles. To do this, they equipped their ships with rocking bridges with iron spikes – “ravens”. When approaching an enemy ship, a “raven” clung to its side, and the soldiers who crossed it converged in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy’s crew. After a series of victories won in this way at sea, Rome decided to attack Carthage itself. In the summer of 256 BC. e. A huge fleet of 330 ships with a crew of 100 thousand people and a landing army of 40 thousand people was sent to the shores of Africa. Off the southeastern coast of Sicily near Cape Eknom of the Romans met the Carthaginian fleet of 350 ships. Here the most ambitious naval battle in the history of the Ancient World took place. Having lost about 100 ships, the Puns were forced to retreat, and the Roman army unhindered landed on the coast of Africa. However, the successfully started operation failed. The Senate recalled most of the army to Italy, leaving only 15 thousand infantry and 500 horsemen in Africa. The mediocre and self-confident consul Regulus in the spring of 255 BC e. destroyed the army and was himself captured.
After this defeat, the Romans limited the fighting to the territory of Sicily and its coastal waters. Over the next 12 years, the war came with varying success and heavy losses for both sides. In total, Rome lost 4 fleets, on board of which were three ground forces. The Fourth Army was laid down under the walls of Carthage. Carthage was also exhausted. The war began to be sluggish and stalled. Some revival in its course was brought by the appointed in 247 BC. e. Commander-in-Chief of the young and energetic Carthaginian commander Hamilcar Barka (“Lightning”). With a dead grip, he grabbed onto a piece of the land that remained in the power of Carthage, gaining a foothold on the mountain plateau of Ayrkte.
In the 23rd year of the war, Rome made a decisive breakthrough to victory. With the money raised from citizens, 200 new penters were built. The appearance of the Roman fleet in the waters of Sicily was a complete surprise for Carthage. Held in March 241 BC e. the naval battle of the Egat Islands finally brought a decisive victory to Rome. Carthage requested peace, entrusting his conclusion to Hamilcar Barke, a supporter of the continuation of the war. He managed to get out of this situation with dignity. Under the terms of the peace treaty, Sicily moved to Rome, and Carthage was to pay an indemnity of 3.2 thousand talents. However, Hamilkar categorically rejected the demand to hand over the weapon, saying that he would rather die than return home in disgrace. He withdrew his army from Sicily with arms in his hands and with the firm intention to continue the future war with Rome.
The struggle of political groups unfolded in Carthage. Hamilcar prevailed and received the powers of an unlimited army commander, becoming almost a dictator. He immediately set about preparing a bridgehead for war with Rome on the Iberian Peninsula. Together with his son-in-law Gasdrubal, he expanded there the borders of the possessions of Carthage to the Ebro River. But in 228 BC. e. Hamilkar died in battle, and seven years later his son-in-law Hasdrubal fell at the hands of the killer. The army unanimously elected Hannibal, 28-year-old son of Hamilkar, as its commander in chief. He inherited from his father all the power of hatred of Rome, still a nine-year-old boy vowing to destroy the arrogant city. From childhood, Hannibal was brought up in a military camp. He was skilled both as a commander and as a soldier. In this man, according to the Roman historian Titus Livius, the most opposite qualities were combined:
Second Punic War
The reason for the start of a new, Second Punic War was the siege of Hannibal, the allied city of Rome, Sagunta on the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Carthage refused to lift the siege and give Hannibal to Rome, and the “eternal city” began to prepare for war. The Romans expected to land in Africa, but their plans were destroyed by Hannibal, who made an unprecedented transition through Gaul and seemed impregnable Alps. The mountains swallowed half of his army, but he was able to replenish his forces with the friendly Gauls.
Starting the struggle with Rome in Italy, Hannibal perfectly understood both its difficulties and advantages. He counted on the swift end of the war. To do this, it was necessary in several major battles to destroy the main forces of the enemy and to achieve the fall of his Italian allies from Rome. In the first battles that took place on the wide Podansky Plain and at Lake Trazimensky, Hannibal brilliantly carried out the first part of his plan. He teased the Roman generals, provoking them to battle at a time when it was convenient for him. He also reserved the choice of place. After the defeat at Lake Trasimen, where together with the consul Gaius Flaminius the whole army perished, the cold of death died in Rome. However, chosen by the dictator, Quintus Fabius Maxim was a worthy opponent. He refused decisive battles with Hannibal, followed on his heels, hanging like a cloud and exhausting his army with small skirmishes. No tricks of Hannibal could bring Fabius off balance. The tactics he chose earned him the nickname Kuntator – “The Procrastinator,” as well as the contempt of his allies and compatriots.
Proponents of decisive warfare insisted on the election of Guy Terence Varron as consul. Titus Livy characterizes him as a person not only “vile” – that is, of low origin – but also mediocre and self-confident. Varron declared that he would end the war when he saw the enemy. The second consul was the experienced commander Emilius Pavel.
Two consular armies led by the impetuous Varron and the cautious Emilius Paul in the summer of 216 BC e. camped against the army of Hannibal at the village of Cannes. Emilius Paul did not want a battle on a wide plain, where Hannibal’s cavalry would have obvious advantages. But on the day when the turn to command the army passed to Varron, that battle began … The victory at Cannes brought Hannibal the glory that many commanders subsequently dreamed of: 45 thousand Roman infantrymen and 2700 horsemen remained to lie on the battlefield. Among them are the consul Emilius Pavel, many former higher magistrates and 80 senators. Varron with 50 horsemen managed to break out of the encirclement and escape. 4 thousand foot soldiers and 200 horsemen managed to save 19-year-old Publius Cornelius Scipio, the future winner of Hannibal.
When the news of defeat reached Rome, fear and despair reigned there. An embassy in Delphi was urgently sent to inquire from the oracle of the fate of the city. Human lives were sacrificed to the gods. Waited for Hannibal. But the great commander did not hasten to Rome. Then the Romans, overcoming confusion, recruited a new army of citizens of all ages, including even teenagers and freed slaves. The war began to take a protracted character, which could become fatal for Hannibal both militarily and politically – in Carthage, the peace party could prevail. Rome slowly but surely went on the offensive. True, the allies of Rome, having lost faith in its power, began to side with Hannibal. A number of Greek cities of southern Italy and Syracuse also fell away. The Romans successfully fought in the Pyrenees, preventing the Puns from helping Hannibal from there. Fabius Maxim pressed him in the south of Italy. In Campania, the Romans besieged Capua, and Hannibal could not save his allied city, even appearing under the walls of Rome. The townspeople did not flinch, and, standing under the walls of the city, Hannibal left, leaving Capua to their own devices. In Sicily, after a long siege, Marcellus took Syracuse.
The brothers Gnei Cornelius Scipio and Publius Cornelius Scipio acted quite successfully on the Iberian Peninsula. After their death in 211 BC. e. the conduct of the war there was entrusted to the son of Publius Cornelius Scipio – Publius Cornelius Scipio. Having cleared the peninsula of the Carthaginian troops in four years (210–206 BC), he proposed moving the war under the walls of Carthage. After some hesitation – after all, Hannibal still remained in Italy – the Senate allowed Scipio to recruit volunteers and lead a campaign in Africa. In the summer of 204 BC e. Roman troops appeared on the land of their enemy, and a year later Hannibal was recalled to his homeland. In the spring of 202 BC e. Scipio and Hannibal entered the last battle of the Second Punic War. Near the small town of Zama, the Pune suffered a crushing defeat. Carthage ceased to be a great power and became completely dependent on Rome. He lost all his possessions, the navy and the ability to independently wage war.
Hannibal, fearing extradition, fled from his hometown. He did not accept and tried in the East to resume the fight against the hated Rome, but failed. In 183 BC e. in Bithynia, surrounded by vengeful Romans, he took poison, so as not to fall into the hands of the enemy.
Third Punic War
The Third Punic War (149–146 BC) did not bring glory to Rome. If in the first two wars equal opponents fought, then in the third all-powerful Rome cracked down on defenseless Carthage. In 153 BC e. Caton Censor, one of the largest political figures in Rome, visited Carthage. Seeing a rich and flourishing city, he was eager to wipe it off the face of the earth. The words with which he ended all his speeches in the Senate after this trip: “However, I think that Carthage must be destroyed” (in Latin: “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam”), received widespread support in Rome.
Finding out that Carthage started a defensive war with his neighbor, the Numidian king Masinissa, Rome began to present the city one ultimatum after another, seeking a cause for war. The demand to destroy the city and relocate to another place filled the Carthaginian patience, and they decided to fight to the last. Three years unarmed, surrounded on all sides by the city did not surrender to the enemy. Only in the winter of 146 BC e. Publius Cornelius Scipio Emilian was able to storm Carthage. For six days and nights, battles took place in the streets, each multi-storey building became a fortress. The brutal warriors spared no one. The survivors were sold into slavery, and the city itself was demolished, and the place on which it stood was betrayed by a curse. The territories belonging to Carthage were turned into Roman provinces.