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Punic wars were three different confrontations between Carthage and Rome. At the time, Rome was the superior force in Italy while Carthage controlled most parts of North Africa and the islands of the West Mediterranean. After the wars had ended, Rome was the clear winner and was now the most powerful kingdom in the world. However, their opponents had been totally annihilated. In the first conflict, Rome had wanted to break Carthage’s continued domination of islands around the West Mediterranean. The second war was all about commercial interests of the two enemies with Sicily being the focal point of confrontation. The third and last war was all about the preservation of Punic, waged by the already battered Carthage. This paper analyses the three wars in detail: why, how they were fought and the consequences to the respective powers.
Carthage is believed to have originated as a result of trading activities, with it being the center, late in the 9th century B.C. Rome would be founded about one century later. Slowly by slowly, it colonized the northern Africa, Hercules, a major part of Sicily, Sardinia, some parts of Spain and assorted little islands. The government of Carthage was republican with two magistrates acting as heads of state. The leadership of the region was smooth, attested by the fact that there was no single revolution in almost six centuries. The Carthaginians worshipped Baal: the sun. The Roman government was also republican and its leadership structure was similar to that of Carthage. For five hundred years, the two regions were systematically encroaching the shores of the Mediterranean from opposite sides. The possibility of war was real; a possibility that was reached in 264 B.C. The fight for supremacy will last over a century. Both rivals were equally equipped although Carthage was adept in naval warfare while Rome was great fighting on the land.
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The Beginning of the War
The city of Sicily had been fought for by the Carthaginians and Greek for almost two years. The Romans had never shown much interest in the city. This was to change when they, pretending that they were protecting a friend, entered the city. That was in 264 B.C. This was the beginning of their conquest efforts of the Mediterranean. However, the Carthaginians and Syracusians could hear none of it; war broke out. Rome had to fight these two allies. In the first battle, the Romans emerged as victors and their army gained a sure control of the City. In the year that followed, Rome had overrun the island. As a result, many of the nearby islands deserted Carthage and Syracuse to form alliances with Rome. Syracuse also witnessed the desertion of their own king to become a Roman ally.
Carthage, as already mentioned, had a stronger naval force as compared to Rome’s. Therefore, the Romans knew that if they had to defeat Carthage, they would have to beat them both on land and in sea. They put their efforts in building a fleet and within two months they had brought down a forest and built a fleet of more than one hundred war galleys. This fleet was to be commanded by consul C. Duillius. The Romans now could match their enemy. They went for war in earnest.
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The Romans timed the Carthaginian ship approach their base close enough before they attacked. When the ship was close to a Roman vessel, they allowed a gangway to fall on the galley. The Roman soldiers then ran along a temporary bridge to fight with the Carthaginians by hand; a tactic they were superior. The Romans had just scored their first, and biggest, victory on sea. The celebrations that followed were unmatched. They now had full control of the Mediterranean.
The Romans were buoyed by the naval victory that they decided to venture into Africa. They easily defeated a large Carthaginian blockage before stopping close to Carthage. Despite warnings from Regulus, Carthage’s consul, they again crushed the region. Regulus was captured. However, a raging storm hit the region and killed more than one hundred thousand men and destroyed warships.
After this disaster, the war still continued in Sicily as the Romans feared venturing into sea. This was to change when Rome defeated Carthage in the battle of Parnomous, fought in 251 B.C. the Carthaginians reached out to Rome for a peaceful end to the war. They sent Regulus to negotiate on their behalf but it is alleged that he did not negotiate so, encouraging Rome to attack to Carthage. Therefore, there was no end to the war. However, the Romans lost two fleets to natural disasters.
The two enemies had fought for a quarter of a century, both incurring massive losses. While the Carthaginians had been massively overwhelmed by the opponents, the Romans had been massively hit by natural disasters. It had been fanned by for six years by Hamilcar Barcas, who proved to be quite a handful for the Romans. However, consul Catulus was to inflict a crushing defeat on Carthage that they gave up and called for peace. This time, Rome agreed after its terms were met: total control of Sicily, release of its entire people from Carthage’s prisons. It was also paid more than 3000 talents. The war ended officially in 241 B.C.
For more than twenty years, Rome and Carthage were at peace. However, each region had its own problems. Rome resumed its battles with Gauls and defeated them. It even started to conquer other regions: the Alps to Illyria. On the other hand, Corsica and Sardinia revolted at Carthage although at this time it weak in its response. Rome managed to seize the Alps and Illyria. At the time, Spain separated the two regions and hence the Romans were not supposed to cross the boundary, River Ebro. However, they tended to be aggressive in their conquests much to the disapproval of the Carthaginians. Well, it was the Carthaginians that provoked another war when they crossed the river. That was in 218 B. C; young general Hannibal, one of the best commanders in history, commandeered the Carthaginian army. With Rome provoked, they had to react. The second Punic War had just begun.
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The Second Punic War
Hannibal was the undisputed leader of the Carthaginians, and he came up with almost all their movements and tactics. This time, it was the Carthaginians that attacked first, from the north of Rome. He was accompanied by about one hundred thousand fighters. They passed through rugged terrains and only about half of them survived the journey. The Romans were caught by surprise as they did not have any prior knowledge of the impending Carthaginian attack. In fact, they had sent two of their armies to Africa and Spain. They were immediately recalled to defend their land. The first battle was fought at Trebia. Hannibal and his men absolutely defeated the two armies and were hailed by Gauls for their great victory. As a result, many Gauls were recruited to join the Carthaginian army.
Buoyed by their initial success, the Carthaginian army marched on further into Roman territory. Their march took them to Flaminius where they again defeated the Roman army easily.This victory paved the way for them to enter mainland Rome. The Roman senate believed that they would go directly for the capital first. Therefore, they destroyed the bridges spanning Tiber. The Roman defense was to be headed by Fabius Maximus. However, the Roman army had lost most of its enemies and going to battle with Hannibal and his men would be most likely unsuccessful. So he hatched plan to provoke them but not directly engage them in war, as a new army is raised. He persisted with this even when the Carthaginians burnt Italian fields and homes. His soldiers also did not approve this tactic.
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Fabius tactic of biding time seemed to be working as the Romans managed to come up with and discipline an army of about 80000 soldiers, the highest number of soldiers they have ever taken to single battlefield. They went to war in the summer of 216 B.C. The Carthaginian army numbered about half of the Roman army. This time, the battle was fought in Canne. With a huge numerical advantage, it was expected that they would easily win. Wrong. They were completely annihilated; the most crushing defeat the Romans had ever suffered. Hannibal was too skillful for them as he found a way of surrounding the Roman army. For the next eight hours, the Romans were mercilessly cut. More than half of the Roman soldiers were slain, some were taken captive and only a handful managed to escape. It was one of the greatest moments in Carthage as they celebrated a crushing defeat to their eternal enemy. The gold rings of Roman knights were taken to Carthage, much to the delight of the Carthaginians.
While the Carthaginians were in celebratory mood, the Romans were in despair. They had to close the gates of the city as they feared the city would be massacred. This seemed to restore some calm among the people. They started to put up defensive mechanisms for the city. The senator sent out horsemen to scout the enemy. Hannibal, on his part, had no intention of going into Rome to fight them especially behind the Roman walls. He decided to send a plea calling for a truce, a plea that was vehemently denied by the Roman senator. The Carthaginian peace ambassadors were even denied entry into Rome. Hannibal was extremely disappointed by this stance. However, the Carthaginians received a boost when some Southern tribes of Italy ditched their alliance with Rome to join up with Carthage. With new allies, Hannibal took his men to Capua where they rested as he sent for reinforcements. The Romans on the other hand, made all effort in rebuilding their army. Therefore, for some years, the war was in a lull as both sides gathered strength for another round of a fighting.
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The Romans waged a war against Syracuse for a while before turning on Capua for its hosting of an enemy. They sent two armies to the city that almost laid siege. Hannibal had to intervene to fight for Carthage’s ally. His first attempt was unsuccessful as he could not break down a tough Roman defense line. Ever so eventful, he tried to trick them by pretending to march into Rome so that they could be distracted. However, this proved unsuccessful as the Roman soldiers could not leave Capua. He finally gave leaving Capua to the merciless Romans. It was duly destroyed. The leaders were killed while the most Capuans were condemned into slavery.
Hasdrubal, Hannibal’s brother, was in war himself in Spain fighting the Romans. After some time (207 B.C), he decided to help his brother out. He led his army towards Rome to meet up with Hannibal. The Romans had intelligence about this plot and made concerted efforts to prevent this reunion. They cornered Hasdrubal’s army near river Metaurus. Hasdrubal’s army was completely overwhelmed and slain. They mutilated Hasdrubal and sent his head to Hannibal. He was shaken.
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Hannibal was full of rage after his brother’s death. When he next faced the Romans at Bruttium, he fought valiantly like a lion that even the Romans could not dare facing him personally. The war was rescheduled to Africa as a ploy to get him out of Italy. Publius Cornelius Scipio invaded Carthage. Hannibal was recalled to fight in his homeland. The two armies faced each other at Zama, in 202 B.C. For the first time under his Hannibal’s command, the Carthaginians were defeated. Almost the whole of his army was maimed by the merciless Scipio who now gained a heroic status in his homeland.
Hannibal had been defeated; Carthage had been defeated. They had to reach for peace, supported by their erstwhile indomitable Hannibal. A treaty was found but Carthage had to pay heavy penalties this time round; surrender its Spain and all of its Mediterranean islands, all its war elephants and war ships, pay 5000 talents upfront installments of 250 talents every year for half a century as well seeking Roman consent before starting any war. The Carthaginians could only watch in tears as their most expensive war galleys were set on fire. The second Punic war had ended, with the Romans emerging victorious, again, despite all the efforts of Carthage, and Hannibal who was held captive but managed to escape. He later committed suicide.
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The Third Punic War
After the defeat of Carthage, Rome embarked on conquering almost all regions around it Cynocephali, Magnesia, Pydna and Corinth. After the latest triumph, it plotted the total destruction of Carthage. Carthage could not wage any war without the consent of Rome. Numidia had taken advantage of this rule, its king made approaches to Carthage’s islands. This brought about a conflict and Rome had to intervene. Ever so an unfair judge to its enemy, Rome ruled in favor of Numidia. Therefore, Carthage had to lose some of it towns.
Rome later sent out Marcus Cato, one of its envoys, to Carthage. He was taken aback by its progress; successful trade, crowded harbor, amazing landscape. He was convinced that Rome was threatened. He insisted that Carthage must be destroyed. However, the Romans bid their time. The situation would change when Numidia attacked Carthage. They decided to fight back, breaking the pact they had with Rome. They were defeated. Defeated and still panicking, the Carthaginians reached out to Rome to prevent a war. They had to give three hundred Rome three hundred hostages and some members of richer families to prevent a Roman assault. They complied.
The Carthaginians were taken aback when a consular army of eighty thousand men landed in Africa barely after they had complied with the two demands. They were ordered to surrender all their arms, which they did to avoid a possible confrontation. Things would take a dramatic turn when the Romans announced that they had the intention of destroying the whole of Carthage. The Carthaginians had to build a new city. A sense of despair now engulfed the whole of Carthage.
The last demand could not be met; they resolved to defend the city to the bitter end. They closed their gates to the enemy before embarking on manufacturing weapons. Almost everyone was involved in the process as the entire city resembled one large workshop. They went at great length in their effort; turning utensils, vessels and building materials to form weapons. This hard work continued until they had manufactured sufficient arms and hence could withstand a Roman attack. Or so they thought.
The Romans had thought that they would have a simple task since the enemy was disarmed. They were caught by surprise when they found the gates of the city manned by armed men. So four years, the city was engulfed in war as the Carthaginians stood up against their more illustrious foes. However, after a brutal fight, Carthage was defeated. Of the more than 700000 Carthaginians, only about 50000 survived. They were condemned into captivity. Their beloved city was set on fire; the fire lasted more than a fortnight. All the places not burnt down were dismantled. Carthage, once a bustling city, had been completely destroyed. Rome took over all the Carthaginian territories. It now had full control of North Africa, the Mediterranean. It also had no enemy. It was the most powerful republic in the region.
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Within seventy years, Rome had become the master of the Mediterranean. During that time, it had subjugated almost twenty per cent of the total world population. It had done so using violence. The number of people felled at the hands of the Romans was enormous. Rome seemed to be in constant superiority battles with its neighbors. Through terror and absolute carnage, they managed to build a great empire; they razed the whole of Corinth, Celtiberian, Numantia and Carthage to its bare, they rooted out Macedonians. All the other cities were absolutely cowed. Numantines were forced to turn to cannibalism after they were starved by the Scipio, their invincible commander and conqueror of Hannibal. Some historians have compared this terrorism. Carthage had to learn this the hard way after it fell in 146 B.C