Historians did not exaggerate, when calling the first three Punic Wars highly significant in the history of the Ancient World. These wars between Rome and Carthage were for hegemony in the Mediterranean. The name Punic is derived from the words for Phoenician. Carthage was founded by settlers from the Phoenician city of Tyre on the fertile land of North Africa, on the shore of the large and comfortable haven. The Phoenicians were known as brave and skillful mariners and merchants. By the third century BC, Carthage became a substantially strong power of the Western Mediterranean. It was considered the richest city in the world. All maritime trade between East and West Mediterranean went through it. Hundreds of ships transported goods from all over the world. The city, built up with tall buildings, had 700 thousand inhabitants. The Greek colonies in Sicily and Southern Italy were the only serious competition to Carthage. There was a continuous struggle between them for the possession of the island for 100 years, since the end of the fifth century BC. Four times the Carthaginians conquered the island. However, they could not take the city of Syracuse.
Rome conquered the territory of present Italy and was ready to join the battle with Carthage. Although the Italian Greeks and Romans did not have high-speed vessels – pentera – like the Carthaginians did, but their forces on the ground were equal. Carthage had a well-trained mercenary army, cavalry and elephants. However, the army was unreliable. Mercenaries served as long as they were paid. The Roman guard – the police – was made up of citizens. They decided whether to be at war and bravely fought, defending the city.
The First Punic War began because of a conflict of interests between Carthage and Rome in terms of control over Sicily. By the beginning of the war, this area was controlled by the Phoenicians, and aggressively minded Romans disagreed with this. The war began, when mercenaries from Campania, who called themselves Mamertins, turned for help to Rome and captured the city of Messina in Sicily on the shore of the strait that separated the island from the peninsula of Italy. One part of Mamertins turned to Carthage, and the other – to Rome, referring to the Italic origin. The Carthaginians landed at Messina. The Romans feared that the Carthaginians could take possession of the largest Sicilian city, Syracuse, and put the island that supplied Italy with bread under the control. Under the pressure of the People’s Assembly, the Roman Senate declared a war on Carthage in 264. The First Punic War began. Military operations were predominantly conducted in Sicily and lasted 24 years. At first, things went well for Rome, but it was impossible to defeat the Carthaginians only on land. The Romans built a fleet with the help of the Greeks for the year. However, the service in the Navy was not as valued as in the legions. Naval officers were recruited from the Italian Greeks, and crews – from allies and slaves. The Romans tried to transfer the battle to land. In order to do this, there were flip bridges with iron spikes – “The Raven” – on the ships. When the Romans approached enemy ships, they hooked them up and dragged to shore, where the fight was continued. After a series of victories, Rome attacked Carthage. In the summer of 256 BC, near Cape Eknom, the most ambitious naval battle in the history of the Ancient World was held. Having lost about 100 ships, the Phoenicians retreated, and the Roman army landed on the coast of Africa. However, the Senate withdrew most of the army to Italy. Over the next 12 years of battles, either one or the other won in the war. Rome made a lot of mistakes in this war and suffered heavy losses in manpower.
In 247 BC, a talented commander, Hamilcar Barca, took command of the Carthaginian forces in Sicily. He took advantage of the rule on the sea and began to attack the Italian coast. Only in 242 BC, the Romans were able to build a new fleet that consisted of 200 ships. The emergence of the Roman fleet was a complete surprise to Carthage. They defeated the Carthaginian fleet in the battle at Aegadian Islands. It was a decisive victory for Rome. Carthaginians lost 120 ships. Carthage sued for peace. After that, in 241 BC, peace was achieved. Under the terms of the peace treaty, Sicily went to Rome, and Carthage had to pay a substantial sum of money. Hamilcar did not want to surrender weapons and led the army from Sicily with the desire to continue the war.
After the First Punic War, Carthage directed its main forces to conquer the Iberian Peninsula. In 228 BC, Hamilcar was killed. After Hamilcar’s death, his son Hannibal was elected the Chief of the Army. He hated Rome and, being a little boy, vowed to destroy the city. Since his childhood, he was raised in a military camp. His expertise of a soldier and commander was exceptional. The reason for the beginning of the Second Punic War was the attack of Hannibal on the city of Saguntum, on the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans as well as the Carthaginians sought for a new war, hoping finally to crush a dangerous rival. The Second Punic War began. Now, in contrast to the First Punic War, both sides sought to subjugate the enemy’s nation entirely, so that it was not able to play an independent political and trade role in the Mediterranean.
The Romans wanted to land in Africa. However, their plans were ruined by Hannibal. He made the transition through Gaul and the Alps and began fighting in Italy. Hannibal wanted to end the war quickly by destroying the enemy’s main forces in several major battles. During the first battles on the Po Valley and Trasimeno Lake, he successfully carried out the first part of his plan. He teased Roman generals, provoking them to fight, when it was convenient for him. Hannibal also chose the place for the battle. Hannibal’s position worsened, when the Romans elected Fabius Maximus as a dictator, who used a new tactic. Quintus Fabius Maximus was a tough opponent. He refused to take decisive battles with Hannibal and pestered him with little ones. For this tactic, he was called Cunctator – “delayer”. However, in 216 BC, Romans abandoned the tactic.
In 216 BC, a counsel Terence Varro gave the Carthaginians a decisive battle near Cannae and suffered a terrible defeat. Many cities in Lucania, Picene and Samnite, and the second largest city in Italy, Capua, come over to Hannibal’s side. In such difficult circumstances, Rome mobilized all their forces. It was able to build a new army. In an effort to distract the Carthaginians from Italy, the Romans opened new fronts in Spain and Sicily. Nevertheless, they were unable to achieve a significant success until the end of the 210’s BC.
The turning point in favor of the Romans took place in 211 BC, when they took possession of Capua. In 210 BC, Cornelius Scipio was sent in Spain, where in 209 BC, he took New Carthage, a center of the Carthaginian possessions in the Iberian Peninsula. In 207 BC, the Romans defeated the Gallic army that Hasdrubal brought to help Hannibal from Spain. In 206 BC, the Carthaginians were forced to leave Spain. In the spring of 204 BC, Scipio landed in North Africa. In 203 BC, he defeated the Carthaginians on the Great Plains, forcing the authorities of the Carthaginian to withdraw Hannibal from Italy. In 202 BC, supported by the Numidian King Masinissa, Scipio won a decisive victory over Hannibal at Zama. In 201 BC, Carthage had to accept harsh conditions of peace. It gave Spain and all of its island possessions in the Mediterranean to the Romans. The Carthaginians gave Roma almost the entire fleet, which was immediately burned. They agreed to pay an enormous indemnity for fifty years and not to wage war without the consent of the Roman Senate. As a result of the Second Punic War, Rome had become the hegemon of the Western Mediterranean, and Carthage lost the value of a great power. After the defeat of Hannibal near the small town of Zama, Carthage was no longer a great power and became totally dependent on Rome. Hannibal fled from his native city and again wanted to go to war against Rome. However, this bout he failed. In order not to be captured by the enemy, he took poison and died.
The defeat of Carthage was predetermined by the inequality of human resources. During the war, Rome and its Italic allies were able to put 700,000 infantries and 70,000 cavalries. Carthage did not have such opportunities. Libyans, Numidians, Gauls and Iberians, who were in the army of the Carthaginians, considerably outnumbered Italians and could not put at the disposal of Hannibal and the other Carthaginian generals a comparable number of soldiers. The superiority of the Carthaginian professionals over the Roman militias was powerless here.
In 149 BC, Rome began the Third Punic War. Its aim was to wipe Carthage off the face of the earth and, thereby, eliminate a serious commercial rival. The pretext for the attack was the war of Carthage with the Numidian King Massanassa, an ally of Rome. In this war, which took place in 150 BC, the Carthaginian not only defeated, but were violators of the peace agreement, in which they could not fight a war without the permission of Rome. A camp of the Carthaginian commander, Hasdrubal, was surrounded by the Numidians, and only a minority of the army could get into Carthage. In Rome, an open mobilization was declared, and a preparation for war began. The Romans demanded Carthage to surrender. Meanwhile, the largest area of Carthage in Africa, Utica, gave up. After that, in 149, Rome formally declared a war on Carthage, hoping to conquer the city, replenish the Roman coffers by its wealth and enslave the Carthaginians.
After the declaration of war, the Carthaginians had no choice, but to defend themselves with all available forces and means, despite the enormous disparity in the economic and military power. The Roman army was led by consul Manius Manilius. The fleet was led by the other consul Lucius Marcius Tsensorin. Secret instructions required them not to enter into negotiations with the enemy. They had to erase Carthage from the face of the earth. The Carthaginian embassy declared a full and unconditional surrender of the city. The Romans response was ambiguous. They seemed to be welcomed by a wise decision of the Carthaginians and were ready to give them freedom and possession of all property. However, nothing was said about the fate of the city of Carthage, and all the promises given to the Carthaginians remained valid only if within 30 days the Carthaginians would give 300 hostages, represented by members of the most distinguished families of the city. Carthage authorities hastened to send hostages, not knowing that the Roman Senate intended to destroy the city. When the hostages were taken, the consuls also required to give all the weapons stored in Carthage. As a result, the Romans received 200.000 sets of infantry weapons and armor, as well as 2000 catapults. Only after having disarmed a formidable opponent, consuls presented the main requirement of the Senate. All residents had to leave Carthage and settle anywhere in the city-owned rural area, no closer than 80 steps from the sea. This condemned the Carthaginians, who earned their living by conducting a maritime trade, to vegetate in poverty. The gate of Carthage was locked, and all manufactories of the city were mobilized to manufacture weapons and build ships. All the slaves were released. They joined the ranks of the Roman army. The Carthaginians agreed to disarm. However, they flatly rejected the claim of the Romans to raise the city and move inland. They decided to fight to the last. The Roman army laid siege to Carthage. After three years of desperate defense, Rome took it in spring 146 BC. In accordance with the Senate, the city was burned, and the place, where it was standing, was execrated. The city was burning for 17 days. Between the wars, the Romans conquered Macedonia and Greece. Thus, the Roman Republic became the most powerful state not only of the Mediterranean, but also the ancient world. Punic Wars played a vital role in the history of the Ancient and Modern World. Roman imperialism was not a unique phenomenon. It was a natural stage of the development, to which the Roman society came a long way as a result of its development.