The Punic Wars

The Punic wars were the series of battles fought between rome and carthage (a city in north africa.) during these wars, rome went from being a small power, unknown to most other cities, to becoming the most dominating empire in the world. These were the wars that made it all happen.


at the start of rome’s history, there were etruscan kings who began the founding and creation of the city. these kings were not very popular, and by the time the last etruscan king had come and gone, rome made a vow never to let itself be rules by a dictator or higher power again.


the etruscan kings were followed by a period of greek domination in the mediterranean area. while the greeks were ruling and spreading their influence throughout this part of the world, there were two other powers that were slowly building up. Rome and carthage.


greece met it’s match when it defeated persia, let the victory go it’s head, and ended up having the most powerful greek cities turn on each other, as sparta took on athens in the peloponesian wars. these battles made all of greece grow weak and alexander the great, and his father, philip of macedonia, conquered the weakened country, ending their reign.


during the time of alexander, hellenistic culture was spread throughout the mediterranean area, and both carthage and rome opposed it. neither one of them was powerful enough to stand up to alexander, but they were united in their problems with the culture and did not allow it to come into their own cities.


after alexander’s death, both rome and carthage saw that there was room for a new great power in the world, and both seized the opportunity to become the dominating empire. The first goal, was to conquer the mediterranean sea, the body of water that separated africa from europe and carthage from rome.


at the start of the wars, rome was weaker than carthage, and was the underdog in the fight. but the generals of rome had ideas for how to build up their military. they made a law that required every adult male to serve in the military for as long a time as was asked of him. they also made it that in order to run for public office, one first would have to have served in the military for no less than ten years.


the first battle would be over sicily, the island in the mediterranean sea, right below italy. carthage wanted to conquer sicily and to use it as a base from which to expand further into europe. carthage was already holding africa, and thought that sicily could be used as a launching pad to help them spread even further. rome saw it as a threat. if carthage had sicily, then they would be very close to the rest of italy and to rome. soon, they figured, rome’s holdings throughout the rest of italy would be threatened.


Rome was weaker than carthage from the start because carthage was a naval city, right on the northern coast of africa. romans were used to fighting in infantry forces, on land. and so the romans went to work, building up a navy of their own and training their soldiers in how the ships were to be run. the romans built their navy quickly, and trained their soldiers on land while the ships were still being built in the sea.


knowing that carthage had the stronger navy and that rome had the stronger infantry, the roman generals had an idea. they would arm their ships for a strong initial attack, and then as soon as that attack had begun, they would have their men board the carthaginian ship and fight the battle on foot, the way they were used to.


they were able to accomplish this by arming their ships with iron tips that would cause maximum damage when rammed into another ship. the romans then set out for the mediterranean, and when their ships came across the carthaginian ships, the romans immediately rammed into them. while the carthaginians were recovering from the blow, the romans lowered a plank down onto the cathaginian ships and boarded them. by doing this, the romans were able to turn the battle at sea into a battle on foot, and they won the first of the punic wars.


carthage did not go down easy. the first war was an embarrassment, not only because rome was thought to be the weaker force, but because carthage had been beaten at it’s own strong point, it’s naval power. the people of carthage were furious, and they brought in the great military general hannibal, the one who had conquered spain for carthage, and gave him the reigns of their army.


hannibal decided that since the naval battle had been a failure, he would instead try a different tactic for the retaliating attack. he planned to cross the mediterranean sea into his conquered spain, and then from spain, to go into france. from france, he planned to have his troops cross the alps, heading south into italy. the plan was not to attack rome itself, but instead to attack the roman allies in other parts of italy, thus making rome weak.


hannibal thought this would cause a break up of the system that held rome together with it’s allies, and that he could then use these locations in italy as bases from which to attack rome. his approach was so well thought out that he even thought to bring elephants instead of horses because of the way that an elephants foot could grip the alps and walk around that terrain with great ease.


the second punic war took place in 216 bc, and at first, hannibal’s plan was met with great success. he attacked parts of northern italy and won. despite losing every battle they fought against him in these parts of italy, the romans and their allies continued to send more and more forces into the area. eventually it became about who had more men. hannibal ran out of reinforcements while the roman allies from other parts of italy kept coming in.


the romans were now able to push the weakened hannibal back into spain, and that was where the second punic war came to an end. hannibal survived the war, but saw his great plan become a failure in its execution. by this point, rome had won two major battles, one in the sea and the other on land. it looked like all was lost for carthage, and the romans took advantage of that.


for the third of the punic wars, the romans stopped waiting around to be attacked, and instead went right into carthage. hannibal was forced to leave spain and return to carthage immediately to help defend the city. the roman general was a man named scipio africanus, and he had studied hannibal’s tactics in school. now he used what he had learned about hannibal to figure out a plan for how best to defeat him.


it was scipio who had the idea to attack carthage, realizing that putting hannibal on the defensive for once would take him out of his usual element. scipio brought the roman troops into north africa where they attacked and burned carthage. hannibal was forced to run away, in order to escape execution, and rome claimed whatever was left of the carthaginian empire, as their own.


carthage surrendered it’s land over to rome, but rome wanted to make sure that carthage would never rise up again, and come seeking revenge. and so the romans placed terms on the carthaginians that they would have to pay rome for the wars, would have to give up all of it’s land outside of africa, and would be forbidden from raising an army ever again without seeking the permission of rome first.


but carthage did not respect all of these terms, and when they were threatened by another african state in 146 bc, they raised up an army without seeking roman permission first. rome received word of this and marched into carthage, this time destroying the city for good. whatever land carthage had been holding in north africa, rome now took as it’s own and added this land to it’s empire.


following the punic wars, rome became the dominating empire in the mediterranean and conquered greece, egypt, and the areas of africa that were influenced by the spread of hellenism under alexander. it was the wars against carthage that propelled rome into becoming a the most dominating empire in the world.