There were many great battles fought during the times of Ancient Rome with some battles significant due to their huge numbers of casualties, while others were important strategically or because they changed the way battles were fought. Here we take a look at the Punic Wars that took place BC, in terms of where, when, how they were fought plus what was the outcome.
The Punic Wars
Ruins of Carthage
There were three Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage that were fought over a century beginning in 264 BC and ending in 146 BC with the destruction of Carthage. Rome was a great power that dominated the region at the start of the Punic Wars, while Carthage on the other hand dominated North Africa and was admired for their maritime prowess. The word Punic comes from the Latin word for Phoenician.
The First Punic War 264 to 241 BC
This first Punic War began in 264 BC due to a dispute involving Sicily which at the time was under Carthaginian control.Up to this time relations between the two sides had been friendly with the two cities agreeing on many occasions regarding shipping rights and trade. Carthage (home to the Phoenicians) was a wealthy city with well-educated citizens and rulers, while Carthage certainly dominated the seas too at this time.
A dispute arose between the islands of Syracuse and Messina with Rome taking the side of Messina, while Carthage's sympathies lay with Syracuse. Hostilities between Carthage and Rome escalated into all-out war with both armies vying for the control of Sicily. Rome needed to build a strong naval force in order to take on the superior navy of Carthage and did so over the next twenty years or so.
Rome's first victory at sea was in 260 BC in Mylae followed by a magnificent win at the Battle of Ecnomus in 256 BC. Rome was determined to invade North Africa and even though they faced defeat in the first instance they persisted and defeated the Carthaginians at sea in 241 BC. This was somewhat of a shock to the mighty Carthaginians who prided themselves on being masters of the waves at that time. By the end of the first Punic War in 241 BC Sicily belonged to Rome making it their first province abroad.
The Second Punic War 218 to 201 BC
Rome and Carthage continued to be dominant forces in the region with Rome taking over Corsica and Sardinia, while Carthage, under General Hamilcar Barca, had created a base in Spain by 237 BC. Barca died in 229 BC and his son Hannibal, who was but a child, swore a blood oath against Rome. Hannibal would become a formidable force himself becoming the subject of legend plus many books and films.
Hannibal took command of the Carthaginian forces based in Spain in 221 BC following the death of Hasdrubal who had succeeded his father in law Hamilcar. Hannibal was a force to be reckoned with and declared war on Rome as within two years he had marched his army into Saguntum a city that was under Roman rule. Hannibal had many victories under his belt and is famed for marching his army of some ninety thousand men, twelve thousand cavalry and hundreds of elephants over the Alps from Spain into Italy. Notable victories over the Romans included Trebia, Ticinus and Trasimene.
In 216 BC Hannibal had a strategic win at Cannae where he defeated a Roma army that was twice the size of his own by surrounding them with his cavalry and inflicting terrible casualties. However it was like a game of ping pong as the Romans may have been down but they certainly were not out! Under General Publius Cornelius Scipio they came back at the Carthaginians winning victories in both Spain and North Africa.
Hannibal's forces were pushed back, while they needed to retreat from Italy in order to defend their territories in North Africa and they were subsequently defeated at Zama. This defeat was significant as it meant that Carthage lost its foothold in Italy and Spain, while managing to keep its influence in North Africa plus had to abandon its fleet to Rome and pay Rome compensation in the form of silver.
The Third Punic War 149 to 146 BC
Cato the Elder was a prominent member of the Roman senate and it was due to his persistent view that Carthage even in a weakened state was still a threat to Rome that the third Punic War came about. Carthage declared war on Numidia breaking their treaty with Rome resulting in the Romans marching on North Africa and so the war began.
For two whole years Carthage withstood the barrage from the Roman army until General Scipio Aemilianus was appointed head of the Roman force in 147 BC. Scipio attacked from the harbour then progressed into the city setting light to all in his path. Enemy troops were constantly pushed back and after seven days of heavy fighting that saw mass casualties the Carthaginian army surrendered. The city was destroyed, while many, possibly up to fifty thousand people, were sold into slavery. Rome was now a truly supreme force and boasted an empire from Spain through to Greece and Asia Minor.