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Punic Wars


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(264–146 bc)

or wars between Rome and Carthage (‘Carthaginians’ = Lat. ‘Poeni’ = ‘Phoenicians’). Down to 264, Carthage's relations with Rome and the Italian maritime peoples had been friendly. However, when Rome became the ruler of Magna Graecia, and esp. of Rhegium, closely associated with Messana, it was virtually inevitable that she would be drawn into the centuries‐old conflict between the Greeks and Carthage for the control of Sicily.

The First Punic War (264–241)

The war arose from an ‘incident’ that was allowed to escalate. Rome offered her protection to the Mamertines, in order to prevent Messana from falling into the hands of either Carthage or Hieron 2 II of Syracuse. Hieron and Carthage joined forces against Messana, probably expecting that the Carthaginian navy could prevent the Romans from landing in Sicily, and that a serious collision could be avoided. The consul Claudius Caudex, sent to relieve Messana, attempted to negotiate and then got his army across the straits on allied ships and raised the siege. His successor, Valerius Maximus Messalla, besieged Syracuse, forcing Hieron to accept generous terms, which left him, as the ally of Rome, in possession of much of his kingdom. This alliance, and the secession of some of her allies, alarmed Carthage for the security of her province, and in 262 she sent strong forces into Sicily. The Romans besieged Acragas, Carthage's ally, defeated the Carthaginians in the field and sacked Acragas with a brutality that alienated many Sicilian communities. Inconclusive land‐fighting and Carthaginian naval activity in 261 convinced the Romans that they must gain the command of the sea; and in the spring of 260 they built a fleet of 100 quinqueremes (larger and heavier than triremes) and fitted them with the corvus, a rotatable boarding‐bridge; and with these Duilius won the battle of Mylae. Neither side made much progress during the next three years; but in 256 the Romans, after defeating the enemy in a huge sea‐battle off Ecnomus, put the consul Regulus Atilius ashore with his army at Clupea. Regulus defeated the Carthaginians and occupied Tunis, but the unreasonableness of his demands led to the breakdown of peace negotiations, and in 255 his army was almost annihilated by a mercenary force under a Spartan mercenary, Xanthippus, and he himself was captured. Indecisive naval operations ensued. Storms all but destroyed two Roman fleets. The Carthaginians' main effort was directed to the restoration of their dominion over the Libyans and Numidians (shaken by Regulus' invasion); but in 251 they reinforced their army in Sicily; however, the Romans enjoyed some military success, capturing Eryx. Neither side had the resources to mount a major offensive in Sicily; but in 247 the Carthaginians replaced a successful admiral by Hamilcar Barca, who, after raiding the Italian coast, established himself near Panormus and waged guerrilla war, diversified with raids on Italy, until 244, when he recaptured Eryx and continued his guerrilla operations from there. In 243, the Romans, having been given a breathing‐space from costly naval operations, raised another fleet (by contributions from the rich), with which Lutatius Catulus besieged Drepanum in 242, and in 241 defeated a Carthaginian relief fleet near the Aegātēs Isles. Carthage, financially exhausted, instructed Hamilcar to make peace. The Carthaginians evacuated Sicily—which (except for Hieron's kingdom) became Rome's first overseas province (see provincia)—and the adjacent islands and undertook to pay an indemnity of 3,200 talents over a period of ten years. From 241 to 237 Carthage was involved in the Truceless (or Libyan) War, against its mutinous (because unpaid) mercenaries, supported by most of the Libyans and even by some cities, including Tunis and Utica. The war was successfully concluded by the uneasy co‐operation of Hamilcar and Hanno, the recent conqueror of Libya. Rome, alarmed by Carthage's recovery, exploited a revolt of the Sardinians to seize the island, so depriving Carthage of its principal granary and inducing a deep distrust of Rome in the minds of the rulers of Carthage. To compensate for the loss of Sardinia, to secure its supply of silver, and to provide a standing army for the defence of its empire, Carthage now decided to extend its control in Spain (where she had long had a foothold), entrusting this to Hamilcar, and after his death (229) to his son‐in‐law Hasdrubal. Mainly by diplomacy Hasdrubal advanced Carthage's suzerainty towards the river Ebro, which, in 226, he gave the Romans a formal undertaking not to cross, so alleviating their fears on the eve of the Celtic invasion of Italy. In 221 Hannibal succeeded to his family's satrapal position, and made conquests in cis‐Ebro Spain on the eastern coast and inland. Seeing Saguntum, a Roman ally ‘for many years’, as a threat to Carthage's hold on Spain, Hannibal took the city (219), with the approval of Carthage, thus, from personal as well as imperial motives, provoking the Second Punic War.

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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