Summary of the Punic Wars
Written by Peter Fitzgerald
History of War - Ancient Wars
Over the space of just under 120 years there were three great wars between two powers jostling to control the seas and the lands of the Italian peninsula, Sicily, Northern Africa and the southern lands of Spain.
The two powers in question were the Romans and the Carthaginians, two forces that really wanted to gain a foothold and control the lands and seas of the Mediterranean. As you are about to find out these three wars were probably the biggest wars to have ever happened before the birth of Christ so were greatly influential in changing the world at the time.
The causes of the Punic Wars boiled down to the Carthaginian Empire and the Roman Republic both wanting to expand their lands and build on the empires they had already started. The Romans were new to the development of capturing land and thus had not quite built their Empire yet which does happen later in history as we know.
At the outbreak of the First Punic War the Carthaginian Empire was the super power of the western side of the Mediterranean and as such many would have seen Carthage as the winner in the battle between the two powers.
The First Punic War
This war started as the Romans moved over the sea and marched on Sicily to gain lands there. The war ran between 264 BC and 241 BC. The initial battles were on land with the Battle of Agrigentum being a massive learning curve for the Carthage army as it was routed by the Romans.
After this the Carthaginian Empire decided to use their Navy, which ruled the seas, as a means of winning the war. What they didn’t know is that the Romans had built many ships and armed them with a new invention that was pretty much a pivotal bridge thrown across ships for legion soldiers to march across and do battle. This new invention was a huge success and the Roman Navy, while suffering some losses, was able to beat the Carthage Navy overall.
The outcome of the First Punic War was a resounding victory to Rome and the Carthage leadership signing a peace treaty advising as such.
The Second Punic War
The Second Punic War happened between 218 BC and 201 BC. While this war was a lot shorter than the First Punic War, it is most well known for the Carthage leader Hannibal who caused massive damage to the Romans.
This war was fought over three fronts with Sicily never being a problem and the Romans defending resolutely, southern Spain where Carthage was able to hold on for quite a while before relinquishing control and retreating and the most well known being that of the battles in Italy.
Hannibal took an army of men and elephants through the Alps and surprised the Romans in Northern Italy where he won many great battles; these include the Battle of the Trebia, the Battle of Lake Trasimene and the Battle of Cannae.
As Hannibal moved in the north he requested more soldiers, something Carthage never gave him. It could be said that for this reason Hannibal was never able to complete his task even after 16 years in Italy.
The Romans realised they were going to find it difficult to beat Hannibal so they decided to cut off supplies to make life hard for Hannibal before then counter attacking by crossing over to Africa and attacking Carthage. This move was a great one as it meant Hannibal rushing back to defend his homeland before being demolished by the Romans at the Battle of Zama on October 19th 202 BC.
Again Rome gains victory in the war and now controls much of the Western Mediterranean meaning the Carthage Empire losses a lot of control.
The Third Punic War
The Third Punic War happened between 149 BC and 146 BC and it was the Romans on the offensive again. This war is the shortest of the three and seems to have been the final nail in the coffin of the Carthage Empire.
The Romans crossed the seas to North Africa and besieged the Phoenician city of Carthage (currently in Tunis). The Carthage Empire surrendered after only a few years and handed up weapons and men as prisoners, the Romans were not content with this and wanted to raise Carthage to the ground.
For the first two years the Roman siege was unorganized and the Carthaginian’s were able to defend their walls and make masses of weaponry inside.
After two years a young Scipio Aemilianus organized the Roman troops and after a field battle which the Romans won resoundingly the Roman truly besieged the city.
It wasn’t long before the Romans broke through the Carthage city walls and close quarter fighting took place in the streets and dwellings of the city. Once the Romans had gained control they simply destroyed the city totally before selling off the 50,000 or so survivors as slaves.
The Romans won the third and final Punic War leaving the Carthaginian’s to sign a treaty giving Rome control and leaving Carthage with no military at all.