Carthage History

Nestled in the land between two excellent harbors, the city of Carthage was the root of much influence over the western Mediterranean. From their commercial success through sea trade to the Punic Wars, the Carthaginian people were destined to fall, as all are, but their rise was a glorious one.

The city called Carthago by the Romans was founded in the early half of the 9th century B.C. Myths tell that the queen Dido was the first citizen of the new city, but this is only reported in a few creditable accounts, and therefore it is unknown if this rumor is true or not.

In its infancy, there was a struggle between the sea-faring and landowning families of Carthage. However, due to its strategic position, the government soon became oriented on sea trade. In the long run, this gave Carthage one of its greatest advantages: naval tactics that won them many a battle.

As far as its trade went, Carthage was dominating the surrounding areas within the 5th century with its commerce. From the rich ore in the Spanish lands, or the need for goods in Greece, Carthage was a prime supplier. For a time, before the rise of Rome, they were active in trade with the Etruscans. Clearly, Carthage had a monopoly on all of the areas surrounding the Mediterranean.

Of course, to protect their investments, Carthage had to develop a fleet of powerful military ships with able-bodied men to command and operate them. Their navy maintained their grip on the golden waters for years upon years, even as they began to expand. They colonized much of northern Africa, and also established a foothold on the Iberian Peninsula.

Naturally, any one civilization that hordes things to themselves will be under constant threats of destruction. That was the basis for the First Sicilian War, fought against Greek colonists on Sicily. In response to the possible enemy's new gateway to Carthage, an army was assembled and loaded onto the sturdy floorboards of Carthaginian ships. However, sea storms en route to Sicily greatly reduced the numbers of the Carthaginian army, and they were defeated upon their arrival. Over the next century, the proud Carthaginians would not let the Greeks settle in and constantly attacked Sicily. There were peace treaties, with both enemies holding neutral territory on the island, but they were never truly peaceful. Two more major wars were fought, both of which the African residents lost. The island, at the end of this struggle, was still Greek.

While decidedly not the best ground troops, Carthage still traveled and controlled the Mediterranean until the rise of Rome. These two great powers of the ancient world clashed arms on many occasions, but the most major ones can be summed up in the period of the Punic Wars.

Beginning at 264 B.C. and lasting twenty-three years, this conflict saw a Roman victory. Yet another peace was forced upon Carthage. However, even if against insurmountable odds, Carthaginians were not one to give up. Even if this war named Rome as the newest naval power and Sicily no longer was the home to any Carthaginian, the people continued to spread into Hispania.

In 218 B.C., Hannibal Barca led tens of thousands of men through the Gaelic countryside and made a way for himself through the Alps. Due to the still-formidable navy of Carthage, a land attack through the unforgiving, snowy mountains took the Romans in Italy by surprise. Though he suffered losses, Hannibal entered Italia and secured the northern region of the landmass. His army was also reinforced by Gaelic tribes and other Italian cities and, though not what Hannibal had expected, it increased his numbers by 50,000. Anticipating his march through the peninsula, Roman landowners also burned their estates to the ground, preventing the Carthaginian army from looting them.

Hannibal continued to drive towards Rome, defeating enemies all along the way. However, his determined tour of war had left him with no siege equipment or decent base of operations in Italy. He stayed his men at Arretium and waited. While he hesitated, the Romans were already sacking Nova Carthago, an important Carthaginian city on the Iberian Peninsula.

With his brother-general dead in Spain, now a Roman province, Hannibal was being attacked and forced into the lower portion of Italia. His allies, the Macedonians, withdrew from the battle, as they felt Hannibal was now to be utterly defeated. However, the great man's time was not yet spent, and he withdrew to Carthage, which was eventually attacked by Scipio Africanus. Hannibal was defeated at the battle of Zama, but he was allowed to rule over the significantly weak Carthage.

Eventually, there was another war. The Romans still despised the Carthaginians, which were now confined to Africa, and the city was still supporting itself and entering into prosperity once more! They then imposed arms and other restrictions on Carthage, including one that made the Senate the third-person in border disputes. However, the Carthaginians did not obey this and were soon engaged in war with Numidia, which ended with yet another defeat for the once-proud Carthaginian 'Empire.'

The infuriated senate of Rome gathered an army, even after 'dealing' with Carthage for peace, and landed it in Africa. Scipio Aemilianus burnt the city to the ground and sold the remaining Carthaginians into slavery.

Perhaps this author should reiterate to what he said at the beginning of this story; perhaps Carthage was not glorious in its military record, but they survived the onslaught of Rome while still being resilient, even if destined for death.