Rome’s relationship with Carthage
                                                            by Chris McDonald

             The Roman Empire was at the beginning of establishing its enormous power when it had
entered into war with Carthage(site on history of carthage).  These battles with Carthage, known
as the three Punic Wars(general summary of wars), began in 264 BC and would eventually end
over a century later in 146 BC.  B.D. Hoyos referred to the first two Punic Wars as being “...the
fiercest perhaps of all ancient history(Hoyos, 1).”  The interesting aspect about the Punic Wars,
however, is that before then, Carthage and Rome were allied with one another.  They
had joined in several treaties and had never considered battling one another.  Thereafter,
however, the relationship between the two became dramatically sour.  Pride would lead the Romans
into battle in 264 BC, and the heroic general Hannibal would look for vengeance in 218BC.  The
final Punic War was a massacre of Carthage that never should have happened.  For the people of the
Roman Empire after the Punic Wars, Carthage would be seen as the greatest foe of all and a
strong hatred for Carthage would remain for a long time.
            Before the wars began in 264 BC, both Rome and Carthage were slowly
becoming more powerful in relation to the other Mediterranean countries around them.  Carthage
was essentially an oligarchy though, ruled by a select social elite, while Rome was a republic.  The two 
traded with each other for two hundred years before they had gone to battle with each other.  In fact, the
Roman historian Polybius dates a treaty between the two in 509 BC, and a similar treaty would be
established in 306 BC essentially to renew the previous treaty.  The treaties
established boundaries of trade between the two powers.  In the treaties, Sicily was considered an
area where both groups of people could go and trade freely.  Rome was not allowed to trade with
any other region in North Africa except for the Carthaginians.  Likewise, Carthage was not
allowed to takeover or plunder any city with a treaty with the Romans.  Not only that, but neither
Rome nor Carthage could take prisoners on the waters of each republic’s respective
regions(Hoyos, 8).  These treaties were quite complex and it was understood that the two peoples
were allies and even friends.  The major difference between the two was that Rome was more
expansive and had slowly been conquering more and more territories while Carthage had merely
expanded its trading network.

             The attacks on Rome by Pyrrhus in 280 BC, the King of Epirus in Western Greece,
indicated a new set of dealings with the Carthaginians(picture of Pyrrhus).  Even though the
treaties between the Romans and Carthaginians had addressed specific movements in each others
territories, the two had essentially fought in two separate areas.  However, Pyrrhus posed an
immediate threat to the Romans, and when they finally did temporarily thwart him, he went on to
make a pact with Sicily.  The Carthaginians and Romans then agreed on a third treaty, called the
Philinus treaty in which both sides, if offered an alliance with Pyrrhus, would make it together
with Pyrrhus.  Carthage would also offer naval aid to the Romans who essentially had no navy,
but they would not help Rome with land troops.  In turn, the Romans would also send some aid,
but both sides made sure that each paid their way for the most part.  In these dealings with the
Carthaginians, the Roman view on them was one of a positive nature.  Rome had no real
naval ally except for Carthage, and they had been offered some aid from one of the Carthaginian
commanders, Mago.  After Pyrrhus’ first attempts to conquer Rome, Carthaginian fleets actually
patrolled the waters between Rome and Sicily on the lookout for Pyrrhus’ ships, even though the
latter did manage to cross the region safely.  By 277 BC, Pyrrhus had been defeated and kicked
off the island of Sicily, and Carthage and Rome went back to their own respective spheres of
influence(Hoyos, 12-15).

             This question then does remain:  Why did the Punic Wars break out if both sides had been
longtime allies, and who was to blame for it?  According to B.D. Hoyos: “From the start, Roman
tradition was anxious to veil the nakedness of Roman aggression towards the Carthaginians, the
blatant Roman greed for Sicilian booty, and the brazen breach of the Philinus treaty(Hoyos, 35).”
The breach of The Philinus Treaty that Hoyos is talking about is the showing up on the shores of
Sicily in 264 BC.  Hoyos does also attribute the fact that the Romans wanted to conquer everything at this
point.  Even though they did have a strong relationship with Carthage, the Carthage was getting too powerful.
Rome could continue to conquer the regions of Italy and go west of there, but Carthage was its main
obstacle.  Carthage had almost conquered all of Sicily at this point, and it did not seem like they
were going to stop anywhere short of complete control.  It was also very true that the Romans were
very much a warlike people; not only them, but also many of their neighboring countries.  In other
words, war was a fairly common occurrence, which made the long standing alliance that Rome
had had with Carthage somewhat unusual.  Rome was waiting for something to get them into a
war with Carthage(Hoyos, 35).

             Thereafter, the first Punic War commenced with the Romans under the command of
General Appius(pictures of first Punic War).  The Roman province of Rhegium, just at
the tip of Italy right next to Sicily, had been weary of Carthage’s presence from the time Pyrrhus
had attempted to conquer Rome.  Essentially, there was a stand off between General Appius and
Hanno II of the Carthaginians when Appius attempted to take Messana, the town in Sicily just
across the water from Rhegium.  The initial problem that the Romans had with fighting Carthage
was the idea of a naval war.  Rome had to actually ask for help for Carthage’s navy when Pyrrhus
had threatened the Romans, so they had to build up a navy as quickly as possible to stand any
chance against Carthage.  Appius seemed to sail at night and anchor his ship during the day so
General Hanno II would not see him, although  historical data about how exactly Appius got
across is not entirely specific.  Appius knew that the Roman transports most likely did not stand
much of a chance against Carthage in naval warfare, so he ingeniously engineered a way to get
his men across into Messana.  Hoyos states that Appius most likely declared war on the
Carthaginians, even though he was miles away from Rome and did not have the authority to do
it.  Hanno still had no desire for getting into a war.  King Hiero of Syracuse, the region at the
southeastern tip of Sicily, had been in alliance with Carthage for some time, but that is the person
who Appius really wanted to attack.  Appius was looking for Roman glory at this point.  Hoyos
does note that the Roman historians at the time seem to have contradictions with each other as to
whether or not Appius managed to defeat the Syracusans, the tribe located in the Southeastern
region of Sicily.  Hoyos concludes that:  “He(Appius) had got the Roman people into an
unplanned and dangerous clash  with the Carthaginians; and now he went on to fail against
Syracuse, the original point of the exercise(100).”  The Roman people were all for gaining more
power; the only difficulty with Appius was that he was attempting to gain these things from the
wrong people:  the Carthaginians.  They were not going to give up the entire island of Sicily
without a fight, while, at the same time, Appius was setting Roman policy by simply acting on
impulse without direct Roman approval.  Appius would eventually fail in his exploits in trying to
acquire Syracuse, but the seeds had been planted for a full scale war with Carthage.  Roman
generals Valerius and Octacilius arrived in Syracuse with some 40,000 troops to face King
Hiero’s army.  They then stormed the island after besieging Syracuse, and Sicily would
eventually come under Roman control.  After many of the other cities in Sicily saw how Syracuse
slowly fell, they too agreed to a treaty to be under Roman rule.  Unfortunately, Carthage would
send a ship, and while it would turn back after seeing Rome destroy Syracuse, Rome would still
invade the Punic region of Sicily.  Carthage began amassing troops in the Western coastal city of
Argentum, and the first Punic War broke out(Hoyos, 82- 104).

             Rome would eventually capture most of Sicily and they campaigned in the islands of
Corsica and Sardinia, driving Carthage out, and they would invade North Africa in 256.  At this
point, Hoyos notes that:  “ 256 too much effort and blood had been spent for the Romans to
accept any remaining Punic presence, least of all amid seeming victory.  They were bound to
demand, and the Carthaginians to reject, that Sicily be surrendered(Hoyos, 117).”  Rome had put
too much effort to sign a peace treaty giving Carthage back regions that it had fought so hard for
in the first place.  The war would end on March 10, 241 BC after Rome destroyed Carthaginian
forces in the island of Aegates just off the west coast of Sicily.  By this point, Carthage had no
where else to go except for negotiations.  They gave negotiating power to General Hamilcar
Barca(picture of Hamilcar Barca), the father of the future notorious general Hannibal.  The treaty
would give Rome all of Sicily, their prisoners of war back, and Carthage would never be allowed
to set foot in Sicily along with having to pay indemnities and even extra if they wanted their
prisoners back.  Rome still did not control the town of Syracuse, because rather than sacking it,
they merely signed an alliance treaty with King Hiero there(Hoyos, 122).

             It is interesting to note how easily both sides got into a war with each other after over two
hundred years of enjoyed peace.  The factor of pride in the Roman general Appius and in the
Romans themselves helped to cause the war.  Carthage merely responded to the fact that Rome
aggressively sought to take Syracuse for fear that Syracuse would attack first.  Appius had no
legitimate reason to move into Sicily aside from personal glory.

             The irony of the aftermath of the first Punic War was that Rome would go on to help
Carthage a lot.  Rome never traded in Carthage’s water, and they returned all of the Carthaginian
prisoners from the first Punic War, but what was even more remarkable was that Rome even
helped Carthage to quell a rebellion and for it to maintain somewhat of an empire.  This is all
startling considering the long and brutal war that had ensued only a few years before.  Rome
certainly could have profited from Carthage’s problems with rebellions caused by Carthage’s
inability to pay the mercenaries they had hired for the first Punic War(Hoyos, 123-126).

             Unfortunately, as history dictates, this goodwill would not last for long.  Problems arose
when rebels in Sardinia in 238 BC, then controlled by Carthage, actually left Sardinia, and Rome
decided to take Sardinia(site on second Punic War) (and pictures).  Carthage claimed that Sardinia
was not Rome’s to take, but Rome, taking this as a possible threat, declared war on
Carthage(Hoyos, 138).  While this loomed for a good period of time, in Spain, in about 220 BC,
Rome faced somewhat of a Gallic threat from the North of its Provinces(Carthage’s territories in
220BC).  Carthage allied with the Gauls and made the Roman Provinces in Spain quite weary. In
the city of Saguntine, in the Western part of Spain, general Hannibal was told by Roman envoys
not to attack the city, but he did anyway(general site about Hannibal).  Thereafter, war had begun
because of Hannibal’s actions.  Like Appius had done to the Romans in the first Punic War,
Hannibal had dragged an unwilling Carthage into the second Punic War.  There was hesitation at
first when Hannibal sieged the city, but that soon was forgotten(Hoyos, 152-154).

             The situation was not as simple as the first war between Carthage and Rome.  Hannibal
was far off in Spain, having just crossed the Erbo river in the North east of Spain in 218 BC.
Rome sent armies both to meet Hannibal in Spain and to North Africa to confront the city of
Carthage.  Hannibal would eventually go into Italy on his famous march through the Alps(map of
Hannibal’s route).  He was the first general at the time to do the march, and it is still unknown
today as to the exact route he took through the mountains on the fifteen day expedition.
However, the losses he experienced were staggering.  He had 20,00 infantry and 6,000 horsemen
out of 46,000 total(Caven, 105).  Yet, Hannibal’s determination was unlimited  As Brian Caven
puts it bluntly:  “The will to war, however, existed in Hannibal.  As a patriot he wished to make
the world safe for Carthage; as the son of Hamilcar, he was determined to reverse the decision of
the first Punic War(Caven, 256).”  Hannibal would fight to the death if necessary, and, in the
end, it was.  The result of Hannibal’s ensuing attacks on the Romans generated mass propaganda
against him and the Carthaginians, which meant that there would be no turning back whatsoever:
the Romans would stop at nothing to kill Carthage.

             Rome employed General Scipio to lead their armies against Hannibal, and when Rome
finally started having military successes in Spain and taking back land in Italy, Scipio went after
Hannibal.  Overall, though, according to Brian Caven, the second Punic War was not particularly
successful for the rest of Carthage, but only for Hannibal.  He says:  “ was only where
Hannibal was fighting that things went well for her[Carthage].  She[Carthage] made no attempt
to challenge Rome’s command of the sea or to take advantage of the difficulty that the enemy
was experiencing in maintaining his fleets owing to shortage of men and money(Caven, 257).”
Carthage essentially had one exceptional general, and many mediocre ones(Carthage in 215BC).
Another blunder that the Carthaginians made was by not sending Hannibal with sufficient
supplies to attack the Romans in Italy.  His forces had seriously been depleted by the lengthy
march from Spain, and there was little chance of him successfully beating Rome.  Instead,
Hannibal had to resort to smaller attacks in various regions throughout Italy whilst remaining
hidden from Scipio’s army(Hannibal’s march through Italy).  These attacks were still effective,
though.  They generated massive amounts of fear in the Roman people.  The result, unfortunately
for Hannibal, was that the propaganda in Rome hailed Scipio as a hero and he was given Carte
Blanche to do whatever he could to bring Hannibal down.

             Hannibal was called back to Africa in 203 BC and he faced General Scipio at Zama in
202 BC, a region southwest of Carthage.  Hannibal was defeated there by Scipio.  Hannibal’s
army was not made up of the veterans who had marched with him through Italy, but desperate
soldiers not prepared for battle.  Hannibal retreated to Carthage and advised the Council there to
seek peace with Scipio, and they did.  Carthage was allowed to remain autonomous, but it had to
pay reparations to Rome for damages and to return all of Rome’s slaves and prisoners.  Along
with that, Carthage could not attack any region outside of Africa, nor any region allied with
Rome.  The great Hannibal would eventually commit suicide a few years later having
seen the downfall of his army and Carthage to general Scipio(250-254).

             In the years after the second Punic War, Rome had become somewhat of an empire, and
Carthage had been very close to destruction.  However, the two would, once again, go to battle
for the third and final time(Polybius’ account of thrid Punic War).  Carthage had begun to rearm
itself in 153 BC, and a Roman Commission headed by Cato decided that Carthage was
making an aggressive stance.  At this time, Carthage was divided into three factions, two of which
were at war with each other.  Masinissa, the old Carthaginian who had been the head of a faction
in Carthage, ended up fighting the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal in 150 BC due to the latters
unwillingness to reinstate exiles who were a part of Masinissa’s faction.  The aggression
bothered the Romans as to what Hadrubal’s intentions were.  Caven says that: “fear- or, more
properly, apprehensiveness- was the predominating fact.  Not even Cato can have seriously
believed that in 150, even before her[Carthage] defeat by Masinissa, Carthage directly threatened
the safety of Rome(Caven, 271).”  In 149 BC, the Roman Senate declared war on Carthage.
Rome also obtained the ally of the city of Utica which was within thirty miles of Carthage.
Rome had all of the advantages in place, including a superior army and easy base from which
Carthage could be attacked.  Also, the war between the two Carthaginians, Hasdrubal and
Masinissa still raged.  Everything was wrong for a war for Carthage.  By 146 BC, just less
than four years later, Scipio Amelianus had laid siege to the city of Carthage.  His troops looted
and pillaged the city and Carthage was utterly destroyed in the end(Caven, 268-283).

             The three Punic Wars between Carthage and Rome did a number of things.From the
most obvious stand point, they only made Rome stronger while eradicating Carthage from
existence.  Not only this, but Rome had met its true enemy:  Hannibal.  Hannibal would give
hatred to the Romans until the fall of its empire.  Vergil’s Aenied talks of how Dido, Aeneas’’
wife whom he is leaving to go found the city of Rome, calls for an “avenger” to come back to
haunt Aeneas’ future people(link to references made by Dido).  Vergil all but says directly that he is talking of
Hannibal.  Hannibal gave a face for the Romans to hate.  Still, however, it is important to see that these three
gruesome wars never had to be fought in the first place.  In B.D. Hoyos wrote an account of the
first two Punic Wars titled Unplanned Wars:  The Origins of the First and Second Punic Wars.
The Punic Wars were unplanned because Carthage and Rome were such good allies.  Even after
the first Punic War, the two peacefully existed.  Hannibal did not need to begin a rampage from
Spain right through Italy.  The factor of pride seems to have played a key role for Hannibal and
for the Roman general Appius, who also did not have to invade Sicily.  These hard facts show
that the years of hatred and the decimation of a perfectly sound relationship between Carthage
and Rome did not need to occur.


Caven, Brian.  The Punic Wars.  Butler and Tanner ltd.  London, England:  1980.

Hoyos, B.D.  Unplanned Wars:  The Origins of the First and Second Punic Wars.  Walter de
     Gruyter and Co.  Berlin, Germany:  1997.