The earliest evidence of human habitation

Rome vs. Carthage

History of Rome

The earliest evidence of human habitation in the city of Rome dates to 1500 BC. However, the earliest established, permanent settlements began to form in the 8th century BC. At that time, archaeology indicates two closely related peoples in the area, the Latins and Sabines. These Italic peoples were tribal in origin with a social hierarchy that dominated Rome’s early form of government and throughout its claim to power in the region.

The date of the founding as a village or series of tribal territories is uncertain, but the legendary founding of the city dates to 753 BC. Although this date is laden in myth, it is roughly supported through archeological evidence. According to legend, Romans trace their origins to Aeneas, a Trojan who escaped the sack of Troy by fleeing to Italy. The son of Aeneas, Iulius, founded the city of Alba Longa, thus establishing a monarchy. Two descendents of the Alba Longa Kings, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, would go on to become the founders of Rome. Eventually the two brothers quarreled resulting in the murder of Remus, leaving Romulus as the first King of Rome. The traditional date of Romulus’ sole reign and the subsequent founding of the city is April 21, 753 BC.

History of Carthage

Carthage was founded by Phoenician settlers in 814 BC (Bagnall 2002). Carthage’s early years were defined by rivalry between landholding and maritime families. Because of the city’s dependence on trade, the maritime party controlled the government. Slowly, Carthage began to gain dominance over the Western Mediterranean. In the early 6th century BC, Carthage began the systematic conquest of the African interior and coastal regions.

By the beginning of the 5th century BC, Carthage was the primary commercial center of the region (Huby 2003). The city spread its control along the North African coast from today’s Morocco to the borders of Egypt. Its influence had also spread into the Mediterranean, with control over Sardinia, Malta, the Balearic Islands, and the western half of Sicily. Colonies had also been established in Iberia.

The Punic Wars

Rome was historically on friendly terms with Carthage. Because Rome was primarily agricultural, it was interested mainly in Italy. As late as 279 BC, Carthage and Rome signed a treaty against Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus, whom posed a threat to both cities (Bagnall 2002). However, Carthage occupied the Sicilian town of Massana in 264 BC after a group of mercenaries appealed to Carthage for help against Hiero II, king of Syracuse. This act bothered Rome, as it was in the northeast corner of Sicily, very near the Greek towns of Italy, which fell under Roman protection. Once the problem with Heiro II was solved, these mercenaries appealed to Rome for aid in fighting off the Carthaginians. Although the Senate was reluctant to oppose Carthage, the people pressed for action.

The Punic Wars are defined by three distinct conflicts between Carthage and Rome. When they began, Rome had nearly completed the conquest of Italy, while Carthage controlled Northwestern Africa and the islands of the West Mediterranean. When the Wars ended, Carthage was ruined, and Rome was the greatest power west of China. The first war saw Rome fighting to break Carthage’s growing hold on the chain of islands that enables it to control the western Mediterranean. The second war directly pitted the ambitions of the two commercial powers; the initial area of conflict was Sicily. The last war was the final, desperate attempt of Carthage to preserve Carthaginian liberty.

The First Punic War

The First Punic War took place from 264 to 241 BC (Goldsworthy 2004). In the 3rd century BC, Carthage held many territories that made it easy for them to dominate the western Mediterranean Sea, but when they conquered Messana in Sicily, they encountered the Romans in war for the first time. The First Punic War was fought primarily at sea around Sicily. Carthage was by far the stronger of the two in this field. Carthage’s supremacy was challenged by a large scale Roman construction of a naval fleet. Over time, Rome’s naval strength gained strength. In 256 BC, Carthage was besieged, but the Romans were defeated. For years afterwards, Carthage was more successful and was under the leadership of Hamilcar. However, in 241 BC at the battle at the Aegates Islands, the Carthagians were beaten so severely that they requested peace. This agreement involved leaving Sicily and paying a huge indemnity. Thereafter, Rome controlled Sicily.

The First Punic War, 264-241 BC, grew immediately out of a quarrel between the Sicilian cities of Messana (now Messina) and Syracuse (Goldsworthy 2002). One faction of the Messanians called on Carthage for help and another faction called on Rome. The Strait of Messana, which separates the Italian Peninsula from Sicily, was of extreme strategic importance, and both powers responded. The Punic army arrived in Sicily first, arranged a peace between Messana and Syracuse, and established a garrison. Upon its arrival, the Roman army ejected the Carthaginians from the garrison, and thus the war began.

Roman legions occupied eastern Sicily, and the newly created Roman fleet, after victories at Mylae (260 BC) and off Cape Ecnomus (256 BC), landed in Africa. This excursion was a failure, and its commander, Regulus, was subsequently captured in 255 BC by the Greek mercenary general Xanthippus. In Sicily, the Romans took Palermo (254 BC), but were effectively blocked farther west by the guerrilla warfare of Hamilcar Barca, and they failed to take Lilybaeum, the chief Punic base. The Romans equipped a new fleet that destroyed the Punic fleet off the Aegates in 241 BC, and Carthage requested peace. The terms were the payment of an indemnity and the cession of Punic Sicily to Rome. The primary events of the next 20 years were the Roman entry into Sardinia and Corsica, which was a gross breach of treaty, and the conquests in Spain by Hamilcar (Goldsworthy 2004).

The Second Punic War

The most important of the Punic Wars was the second. This War was caused by the Carthagians anger over the agreement from the First War as well as the Roman expansion following the next years. From 237 to 219 BC, Hannibal, the son of Hamilcar, conquered parts of Spain (Lazenby 1998). In 226, an agreement with Rome set the northern border of the Carthagian conquest to the Ebro River in northern Spain. However, the Romans themselves crossed the Ebro River heading south. At this point, Hannibal decided to face the Romans at Saguntum in 219.

The Second Punic War took place from 218 to 201 BC (Prevas 2001). Hannibal crossed the Alps 300 km inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Hannibal recruited locals, including the Gauls in northern Italy, to his troops along this journey.

The Romans used delay tactics and maintained a strong hold on communications over both land and sea. These tactics eventually resulted in declining morale of Hannibal’s troops. In 209 BC, Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal Barca repeated Hannibal’s Alps journey bringing reinforcements, but he was beaten in 207 BC at Metaurus river (Lazenby 1998). The next year, the Carthaginians were driven completely out of Spain.

In 204, the Romans under the leadership of Scipio invaded Ifriqiya. Hannibal was beaten in Zama in 202 BC (Huby 2003).

The Third Punic War

The Third Punic War was entirely provoked by the Romans. After the second defeat, Carthage managed once again to return to much of its former glory, the economy prospered, and the size of the naval fleet increased. However, the memory of the former Punic wars was strong in Rome. Many Romans wanted to gain glory and no enemy was more attractive than Carthage, even if the city no longer aspired to become an empire.

Rome used their ally, Masinissa, who ruled over Numidia west of Carthage, to bring forward a pretext for going to war (Cottrell 1992). When the Romans finally breached the walls of Carthage, fighting inside the city followed for only 1 week before the city was conquered. The city was subsequently burned and the locals were either executed or sold into slavery.

Aftermath of the Punic Wars

As Rome expanded, the small-holding farmers who made up their armies were kept on campaign for years. In their absence, their holdings were foreclosed and bought up by aristocratic landowners and worked on by slaves. Attempts at reform were stalled by conservatives, and finally the forces of reform led by Marius were defeated by Sulla and his conservative allies. After victory, Sulla implemented the very reforms he had opposed in war. The Legions became professional, their soldiers serving for pay rather than as part of their duty to the state. However, this created problems as the professional soldiers owed more allegiance to their commanders than the Senate. A series of commanders used their troops to force their way into politics until Julius Caesar finally did away with the Republic all together. His successor, Octavian, institutionalized the Empire and with it Rome brought 200 years of peace and prosperity to Europe.

Summary of the Punic Wars

The Punic Wars refer to the collective names of a series of three separate wars between Carthage and Rome, which took place from 264 to 146 BC. The wars were fought between the two strongest contenders for control over the central Mediterranean Sea of the time. These wars ended with the destruction of Carthage, thus ending the city’s period as an independent power and an important trade center. The city would later become an important trading center inside the Roman Empire.


Bagnall, N. 2002. The Punic Wars: 264-146 BC. Botley, Oxford: Osprey Publishing.

Cottrell, L. 1992. Hannibal: Enemy of Rome. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press.

Goldsworthy, a. 2002. The Punic Wars. London: Cassell Publications.

Goldsworthy, a. 2004. The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265-146 BC. London: Cassell Publications.

Huby, P. 2003. Carthage. Stockport, England: Dewi Lewis Publishing.

Lazenby, J.F. 1998. Hannibal’s War. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Prevas, J. 2001. Hannibal Crosses the Alps: The Invasion of Italy and the Second Punic War. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press.

Estimated dates of Rome’s founding range from 787 to 750 BC

Iulius is commonly referred to as Julias

This confrontation took place in 264 BC

The Second Punic War is often referred to as Hannibal’s War

Hannibal is often referred to as one of the greatest generals in military history

Hannibal lost many men and elephants during this journey due to the extreme difficulty

Carthage had a fleet of over 100 ships at the beginning of the Second Punic War

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