Punic Wars

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Punic Wars,

three distinct conflicts between CarthageCarthage
, ancient city, on the northern shore of Africa, on a peninsula in the Bay of Tunis and near modern Tunis. The Latin name, Carthago or Cartago, was derived from the Phoenician name, which meant "new city.
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 and RomeRome,
Ital. Roma, city (1991 pop. 2,775,250), capital of Italy and see of the pope, whose residence, Vatican City, is a sovereign state within the city of Rome. Rome is also the capital of Latium, a region of central Italy, and of Rome prov.
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. When they began, Rome had nearly completed the conquest of Italy, while Carthage controlled NW Africa and the islands and the commerce of the W Mediterranean. When they ended, Carthage was ruined, and Rome was the greatest power W of China. The first war saw Rome fighting to break Carthage's growing hold on the chain of islands that enable it to control the W 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 Punic (Carthaginian) liberty.

First Punic War

The First Punic War, 264–241 B.C., grew immediately out of a quarrel between the Sicilian cities of Messana (now Messina) and Syracuse. 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 E Sicily, and the newly created Roman fleet, after victories at Mylae (260) and off Cape Ecnomus (256), landed a force in Africa. This excursion was a failure, and its commander, RegulusRegulus
(Marcus Atilius Regulus) , d. c.250 B.C., Roman general in the First Punic War. While consul (267 B.C.) he conquered the Sallentini and captured Brundisium (now Brindisi).
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, was captured (255) by the Greek mercenary general Xanthippus. In Sicily the Romans took Palermo (254) but were effectively blocked farther west by the brilliant guerrilla warfare of Hamilcar BarcaHamilcar Barca,
d. 229 or 228 B.C., Carthaginian general. He was assigned the command in Sicily in 247 in the First Punic War (see Punic Wars). From mountain bases near Palermo he made repeated raids on the Romans and relieved the Punic garrison in Lilybaeum.
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, and they failed to take Lilybaeum, the chief Punic base. The Romans equipped a new fleet that destroyed (241) the Punic fleet off the Aegates (now Aegadian Isles), and Carthage sued for peace. The terms were the payment of an indemnity and the cession of Punic Sicily to Rome. The chief events of the next 20 years were the Roman entry into Sardinia and Corsica—a gross breach of treaty—and the conquests in Spain by Hamilcar.

Second Punic War

When Hamilcar Barca's son Hannibal took (219) the Spanish city of Saguntum (present-day Sagunto), a Roman ally, Rome declared war. This Second Punic, or Hannibalic, War, 218–201 B.C., was one of the titanic struggles of history. Rome owed its success to various factors: its stubborn will and splendid military organization; its superior economic resources; its generals, Fabius and, above all, Scipio; the failure of supply from Carthage to Hannibal's Italian army; and the mountainous character of central Italy, which rendered the Punic superiority in cavalry nearly useless. For the course of the war, see HannibalHannibal
, b. 247 B.C., d. 183 or 182 B.C. Carthaginian general, an implacable and formidable enemy of Rome. Although knowledge of him is based primarily on the reports of his enemies, Hannibal appears to have been both just and merciful. He is renowned for his tactical genius.
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 and Scipio Africanus MajorScipio Africanus Major
(Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus) , 236–183 B.C., Roman general, the conqueror of Hannibal in the Punic Wars. He was the son of Publius Cornelius Scipio, and from a very early age he considered himself to have divine inspiration.
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. At the war's close, Carthage surrendered to Rome its Spanish province and its war fleet.

Third Punic War

The Third Punic War, 149–146 B.C., originated, like the others, in a deliberate Roman aggression, the result of agitation by Cato the ElderCato the Elder
or Cato the Censor,
Lat. Cato Major or Cato Censorius, 234–149 B.C., Roman statesman and moralist, whose full name was Marcus Porcius Cato.
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 for the destruction of Carthage. Charging Carthage with a technical breach of treaty in resisting the encroachment of the Numidian king MasinissaMasinissa
or Massinissa
, c.238–148 B.C., king of Numidia. He succeeded (c.207 B.C.) his father as king of E Numidia. Brought up in Carthage, he fought in a Carthaginian campaign in Spain in the Second Punic War (see Punic Wars) but eventually went over (c.
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 (a Roman ally), Rome declared war and blockaded the city. Carthage never surrendered. The younger Scipio (Scipio Africanus MinorScipio Africanus Minor
(Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus), c.185–129 B.C., Roman general, destroyer of Carthage. He was the son of Aemilius Paullus, under whom he fought at Pydna.
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) conquered it, house by house, and sold the surviving inhabitants into slavery. The city was razed and its site plowed up.


The Latin accounts of the wars are biased, and there are no Punic ones; the best source is PolybiusPolybius
, 203? B.C.–c.120 B.C., Greek historian, b. Megalopolis. As one of the leaders of the Achaean League and a friend of Philopoemen, he was influential in Greek politics.
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. See also Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. VIII (2d ed. 1989).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Punic Wars


wars that took place, with interruptions, from 264 to 146 B.C. between Rome and Carthage.

By 270 B.C., Carthage controlled the western part of the North African coast and the greater portion of Sicily (except for the southeast, which belonged to Syracuse) and reigned uncontested in the western Mediterranean. Rome, which had subjugated all of Italy by 265, could not accept the trade hegemony of Carthage in the western Mediterranean and sought, above all, to take possession of Sicily.

The First Punic War lasted from 264 to 241 B.C. Its basic cause was the struggle for Sicily. The casus belli was the intervention by the Carthaginians in the struggle of the Mamertini of Messana against the tyrant of Syracuse, Hiero II. The Romans, fearing that a Carthaginian occupation of Messana would lead to the capture of Syracuse, initiated military actions and seized Messana in 264. In 263 the Syracusans became allies of Rome. In 262 the Romans took Agrigentum. During the first years of the war, the Romans succeeded in building a strong navy, which scored a victory at Mylae in 260 under the command of the consul G. Duilius. After another naval victory at Cape Ecnomus in 256, Roman troops commanded by M. Re-gulus landed near the city of Clypea in Africa. However, the landing party was routed after some initial victories, and in 254 military operations were concentrated in western Sicily. In 251 B.C., the Romans seized Panormus, but attempts to take Lily-baeum, which was besieged in 250, and Drepanum were unsuccessful. These cities were not seized by the Romans until 242. The Carthaginian commander Hamilcar Barca managed to deal the Romans a series of blows from 247 to 241, but the defeat of the Carthaginian Navy near the Aegadian Islands in 241 decided the war’s outcome. Peace was concluded with the conditions that Carthage would cede to Rome the part of Sicily and the islands lying between Italy and Sicily that had belonged to Carthage and that Carthage would also return its prisoners to the victors and pay reparations of 3,200 talents over a ten-year period.

In 238 B.C., taking advantage of an anti-Carthaginian rebellion of mercenaries, Libyans, and slaves, the Romans seized Sardinia and Corsica. From 237 to 219 the Carthaginians not only recovered their economic and military potential, but, under the leadership of Hamilcar Barca (until 229), Hasdrubal (until 221), and Hannibal, they significantly expanded their possessions in Spain.

The Second Punic War lasted from 218 to 201 B.C. In 219, Hannibal’s forces attacked the city of Saguntum in Iberia (Spain), which was allied with the Romans, thereby in effect provoking a new war. The Romans planned to conduct the war in Africa and Spain, but Hannibal anticipated their attack. In a rapid march he moved on Italy, counting on the support of the tribes in the Padus (Po) River valley and the Greek cities of southern Italy that had been conquered by Rome. After making a crossing of the Alps that was unprecedented in antiquity, Hannibal’s army won victories in battles on the Ticinus and Trebbia rivers in 218. In 217, operating under complex strategic and natural conditions, Hannibal’s army circumvented the positions of the Roman forces and emerged at Lake Trasimene, where it scored a brilliant victory over the Romans.

Fabius Maximus, who was subsequently appointed the Roman dictator, took into account the superiority of the Carthaginian Army and adapted the Roman tactics to avoid a decisive battle. His successors, however, sought a general battle. At the battle near Cannae in 216, the Roman Army, with about 80,000 infantrymen, was surrounded and routed by Hannibal’s army of 40,000 infantrymen and 10,000 cavalrymen. The victory caused many tribes and cities of Italy, such as Capua and Cala-tia, to side with the Carthaginians. After 215 the Romans had to carry on the war on several fronts, especially when Macedonia and Syracuse became allies of Carthage in 213. Under these conditions, the Romans resorted to tactics calculated to prolong the war and exhaust the enemy, who was fighting on alien territory. The result of this was the weakening of Hannibal’s army. In 212 B.C., the Romans gained the initiative and won a series of victories in Sicily, capturing Syracuse in 211, and in Italy, taking Capua in the same year.

Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major, commander of the Roman forces in Spain, in a bold attack seized the Carthaginians’ main stronghold, New Carthage, in 209. Hasdrubal’s attempt to leave Spain and come to the aid of his brother Hannibal ended in the utter defeat of Hasdrubal’s troops on the Metaurus River in 207. In 204, Roman troops commanded by Scipio landed near Carthage. Hannibal, who had been called back to Africa because of this in 203, took command of the poorly trained militia and the remnants of the mercenary army. He was defeated in the battle of Zama in 202. In 201 a peace treaty was concluded, by which Carthage relinquished Spain to Rome, Carthage was prohibited from conducting war in Africa, the Carthaginian Navy was destroyed, and enormous financial reparations were exacted.

The Third Punic War lasted from 149 to 146 B.C. Taking advantage of the defeat of Carthage in a war with the Numidian king Masinissa, the Romans laid siege to Carthage in 149. The population heroically defended itself for three years. It was not until March or April 146 that the Romans, commanded by Cornelius Scipio Africanus Minor, succeeded in taking Carthage. It was razed, and its inhabitants were sold into slavery. Part of the Carthaginian territory was transferred to Numidia, and the rest was turned into the Roman province of Africa.

The victories of Rome in the Punic Wars contributed to its transformation from an Italian polis into a major Mediterranean power. The influx of enslaved military captives and other booty into Rome stimulated the development of slaveholding.


Pais, E. Storia di Roma durante le guerre Puniche, vols. 1–2, 2nd ed. Turin, 1935.
Giannelli, G. Roma nell’età delle guerre puniche. Bologna [1938].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
During the Second Punic War, both sides exploited mythmaking for propaganda.
The best part of Miles' book is his description of the rise and military campaigns of Hannibal Barca during the Second Punic War and the great commander's later fall from favor into exile and death.
The First Punic War was marked by the Roman use of sea power that gave them the ability to land a concentrated force of legions with 120 ships to gain a hold on Sicily.
Further reading Richard Miles, Serge Lancel, Carthage (Blackwell, 1995); Serge Lancel, Hannibal (Blackwell, 1999); Adrian Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars (Cassell, 2000); Dexter Hoyos, Hannibal's Dynasty: Power and Politics in the Western Mediterranean 247-183 BC (Routledge, 2003).
"Hannibal's Elephant Girl" is a historically based tale of Liada, a girl of twelve years who lived in 229 BCE in the time of Hannibal between the first and second Punic Wars. Liada is saved from drowning by Obolus, one of the elephants 17-year-old Hannibal is training to prepare for battle in Iberia.
6 In ancient history, the Punic Wars took place in the second and third centuries BC, between the Carthaginians and which empire?
After the Punic wars, when Carthage was destroyed by Rome, Annaba became a Roman city named Hippo Regius and an early centre of Christianity in North Africa.
The Tunisian kingdom of Carthage fought the Punic Wars against Rome for more than 120 years up to 146 BC.
The Punic wars were followed by several generations of mostly craven conquest against much weaker foes in Iberia, Africa, and Asia Minor.
"I read everything I could about Hannibal, the Punic Wars, as they were called, and the ancient Mediterranean world in general" he added.