The Third Punic War, 151–146 bc

From 201 to 149 Rome and Carthage were formally at peace. Carthage had lost immense revenues and resources as a result of Roman and Numidian aggression, but made a quick economic recovery and was prosperous again by the 150s and still considered, according to Polybius, to be the richest city in the world (18.35.9). The indemnity to Rome was fully paid off in 151. Carthaginian territory was, however, suffering from constant incursions by Massinissa king of Numidia (c. 238-148 bc), Scipio Africanus’ ally of the Second Punic War. By the peace he had been granted all his ancestral lands and he took this to justify continually encroaching on Carthaginian territory. The Carthaginians complained to Rome in 153 that Massinissa was laying claim to the ‘Great Plains’, and an embassy, one of whose members was M. Porcius Cato, was sent from Rome to investigate. The envoys noted Carthage’s population and prosperity (App. Pun. 69), and this supposedly encouraged Cato upon his return to urge the annihilation of Carthage and end every speech he made in the senate with the exhortation, ‘ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam (moreover I hold the opinion that Carthage ought to be destroyed)’, urging the Romans that ‘if they did not now put a stop to the city which had always been their most hostile enemy and was now grown to so unbelievable an extent, they would once more be in danger as great as before’ (Plut. Cato Mai. 26.1-27.5: doc. 4.61). Cato had a decisive role in the declaration of war, although he was opposed by P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum (cos. 162), who advocated a more lenient policy towards Carthage on the grounds that Rome needed a rival in order to remain a military power.

The Carthaginians eventually declared war on Massinissa (violating the terms of their peace with Rome) in 151/50 bc, but they backtracked when Massinissa besieged their army camp (App. Pun. 70-73). Polybius considered that the Romans had been looking for an excuse to make war against Carthage (36.2.1-3), and the Carthaginian campaign against Massinissa in 151 (despite being a failure) provided one (App. Pun. 74). War was declared on Carthage in 149 just before a Carthaginian embassy arrived in Rome. Finding war imminent, the embassy surrendered Carthage ‘to the faith of Rome’ (Polyb. 36.3.9). The senate accepted this surrender, but demanded that 300 hostages be sent to Lilybaeum in Sicily and that Carthage promise obedience to the orders of the consuls (which were not specified). The hostages were duly handed over.

Cato’s opinion that the senate should adhere to its declaration of war, however, prevailed (Livy Per. 49). The consuls for 149, M’. Manilius and L. Marcius Censori-nus, were sent to Africa, and demanded that the Carthaginians hand over all their arms. Two hundred thousand sets of arms and 2,000 catapults were surrendered; according to Livy’s pro-Roman account (Per. 48), these had been specifically made for use not against Massinissa, but against Rome. When, however, the Carthaginians were instructed by the consuls to abandon their city and settle at least ten miles from the sea, they refused to accede to the request and the consuls declared war, with limited success. The war was almost certainly unnecessary and deliberately provoked by Rome, but it was immensely popular with volunteers rushing to enlist in the hope of great profits and booty (in contrast to the Celtiberian war in Spain). A large force was raised for the campaign in Africa: 80,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry (eight legions plus allied troops), with 50 quinqueremes and 100 light vessels (App. Pun. 75).

The Carthaginians freed their slaves, retracted Hasdrubal’s death sentence (imposed after the defeat by Massinissa in 150), and put him in command of Carthage’s troops outside the city, some 20,000 men, while hastily rearming themselves to compensate for the weaponry given up to Rome. Neither consul achieved a great deal of success, and the war dragged on into 148 under the consul L. Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, though his legate, L. Hostilius Mancinus, forced his way temporarily into the city. Scipio Aemilianus, the second son of L. Aemilius Paullus (cos. 182 and 168), but adopted by P. Cornelius Scipio, the son of the Scipio (victor of 201 bc), had served as military tribune under Manilius in 149 (when he won the ‘grass crown’, the corona gramínea, for saving four cohorts of troops), and was elected to the consulship for 147. He had earlier served under his birth father at Pydna against Perseus, and under L. Licinius Lucullus in Spain in 151, where he won the ‘wall crown’, the corona mura-lis. Scipio Aemilianus had not held the aedileship or praetorship, and was also several years under age, and a candidate for the aedileship when elected consul, but the age limit was set aside for one year to allow his election and the senate reluctantly agreed to exempt him from the cursus honorum (App. Pun. 112; Livy Per. 50). His reputation (won in Greece, Spain, and Africa), general impatience with the on-going war, and popular support secured him the consulship and he restored discipline and morale in the Roman army in Africa, as he did later in 134-133 at Numantia in Spain (App. Iber. 363-370, 419-424: docs 5.52-53).

Scipio installed an effective blockade of the city and its harbour, although the defenders had managed to construct a serviceable fleet, and in the spring of 146 Scipio’s troops forced their way in from the south, driving the inhabitants back on the Byrsa and Eshmoun temple. Appian has the most detailed account of the physical destruction of the city, and refers to Polybius’ presence with Scipio at the sack {Pun. 127-132). Polybius (36.12.2) also mentions to his reader the fact that he was present: ‘I (Polybius) was much involved in the events I am about to record’. Hasdrubal, the Carthaginian commander, when everywhere was lost except the inaccessible temple on the citadel, surrendered to Scipio in person, although his wife killed their two boys, throwing them into the burning temple, and then immolating herself: ‘so did the wife of Hasdrubal die, as Hasdrubal ought to have’ (App. Pun. 131; cf. Figure 4.14).

Six days were given up to the destruction of the city, and the survivors, some 50,000, were sold into slavery. Appian’s account portrays the horrific scenes of the city’s capture and the dogged brutality with which the Romans burnt and razed its buildings (Appian Pun. 128-130: doc. 4.62). The remains of the city were destroyed

A serrate 2/5 shekel from Carthage c

Figure 4.14 A serrate 2/5 shekel from Carthage c. 149-146 bc, depicting the head of Tanit, and a standing horse. Tanit is shown with a wreath of grain ears, pendant earring and necklace. The quality of the gold suggests that, as recorded by Diodorus (32.9), this Third Punic War issue might have been struck from the gold jewellery contributed to the war effort by Carthaginian women.

Source: Courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group

(like Corinth shortly afterwards) although the detail that the site was sown with salt is a modern misconception. Scipio called out the Carthaginian gods to abandon the city and migrate to Rome with the victors (the ritual of evocatio: Macrob. 3.9.6-9: doc. 3.58). The city’s territory became ager publicus and formed the basis of the new province of Africa, while a commission of ten decemvirs, including Scipio, destroyed the towns loyal to Carthage, and rewarded those, like Utica, that had supported Rome. According to Strabo, before the fall of the city, Carthage had possessed 300 towns in Libya and had a population of 700,000, while in their drive for rearmament it was able to produce on a daily basis ‘140 fitted shields, 300 swords, 500 spears and 1,000 catapult missiles’ and to construct 120 ships in two months (Strabo 17.3.14-15: doc. 4.63). The site was now deserted until the brief-lived Gracchan colony there, which was abandoned after ‘bad’ omens (App. 1.102-06: doc. 8.30). Caesar’s plan to settle the site did not eventuate until after his death, when it became the capital of the province of Africa, and further colonists were settled there in 29 by Augustus.

Carthaginians on Sardinia

A bilingual inscription in Latin and neo-Punic from Sardinia records that in the time of Sulla, or later, Himilco erected a statue of his father (of the same name), son of Idnibal, in a sanctuary that his father had constructed. The Punic version of the inscription mentions that the sanctuary was the shrine of an unnamed goddess. The building of the temple was authorised by the council (‘senate’) of Sulci, and it is clear that Romanised provincials of Carthaginian descent were dedicating shrines and votives in a Roman province. Punic remained the spoken language of a large proportion of the population of Africa and other western regions, and was the original language of the emperor Septimius Severus (ad 193-211), the second-century ad writer Apuleius, and the church father Augustine (ad 354-430). The language survived in North Africa until the Islamic conquest in the seventh century. A number of lines in Plautus’ comic drama Poenulus, the Little Carthaginian, are given in Punic in Latin transliteration as part of the entrance monologue spoken by one of the main characters, a Carthaginian named Hanno, who is presented with remarkable sympathy in the play, which was produced c. 189; the work is an adaptation of a Greek play, Karchedonios probably by the playwright Alexis, and the Greek original may have been translated into Punic as well as Latin.

The Third Punic War resulted in the deliberate annihilation of a long-established and vibrant culture, which had enjoyed economic dominance in the Western Mediterranean for centuries. The war was not inevitable, and Rome’s provocation of hostilities saw tens of thousands of Carthaginians killed or enslaved and their city razed to the ground. The aggression, and the subsequent destruction of the civilisation, was unnecessary and can justifiably be viewed as one of the great tragedies of Mediterranean history. Nevertheless, Scipio won for himself the approbation of the Roman people and senate and celebrated a magnificent triumph, being awarded the name Africanus, like his grandfather. After a censorship in 142, in his second consulship in 134 he was given command of the war in Spain, where he continued on his career of conquest, in 133 exterminating the last flowering of Spanish nationalism and resistance in the Roman provinces there at Numantia, being honoured as a result with the additional agnomen of Numantinus.

The aftermath of the Punic Wars

The three Punic wars did not represent an ideological or even an overtly political or economic struggle between two great Mediterranean cities, and were not an inevitable result of the developing ambitions of Rome. But Rome arguably was responsible for the outbreak of both the First and the Second Punic War, and deliberately provoked the Third in order to shatter Carthage’s economic pre-eminence and gain dominance of the Western Mediterranean. In fact, a great commercial empire had been deliberately destroyed in order to assuage Rome’s paranoia over the possibility of a potential rival. Carthage’s aim throughout, in contrast, had not been the extinction of Rome, but the furtherance of its economic empire and it had no interest in annihilating its trading competitor. The consequences were catastrophic for Mediterranean civilisation, and almost all aspects of Carthaginian culture, such as its literature, as well as the Punic language itself, are entirely lost, despite the fact that it had been an ancient and wealthy society, which had done much to civilise and create commercial and other networks in the Mediterranean (Figures 4.3, 4.13).

From Rome’s point of view, with the destruction of Carthage it had become the leading power in the Mediterranean, and from this turning point felt inspired to proceed to further conquests in both the east and west of the Mediterranean basin. In just over 100 years it had developed from a city with no navy or overseas possessions, which had never yet sent an army out of Italy, into a state which had annihilated its main rival and now possessed considerable interests in the Western Mediterranean, including control of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Carthaginian Africa, and parts of Spain. At the same time, the Romans’ activities in the Eastern Mediterranean had won them hegemony over Illyria, Epirus, Macedonia, and Greece. Despite immense losses in ships and troops (both Roman and allied) in two major wars against Carthage, and while often fighting wars on a number of fronts, from merely being the dominant city in Italy in 264, by 146 Rome had become the major power in the Mediterranean world.

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