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Delanda est Cathargo
("Carthage must be destroyed")
Cato the Elder

Punic Wars - 264-146 BC

Imperious Rome, after having accomplished the subjection of the Apennine peninsula, contrived to make also conquests abroad. First it waged war against Carthage. According to traditional accounts, this city became a colony of the Phoenicians after Pygmalion, king of Tyrus, had killed Dido, the husband of his sister. In order to get possession of his riches, she escaped with them, and founded (about 888 BC) the Carthage on the northern coast of Africa. Carthage soon rose, by its many colonies and extensive commerce, over the native town. The larger part of the northern coast of Africa, besides Sardinia, Corsica and a great portion of Sicily and Spain, were subject to her. By means of her riches, acquired through commerce, she could maintain numerous armies and a powerful navy.

The Carthaginians (Punians), only devoted to commerce, despised all arts and sciences through which they could not directly acquire gold and treasures. They were deceitful and faithless , hence the Roman proverb: "Punica fides, nulla fides" (Punic faith, no faith). They were also said to be cruel and superstitious. They offered human sacrifices to Saturnus, and mothers caused their own children to be slaughtered for this idol.

The contest between the Carthaginians and Romans was first brought on in Sicily. Mercenary troops of Campania there had murdered all citizens in Messina (Messana), where they were engaged in service, and taken possession of the city. They were ransacking the whole country. They also invaded the territory of Syracuse and plundered it. Hiero, king of Syracuse, defeated them, and formed an alliance with the Carthaginians. The mercenaries asked the assistance of the Romans who, long eager to possess Sicily, granted it to the freebooters. In this way the first Punic war was brought on (in 264 BC). Hiero was quickly vanquished, and allied himself, in order to save his lands, with the Romans. The latter defeated the Carthaginians several times. As they did not, as yet, possess any navy, they built in a short time 120 ships, using as a model for construction (as it is reported), a hostile ship which had been wrecked on their coast. Consul Duilius invented grapnels, and a kind of draw-bridge which could be lowered on the ships of the enemies. Under his command the Romans gained their first naval victory.

Regulus even went to Africa. Meanwhile the State took care of his family and his little field. He advanced victoriously up to the doors of Carthage. The city was inclined to make peace, but reduced to the utmost by the severe conditions of the Roman general, it committed the command of the army to the Spartan Xantippus, who had come there at the head of Greek mercenary troops. He defeated and captured Regulus (255 BC).

The Romans fought some years with ill success; nevertheless, they rejected all offers of peace. The Carthaginians (so it is usually reported) sent Regulus and others to Rome, in order to negotiate the exchange of their prisoners. Before departing, however, he had to swear to return if he should fail in bringing it about. He dissuaded his fellow-citizens from the exchange, because being disadvantageous; but faithful to his promise, he returned to Carthage, unmoved by the prayers of his compatriots, and by the tears of his wife and children. There he was put to death with the most cruel tortures. In order to take vengeance, the Romans delivered up to his family the most distinguished captives, who were treated not less cruelly than the Carthaginians.

Meantime the war continued to rage. When the forces of the combatants were exhausted and their fleets destroyed, Carthage seized the public treasure, and in Rome the patricians contributed voluntary taxes; in this manner large new fleets were built. Finally, the Romans gained the decisive battle (242 B. C.) and Carthage was compelled to accept humiliating terms of peace. It lost its part of Sicily with all the small adjacent islands. This was the end of the first Punic war; it lasted twenty-two years (264-242 BC).

As three years later the Carthaginian mercenaries in Sardinia mutinied, the Romans sent troops there and compelled the Carthaginians to give up the island, and to pay the war expenses besides. Thereafter they also made a conquest of Cisalpine Gaul.

Second Punic War - Hannibal - Battle at Cannse

The Carthaginians sought to compensate themselves for the loss they suffered in the silver-mines of Spain. Hamilcar conquered a great portion of this country, and sent big treasures to Carthage. Hasdrubal, his son-in-law, continued the conquests, and laid the foundation of New Carthage (Carthagena), in the vicinity of which rich silver-mines were located. Rome feeling uneasy on account of the increasing power and greatness of its enemy, threatened war, and Carthage had to promise that it would not pass over the Ebro, the northern limit of its possessions.

After the murder of Hasdrubal, Hannibal, Hamilcar's son, Rome's most formidable and most implacable enemy, took the command (221 BC) It is reported that, being nine years old, he caressingly asked his father to take him along on his expedition to Spain, and that he, leading the boy to an altar, made him solemnly swear perpetual enmity to the Romans. And Hannibal kept his oath.

In spite of the remonstrance of the Roman embassadors, he besieged Saguntum, which, in fact, was situated beyond the Ebro, but was allied with the Romans. He conquered the city after a siege of seven months (219 B. C.) The desperate inhabitants burned their most valuable property, set fire to the houses, and perished in the flames. The Roman embassador, Fabius, therefore demanded the delivery of Hannibal. As the senate of the Carthaginians acted evasively, he folded his toga, saying: "Here is war or peace; choose!" A senator replied: "Give us what you please!" "Be it war, then!" cried the Roman, and let the garment fall.

The most fervent desire of Hannibal was fulfilled. Without delay he set out from New Carthage (218 B. C.), and hastened over the Pyrenees. In the southern part of France he was obliged partly to purchase his passage and partly to enforce it by arms. He then crossed the Rhone and began to ascend the Alps with infantry, cavalry and elephants. As the passage took place in winter time, he had to overcome the greatest difficulties. The beasts had to be led over precipices, snow and masses of ice, as there were no beaten paths. He also had to fight with the savage mountaineers. After nine days the army arrived on the summit of the mountains (probably the Little St. Bernard). Here, in the snowfields, Hannibal let his army rest for two days, pointing out, in order to console the soldiers, the green plains of Italy.

The difficulties of the descent were not less. The men and beasts, unable to obtain a foothold, slid on the steep, slippery paths, and many tumbled headlong into the precipices, or sunk into the snow, unable to extricate themselves. At last they arrived in the valleys of Piedmont. The whole passage over the Alps had lasted fifteen days. Of 60,000 men with whom Hannibal had set out, not even one-half were left.

He met the consul Scipio on the banks of the Tessin, attacked him immediately and vanquished him, especially through the support of his excellent Numidian cavalry (218 BC). The Gauls, who had enlisted in the Roman army, after the battle, without delay, deserted to Hannibal. Soon after, the other consul (Scipio still being sick from wounds), ventured a second battle. Hannibal chose such a position for his army that a cold wind drove the sleet and snow into the faces of the Romans, and vanquished them completely. All the Gauls in the upper Gallia joined him. In the next campaign he advanced to Hetruria. The Arno had flooded the land, and the soldiers had to march in the water, which reached up to their knees, for three days and nights; the beasts of burden were stuck in the mud; Hannibal himself lost one eye from exertion and an inflammation caused by the exhalation of the marshes.

Scarce standing again on dry land, he allured the consul Flaminius, by simulating flight, into a valley surrounded by mountains, near the lake Thrasymenus. Fifteen thousand Romans, surrounded on all sides, here met their death. Flaminius, in despair, killed himself. The field of battle to this day is called the "bloody field." The Romans, in their extremity, appointed Quintus Fabius Maximus, ironically called the "Loiterer," as dictator. He saved them by his circumspection, carefully avoiding a decisive battle.

The Romans, becoming dissatisfied with the manner in which Fabius waged war, conferred an equal portion of the chief command upon Minucius, general of the calvary, who immediately attacked Hannibal, but fell into an ambuscade. Many Romans were already cut down as Fabius hurried on to support him, and still saved him. The next year the foolhardy Varro engaged in combat against Hannibal, and lost the great battle at Cannae, in Apulia (216 BC). Fifty thousand Romans, among them eighty senators, three thousand knights, and one consul (^Emilius Paullus), lost their lives.

This was the greatest defeat that the Romans ever suffered. Hannibal is said to have sent three bushels of gold rings to Carthage, which the knights had worn on their hands. Grief and terror struck Rome when the news of the awful calamity arrived there. There was hardly a family in the city which did not mourn the death of a dear relation. The citizens were so much afraid of the victor that they wanted to abandon the city; and, in order to hinder their flight, the doors had to be locked. Most of the allies then seceded; in upper Italy the Gauls destroyed a Roman army, and Philip II, king of Macedonia, was about to conclude an alliance with Hannibal. The public treasury was empty.

However, Rome again took courage. She rapidly collected all the forces still left to her; all the gold and silver was carried to the public treasury, and the young men, the slaves and the allies who still continued to be loyal, were armed. Another army was soon in the field. The equipment of the new fleet was maintained by the rich citizens.

Scipio Africanus - Battle at Zama

The Romans were afraid that Hannibal would attack their capital. He felt, probably, that his troops were not strong enough to undertake the siege of the city, and desired first to get the people of lower Italy to join him. They all willingly took part with him. Then he went into winterquarters at Capua, expecting reinforcements from home. But the luxury of that city enervated his army, and Carthage did not send the support demanded, because the domineering aristocratic party there hated him. He was ordered to demand peace from Rome, but there his embassadors not even got an audience. The slaves defeated a Carthaginian army, and as a reward for their valor they were liberated; and Hannibal himself was vanquished the first time by Marcellus, at Nola (215 BC) The Romans incited so many enemies against his ally, Philip of Macedonia, that he had trouble enough to defend himself in his own land.

After that Marcellus went to Sicily and besieged the city of Syracuse, which had declared itself against Rome. It defended itself two years with the assistance of Archimedes, the greatest geometer of his age. Wondrous things are related of his machines; e.g., by their aid he hurled huge stone blocks into the ships of the enemy and submersed them, together with their crews, in the sea. At last, in the night, while the inhabitants, after a merry festival, were carelessly sleeping, the Romans, with the help of a traitor, scaled the walls and took the city by storm. Most of the inhabitants perished by the sword. Archimedes also was killed by a soldier who did not know him. Marcellus ordered him to be buried with great honor.

In Spain, where the Romans had for a long time fought with ill success, Publius Cornelius Scipio finally rendered their arms victorious. This young hero, being hardly twenty-four years of age, took New Carthage with immense spoils (210 BC), vanquished the Carthaginians, and expelled them from all their possessions (210-206 BC).

In the meantime Hannibal, wanting more forces, was in Italy limited to a defensive war. At last his brother Hasdrubal conveyed to him the long desired reinforcements. He had already safely passed the Alps; but, arriving in Italy, he was totally beaten and slain (207 BC). The Roman general ordered his head to be thrown into Hannibal's camp. The latter, painfully struck by the sight of the dear head, exclaimed: "Now I perceive the doom of Carthage!" A new army sent by Carthage was not more successful, and at last Scipio sailed into Africa, where he threatened even Carthage (204 BC). A messenger was sent to Hannibal to direct him to return immediately in order to save the capital. He departed with a sad heart from the scene of his triumphs. He had kept his ground in a hostile country during sixteen years with an army which, composed from the most heterogeneous nations, served only for pay and spoils. Not the least mutiny had ever arisen in his camp.

At Zama the two greatest generals of their age were to decide on the field of battle which of the two most potent nations should rule. Hannibal foreboded the approaching calamity of Carthage. He had an interview with Scipio, in which he offered all the foreign possessions of Carthage as the price of peace; but Scipio refused the proposal, and took up the sword. He easily vanquished the mercenaries of Carthage. Hannibal's veterans alone resisted bravely. The latter lost 40,000 men, and, accompanied by a few horsemen, could hardly save himself by flight (202 BC).

The Carthaginians then made peace. They had to give up all their possessions, except the old territory in Africa; to deliver almost all men-of-war, together with all their tame elephants; to give a hundred hostages; to pay 10,000 talents; to restore to Masinissa, king of Numidia and ally of the Romans, all the land they had taken from him or his ancestors; finally, to promise to make no more war without permission of the Romans. Scipio's return to Rome resembled a triumphal procession. The most magnicent triumph that Rome had ever seen was decreed to him, and the surname of Africanus bestowed upon him. To be sure, Carthage was now overthrown, but Italy also was laid waste, and nevermore rose to the flourishing condition in which it had been before the second Punic war.

Third Punic War. Destruction of Carthage

Immediately after having vanquished the Carthaginians, the Romans also declared war against Philip II., king of Macedonia, and compelled him to pay tribute (197 B. C.) His son, Perseus, renewed the combat (168 B. C.), but lost his lands, which then became Roman provinces. Antiochus, king of Syria, incited by Hannibal to wage war against Rome, was also vanquished, and had to purchase peace with a great loss of land (189 BC)

Hannibal, at the court of this king no longer safe against the vengeance of the Romans, fled to Prusias, king of Bythinia, in Asia Minor. But their hatred also followed him there, and embassadors arrived there demanding his delivery (183 BC). The king did not dare to oppose them. He ordered his soldiers to surround the house in which Hannibal was living. The latter, noticing them, sent a servant to see if all the doors were guarded, who quickly returned, reporting that all outlets were seized. Then Hannibal took poison, which he had carried a long time with him, saying, "Let us free the Romans from their disquiet, since they have not patience to wait for an old man's death." Scipio also died in the same year, far from Rome, which he, grieved at the ingratitude of his fellow-citizens, had left.

Meanwhile Carthage recovered from her prostration, and again became flourishing and powerful by commerce and industry. The Romans perceived it with envy and uneasiness; therefore they resolved upon the entire ruin of the rival. Masinissa furnished the opportunity to execute their purpose. Since the Carthaginians had renounced the right of waging war, this king dispossessed them by degrees of many lands. Finally, after repeated requests, Roman deputies arrived, and decided against them.

One of them was Marcus Porcius Cato, the Censor and Roman patriot, who distinguished himself especially in the wars with Carthage. He was of a plebeian family, and was at first called simply Marcus Porcius, but after holding the office of censor he was known as Cato the censor, Cato meaning the Wise, and his descendants took Cato for a surname. He was sometimes called Cato the Elder, to distinguish him from his greatgrandson, who was called Cato the Younger. When seventeen he fought against Hannibal (217), and afterward served in several campaigns with great courage, going home now and then to work on his farm.

A rich neighbor, named Valerius Flaccus, became interested in him, and got him to go to Rome, where he soon became noted as an orator. After holding other offices he became consul (195) with his patron Flaccus, and snowed great military skill in putting down a rebellion in Spain, for which he was honored with a triumph on his return (194). Ten years later he and Flaccus became censors. While holding this office Cato opposed corruption, luxury, and immorality, and tried to bring back the Romans to the simple manners of their fathers, always setting them an example in his own mode of life. This made him enemies among the rich patricians, who brought many accusations against him, but he was successful in defending himself against all. This rough, stern man, with his red hair, and projecting teeth, and coarse robe, was the sworn foe to luxury, and the personification of the old Roman character. Cruel toward his slaves and revengeful toward his foes, he was yet rigid in morals, devoted to his country, and fearless in punishing crime. In the discharge of his duty as censor, he criticized the income and expenses of all. Rich furniture, jewels and costly attire fell under his ban.

Jealous of any rival to Rome, Cato opposed the gradual introduction of Grecian civilization, as he did everything not originally of Roman growth. He had himself seen Carthage regaining her former power and prosperity. He represented in the senate the danger which threatened Rome from that city. He was so exasperated against it that (according to report) he concluded every speech in the senate with the words, "Finally, I vote that Carthage must be destroyed!" [Carthogo delenda est !]

When Carthage, at last, by the right of self-defense, took up arms against Masinissa, again the Roman embassadors arrived, pretending to mediate peace; but as soon as Masinissa had vanquished the Carthaginians, they unmasked and declared war against them in the name of the Roman senate. Terrified, the former declared that they gave themselves up entirely to the will and pleasure of the Roman people. Now the senate wanted 300 children of their noblest families as hostages. The Carthaginians gave them. Nevertheless, the consuls went with an army to Africa (150 BC), and demanded the surrender of their ships and arms. They obeyed again. Their fleet was burned in their presence. Finally, they were ordered to quit their city, and to remove into another part of their dominion, distant twelve miles from the sea. The last condition struck them with despair.

Unanimously they refused to fulfill it, and prepared for the last conflict. There was a want of arms. They worked both day and night in order to make new ones from gold, silver and every metal. Bow-strings were twisted from the hair of the women. The gables of the houses were pulled down and ships built with them, the temples changed into arsenals, and the children, slaves and criminals armed. The Romans attacked the city by sea and land, but it offered brave resistance, defending itself for two years. When the Romans saw that their arms were powerless, they committed the command to Scipio the Younger. He first cut off all connection of the Carthaginians with the land (147 BC) Then he attempted also to stop up the mouth of the harbor by a mole; but they dug a new outlet on the other side of the haven.

Two walls are already battered down; provisions are giving out; still they defy both hunger and the sword. At last Scipio takes the harbor by storm (146 BC), and enters during the night the lower city; the upper and the citadel do not yet surrender. The storming lasts six days and six nights. On the seventh day 50,000 inhabitants beg for life. Their request is complied with. Nine hundred go on fighting, and finally meet their death in the flames. The wife of Hasdrubal, the general of the Carthaginians, who cowardly had begged for life, kills her children and then rushes into the flames. Scipio destroyed the remainder of the city by fire. The conflagration lasted seventeen days. In this way Rome's rival was utterly ruined! In the same year Corinth was also destroyed, and Greece reduced to a Roman province. The Romans, after having subjugated so many nations, turned their arms against themselves. The epoch of the civil wars began.

Ploughed Under and Sowed with Salt

It is said of that Romans ploughed the land where Carthage had stood, sowed salt in the furrows, so that nothing might ever grow there again, and then pronounced a curse upon any one who should attempt to rebuild the city. In ancient times, when a city was taken, after being razed to the foundation, it was sometimes sowed with salt, and ploughed up, in token of perpetual desolation. In this manner Abimelech, after putting the inhabitants of Shechem to the sword, levelled it with the ground, and sowed it with salt: and thus, many centuries after, the emperor Frederick Barbarossa (AD 1163), irritated at the long and strenuous defence made by the besieged inhabitants of Milan, on capturing that city, abandoned it to pillage, and sparing nothing but the churches, ordered it to be entirely razed to the ground, which was ploughed and sown with salt, in memory of its rebellion. The prophet Micah (iii. 12.) foretold that Jerusalem should be ploughed as a field, and his prediction was most literally fulfilled after Jerusalem was taken by the Roman army under Titus.

It was not unusual in remote antiquity to pronounce a curse upon those who should rebuild a destroyed city. Thus Joshua denounced a curse upon the man who should rebuild Jericho (Josh. vi. 26.), the fulfilment of which is recorded in 1 Kings xvi. 34. In like manner Croesus uttered a curse on him who should rebuild the walls of Sidene which he had destroyed; and the Romans also upon him who should rebuild the city of Carthage. The election of Boniface VII as Pope was opposed by some, and a papal army, under the command of cardinal Matthew of Acquasparta, took the field against them with the character of crusaders and the promise of the indulgences granted for a holy war. One after another the castles of Colonna family were reduced, until Palestrina alone held out. Boniface, it is said, acted without scruple. The Colonnas were deluded by a promise that mercy should be shown to them if they would submit. But when the impregnable fortress had been surrendered into his hands, Boniface ordered that it should be razed to the ground, that the site should be ploughed up and sown with salt.

Ulysses had feigned madness in order to escape going to the Trojan war. The usual story seems to have been that to support his pretence of insanity Ulysses yoked an ox and a horse or an ass to the plough and sowed salt. While he was busy fertilizing the fields in this fashion, the Greek envoys arrived, and Palamedes, seeing through the deception, laid the infant son of Ulysses in front of the plough, whereupon the father at once checked the plough and betrayed his sanity. However, Lucian agrees with Apollodorus in saying that Palamedes threatened the child with his sword, though at the same time, by mentioning the unlike animals yoked together, he shows that he had the scene of the ploughing in his mind. The story that the Romans sowed Carthaginian land with salt is a good one, but it seems to be a modern invention no ancient source says this.

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Page last modified: 20-01-2017 14:40:16 ZULU