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Punic Wars: Rome and Carthage

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Uploaded on May 25, 2011

The First Punic War began in 264 BC when settlements on Sicily began to appeal to the two powers between which they lay -- Rome and Carthage -- to solve internal conflicts. The war saw land battles in Sicily early on, but the theatre shifted to naval battles around Sicily and Africa. Before the First Punic War there was no Roman navy to speak of. The new war in Sicily against Carthage, a great naval power, forced Rome to quickly build a fleet and train sailors.

The first few naval battles were catastrophic disasters for Rome. However, after training more sailors and inventing a grappling engine, a Roman naval force was able to defeat a Carthaginian fleet, and further naval victories followed. The Carthaginians then hired Xanthippus of Carthage, a Spartan mercenary general, to reorganise and lead their army. He managed to cut off the Roman army from its base by re-establishing Carthaginian naval supremacy. With their newfound naval abilities, the Romans then beat the Carthaginians in naval battle again at the Battle of the Aegates Islands and leaving Carthage without a fleet or sufficient coin to raise one. For a maritime power the loss of their access to the Mediterranean stung financially and psychologically, and the Carthaginians sued for peace.

Continuing distrust led to the renewal of hostilities in the Second Punic War when Hannibal Barca attacked a Spanish town, which had diplomatic ties to Rome. Hannibal then crossed the Italian Alps to invade Italy. Hannibal's successes in Italy began immediately, and reached an early climax at the Battle of Cannae, where 70,000 Romans were killed.

In three battles, the Romans managed to hold off Hannibal but then Hannibal smashed a succession of Roman consular armies. By this time Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal Barca sought to cross the Alps into Italy and join his brother with a second army. Hasdrubal managed to break through into Italy only to be defeated decisively on the Metaurus River. Unable to defeat Hannibal himself on Italian soil, the Romans boldly sent an army to Africa under Scipio Africanus with the intention of threatening the Carthaginian capital. Hannibal was recalled to Africa, and defeated at the Battle of Zama.

Carthage never managed to recover after the Second Punic War and the Third Punic War that followed was in reality a simple punitive mission to raze the city of Carthage to the ground. Carthage was almost defenceless and when besieged offered immediate surrender, conceding to a string of outrageous Roman demands. The Romans refused the surrender, and the city was stormed after a short siege and completely destroyed. Ultimately, all of Carthage's North African and Spanish territories were acquired by Rome.

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