One of the greatest wars Rome ever fought was against Carthage -- and it was actually a war that happened three times. Called the Punic Wars (Punic another name for Phoenician -- the nationality of the men who founded Carthage), the contests revealed much about both nations, and created heroes and legends for all antiquity to marvel over. This paper will compare and contrast the two civilizations of Rome and Carthage from the standpoint of "persons within the community," showing just how such persons helped both powers came to be and how they went on to fare when they both began to war with one another.
Started near Tunis at around the end of the ninth century BC, Carthage took over the rule of "leader" amongst the colonies of Phoenicia nearly three hundred years later when in the sixth century BC Tyre fell. In Phoenician, Carthage meant, literally, "New City," (Lendering 2004). As the myth goes, King Pygmalion slew the husband of his sister Elissa, causing her to flew their home in Tyre for Carthage, where she took her own life to keep her brother's wrath from following and putting the natives there at risk. The myth, as Jona Lendering states, is so unusual for the time that there me both some truth to it. However, it is just as likely that Carthage was the product of the gathering of two types of individuals: those who worked the land and those who sold goods and services. One thing is certain: Carthage "controlled trade between the eastern and western parts of the Mediterranean" -- a fact which would eventually cause it to come head to head with the mightiest Empire of ancient times (Lendering).
The founding of Rome, likewise, has its own myth. Its story was recorded by Virgil in the early first century AD for the Roman Emperor Augustus and tells of the trials of Aeneas, Trojan survivor of the battle of Troy. Desiring to appeal to the Emperor, Virgil drew comparisons between the founding of Rome and its new Empire, declared under Caesar and now ruled by Augustus. It made references to Rome's past glories and its wars with Carthage and would even go on to influence the scholastics of the Middle Age, who polished their Latin by studying Virgil's text and its famous first line: "I sing of arms and a man."
According to legend, Aeneas established his new home in Italy after the fall of Troy. From his lineage came the twins Romulus and Remus (in the eighth century BC), who won back the kingdom from a wicked uncle and then fought bitterly amongst themselves over who would rule. Romulus finally took the life of Remus when the latter insulted him for building a city wall so low that it could be leapt over. And to increase the numbers of his city (now named after himself, Rome), he invited all the outcasts and exiles of other civilizations, who in turn snatched their wives from a neighboring tribe. Romulus, it is said, finally was taken up to sit with the gods, leaving Rome to build a tradition of forming the greatest warriors around, from Junius Brutus (ancestor of the Brutus who would betray Caesar) to Horatius to Mucius the Left-Handed to Coriolanus (memorialized forever by Shakespeare) and Cincinnatus (the golden-haired) -- and that is all before the heroes of the Punic Wars even arrive.
Persons in the Community
Some of the most admired men in Rome had certain qualities that have long since outlived them: selflessness, a passion for duty and honor, strength, courage, oratory skills, and love of the people. As John Haaren shows, persons in the Roman community were expected to contribute and be a part of Rome. One of the greatest demonstrations of this came from a man named Cincinnatus.
When the Aequians attacked Rome and drew them into a trap in the Alban Hills, Cincinnatus who worked on his small farm was unanimously elected by the people to lead a group of soldiers to save the Roman army pinned down by the Aequians. The Senate made Cincinnatus a dictator (which gave him more power than anyone in Rome). He assented, led an army into Alba, defeated the Aequians and made them "pass under the yoke" in punishment (Haaren 1903, p. 79). Hailed as a hero upon returning to Rome, he might have had anything he wanted: instead, he humbly returned his dictatorship to the Senate and quietly went back to his farm where he labored for the rest of his life. Here was an example of Roman integrity that would be paralleled again and again and held up as a model for generations to come.
Carthage, likewise, had its heroes -- its outstanding members of the community. One such Carthaginian hero was Hannibal -- whose hatred for the Greeks and Romans (with whom Carthage was often at war) was unsurpassed. Hannibal came from noble stock and added to that nobility by commanding the Carthaginians in numerous battles. Famous for his daring use of elephants (using them to cross the Alps to confront the Romans), Hannibal's renown was as great as his contempt for the Grecian army. The Romans, however, showed him respect. According to Haaren, when Scipio Africanus (Roman hero of the Punic Wars) met Hannibal (some years later in Syria), Scipio asked Hannibal who he thought made the greatest general in all of history, the response that followed went like this:
"Alexander the Great." "Who was the second?" asked Scipio. "Pyrrhus," replied Hannibal. "Who the third?" "Myself," answered Hannibal. "But what would you have said," asked Scipio, "if you had conquere me?" "I should then have said," replied Hannibal, "that I was greater than Alexander, greater than Pyrrhus, and greater than all other generals." (p. 134)
As is seen in such an anecdote, the respect was mutual. However, Hannibal, ended his own life rather than place himself in the hands of the Romans (where he was likely to be extradited). Livy recounts Hannibal's last words: "Let us…relieve the Romans from the anxiety they think they have so long experienced, since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man's death…" (Gill 2011). Old men and their doom were tales that dotted both nation's history.
The First Punic War
As E.L. Knox states, the First Punic War was largely due to the fact that Carthage controlled the island of Sicily. Ironically, Sicily was of no importance to Rome -- but that is not what precipitated the conflict. The port of Messana allowed Carthage to place a fleet of ships there, and Rome, naturally, "felt it had to respond in some way" (Knox). Rome sent its own fleet, Carthage responded, and before anyone new it, a show of power was underway that would quickly lead into outright aggression, fighting, death, and heroism.
The war was mainly fought at sea, which favored the Carthaginians since their naval power was one of the greatest in the Mediterranean. However, the wars were also fought on land, and here the Romans excelled.
The fighting at sea almost always went to the Carthaginians -- but the lesson learned in the loss brought it to the attention of the Romans that for their Empire to succeed it would need to overcome its deficiencies at sea. The battles of the first Punic War went on for some twenty years (for which Rome had a seemingly endless supply of men, thanks to its many alliances) till Carthage finally "sued for peace" -- unbeaten but tired, apparently, of continuing the conflict (Knox).
As has been stated, the Romans learned a great lesson in the conflict with Carthage: they learned "how to make war at sea. It is too much to say they learned to be sailors -- even at the end of the Republic, they were still hiring Greeks to captain their ships -- but they learned how to conduct naval warfare in an eminently Roman fashion" (Knox). They devised new weapons for boarding enemy ships (such as the corvus), and "how to conduct war on a massive scale. The Senate learned how to finance such a war, how to find the men for the armies, how to find the supplies, how to build fleets (over and over), how to conduct politics on the home front in times of war" (Knox). All of these lessons would be applied in the next conflict with Carthage, which was soon to arise.
The Second Punic War
The father of the military master Hannibal, Hamilcar Barca (another Carthaginian military hero and the man who taught his son to hate the Romans) vowed to avenge Carthage for its defeat at the hands of the Roman army. The treaty that Carthage had signed had essentially consigned the nation to oblivion for it gave to much away to the Roman Republic.
Hannibal, sensing that the Roman allies felt mistreated by the Romans, sailed to Italy and…