After the Second Punic War, the great Roman orator Cato ended every speech he gave with, on any subject, with “Praeterea censeo Carthaginem esse delendam”, “I also think that Carthage should be destroyed.” (Asimov 127) Eventually these thoughts and actions sparked a change that altered world history forever. The Punic Wars marked the end of a minor, mostly peaceful, democratic, land-based regional power, the Roman Republic, and the beginning of a great, violent, autocratic, sea-based empire that conquered vast parts of the western world that changed the way people are governed.

The First Punic War began while Rome was one of several moderately strong powers around the Mediterranean Sea. The First War broke out when the Carthaginians and the Romans began to fight over the island of Sicily. After some years, the Romans forced the Carthaginians out of Sicily forever. Then the Romans demanded, and received, Corsica, Sardinia, and war reparations. (World History 106-7) This began the long Imperial history of pushing around and conquering other nations. The First Punic War resulted in Rome learning essential things, like how to conduct a large war, a war at sea, and how to finance and support a great army. (Knox First) Furthermore, they gained their very first provinces that were not within Italy. This set the Roman Republic on the road to become the Roman Empire.

The Second Punic War furthered the change that Rome was undergoing. By the end of this war, Rome would be supreme, and Carthage subservient. The Carthaginians, bitter from their defeats in the Mediterranean Sea, sent one of their best generals, Hannibal, to invade Italy. Hannibal has been called “one of the most capable, daring, and fearless generals who ever lived.” (Asimov 102) Since Rome controlled the sea, Hannibal was forced to make his famous journey across the Alps. Once he finally arrived in Italy, Hannibal found that he had little success breaching the fortified and walled cities of the outlying Roman provinces, so instead, his army wandered the area, pillaging and destroying all they could find. The Roman legions were always soundly defeated by Hannibal’s army, for example at Trebia River, Lake Trasimene, and most importantly at Cannae. (Americana 9 & 708) The Romans had no choice but to let him freely ravage the countryside, with only occasional retaliatory sneak attacks from time to time. Hannibal was devastating Roman trade and the small towns Rome itself depended on for food. Many other governments, such as Syracuse, and Macedon, and the second Roman city of Capua, sided with Hannibal and the Carthaginians. (Asimov 99) Finally, the Romans became so fed up with Hannibal’s mayhem that they invaded Spain, via the Mediterranean Sea, and Hannibal was cut off from supplies and marooned in Italy. Once Hannibal had retreated, and the Romans were free to do as they pleased, Rome landed at Carthage and made the Carthaginians surrender. The Carthaginians were forced to make Hannibal leave Italy, their ships were confiscated, Carthage were prohibited from ever having a navy again, a very great war reparation had to be paid, and, most importantly, the Carthaginians had to allow Rome to decide whom they could go to war with. (Americana 9) After the war, Rome decided to take the opportunity to get even with the kingdoms that had sided with Hannibal. In Macedon, for example, and other kingdoms that were formerly part of Greece, the Romans promptly invaded and added these areas to their Empire. (Hooker) Also, when soldiers returned from battle, they came home to their grape and olive orchards, only to find them destroyed. Hannibal’s destruction was so terrible that even in the 20th century A.D., the Italian government has tried to restore the land he destroyed. (Knox Second) Since olive trees and grapevines take so long to grow, the small farmers had no choice but to sell their land to latifundia owners, who could afford a few years of losses. This, combined with cheap slave labor flowing in from overseas, made the small farmers become a new class of urban poor. As the gap between rich and poor grew, and the rich created less democracy and more aristocracy. Later this grew into dictatorship. (Asimov 134-138) The war itself changed Carthage from a near-equal with Rome into a subservient state that had to come crawling to Rome if it wanted to go to war, and Rome had gained other extra territories as well. When Spain became the first distant province, governors had to be away from Rome for more than a year at a time. (Asimov 111) This meant that the provinces were nearly independent of the capital, and had to be run completely differently before the Imperial days. They needed to have permanent standing armies, loyal to their commanders instead of Rome, for example. Rome was now the dominant and rapidly changing power of the world.

The Third Punic War was little more than a violent finishing off of Carthage, the type of thing that would occur repeatedly in later centuries. Before the war, Rome demanded that the city of Carthage be moved inland, so that they could no longer have any sort of navy or any trade. When Carthage refused, because the people would have starved, the Romans overran Carthage,and massacred nearly everyone living there. Out of the 250,000 who lived there, only 50,000 survived. Anyone who did survive was sold into slavery. Some historians believe that such a systematic execution of noncombatants was not seen again until the Nazi atrocities of World War II. (Hooker) The city was demolished completely, and the surrounding countryside was sown with salt so that nothing would ever grow there again. (Hooker) Thus was the violent end of the Carthaginian Empire, and the dawn of the Roman Empire.

In conclusion, both of the first two wars were turning points in the history of Rome. The First War gave them the islands surrounding Italy, and the technology and knowledge to build and support a navy. The Second War gave the Romans Spain, much of northern Africa, and the important islands of the Mediterranean. Before the wars, the Roman Republic was a minor power, equivalent to the dozens of other Hellenistic states around the Mediterranean and semi-barbaric tribes within Europe. After the wars, the Roman Empire was a supreme naval power that controlled most of the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, including present-day Greece, Spain and Northern Africa. The three Punic Wars, spanning 118 years, transformed the Roman Empire from a minor democratic state, centered around Rome, to a great ocean-spanning, decentralized, autocratic empire.

See also:
The Punic Wars, Hannibal, The Battle of Cannae, etc.


Works Cited:

Asimov, Isaac. The Roman Republic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966.
Encyclopedia Americana Vol. 23. Punic Wars: Chicago: University of Illinois @ Chicago.
Hooker, Richard. “Rome: The Punic Wars” http://www.wsu.edu.com:8080/~dee/ROME/PUNICWAR.HTM
Knox, Dr. Ellis L. “Results of the First Punic War” HWC, The Punic Wars. http://history.idbsu.edu/westciv/punicwar/04.htm.
Knox, Dr. Ellis L. “Results of the Second Punic War” HWC, The Punic Wars. http://history.idbsu.edu/westciv/punicwar/16.htm.
World History: Patterns of Civilization. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

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