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Old 09-23-2016, 09:11 PM   #26
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Re: The Punic Wars: Rome & Carthage Death Match

The Punic Wars are some of the most interesting history to read about from classical times. Zeno gave some great background posts, but let's see if we can take a more critical look.

The First Punic War:
(264 - 241 B.C.)

Carthage was a Phoenician colony founded on the North African coast, traditionally around the year 814/813 B.C. The Phoenicians had developed a very advanced civilization in the centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse. They were renowned for their ancient seafaring, mercantilism, and famous purple dye. They were enterprising and not militaristic. When faced with conflict, the people in the capital of Tyre, for instance, would retreat behind the walls of their unassailable island fortress, or they would hire mercenary armies to fight for them. Above all, the Phoenicians were skilled at making alliances, and as they traded throughout the Mediterranean, they established numerous colonies and settlements; of these, Carthage would become by far the largest and most famous.

Question then: why did Carthage begin to act independently from the 600s B.C. onward? The Phoenicians had dozens if not hundreds of other colonies, and all remained loyal to the mother cities of Tyre and Sidon. None of these other colonies founded colonies of their own, as did Carthage. What made Carthage unique? Why did they subsequently develop an aggressive military and navy, and eventually bring other Phoenician cities under their control? Finding the answer to this question would go a long way to understanding who these people were and why they potentially acted in certain ways later on during the conflict with Rome.

The Romans, meanwhile, were a people born of strife. The Latin Tribes-- from which they came-- were a comparatively less advanced society fighting for fewer resources in a more crowded land. The Romans fought for survival. They were sandwiched between the more-advanced Etruscans to their north, and Greek colonists to their south. Over time, Greece's democratic ideals swept across the land, and Rome would fight for (and gain) independence from its Etruscan kings. The Roman Republic was founded in 509 B.C.


600s B.C.:
Carthage founded its first colony at Ibiza, in the Balearic Islands near Spain
Carthage establishes settlements on Sicily
Despite these uniquely autonomous actions, Carthage still pays annual religious tax to Tyre and Sidon for centuries to come
When the Greeks colonize Sicily, Carthage peacefully withdraws to the western part of the island
Still primitive Rome comes under the rule of Etruscan kings

500s B.C.:
Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians invade Phoenician homeland
Sidon conquered; Tyre besieged for 13 years
Carthage expands militarily (is this related?)
Rome overthrows its Etruscan kings
Roman Republic begins

400s B.C.:
Carthage loses First Sicilian War; halts Mediterranean expansion for 70 years
Carthage compensates by conquering North Africa
Rome consolidates power within Central Italy

390 B.C.
Rome sacked by invaders from the north
(this traditionally marks the transition from the Early Republic to the Middle Republic)

300s B.C.:
Carthage fights long wars on Sicily vs. Syracuse and Magna Graecia
Alexander the Great builds causeway; destroys Tyre
Rome recovers and conquers all of central Italy
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Old 09-23-2016, 11:22 PM   #27
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Re: The Punic Wars: Rome & Carthage Death Match

Prelude to War:

By the early 200s B.C., Carthage had become the dominant hegemonic power in the western Mediterranean. They had brought the other Phoenician colonies under their thumb. After the death of Alexander the Great, even the mighty Greeks were in rapid decline. Carthage's empire included the North African coast, most of the islands in the western Med, a few settlements in Spain, and interests in Sicily. They had been fighting Syracuse and other Greek cities on the big island for hundreds of years.

Despite this militarism, Carthage maintained several distinct characteristics dating back to their Phoenician ancestry. One, they pursued a maritime commercial empire, or thalassocracy, which saw them conquer large swathes of coastlines and islands, rather than accumulating regional lands. Two, even though they developed an army, it consisted of mostly mercenaries, and relatively few citizen troops. And third, their foreign policy was heavily dependent on alliance making and diplomacy, as opposed to outright successes through war.

Rome, meanwhile, had by now conquered central Italy northward to the Amo River. They were in the process of fighting Magna Graecia for control of southern Italy, and within a few short years, virtually all of the Italian peninsula would fall under their control.

265 B.C.

Just as the Roman and Carthaginian borders were coming into contact with each other for the first time, war had broken out between the Mamertines and Syracuse on eastern Sicily. The Mamertines were Italian mercenaries that Syracuse had hired to fight in the last Sicilian War. When the Mamertines became unemployed and idle, they sacked Messina in northeastern Sicily (closest to the Italian side) and killed all of the men and raped all of their wives. Syracuse was appalled, and attacked to free the city.

Once the Mamertines were defeated in a decisive battle, they appealed to Carthage for help. Carthage was the only superpower on the island, and a very old enemy of Syracuse. As such, Carthage was happy to oblige, particularly since they saw this as an opportunity to isolate Syracuse and gain almost total control of the island.

In any event, Carthage rescued the Mamertines, but in exchange for this they established a garrison in Messina and effectively took control of northeastern Sicily.

264 B.C.

Despite being saved by Carthage, the Mamertines were not happy--they wanted Messina for themselves. Unhappy with the Carthaginian garrison, they looked around for who else might help them, and the closest power nearby was Rome. The Mamertines appealed for assistance as fellow Italians. For its part, the Roman Senate was deadlocked on whether they should get involved. On the one hand, a good chunk of the bureaucracy were hawks and always eager for war. On the other hand, Carthage was likely viewed at this point as a more powerful empire, plus many considered it unacceptable to aid the Mamertines, who were viewed as illegitimate murderers and thieves.

After long consideration, the matter was submitted to the people for a referendum. Rome eventually voted for war.

The War Begins:

Typically, Rome's consular armies numbered 20,000-40,000 soldiers plus cavalry and allies, depending on whether one or both consuls were sent off on campaign. For this engagement, however, the Romans only sent two legions, or 10,000 troops, which perhaps indicates that they were hesitant about the conflict, and unsure about how they wanted to proceed.

The first problem the Romans had to overcome was simply how to get to the island--Rome did not have a navy. Once they procured ships to ferry their soldiers across the straits, they were unsurprisingly intercepted by Carthage, who on the contrary, had the best ships, sailors, and navy in the entire world. The Carthaginians forced the Romans to turn back to Italy, and confiscated a couple of their ships in the process. At this point, the history gets a little confusing, depending on the sources. It appears the commander of the Carthaginian garrison, who was also in control of the Straits of Messina, became nervous about starting a war between the two hitherto allies, and backed down, either because of fear or coercion.

Regardless, the Romans were not challenged on their second attempt to reach the island. Once they landed on Sicily, the Carthaginians were ordered to abandon their garrison and cede Messina to the Italians.

The Carthaginian commander was later executed for cowardice and incompetence.

263 B.C.

Once the Romans had gained a foothold on Sicily, they were apparently emboldened by Carthage's weak actions of the previous year. The Senate sent both consular armies to fight Syracuse, at least 40,000 troops in all, who they were now at war with on behalf of rescuing the Mamertines. Carthage, for its part, was technically Syracuse's ally, but essentially stayed out of the conflict. They had been in control of western Sicily for centuries, and suddenly saw this new conflict as an opportunity to consolidate control over central Sicily as well.

The Romans easily defeated Syracuse in open battle during the 263 campaign, and took control of the Syracuse countryside (including smaller towns) but they could not take or besiege the city itself. Like all of the strategic ports on Sicily, Syracuse was too well defended and could always send and receive ships out of harbor. The Romans had reached the end game militarily and decided that diplomacy was their best strategy. They offered to return Syracuse its countryside and guarantee its independence, in exchange for Syracuse switching sides and becoming its ally in the war.

Syracuse accepted, and they declared war on Carthage as well.
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Old 09-24-2016, 06:42 AM   #28
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Re: The Punic Wars: Rome & Carthage Death Match

The Early Years:

After the beginning stages of the war, Rome and her allies controlled roughly the eastern and southern third of Sicily (including Messina and Syracuse), while Carthage had been in control of western Sicily for hundreds of years (including the regional capital of Lilybaeum, and their second city of Panorma/Palermo). The early years of the First Punic War would now focus on central Sicily, which Carthage now controlled. Additionally, important naval battles would occur around the island as well.

262 B.C.

To this point, Rome and Carthage had not fought each other directly. An uneasy truce had settled over the island, similar to the delicate political balance that had often existed between Carthage and Greek powers for 400 years. Both sides made peaceful overtures towards each other, and it seemed as though conflict was avoidable, but negotiations broke down.

Agrigentum Campaign:

Roman forces: 40,000 plus allies
Carthaginian forces: 50,000+

Perhaps Carthage did not consider Rome a threat, and the Roman consuls were incentivized to only make satisfactory peace or war. There could be nothing in between, and in the end it would be war.

Rome took the initiative and struck first. The Carthaginians, lead by Hannibal Gisco (not that Hannibal) eventually retreated and took up a defensive position behind the secure walls of Agrigentum itself. The Romans laid siege to the city. In response, Carthage sent reinforcements to cut off Roman supply lines. They established a naval blockade as well.

261 B.C.

The siege continued for 5-7 months. Both camps suffered from starvation and disease. Eventually the opposing commanders agreed that fighting in open battle would be preferable to the current situation. They met on the plain outside Agrigentum. The pitched battle was a long struggle, but superior Roman infantry carried the day and the Romans prevailed. The victory was not complete, however, as most of Carthage's forces were able to escape and retreat. Nevertheless, Rome took Agrigentum, and roughly half of Sicily was now under her control.


Rome and Carthage may have been weary of fighting each other at the start of the war, but now everything had changed. With their victory at Agrigentum, the Romans were convinced of the superiority of their infantry troops, and they became determined to defeat Carthage and take the entire island by force.

Once they consolidated more gains in central Sicily, the Romans realized they needed to build a navy, or they would never be able to take the bigger and more fortified cities in the west. As such, the Roman Senate funded construction of the Republic's first fleet. Important naval battles would soon follow, including the Battle of the Lipari Islands, a small Carthaginian victory.

260 B.C.

Although the land war had been a debacle for Carthage so far, they still had the overwhelming advantage at sea. The first naval engagements had been small skirmishes but clear Carthaginian victories. Carthage controlled the Straits of Messina, and their fleet had set up an unchallenged blockade around Sicily and the southern Italian coast. At this point, Carthage probably considered the conflict not much different than all of the other Sicilian wars they had fought against Greeks for hundreds of years. That would soon change.

Naval Battle of Mylae:

Roman forces: ~100 ships
Carthaginian forces: ~130 ships

The entire Roman fleet departed Italy and set sail for Sicily, seemingly trying to break the blockade. Hannibal Gisco lead Carthage's entire Sicilian fleet to meet them in response. Undoubtedly, Gisco and the Carthaginians expected an easy victory; after all, Carthage had the best ships in the world and the best sailors in the world, while Rome's navy had not even existed the year before. The contrast between the two fleets could not have been more stark.

But that's why they play the game...

The Carthaginian ships planned to execute standard naval practice during those times: outmaneuver the other ships, gain an angle on them, and then ram them until they sunk. The Roman ships couldn't possibly defeat Carthage in such a battle, so they devised a solution: they invented the first known boarding device, called the corvus, which allowed their marines to board the enemy ships at sea. Using this new invention, the Roman soldiers stormed the unsuspecting Carthaginian ships and killed them hand-to-hand. Carthage lost half of its ships before her fleet retired. Rome broke the blockade, and from this point forward she had naval supremacy over the Straits of Messina, between Italy and Sicily.

Hannibal Gisco was recalled to Carthage, where he was arrested and quickly executed.

259 B.C.

The previous year, Rome had been close to taking all of central Sicily, but Gisco's replacement, Hamilcar (Drepanum) had turned the Roman legions back at the First Battle of Thermae.


This year's campaign saw Carthage counterattack and reclaim much of central Sicily, while the Romans were forced to retreat back towards Syracuse. It seemed as though the war had suddenly turned.

258 B.C.

At this point, Carthage had reclaimed most of its prewar territory, with Agrigentum being the exception. The Romans were trapped in two defensive pockets, at Agrigentum in the south, and Messina in the northeast. Syracuse and Mt. Etna lay between the two points.

Feeling that they were close to victory, Carthage decided to invade Syracuse, in an attempt to pressure Hiero II back onto their side in the war. This proved to be an incalculable strategic blunder. Not only had Carthage and Syracuse been enemies for generations upon generations, but Rome had already guaranteed Syracuse's independence. Hiero II came to Rome's aid and, with that, the fortunes of the war reversed once more.


Following another reversal at Enna, Rome regained the initiative for the rest of the year. Hamilcar (Drupana) and the Carthaginians were once again forced to retreat back through central Sicily, and soon they relinquished all of their gains from the previous campaign.

257 B.C.

After a second attempted Roman invasion of western Sicily had been repulsed, a general stalemate set in on both sides of the war.

Rome had gained control of roughly two-thirds of Sicily, with Carthage maintaining its centuries-old strongholds in the west and north. With neither side able to make further progress this year, strategic aims would change, and this lull in the fighting marked the end of the early years of the war.
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Old 10-16-2016, 08:02 AM   #29
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Re: The Punic Wars: Rome & Carthage Death Match

Originally Posted by scooternut123 View Post
Still beats me why Hannibal didn't attack Rome when he had the chance. Great tactical moves on his part starting with that surprise attack coming from the Alps instead of the via the Mediterranean towards Sicily.

Great moves around Rome, especially that ambush thing the did.

But the guy just didn't attack Rome. In fact he delayed so long that he wound up having to go back to Carthage to "defend" his home via an attack on Scipio.
The Fabian Approach ultimately beat Hannibal by denying him the ability to battle. The Roman cross-parry under Scipio was the finishing blow, where Scipio actually was effectively the defender in Hannibal's home town.

Liddell Hart's description in his book "Strategy" does great analysis.
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