Over the space of just under 120 years there were three great wars between two powers jostling to control the seas and the lands of the Italian peninsula. Sicily, Northern African and the southern lands of Spain. The two powers in question were the Romans and the Carthaginians of North Africa, two forces that really wanted to gain a foothold and control of the lands and seas of the Mediterranean. As you are about to find out these three wars were probably the biggest wars to have ever happened before the birth of Christ so were greatly influential in changing the world at this time. The causes of the Punic wars boiled down to the Carthaginian Empire of North African, and the Roman Republic both wanting to expand their lands and build on the empires they already started. The Romans were new to the development of capturing land and thus had not quite built their Empire yet which does happen later in history as we know. At the outbreak of the Frist Punic War the Carthaginian empower of North African was the super power of the western side of the Mediterranean and as such many would have seen Carthage as the winner in the battle between the two powers.
This war started as the Romans moved over the sea and marched on Sicily to gain lands there. The war ran between 264 BC and 241 BC. The initial battles were on the land with the Battle of Agrigentum being a massive learning curve for the Cartage army as it was routed by the Romans. The outcome of the first Punic War was a resounding victory to Rome and Carthage leadership signing a peace treaty advising as such. This was fought over three main fronts: Sicily, Span and Italy. Carthage was able to hold on for quite a while before relinquishing control and retreating and the most well-known being that of the battles in Italy.
The Second Punic War
The Second Punic war happened between 218 BC and 201 BC. While this war was a lot shorter than the First Punic War, it is most well-known for the Carthage leader Hannibal who caused massive damage to the Romans.
That is why Southern Italians were considered “Black” in the South and were subjected to laws of segregation. They weren’t allowed to marry “Whites”. It was difficult, damn near impossible. They were designated as “Black” on census forms if they lived in the South and that is because the majority of them were dark skinned Sicilians. Rom was painfully struggling to obtain mastery of central and southern Italy, where she had absorbed the power and culture and gradually forged a federation of small states. It must have already become clear that there was not going to be room in the Mediterranean for both Rome and Carthage. The name Hannibal means Glory- To the Lord Baal at the young age of nine his Father Hamilcar Barca took him on campaigns against the Romans Hannibal swore eternal enmity against the Romans. Young Hannibal exclaimed, “I swear that as soon as age will permit, I will follow the Romans both at sea and on land. I will use fire and steel to arrest the destiny of Rome”.
The boy hannibak said this to his father Hamilcar Barca. Hannibal kept the faithful promise to his father and at the age of 26 Hannibal’s military success was in Saguntum, which precipitated the Second Punic War. Hannibal carried out a carefully prepared plan, which he had inherited from his father. His object was nothing less than the destruction of the power of Rome before Rome destroyed Carthage, as Rome’s most vulnerable spot was in Italy itself where the Roman federation of states was still loose and the Celtic tribes of Gauls in the North were in revolt. But since Carthage had lost command od the sea to Rome, how was Hannibal to get to Italy with his troops?
The Romans never imagined for one moment that he could or would make the journey of 1500 miles overland from Spain, across the Pyrenees, the south of France, and the Alps; but that was exactly what Hannibal had decided to do. Having decided on this strategy and selected his theatre of operations? Hannibal followed two principles, which have grown no less important since his day: the seizure of the initiative, and the maintenance of the element of surprise.
Hannibal set about his task is identical with that which a competent commander would follow today. Hannibal first secured his bases at Carthage and Carthaginian. Next he collected detailed information about the countries and peoples through which he proposed to pass. For this purpose he sent for messengers (liaison officers) from the Gaulish tribes and asked for detailed accounts of the terrain and the fertility of the country at the foot of the Alps, in the midst of the Alps, and in the plain of the river Po. Today, this aspect of Hannibal’s planning would come under the heading of logistics. He also wanted to know the number of in habitants of the various populations, their capacity for war, and particularly whether their enmity against Rome was maintained.
Hannibal is said to have given this speech to the army of men who had survived and crossed the swift-flowing Rhone river:
“Why are you afraid? . . . The greater part of our journey is accomplished. We have surmounted the Pyrenees; we have crossed the Rhone, that mighty river, in spite of the opposition of thousands of Gauls and the fury of the river itself. Now we have the Alps in sight. On the other side of those mountains lies Italy . . . does anyone imagine the Alps to be anything but what they are – – lofty mountains. No part of the earth reaches the sky, or is insurmountable to mankind. The Alps produce and support living things. If they are passable by a few men, they are passable by armies.”
Hannibal lost half of his army in the first two weeks into Alps. Landslides were touched off by the mountain tribes. Men died during the hand battle with tribesmen. Starvation and disease were also companions of the embattled lot. Polybus, a Greek historian and contemporary to Hannibal, described Hannibal’s arrival to the Po valley with about 26, 000 men. At the Po Valley, Hannibal is said to have made this speech:
“Soldiers! You have now surmounted only the ramparts of Italy, but also Rome. You are entering friendly country inhabited by people who hate the Romans as much as we do. The rest of the journey will be smooth and downhill, and after one, or at most a second battle, you will have the citadel and capital of Italy in your possession.”
As Hannibal moved in the North he requested more soldiers, something Carthage never gave him. It could be said that for this reason Hannibal was never able to complete his task even after 16 years in Italy. The Romans realized they were going to find difficult to beat Hannibal so they decided to cut off supplies to make life hard for Hannibal before then counter attacking by crossing over to Africa and attacking Carthage. This move was a great one as it meant Hannibal rushing back to defend his homeland before being demolished by the Romans at the Battle of Zama on October 19th 202 BC. Again Rome gains victory in the war and now controls much of the Western Mediterranean meaning the Carthage Empire of North African losses a lot of control.
We know Hannibal did not succeed, but are astonished by how close he came to success. The second of the Punic Wars was over. When Hannibal eventually retreated with his army to Carthage, his army was defeated by Scipo Africanus in the Battle of Zama. Always sought by the Romans, when Hannibal was about the age of 64 and to be taken prisoner, he took poison and is recorded to have stated: “Let us now put an end to the great anxiety of the Romans who have thought it too lengthy and too heavy a task to wait for the death of a hated old man . . .”