The Punic Wars were a series of conflicts between the Carthaginians and Romans. At the beginning of this war, Carthage was the dominant power of the Mediterranean. Its maritime influence stretched from Alexandria to Spain, even touching on parts of Sicily in southern Italy. While the commercial and naval supremacy of Carthage was unrivaled at the time, she did not possess a standing army capable of sustaining itself. The Roman Republic, however, had slowly consumed large swaths of the Italian peninsula, making great use of its own efficient army. These would-be superpowers coexisted until both attempted to wrest full control of Sicily.
The First Punic War expanded Rome’s fledgling navy while forcing Carthage to flee Sicily. Rome made had made its presence in the Mediterranean known. Yet, the Second Punic War is the most famous of the Carthaginian incursions. Hannibal marched troops and war elephants over the Alps, defeating Roman forces, but never achieving the success necessary to break the Republic. Hannibal was ultimately pushed back and defeated. By the end of the Second Punic War, Scipio Africanus, young commander of the Roman forces, saw Carthage bend and break. The once glorious trading empire was stripped of all but a capital city.
While one would think the Carthaginians would have been soundly defeated in this instance, their maritime and economic influence continued to grow. Over the course of fifty years, the Carthaginians rebuilt much of their trading empire and wealth. Carthage, somehow, managed to cobble a force together in order to repel invaders. The wealthy city-state lost many of these battles, yet continued to grow more combative. The alarm in the Roman Republic is often remembered in the quotes of Cato the Elder. The Roman Senator ended every speech and oration with a simple command - “Carthage must be destroyed.”
The Republic made escalating demands, including the order that Carthage reconstruct its city away from the coast, thus reducing its maritime power. Carthage refused, initiating the third and final Punic War. The city was under siege for three years, ending in a final breach and burn. The city was dismantled, brick by brick, stone by stone. The remains burned for over two weeks. Over 50,000 citizens were cast into slavery, while Carthaginian territories were brought under Roman influence. By some accounts, the Romans even sowed salt into the ground around the city. No Carthaginian would ever again challenge the supremacy of Roman rule.
When pundits use terms like “Carthaginian Peace,” one is often left to wonder whether the phrase is fully understood. The Carthaginians were so utterly ruined that they could never again hope for the restoration of their city, their home. Modern attempts to change regimes have never compared to the lengths Roman legions went to in order to destroy Carthage. In her efforts to suppress and surpass Carthage, Rome made herself the supreme and unrivaled power of the known world. While modernity has many imitators, there will likely never be a power as great as Rome. There will never be a power great enough to wipe an empire from history.