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Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage

Three Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage mark the end of the Carthaginian (Punic) Empire and leave the Roman Republic dominant in the Mediterranean.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] As we enter into the 3rd Century BCE, we see the Roman Republic that was founded in 509 BCE has now exerted control over most of the Italian peninsula. But it's not the only power in the Mediterranean. We have the remnants of Alexander the Great's empire and we also have the Carthaginians. And you can see here in blue that Carthage had an extensive empire that controlled most of the the western Mediterranean. You can imagine, it was only a matter of time before they come into conflict with each other. It turns out they are actually going to have three significant wars. Some historians view it as the most significant and largest scale wars up to that point in history. The first of these happens in 264 BCE and then it goes on for 23 years to 241 BCE. This is known as the First Punic War. You can see it on the timeline right over here going from 264 to 241, right over there. It's a result of a conflict that starts between two city-states in Sicily. Sicily is this island right over here. You have the city-state of Syracuse which is a powerful city originally established by the Greeks, and it gets into a scuffle with Messana which is another city-state at the northern, northeastern tip of Sicily. Rome and Carthage, these two great powers get embroiled and it ends up being a conflict over the island of Sicily where Carthage already had a foothold on the west coast. What's interesting going into this war is that Carthage had a powerful, you could view it as an empire over the sea. It had a very powerful navy. While Rome had a very powerful army. Not really much of a navy, to speak of. But as we'll see as we go through the First Punic War, that will change. The first major battle happens at Agrigentum, I'm probably mispronouncing it here, on Sicily. The Romans are able to win decisively, and then the Carthaginians, you could imagine, started to say, "Well maybe we should engage them more into sea." That happens in 260 at the Battle of Lipari Islands which are right over here. When the Romans get defeated there, they say, "Hey, maybe we need a little bit more of a navy." And so over the course of these several decades, you have this continual fighting. There are some Carthaginian or Punic victories we've talked about in previous video. The word Punic is derived from what the Romans called the Carthaginians which is derived from their roots as Phoenicians. You have some Punic victories, but for the most part, Rome is successful. And so, at the end of the First Punic War, a few things happened. You have Carthage leaves Sicily. Carthage expelled from Sicily. You have war indemnity. Rome tells Carthage, "Hey, you've gotta pay us "for all of the damage you created." This is difficult for Carthage because a war cost Carthage a lot, and Carthage, especially, it didn't have citizen soldiers. Its army was made up of ... Its navy had citizen, I guess you say, sailors. But it's army was made up mainly of mercenaries. These are soldiers who really, if you pay them enough, they're gonna fight for you. They don't really have allegiances based on some type of ideology or citizenship. Carthage, as they went through this many decades war, they went ahead and pay all these mercenaries. They had their own cost. And now, Rome is making them pay indemnity. War indemnity to Rome. The other, I guess you could say side effect of this First Punic War is that it was a catalyst for Rome building its navy. Rome builds navy. You can imagine especially the cost of the First Punic War, it becomes very difficult for Carthage. It actually de-stabilizes Carthage. A lot of the mercenaries, when they're not paid as they see they should be, they actually rise up. From 240 to 238, you have a Mercenary War. So 240 to 238 BCE, you have a Mercenary War. Eventually, it's able to be put down by the Carthaginians but the side effect is it weakens their hold on Sardinian Corsica. And so, by the end of the Mercenary War, the map looks like this right over here. You could view this map as what the Mediterranean looked like in 238 BCE. Where you see now the Romans not only have control of the Italian peninsula, they've gained control over Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily. Roman power is only going to increase but the Carthaginians, this proud empire, they're not done here. In 218, the Carthaginian general Hannibal, the famous Hannibal, decides to attack the Romans. He does it in a unconventional way. He attacks from the north. He takes his army, which includes elephants through the Swiss Alps. This is an artist depiction of Hannibal's army with its elephants going through the Swiss Alps. They're able to wreak havoc over the Italian peninsula. This goes on for roughly 15 years. From 218 BCE 'til 201 BCE, you have the Second Punic War. Even though Hannibal's able to wreak havoc for over a decade on the Italian peninsula, he's never able to fully take control of Rome. There's several explanations there. One is that the people that he conquers kept rising up against him. They weren't just happy to be subjugated by the Carthaginians, by the Punics, I guess you could say. And he never was able to get as many reinforcements as necessary to fully subjugate Rome. By the end of the Second Punic War, the Romans decide to take the battle to Carthage. In 202 BCE at the Battle of Zama, the Romans are able to decisively beat Hannibal. Hannibal is called back to defend the homeland and he is defeated here at Zama. In 201 BCE, you have the end of the Second Punic War. By that point, at the end of the Second Punic War, you now have Rome in control of significant chunks of the Iberian peninsula that used to be under control of Carthage. And Carthage has really been reduced to a client state of Rome. This is roughly what the map looks like. After this, Rome isn't happy. This was a pretty ugly war. Hannibal was here wreaking havoc on the Italian peninsula. He was almost successful at taking over Rome. He was an existential threat to the Roman Republic. Carthage essentially becomes a client state of Rome. They have to pay war indemnity. They really can't have a significant army anymore or a significant navy. Many people in Rome over the next several decades even though Carthage is weakened so much, they start arguing, "Hey, we should just completely destroy this city "because every time we destroy them or at least we beat them "we get into this peace treaty "but then they get powerful again and then "we get into a war with them." These are very ugly wars. Finally, in 149, let me write this, 149 BCE as Carthage is starting to reassert a little bit of power, it's trying to rebuild its military, the Romans get scared. They say, "You know what, let's just finish them off "once and for all." They say, "All right." They start to put very onerous terms on the Carthaginians. They say, "Hey, move your city further inland. "We don't want you to ever be a power." The Carthaginians of course really can't. They say, "Hey, we're just gonna move our entire city "and we're gonna cede to your demands." And so the Romans used that as grounds for attack. From 149 BCE to 146 BCE, you have the Third Punic War. Which is really the one where Rome goes to destroy Carthage, and they are able to destroy Carthage ending a 700-year city-state, empire, whatever you wanna call it. The city of Carthage is utterly destroyed. Its inhabitants are enslaved which the Romans like to do for subjugated people. The city was burned in a very systematic way for 17 days. The Romans wanted to ensure that Carthage could never rise up again to threaten Rome. After the Third Punic War, the Romans are now the dominant empire in the Mediterranean. Not only did they control that, what they controlled going into the Third Punic War, but now they controlled Carthage's African colonies. The same year, 146 BCE, the Romans were also able to take control of Greece. As we exit out of the Third Punic War, you now have a Rome that is extremely powerful and this Roman Republic is starting to resemble this empire. It's not officially an empire yet. It's still officially a republic, but it's taking control of other people so you could view it as an empire. It's starting to take shape as this major civilization that will eventually control the entire Mediterranean.