The Punic Wars and the Decline of Carthage

In the 3d cent. B.C. Rome challenged Carthage's control of the W Mediterranean in the Punic Wars (so called after the Roman name for the Carthaginians, Poeni, i.e., Phoenicians). The first of these wars (264–241) cost Carthage all remaining hold on Sicily. Immediately after the First Punic War a great uprising of the mercenaries occurred (240–238). Hamilcar Barca put down the revolt and compensated for the loss of Sicilian possessions by undertaking conquest in Spain, a conquest continued by Hasdrubal.

The growth of Carthaginian power again activated trouble with Rome, and precipitated the Second Punic War (218–201). Although the Carthaginian general was the formidable Hannibal, Carthage was finally defeated, partly by the Roman generals Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus (see under Fabius) and Scipio Africanus Major, and partly by the fatal division of the leading families in Carthage itself, which prevented Hannibal from receiving proper supplies.

After Scipio had won (202) the battle of Zama, Carthage sued for peace. All its warships and its possessions outside Africa were lost, but Carthage recovered commercially and remained prosperous. Deep divisions among the Carthaginian political parties, however, gave Rome (and particularly Cato the Elder) the pretext to fight the Third Punic War (149–146 B.C.), which ended with the total destruction of Carthaginian power and the razing of the city by Scipio Africanus Minor.

Romans later undertook to build a new city (Colonia Junonia) on the spot in 122 B.C., but the project failed. A new city was founded in 44 B.C. and under Augustus became an important center of Roman administration. Carthage was later (A.D. 439–533) the capital of the Vandals and was briefly recovered (533) for the Byzantine Empire by Belisarius. Although practically destroyed by Arabs in 698, the site was populated for many centuries afterward.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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