History of Carthage
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The study of the history of Carthage is often problematic. Due to the subjugation of the civilization by the Romans at the end of the Third Punic War, very few Carthaginian historical primary sources survive. There are a few ancient translations of Punic texts into Greek and Latin, as well as inscriptions on monuments and buildings discovered in North Africa. However, the majority of available primary source material about Carthaginian civilization was written by Greek and Roman historians, such as Livy, Polybius, Appian, Cornelius Nepos, Silius Italicus, Plutarch, Dio Cassius, and Herodotus.
These authors came from cultures which were nearly always in competition, and often in conflict, with Carthage. The Greeks contested with Carthage for Sicily, for instance, and the Romans fought the Punic Wars against Carthage. Inevitably the accounts of Carthage written by outsiders include significant bias. Recent excavation of ancient Carthaginian sites has brought much more primary material to light. Some of these finds contradict or confirm aspects of the traditional picture of Carthage, but much of the material is still ambiguous.
- 1 Beginning
- 2 Foundation
- 3 Colony of Tyre
- 4 Beginning of Carthaginian Hegemony
- 5 The reign of "Kings"
- 6 A republican empire
- 7 The Sicilian Wars
- 8 Hanno "Magnus"
- 9 Alexander and the Diadochi
- 10 The Punic Wars
- 11 Roman Carthage
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Carthage was one of a number of Phoenician settlements in the western Mediterranean that were created to facilitate trade from the cities of Sidon, Tyre and others from Phoenicia, which was situated in the coast of what is now Lebanon. In the 10th century BC, the eastern Mediterranean shore was inhabited by various Semitic populations, who had built up flourishing civilizations. The people inhabiting what is now Lebanon, were referred to as Phoenicians by the Greeks. The Phoenician language was very close to ancient Hebrew, to such a degree that the latter is often used as an aid in translation of Phoenician inscriptions.
The Phoenician cities were highly dependent on both land- and seaborne trade and their cities included a number of major ports in the area. In order to provide a resting place for their merchant fleets, to maintain a Phoenician monopoly on an area's natural resource, or to conduct trade on its own, the Phoenicians established numerous colonial cities along the coasts of the Mediterranean, stretching from Iberia to the Black Sea. They were stimulated to found their cities by a need for revitalizing trade in order to pay the tribute extracted from Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos by the succession of empires that ruled them and later by fear of complete Greek colonization of that part of the Mediterranean suitable for commerce. The initial Phoenician colonization took place during a time when other neighboring kingdoms (Hellenic/Greek and Hattian/Hittite) were suffering from a “Dark Age”, perhaps after the activities of the Sea Peoples.
Extent of Phoenician settlement
The Phoenicians' leading city was Tyre, which established a number of trading posts around the Mediterranean. Ultimately Phoenicians established 300 colonies in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Iberia, and to a much lesser extent, on the arid coast of Libya. The Phoenicians lacked the population or necessity to establish self-sustaining cities abroad, and most cities had fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, but Carthage and a few other cities later developed into large, self-sustaining, independent cities. The Phoenicians controlled Cyprus, Sardinia, Corsica, and the Balearic Islands, as well as obtaining minor possessions in Crete and Sicily; the latter settlements were in perpetual conflict with the Greeks. The Phoenicians managed to control Sicily for a limited time, but Phoenician control did not extend inland and was limited to the coast only.
The first colonies were made on the two paths to Iberia's mineral wealth—along the African coast and on Sicily, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands. The center of the Phoenician world was Tyre, serving as an economic and political hub. The power of this city waned following numerous sieges and its eventual destruction by Alexander the Great, and the role as leader passed to Sidon, and eventually to Carthage. Each colony paid tribute to either Tyre or Sidon, but neither mother city had actual control of the colonies. This changed with the rise of Carthage, since the Carthaginians appointed their own magistrates to rule the towns and Carthage retained much direct control over the colonies. This policy resulted in a number of Iberian towns siding with the Romans during the Punic Wars.
Ancient sources concur that Carthage had become perhaps the wealthiest city in the world via its trade and commerce, yet few remains of its riches exist. This is due to the fact that most of it was short-lived materials—textiles, unworked metal, foodstuffs, and slaves; its trade in fabricated goods was only a part of its wares. There can be no doubt that the most fruitful trade was that acquired from the Phoenicians in the western Mediterranean, in which tin, silver, gold, and iron were gained in return for consumer goods. Like their Phoenician predecessors the Carthaginians produced and exported the very valuable tyrian purple dye that was extracted from shellfish. The Phoenician colony of Mogador on the Northeastern coast of Africa was a centre of Tyrian dye production.
Carthage was founded by Phoenician settlers from the city of Tyre, who brought with them the city-god Melqart. Philistos of Syracuse dates the founding of Carthage to c 1215 BC, while the Roman historian Appian dates the founding 50 years prior to the Trojan War (i.e. between 1244 and 1234 BC, according to the chronology of Eratosthenes). The Roman poet Virgil imagines that the city's founding coincides with the end of the Trojan War. However, it is most likely that the city was founded sometime between 846 and 813 BC.
According to tradition, the city was founded by Queen Dido (or Elissa or Elissar)  who fled Tyre (modern day Lebanon) following the murder of her husband in an attempt by her younger brother, the King of Tyre, to bolster his own power. A number of foundation myths have survived through Greek and Roman literature, see Byrsa for one example.
Queen Elissar (also known as "Elissa", and by the Arabic name اليسار also اليسا and عليسا) who in later accounts became Queen Dido, was a princess of Tyre who founded the city of Carthage. At its peak her metropolis came to be called the "shining city", ruling 300 other cities around the western Mediterranean and leading the Phoenician Punic world.
Elissar was the Princess of Tyre, married to the High Priest of the city, who was wealthy and enjoyed widespread respect and power among the citizens. Details of her life are sketchy and confusing, but the following can be deduced from various sources. According to Justin, Princess Elissar was the daughter of King Matten of Tyre (also known as Muttoial or Belus II). When he died, the throne was jointly bequeathed to her and her brother, Pygmalion. She married her uncle Acherbas (also known as Sychaeus) High Priest of Melqart, a man with both authority and wealth comparable to the king. Pygmalion was a tyrant, lover of both gold and intrigue, and desired the authority and fortune enjoyed by Acherbas. Pygmalion assassinated Acherbas in the temple and managed to keep the misdeed concealed from his sister for a long time, deceiving her with lies about her husband's death. At the same time, the people of Tyre called for a single sovereign, causing dissent within the royal family.
After learning the truth, Elissar fled Tyre with her husband's gold, and managed to trick the Tyrian ships sent in pursuit to join her fleet. When her ship was overtaken by the Tyrian ships, she threatened to throw the gold overboard and let the would-be captors face the wrath of her brother for failing their mission. They opted to join her, and the augmented fleet sailed on towards the West. Elissa eventually sailed to Africa after a brief stop at Cyprus, where she rescued 80 virgins from a temple. She requested land to establish a new city from the king of the Libyan tribe living near Byrsa after reaching Africa. Told that she could have as much land that can be covered by an oxhide, she cut the hide into thin strips and managed to surround the hill of Byrsa. The initial city of Carthage was founded on the spot. When the Libyan king later sought to marry her, which would have caused the city to become part of the king's domain, she chose instead to kill herself.
Colony of Tyre
Little is known of the internal history and dealings of the early Phoenician city. The initial city covered the area around Byrsa, paid an annual tribute to the nearby Libyan tribes, and may have been ruled by a governor from Tyre, whom the Greeks identified as "king". Utica, then the leading Phoenician city in Africa, aided the early settlement in her dealings. The date from which Carthage can be counted as an independent power cannot exactly be determined, and probably nothing distinguished Carthage from the other Phoenician colonies in Africa during 800 - 700 BC.
It has been noted that the culture of Phoenician colonies had gained a distinct "Punic" characteristic by the end of the 7th century BC, indicating the emergence of a distinct culture in Western Mediterranean. In 650 BC, Carthage planted her own colony, and in 600 BC, she was warring with Greeks on her own away from the African mainland. By the time King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon was conducting the 13-year siege of Tyre starting from 585 BC, Carthage was probably independent of her mother city in political matters. However, close ties with Tyre still remained, Carthage continued to send annual tribute to Tyre (for the temple of Melqart) at irregular intervals over the centuries. Carthage inherited no colonial empire from Tyre and had to build her own. It is likely that Carthage did not have an empire prior to 6th century BC.
Exactly what social/political/geographic/military factors influenced the citizens of Carthage, and not the other Mediterranean Phoenician colonial members to create an economic and political hegemony is not clearly known. The city of Utica was far older than Carthage and enjoyed the same geographical/political advantages as Carthage, but it opted to be an allied entity, not a leader of the Punic hegemony that came into being probably sometime around the 6th century BC. When the Phoenician trade monopoly was challenged by Etruscans and Greeks in the west and their political and economic independence by successive empires in the east, Phoenician influence from the mainland decreased in the west and Punic Carthage ultimately emerged at the head of a commercial empire. One theory is that refugees from Phoenicia swelled the population and enhanced the culture of Carthage during the time the Phoenician homeland came under attack from the Babylonians and Persians, transferring the tradition of Tyre to Carthage.
Beginning of Carthaginian Hegemony
The mainland Greeks began their colonization efforts in the western Mediterranean with the founding of Naxos and Cumae in Sicily and Italy respectively, and by 650 BC Phoenicians in Sicily had retreated to the western part of that island. Around this time the first recorded independent action by Carthage takes place, which is the colonization of Ibiza. By the end of the 7th century BC, Carthage was becoming one of the leading commercial centers of the West Mediterranean region, a position it retained until overthrown by the Roman Republic. Carthage would establish new colonies, repopulate old Phoenician ones, come to the defense of other Punic cities under threat from natives/Greeks, as well as expand her territories by conquest. While some Phoenician colonies willingly submitted to Carthage, paying tribute and giving up their foreign policy, others in Iberia and Sardinia resisted Carthaginian efforts.
Carthage, unlike Rome, did not concentrate on conquering lands adjacent to the city prior to embarking on overseas ventures. Her dependence on trade and focus on protecting that trade network saw the evolution of an overseas hegemony before Carthage pushed inland into Africa. It may be possible that the power of the Libyan tribes prevented expansion in the neighborhood of the city for some time. Until 550 BC, Carthage paid rent to the Libyans for use of land in the city surroundings and in Cape Bon for agricultural purposes. The Africa dominion controlled by Carthage was relatively small. The payment would be finally stopped around 450 BC, when the second major expansion inland into Tunisia would take place. Carthage probably colonized the Syrtis region (Area between Thapsus in Tunisia and Sabratha in Libya) between 700-600 BC. Carthage also focused on bringing the existing Phoenician colonies along the African coast into the hegemony, but exact details are lacking. Emporia had fallen under Carthaginian influence prior to 509 BC, as the first treaty with Rome indicated. The eastward expansion of Carthaginian influence along the African coast (through what is now Libya) was blocked by the Greek colony of Cyrene (established 630 BC).
Carthage spread her influence along the west coast relatively unhindered, but the chronology is unknown. Wars with the Libyans, Numidians and Mauri took place but did not end with the creation of a Carthaginian empire like the one the Romans created almost half a millennium later.
Nature of the Hegemony
The degree of control Carthage exerted over her territories varied in their severity. In ways, the Carthaginian hegemony shared some of the characteristics of the Delian League (allies sharing defense expenditure), the Spartan Kingdom (serfs tilling for the Punic elite and state) and to a lesser extent, the Roman Republic (allies contributing manpower/tribute to furnish the Roman war machine).
The African lands near to the city faced the harshest control measures, with Carthaginian officers administering the area and Punic troops garrisoning the cities. Many cities had to destroy their defensive walls, while the Libyans living in the area had few rights. The Libyans could own land but had to pay an annual tribute (50% of agricultural produce and 25% of their town income) and serve in the Carthaginian armies as conscripts.
Other Phoenician cities (Like Leptis Magna) paid an annual tribute and ran their own internal affairs, retained their defensive walls but had no independent foreign policy. Other cities had to provide personnel for the Punic army and the Punic navy along with tribute but retained internal autonomy. Allies like Utica and Gades were more independent and had their own government. Carthage stationed troops and some type of central administration in Sardinia and Iberia to control her domain. The cities, in return for surrendering these privileges, obtained Carthaginian protection, which provided the fleet to combat piracy and fought wars needed to protect these cities from external threats.
Citizens and their status
Carthaginian citizenship was more exclusive, and the goal of the state was more focused on protecting the trade infrastructure than expanding the citizen body. This contrasts with the Roman Republic, which in the course of her wars created an alliance system in Italy that expanded her lands and also expanded her citizen body and military manpower by adding allies (with varying degrees of political rights). Carthage, while she continued to expand until 218 BC, did not have a similar system to increase her citizen numbers. She had treaties in place with various Punic and non-Punic cities (the most famous and well known ones being the ones with Rome), detailing the rights of each power and their sphere of influence. The Punic cities not under direct Carthaginian control probably had similar treaties in place. The Libyo-Phoenicians, who lived in the African domain controlled by Carthage, also had rights similar to those of Carthaginian citizens.
Carthaginian citizens were exempt from taxation and were primarily involved in commerce as traders or industrial workers. As a result, Carthage, unlike the other agricultural nations, could not afford to have her citizens serve in a long war, as it diminished her commercial activities.
The reign of "Kings"
Carthage was initially ruled by "kings", who were elected by the Carthaginian "senate" and served for a specific time period. The election took place in Carthage, and the kings at first were war leaders, civic administrators and performed certain religious duties. According to Aristotle, kings were elected on merit, not by the people but by the senate, and the post was not hereditary. However, the crown and military commands could also be purchased by the highest bidder. Initially these kings may have enjoyed near absolute power, which was curtailed as Carthage moved towards a more democratic government. Gradually, military command fell to professional officers, and a pair of suffets replaced the king in some of the civic functions and eventually kings were no longer elected. Records show that two families had held the kingship with distinction during 550-310 BC. The Magonid family produced several members who were elected kings between 550 BC and 370 BC, who were in the forefront of the overseas expansion of Carthage. Hanno "Magnus", along with his son and grandson, held the kingship for some years between 367 and 310 BC. Records of other elected kings or their impact on Carthaginian history are not available. The suffets, who would ultimately displace the kings, were elected by the people. Suffets would ultimately discard their military duties and become purely civic officials.
The Phoenicians encountered little resistance in developing their trade monopoly during 1100-900 BC. The emergence of the Etruscans as a sea power did little to dent the Phoenician trade. The power of the Etruscans was localized around Italy, and their trade with Corsica, Sardinia and Iberia had not hindered Phoenician activity. Trade had also developed between Punic and Etruscan cities, and Carthage had treaties with the Etruscan cities to regulate these activities, while mutual piracy had not led to full-blown war between the powers. Carthage's economic successes, and its dependence on shipping to conduct most of its trade, led to the creation of a powerful Carthaginian navy to discourage both pirates and rival nations. This, coupled with its success and growing hegemony, ultimately brought Carthage into increasing conflict with the Greeks, the other major power contending for control of the central Mediterranean. In conducting these conflicts, which spanned between 600 - 310 BC, the overseas empire of Carthage also came into being under the military leadership of the "kings". The Etruscans, also in conflict with the Greeks, became allies of Carthage in the ensuing struggle.
Conflict with the Greeks
The nature of the conflict between Carthage and the Greeks was more due to economic factors rather than ideological and cultural differences. The Greeks did not wage a crusade to save the world from Imperium Barbaricum but to extend their own area of influence, neither was Carthage interested in wiping out Greek ideals. It was the vulnerability of the Carthaginian economy to Greek commercial competition that caused Carthage to take on the Greeks during the early years of her empire.
Vulnerability of Punic trade
The trade network which Carthage inherited from Tyre depended heavily on Carthage keeping commercial rivals at arm's length. The goods produced by Carthage were mainly for the local African market and were initially inferior to Greek goods. Carthage was the middleman between mineral resource-rich Iberia and the east. She bartered low-priced goods for metals, then bartered those for finished goods in the east and distributed these through their network. The threat from the Greek colonists was threefold:
- Undercutting the Phoenicians by offering better products
- Taking over the distribution network
- Preying on Punic shipping
While the Greek colonies also offered increased opportunities for trade and piracy, their nosing into areas of Punic influence caused the Punic cities to look for protection from their strongest city. Carthage took up the challenge.
Greeks go West
The Greek colonization in the Western Mediterranean started with the establishment of Cumae in Italy and Naxos in Sicily after 750 BC. Over the next century, hundreds of Greek colonies sprang up along the Southern Italian and Sicilian coastlines (except Western Sicily). There are no records of Phoenicians initially clashing with Greeks over territory; in fact, the Phoenicians had withdrawn to the Western corner of Sicily in the face of Greek expansion. However, the situation changed sometime after 638 BC, when the first Greek trader visited Tartessos, and by 600 BC Carthage was actively warring with the Greeks to curb their colonial expansion. By 600 BC, the once-Phoenician lake had turned into a conflict zone with the Greeks rowing about in all corners. Carthaginian interests in Iberia, Sardinia and Sicily were threatened, which led to a series of conflicts between Carthage and various Greek city-states.
Twenty years after the establishment of Massalia, the Phoenician cities in Sicily repelled an invasion of Dorian Greek settlers in Sicily while aiding the Elymians of Segesta against the Greek city of Selineus in 580 BC. The result was the defeated Greeks establishing themselves in Lipera, which became a pirate hub, a threat to all commerce (Greek included). Shortly after this event, Carthaginians under a "king" called Malchus warred successfully against the Libyan tribes in Africa, and then defeated the Greeks in Sicily, sending a part of the Sicilian booty to Tyre as tribute to Melquart. Malchus next moved to Sardinia, but suffered a severe defeat against the natives. He and his entire army were banished by the Carthaginian senate. They in turn returned to Africa and besieged Carthage, which duly surrendered. Malchus assumed power, but was later deposed and executed. The Carthaginian army, which up to this point had been a predominantly citizen militia, became one primarily made up of mercenaries.
Cyrene and Carthage
No records of any confrontations between the two powers are available, but a legend describes how the powers agreed on a border in Libya.
Two pairs of champions set out for Carthage and Cyrene on the same day, each pair running towards the other city. When the runners met, the Carthaginian pair had covered more ground. Accused of cheating by the Greeks, they consented to be buried alive on the meeting spot, so that the territory between that spot and Carthage would become part of the Carthaginian domain. The Carthaginian champions were brothers, called Philaeni, and the border was marked by two pillars called the "Altars of the Philaeni". The African territorial boundary between the Western and Eastern Roman Empires was later set on this spot.
Mago and the Magonids
Mago I, a general of the army, had assumed power in Carthage by 550 BC. Mago and his sons, Hasdrubal I and Hamilcar I, established the warlike tradition of Carthage by their successes in Africa, Sicily and Sardinia. In 546 BC, Phocaeans fleeing from a Persian invasion established Alalia in Corsica (Greeks had settled there since 562 BC), and began preying on Etruscan and Punic commerce. Between 540 and 535 BC, a Carthaginian-Etruscan alliance had expelled the Greeks from Corsica after the Battle of Alalia. The Etruscans took control of Corsica, Carthage concentrated on Sardinia, ensuring that no Greek presence would be established in the island. The defeat also ended the westward expansion of Greeks for all time.
A war with Greek Massalia followed. Carthage lost battles but managed to safeguard Phoenician Iberia and close the Strait of Gibraltar to Greek shipping, while Massalians retained their Iberian colonies in Eastern Iberia above Cape Nao. Southern Iberia was closed to the Greeks. Carthaginians in support of the Phoenician colony Gades in Iberia, also brought about the collapse of Tartessos in Iberia by 530 BC, either by armed conflict or by cutting off Greek trade. Carthage also besieged and took over Gades at this time. The Persians had taken over Cyrene by this time, and Carthage may have been spared a trial of arms against the Persian Empire when the Phoenicians refused to lend ships to Cambyses in 525 BC for an African expedition. Carthage may have paid tribute irregularly to the Great King. It is not known if Carthage had any role in the Battle of Cumae in 524 BC, after which Etruscan power began to wane in Italy.
Hasdrubal, the son of Mago, was elected as "king" eleven times, was granted a triumph four times (the only Carthaginian to receive this honor - there is no record of anyone else being given similar treatment by Carthage) and had died of his battle wounds received in Sardinia. Carthage had engaged in a 25-year struggle in Sardinia, where the natives may have received aid from Sybaris, then the richest city in Magna Graecia and an ally of the Phocaeans. The Carthaginians faced resistance from Nora and Sulci in Sardinia, while Carales and Tharros had submitted willingly to Carthaginian rule. Hasdrubal’s war against the Libyans failed to stop the annual tribute payment.
Carthaginians managed to defeat and drive away the colonization attempt near Leptis Magna in Libya by the Spartan prince Dorieus after a three-year war (514-511 BC). Dorieus was later defeated and killed at Eryx in Sicily in 510 BC while attempting to establish a foothold in Western Sicily. Hamilcar, either the brother or nephew (son of Hanno) of Hasdrubal, followed him to power in Carthage. Hamilcar had served with Hasdrubal in Sardinia and had managed to put down the revolt of Sardinians which had started in 509 BC.
Treaty with Rome
Carthage had concluded treaties with several powers, but those with Rome are the most well known. In 509 BC, a treaty was signed between Carthage and Rome indicating a division of influence and commercial activities. This is the first known source indicating that Carthage had gained control over Sicily and Sardinia, as well as Emporia and the area south of Cape Bon in Africa. Carthage may have signed the treaty with Rome, then an insignificant backwater, because Romans had treaties with the Phocaeans and Cumae, who were aiding the Roman struggle against the Etruscans at that time. Carthage had similar treaties with Etruscan, Punic and Greek cities in Sicily.
By the end of the 6th century BC, Carthage had conquered most of the old Phoenician colonies e.g. Hadrumetum, Utica and Kerkouane, subjugated some of the Libyan tribes, and had taken control of parts of the North African coast from modern Morocco to the borders of Cyrenaica. It was also fighting wars in defense of Punic colonies and commerce. However, only the details of her struggle against the Greeks have survived - which often makes Carthage seem "obsessed with Sicily".
First Sicilian War
The island of Sicily, lying at Carthage's doorstep, became the arena in which this conflict played out. From their earliest days, both the Greeks and Phoenicians had been attracted to the large island, establishing a large number of colonies and trading posts along its coasts. Small battles had been fought between these settlements for centuries. Carthage had to contend with at least three Greek incursions, in 580 BC, in 510 BC and a war in which the city of Heraclea was destroyed. Gelo had fought in the last war and had secured terms for the Greeks.
The Punic domain in Sicily by 500 BC contained the cities of Motya, Panormus and Soluntum. By 490 BC, Carthage had concluded treaties with the Greek cities of Selinus, Himera, and Zankle in Sicily. Gelo, the tyrant of Greek Syracuse, backed in part by support from other Greek city-states, had been attempting to unite the island under his rule since 485 BC. When Theron of Akragas, father-in-law of Gelo, deposed the tyrant of Himera in 483 BC, Carthage decided to intervene at the instigation of the tyrant of Rhegion, who was the father-in-law of the deposed tyrant of Himera.
Hamilcar prepared the largest Punic overseas expedition to date and, after three years of preparations, sailed for Sicily. This enterprise coincided with the expedition of Xerxes against mainland Greece in 480 BC, prompting speculations about a possible alliance between Carthage and Persia against the Greeks, although no documentary evidence of this exists. The Punic fleet was battered by storms en route, and the Punic army was destroyed and Hamilcar killed in the Battle of Himera by the combined armies of Himera, Akragas and Syracuse under Gelo. Carthage made peace with the Greeks and paid a large indemnity of 2000 silver talents, but lost no territory in Sicily.
A republican empire
Defeat in the First Sicilian War had far reaching consequences, both political and economic, for Carthage. Politically, the old government of entrenched nobility was ousted, replaced by the Carthaginian Republic. The “King” was still elected, but their power began to erode, with the senate and the "Tribunal of 104" gaining dominance in political matters, and the position of "Suffet" becoming more influential. Economically, sea-borne trade with the Middle East was cut off by the mainland Greeks and Magna Graecia boycotted Carthaginian traders. This led to the development of trade with the West and of caravan-borne trade with the East. Gisco, son of Hamilcar was exiled, and Carthage for the next 70 years made no recorded forays against the Greeks nor aided either the Elymians/Sicels or the Etruscans, then locked in struggle against the Greeks, or sent any aid to the Greek enemies of Syracuse, then the leading Greek city in Sicily. Based on this abstinence from Greek affairs, it is assumed that Carthage was crippled after the defeat of Himera.
How far crippled?
If Carthage was indeed crippled, she was not immobile. Focus was shifted on expansion in Africa and Sardinia, and on the exploration of Africa and Europe for new markets. The grandsons of Mago I, Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Sappho (sons of Hasdrubal), together with Hanno, Gisco and Himilco (sons of Hamilcar) are said to have played prominent parts in these activities, but specific details of their roles are lacking. By 450 BC, Carthage had finally stopped paying tribute to the Libyans, and a line of forts was built in Sardinia, securing Carthaginian control over the island coastline.
Hanno, son of Hamilcar may be the famous Hanno the Navigator, which places his expedition around 460–425 BC, and Himilco may be the same as Himilco the Navigator, which puts his expedition sometimes after 450 BC. Hanno the Navigator sailed down the African coast as far as Cameroon, and Himilco the Navigator explored the European Atlantic coast up to England in search of tin. These expeditions took place when Carthage was at the zenith of its power. If Hanno and Himilco are indeed related to Mago, then Carthage had recovered quite rapidly from her "crippled" state. If Hanno and Himilco are not of the Magoniod family, then these expeditions may have taken place before 500 BC and Cathage might have been crippled for 70 years.
Carthage took no known part in the activities of the Sicilian chief Ducetius in Sicily against Syracuse, nor in the wars between Akrages and Syracuse, or the battles of the Etruscans against Syracuse and Cumae. Carthage's fleet also took no recorded part in the shattering defeat of the Etruscan fleet at the naval Battle of Cumae in 474 BC at the hands of the Greeks. She sat out the Peloponnesian War, refused to aid Segesta against Selinus in 415 BC and Athens against Syracuse in 413 BC. Nothing is known of any military activities Carthage might have taken in Africa or Iberia during this time. In 410 BC, Segesta, under attack from Selinus, appealed to Carthage again. The Carthaginian senate agreed to send help.
By 410 BC, Carthage had conquered much of modern day Tunisia, strengthened and founded new colonies in North Africa, and had sponsored Mago Barca's journey across the Sahara Desert, Although, in that year, the Iberian colonies seceded — cutting off Carthage's major supply of silver and copper.
The Sicilian Wars
Second Sicilian War
"King" Hannibal Mago (son of Gisco and grandson of Hamilcar, who had died at Himera in 480 BC), led a small force to Sicily to aid Segesta, and defeated the army of Selinus in 410 BC. Hannibal Mago invaded Sicily with a larger force in 409 BC, landed at Motya and stormed Selinus (modern Selinunte); which fell before Syracuse could intervene effectively. Hannibal then attacked and destroyed Himera despite Syracusan intervention. Approximately 3,000 Greek prisoners were executed by Hannibal after the battle to avenge the death of Hamilcar at Himera, and the city was utterly destroyed. The Carthaginians did not attack Syracuse or Akragas, but departed for Africa with the spoils of war, and a three-year lull fell in Sicily.
In retaliation for Greek raids on Punic Sicilian possessions in 406 BC, Hannibal Mago led a second Carthaginian expedition, perhaps aiming to subjugate all Sicily. Carthaginians first moved against Akragas, during the siege of which the Carthaginian forces were ravaged by plague, Hannibal Mago himself succumbing to it. His kinsman and successor, Himilco (the son of Hanno), successfully captured Akragas, then captured the cities of Gela and Camarina while repeatedly defeating the army of Dionysius, the new tyrant of Syracuse, in battle. Himilco ultimately concluded a treaty with Dionysius (an outbreak of plague may have caused this), which allowed the Greek settlers to return to Selinus, Akragas, Camarina and Gela, but these were made tributary to Carthage. The Elymian and Sicel cities were kept free of both Punic and Greek dominion, and Dionysius, who had usurped power in Syracuse, was confirmed as tyrant of Syracuse. The home-bound Punic army carried the plague back to Carthage.
Dionysius the Elder
Dionysius ruled for 38 years and engaged in four wars against Carthage with varying results. In 398 BC, after building up the power of Syracuse while Carthage was suffering from the plague, Dionysius broke the peace treaty. His soldiers massacred the Carthaginian traders in Syracuse, and Dionysius then besieged, captured and destroyed the Carthaginian city of Motya in Western Sicily while foiling the relief effort of Himilco through a brilliant stratagem. Himilco, who had been elected "king", responded decisively the following year, leading an expedition which not only reclaimed Motya, but also captured Messina. Finally, he laid siege to Syracuse itself after Mago, his kinsman, crushed the Greek fleet off Catana. The siege met with great success throughout 397 BC, but in 396 BC plague ravaged the Carthaginian forces, and they collapsed under Syracusan attack. Himilco paid an indemnity of 300 talents for safe passage of Carthaginian citizens to Dionysius. He abandoned his mercenaries and sailed to Carthage, only to commit suicide after publicly assuming full responsibility for the debacle (After his death, the power of "kings" would be severely curtailed, and the power of the oligarchy, ruling through the "Council of Elders" and the newly created "Tribunal of 104," correspondingly increased).
The plague, brought back from Sicily, ravaged Carthage and a severe rebellion in Africa occurred at the same time. Carthage was besieged and her naval power was crucial in supplying the city. Himilco was succeeded by his kinsman Mago, who was occupied with subduing the rebellion while Dionysius consolidated his power in Sicily. The next clash against Carthage took place during 393 BC. Mago, in an attempt to aid the Sicels under attack from Syracuse, was defeated by Dionysius. Carthage reinforced Mago in 392 BC, but before he could engage the forces of Dionysius the Sicels had switched sides. The Carthaginian army was outmaneuvered by Dionysius, and peace soon followed, which allowed Carthage to retain her domain in Sicily while allowing Syracuse a free hand against the Sicels. The treaty lasted nine years.
Dionysius began the next war in 383 BC, but details of the first 4 years of clashes are unavailable. Carthage sent a force under Mago to Southern Italy for the first time to aid Italian Greeks against Syracuse in 379 BC. The expedition met with success, but during the same year, Libyans and Sardinians revolted, and a plague again swept through Africa. The stalemate in Sicily was broken when Dionysius defeated and killed Mago at the battle of Cabala in 378 BC (Mago was the last "suffet" to lead troops personally in battle. The Magonid dynasty ended with the death of his son Himilco).
Carthage initiated peace negotiations, which dragged for a year but ultimately faltered. Dionysius had consolidated his gains during the lull, and attacked Punic Sicily. He was decisively defeated in the battle of Cronium in 376 BC by Himilco, the son of Mago. Carthage did not follow up the victory but settled for an indemnity payment of 1000 talents and restoration of Carthaginian holdings in Sicily. Nothing is known of how or when Carthage subdued the African and Sardinian rebellion.
Dionysius initiated hostilities again in 368 BC, and after initial successes besieged Lilybaeum, but the defeat of his fleet at Drepanum led to a stalemate and the war ended with his death in 367 BC. Carthaginian holdings west of the Halycas river remained secure. Hanno, a wealthy aristocrat, was in command in Sicily, and he and his family played a leading role in the politics of Carthage for the next fifty years. Carthage had entered into an alliance with the Etruscans, while Tarentum and Syracuse concluded a similar treaty.
A power struggle saw Hanno eventually depose his rival Suniatus (Leader of the Council of Elders) through the judicial process and execute him. With Sicily secure, Carthage launched campaigns in Libya, Spain and Mauretania, which eventually earned Hanno the title "Magnus", along with great wealth, while Hamilcar and Gisco, his sons, served with distinction in the campaigns. However, Hanno aimed to obtain total power and planned to overthrow the "Council of Elders". His scheme failed, leading to his execution along with Hamilcar and most of his family. Gisco was exiled.
Treaty with Rome
Carthage and Rome (by now a significant power in Central Italy), concluded a second treaty in 348 BC. Romans were allowed to trade in Sicily, but not to settle there, and Iberia, Sardinia and Libya were forbidden to Roman exploration, trade and settlement activities. Romans were to hand over any settlements they captured there to Carthage. Carthaginians pledged to be friendly with the Latins, and return to Rome cities captured in Latium (The Latin League would be incorporated into the Roman Republic by 338 BC), and not to spend the night in Roman territory under arms. This shows that the Iberian Phoenician colonies were in the Carthaginian "Sphere of Influence" by 348 BC.
The death of Dionysius ultimately led to a power struggle between Dion, Dionysius II of Syracuse and other aspirants. The Punic holdings in Sicily were secure as Syracuse had begun to lose its hegemony over other Sicilian cities because of internal political conflict that turned to open warfare. Carthage had done little directly during 366 -346 BC to interfere, but in 343 BC decided to oppose Timoleon. Carthaginian army and fleet activity failed to stop his assumption of power in Syracuse. Mago, the Carthaginian commander, had the advantage of numbers, the support of allied Greeks, and was even admitted into Syracuse. But he bungled so much that he killed himself instead of facing the tribunal of 104 after returning to Carthage.
Timoleon managed to gain support of the tyrants in league with Carthage, and the Punic expedition sent to Sicily in retaliation of Syracusan raids was crushed in the Battle of the Crimissus in 341 BC by the combined Greek force. Gisco, the son of Hanno "Magnus" was recalled and elected as "king", but he achieved little and after Timoleon had captured some pro-Carthaginian Greek cities, a peace treaty was concluded in 338 BC. The accord left the Punic possessions in Sicily unchanged, with Syracuse free to deal with other cities in Sicily.
Alexander and the Diadochi
While Carthage was engaged in Sicily, the rise of Macedon under Philip II and Alexander the Great saw the defeat of Greek city-states and the fall of the Achaemenid Empire. All the mainland Phoenician cities had submitted to Alexander except Tyre, which was besieged and sacked in 332 BC, while the Carthaginian citizens present in the city were spared. Carthage sent two delegations to Alexander, one in 332 BC and another in 323 BC, but little was achieved. Alexander was raising a fleet in Cilicia for the invasion of Carthage, Italy and Iberia when he died, sparing Carthage an ordeal. Battles among the Diadochi and the ultimate three-way struggle among Antagonid Macedon, Ptolemic Egypt and Selucid Syria spared Carthage any further clashes with the successor states for some time. Trade relations were opened with Egypt, giving Carthage sea-bourne access to the Eastern markets, which were cut off since 480 BC.
Third Sicilian War (315 BC–307 BC)
In 315 BC, Agathocles, the tyrant of Syracuse and considered as one of the Diadochi, seized the city of Messene (present-day Messina). In 311 BC, he invaded the Carthaginian holdings on Sicily, breaking the terms of the current peace treaty, and laid siege to Akragas. Hamilcar, grandson of Hanno "Magnus", led the Carthaginian response and met with tremendous success. By 310 BC, he controlled almost all of Sicily and besieged Syracuse itself.
In desperation, Agathocles secretly led an expedition of 14,000 men to the mainland, hoping to save his rule by leading a counterstrike against Carthage itself. The expedition ravaged Carthaginian possessions in Africa. Troops recalled from Sicily under the joint command of Hanno and Bomilcar (two political rivals) were defeated by Agathocles, Hanno himself falling in battle. Ophellas, one of the Diadochi, came from Cyrene with 10,000 troops to aid the Syracusans. Agathocles eventually murdered Ophellas and took over his army. Although the Greeks eventually managed to capture Utica, Carthage continued to resist, and Syracuse remained blockaded.
In Sicily, Hamilcar led a night attack on Syracuse, which failed, leading to his capture and subsequent execution by the Syracusans. Agathocles returned to Syracuse in 308 BC and defeated the Punic army, thus lifting the blockade, then returned to Africa. In 307, the war came to an end when Carthage finally managed to defeat the Greeks in Africa, after surviving a coup attempt by Bomilcar. Agathocles abandoned his army and returned to Syracuse, where a treaty divided Sicily between Punic and Greek domains.
Treaty with Rome
Carthage and Rome signed another treaty in 306 BC, according to the Greek historian Philinus. The main feature of this treaty is the agreement by Rome not to interfere in Sicily and Carthage not to exert influence over events in Italy. The historian Polybius considers this treaty a forgery.
Between 280 and 275 BC, Pyrrhus of Epirus waged two major campaigns in an effort to protect and extend the influence of the Macedonians in the western Mediterranean: one against the emerging power of the Roman Republic in southern Italy, the other against Carthage in Sicily.
The Greek city of Tarentum had attacked and sacked the city of Thurii and expelled the newly installed Roman garrison in 282 BC. Committed to war, they appealed to Pyrrhus, who ultimately arrived with an army and defeated the Romans in the Battle of Heraclea and the Battle of Asculum. In the midst of Pyrrhus' Italian campaigns, he received envoys from the Sicilian cities of Agrigentum, Syracuse, and Leontini, asking for military aid to remove the Carthaginian dominance over that island.
Carthage had attacked Syracuse and besieged the city after seizing Akragas. Mago, the Carthaginian admiral, had 100 ships blockading the city. Pyrrhus agreed to intervene, and sailed for Sicily. Mago lifted the siege and Pyrrhus fortified the Sicilian cities with an army of 20,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry and 20 war elephants, supported by some 200 ships. Initially, Pyrrhus' Sicilian campaign against Carthage was a success, pushing back the Carthaginian forces, and capturing the city-fortress of Eryx, even though he was not able to capture Lilybaeum. After a two-month siege, Pyrrhus withdrew.
Following these losses, Carthage sued for peace, but Pyrrhus refused unless Carthage was willing to renounce its claims on Sicily entirely. According to Plutarch, Pyrrhus set his sights on conquering Carthage itself, and to this end, began outfitting an expedition. The Carthaginians fought a battle outside Lilybaeum in 276 BC, and lost.
The ruthless treatment of the Sicilian cities in his preparations for this expedition, and the execution of two Sicilian rulers whom Pyrrhus claimed were plotting against him, led to such a rise in animosity towards the Greeks that Pyrrhus withdrew from Sicily and returned to deal with events occurring in southern Italy. The fleet of Pyhrrus was defeated by Carthage, the Greeks losing 70 ships in the battle.
Pyrrhus' campaigns in Italy were futile, and Pyrrhus eventually withdrew to Epirus. For Carthage, this meant a return to the status quo. For Rome, however, the failure of Pyrrhus to defend the colonies of Magna Graecia meant that Rome absorbed them into its "sphere of influence", bringing it closer to complete domination of the Italian peninsula. Rome's domination of Italy, and proof that Rome could pit its military strength successfully against major international powers, would pave the way to the future Rome-Carthage conflicts of the Punic Wars.
The Punic Wars
|This section requires expansion with: info on Second and Third Punic Wars. (April 2012)|
When Agathocles died in 288 BC, a large company of Italian mercenaries who had previously been held in his service found themselves suddenly without employment. Rather than leave Sicily, they seized the city of Messana. Naming themselves Mamertines (or "sons of Mars"), they became a law unto themselves, terrorizing the surrounding countryside.
The Mamertines became a growing threat to Carthage and Syracuse alike. In 265 BC, Hiero II, former general of Pyrrhus and the new tyrant of Syracuse, took action against them. Faced with a vastly superior force, the Mamertines divided into two factions, one advocating surrender to Carthage, the other preferring to seek aid from Rome. As a result, embassies were sent to both cities.
While the Roman Senate debated the best course of action, the Carthaginians eagerly agreed to send a garrison to Messana. A Carthaginian garrison was admitted to the city, and a Carthaginian fleet sailed into the Messanan harbor. However, soon afterwards they began negotiating with Hiero. Alarmed, the Mamertines sent another embassy to Rome asking them to expel the Carthaginians.
Hiero's intervention had placed Carthage's military forces directly across the narrow channel of water that separated Sicily from Italy. Moreover, the presence of the Carthaginian fleet gave them effective control over this channel, the Strait of Messina, and demonstrated a clear and present danger to nearby Rome and her interests. The Roman senate was unable to decide on a course of action and referred the matter to the people, who voted to intervene.
The Roman attack on the Carthaginian forces at Messana triggered the first of the Punic Wars. Over the course of the next century, these three major conflicts between Rome and Carthage would determine the course of Western civilization. The wars included a Carthaginian invasion led by Hannibal, which nearly prevented the rise of the Roman Empire. Eventual victory by Rome was a turning point which meant that the civilization of the ancient Mediterranean would pass to the modern world via Southern Europe instead of North Africa.
Shortly after the First Punic War, Carthage faced a major mercenary revolt which changed the internal political landscape of Carthage (bringing the Barcid family to prominence), and affected Carthage's international standing, as Rome used the events of the war to base a claim by which it seized Sardinia and Corsica.
The fall of Carthage
The fall of Carthage was at the end of the third Punic War in 146 BC. In spite of the initial devastating Roman naval losses at the beginning of the series of conflicts and Rome's recovery from the brink of defeat after the terror of a 15-year occupation of much of Italy by Hannibal, the end of the series of wars resulted in the end of Carthaginian power and the complete destruction of the city by Scipio Aemilianus. The Romans pulled the Phoenician warships out into the harbor and burned them before the city, and went from house to house, slaughtering and enslaving the people. The city was set ablaze, and in this way was razed with only ruins and rubble to field the aftermath.
When Carthage fell, its nearby rival Utica, a Roman ally, was made capital of the region and replaced Carthage as the leading center of Punic trade and leadership. It had the advantageous position of being situated on the Lake of Tunis and the outlet of the Majardah River, Tunisia's only river that flowed all year long. However, grain cultivation in the Tunisian mountains caused large amounts of silt to erode into the river. This silt was accumulated in the harbor until it was made useless, and Rome was forced to rebuild Carthage.
A new city of Carthage was built on the same land, and by the 1st century AD it had grown to the second largest city in the western half of the Roman empire, with a peak population of 500,000. It was the center of the Roman province of Africa, which was a major "breadbasket" of the empire. Carthage briefly became the capital of an usurper, Domitius Alexander, in 308–311 AD.
Carthage also became a center of early Christianity. Tertullian rhetorically addressed the Roman governor with the fact that the Christians of Carthage that just yesterday were few in number, now "have filled every place among you —cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palaces, senate, forum; we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods." (Apologeticus written at Carthage, c. 197).
In the first of a string of rather poorly reported Councils at Carthage a few years later, no fewer than 70 bishops attended. Tertullian later broke with the mainstream that was represented more and more by the bishop of Rome, but a more serious rift among Christians was the Donatist controversy, which Augustine of Hippo spent much time and parchment arguing against. In 397 at the Council at Carthage, the Biblical canon for the western Church was confirmed.
The Vandals under their king Geiseric crossed to Africa in 429, either as a request of Bonifacius, a Roman general and the governor of the Diocese of Africa, or as migrants in search of safety. They subsequently fought against the Roman forces there and by 435 had defeated the Roman forces in Africa and established the Vandal Kingdom. After a failed attempt to recapture the city in the 5th century, the Byzantines finally subdued the Vandals in the 6th century. Using Gaiseric's grandson's deposal by a distant cousin, Gelimer, as either a valid justification or pretext, the Byzantines dispatched an army to conquer the Vandal kingdom. On Sunday, October 15, 533, the Byzantine general Belisarius, accompanied by his wife Antonina, made his formal entry into Carthage, sparing it a sack and a massacre.
During the emperor Maurice's reign, Carthage was made into an Exarchate, as was Ravenna in Italy. These two exarchates were the western bulwarks of Byzantium, all that remained of its power in the west. In the early 7th century, it was the Exarch of Carthage Heraclius, who overthrew Emperor Phocas.
The Byzantine Exarchate was not, however, able to withstand the Arab conquerors of the 7th century. The first Arab assault on the Exarchate of Carthage was initiated from Egypt without much success in 647. A more protracted campaign lasted from 670 to 683. In 698, the Exarchate of Africa was finally overrun by Hassan Ibn al Numan and a force of 40,000 men, who shortly after established the new town of Tunis west of the city. Tunis grew to vastly eclipse Carthage as the major regional center, and the latter eventually fell to ruin. The destruction of the Exarchate of Africa marked a permanent end to the Byzantine Empire's influence in the region.
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