Ancient History & Civilisation

5. CARTHAGE AND MASINISSA

The terms imposed on Carthage after Zama had put an end to her independent political life, but within the prescribed limits she could still develop her territory and foster her commerce. She was hampered less by external circumstances than by internal moral weakness. Her oligarchical government was selfish and corrupt. Though she paid her annual indemnity to Rome, notwithstanding the loss of her Spanish mines, it was the lower classes that bore the burden. The exploitation by a vicious oligarchy of a state whose treasury was nearly empty could not continue indefinitely: at last the people called on Hannibal to cleanse the administration. Elected Sufete in 196,15 he at once struck at the power of the oligarchs. He skilfully manoeuvred an official appeal to the people by getting at variance with the Senate. In the popular assembly he vigorously attacked the Council of One Hundred and Four Judges and passed a law which made membership subject to annual election by the people, with the proviso that no judge should hold office for two consecutive years. At one blow the tyrannical control of the oligarchs was undermined. Hannibal followed up this triumph by a masterly reorganization of the public revenues and by encouraging commerce and agriculture. So happy were his reforms that by 191 Carthage could offer to pay off the rest of her war indemnity in a lump sum, whereas the instalment of 199 had been paid in such poor silver that the Roman quaestors had rejected it.

But Hannibal’s very success caused his downfall. Though supported by the people, he could hope for little mercy from the disgruntled oligarchs, who setting party before state appealed to Rome on the pretext that Hannibal was intriguing with Antiochus. A stir was caused in political circles. Cato had just entered office (195) and the anti-Barcid faction had unwittingly provided him with powder and shot to attack his enemy, Scipio Africanus. It would be argued that Scipio’s generous peace terms had enabled Hannibal to overthrow the nobility of Carthage and to seize the helm himself: with the east so unsettled, what might this not mean? Scipio himself maintained that it was beneath the dignity of the Roman people to meddle with the party politics of Carthage or to treat as a common criminal the man whom they had defeated in open war. This was the wiser, as well as the more generous, policy, for there is no evidence, beyond the accusations of his political opponents, that Hannibal had any far-reaching designs. As it was, Scipio’s rivals won the day and succeeded in driving Hannibal into the arms of Antiochus, thereby creating the very situation they were trying to avoid. They sent three commissioners to Carthage, nominally to arrange a frontier question between Masinissa and Carthage, but actually to complain to the Carthaginian Senate that Hannibal was intriguing with Antiochus. Hannibal perceived their real purpose and fled by night from the city, ultimately reaching the court of Antiochus; that he sought asylum beyond the reach of Rome does not prove that he had previously been intriguing with the king. The Punic government then humbled itself and formally exiled its greatest citizen.

After sacrificing Hannibal to Punic jealousy and Roman revenge, the Carthaginian government would long keep the anti-Roman party under its heel; indeed Hannibal himself had aimed at avoiding giving any cause of complaint to Rome. He received no encouragement from Carthage when plotting with Antiochus. With continued humility Carthage sent large quantities of corn to support the Roman armies in Greece and Asia, and as Rome’s ally, promptly gave military and naval assistance when required. True, in 174 and 171 BC Masinissa accused Carthage of plotting with Perseus, but the suspicions were unfounded. During the first half of the second century Rome and Carthage lived, if not in harmony, at least in unbroken peace. Roman policy was non-aggressive, while trade and the coming and going of embassies taught the two peoples to know each other better. The final breakdown was caused not by Carthage, but by the ambitious Masinissa.

Masinissa, who was thirty-seven years old at Zama, preserved his vigour into a ripe old age: at eighty-eight he still commanded his army in battle, mounting his horse unaided and riding barebacked. But he had other outstanding qualities besides physical vigour. Fearless and unscrupulous, diplomatic and masterful, he conceived the tremendous ideal of welding the native tribes of North Africa into a nation. He successfully developed agriculture and commerce, and encouraged the spread of Punic civilization. His fame soon exceeded the confines of Africa; he cultivated relations with the Greek world, and at Delos at least three statues were erected in his honour. Throughout he remained the faithful ally of Rome, aiding her with supplies and troops in her eastern and Spanish wars. But his territorial aggressions soon caused friction with Carthage.16 After Zama he had been rewarded with the Numidian empire of the defeated Syphax and with any territory which either he or his ancestors had held. With this exception Carthage had retained her possessions inside the Phoenician Trenches and her control of Emporia.17 Obviously difficulties would arise in interpreting Masinissa’s claim within the Trenches, and these would be increased by the fact that Carthage was forbidden to wage war on any ally of Rome in Africa. Masinissa gradually but systematically proceeded to occupy Emporia, other maritime colonies of Carthage, and much territory within the Trenches. Whenever he rattled the sabre, Carthage always declined the challenge and merely appealed to the Romans, who sent out boundary commissions, but these always decided in the king’s favour or else left the question unsettled (e.g. in 193, 182, 174 and 172 BC). Finally Carthage became restive, and after a series of razzias Masinissa occupied a district in the Great Plains called Tusca (perhaps the modern Dougga). Again Carthage appealed to the Roman Senate, with the usual result that a commission headed by Cato left the question undecided (probably in 153). But not all the Senate was willing to follow the revengeful advice of Cato, who now urged the destruction of Carthage. The next year another commission was despatched under Scipio Nasica who forced Masinissa to withdraw a little way.

In Carthage party strife was rife and the popular party succeeded in exiling the leaders of the faction which desired to come to an agreement with Masinissa (151–150). When the king tried to insist on the reinstatement of these exiles, the patience of the Carthaginians broke down and they declared war, unmindful of the restrictions of the Zama treaty. A fierce engagement gave a slight victory to the Numidians, so that the Carthaginians were ready to negotiate for terms through the good offices of Scipio Aemilianus, who had just arrived from Spain in order to obtain some elephants. Negotiations, however, broke down, and Masinissa managed to cut off his enemy’s supplies. Starvation and disease at length forced the Carthaginians to capitulate; they agreed to cede the debated territory and to pay 5,000 talents in fifty years. But as the survivors marched out they were treacherously attacked by the king’s son, Gulussa; few escaped to Carthage. The attempt to check Masinissa’s advance had thus proved abortive; it had merely established the king in more territory and had roused the anger of Rome.

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