Ancient History & Civilisation

PART THREE

THE THIRD PUNIC WAR 149-146 BC

CHAPTER 14

'Delenda Carthago'

THE FINAL CONFRONTATION between Rome and Carthage lasted only four years and ended in the latter's total destruction. The war was fought entirely in Africa, as the Roman invaders struggled to capture the enemy capital, and its outcome was never really in doubt, unless the Romans decided to abandon the expedition. Responsibility for the earlier conflicts is not always easy to assign, but there is no doubt that the Third Punic War was deliberately provoked by the Romans, who had made a conscious decision to destroy their old enemy. Roman negotiators shamelessly exploited the Carthaginians' willingness to grant concessions in their desire to avoid war with Rome, steadily increasing their demands to force a conflict on a weakened enemy. It was a far worse display than any of the recorded examples of the proverbial 'Punic treachery'. By the standards of modern strategy the war was unnecessary, since Carthage does not seem to have posed a real threat to Rome. To understand why the Romans embarked upon such a deliberately ruthless policy, we must look again at the Roman attitude to war and the peculiar conditions of the middle of the second century BC1

The Carthaginians had proved consistently loyal allies of Rome since 201. They had supplied Roman armies with grain and in 191 sent half of their tiny navy to join the fleet operating against Antiochus III. Aided by Hannibal's reform of the State's finances, the annual indemnity had been paid regularly until its completion in 151. In the series of boundary disputes with Masinissa's Numidia, Carthage had submitted to Roman arbitration, even though this had always openly or tacitly favoured the king. Whether or not there had been any truth in the accusation, it was Carthaginian noblemen who reported Hannibal's supposed dealings with Antiochus and prompted his flight in 195. They also arrested and tried his agent, Ariston of Tyre, sent in 193 to encourage the city to support the

Seleucids against Rome, although Ariston was able to escape before the trial was concluded. A deputation was sent to Rome to report this incident and assure the Senate of Carthage's continuing loyalty. We are told that three main factions dominated Carthaginian politics in this half century, a group favouring Rome headed by Hanno the Great, another favouring Masinissa led by Hannibal the Starling, and the. last relying on the poorer citizens for support led by Hamilcar the Samnite and Carthalo. Hamilcar's nickname was perhaps derived from a father or grandfather who had served with Hannibal in Italy, and we also hear of one Mago the Bruttian in this period, whose name suggests a similar connection, but it is not entirely clear that the democratic party should be as closely associated with the Barcids as some scholars have claimed. None of these groups appears to have been openly hostile to Rome. It is unclear whether or not the renewed prosperity of the city resulted in some rearmament, since although our literary sources claim that this was not so, the excavations in the naval harbour suggest otherwise. What is certain is that in the middle of the century the Carthaginians were in no position to launch a serious offensive against Rome, even if they had wanted to. Even so, it is clear that the Romans were increasingly afraid of their ally at this very period.2

The completion of the fifty-year war debt in 151 removed the annual reminder of Carthage's defeat and the city's current subordinate status. Treaties stipulating a fixed period of peace between two states were a common feature of Greek settlements ending a conflict, but very rare with the Romans, who expected a more permanent outcome to their wars. In 265 Carthage had turned herself from a long-standing and distant ally into an enemy, a permanent change in the Romans' perception of her. Rome was never content with alliances which implied any level of equality with a former foe. War was swiftly renewed with Macedonia in 200, and again when Perseus appeared to be growing both strong and independent. A loyal ally was expected to submit to Roman interference, especially in external affairs, whenever this was in Rome's interest. Between 241 and 218 the Romans had seized Sardinia and intervened in Spain, forcing concessions from Punic leaders without placing any restrictions on themselves, and this attitude continued after 201. After 151 Carthage ceased to pay an annual debt to Rome. The city was prosperous and its power in North Africa still considerable even if some territory had been lost to Numidia. The traditions of Punic warfare did not expect a defeated state, especially one which had not been conquered and absorbed, to remain forever subject to the victor. Only the Romans thought in this way. No longer were the Carthaginians unambiguously dependent allies of Rome. That a former enemy, and one who had pushed Rome to the brink of utter defeat, was once again strong and independent immediately turned her back into a threat. This was the root of the Romans' rising fear of Carthage.

The mood was personified by Cato. By the middle of the century the 'new man' who had fought at Tarentum, Metaurus and in Africa was amongst the most influential and respected members of the Senate, one of the few of his generation still actively participating in State affairs. Probably in 153, he took part in one of the embassies sent to arbitrate in a dispute between Carthage and Masinissa. By this time he was in his late seventies, but still a vigorous and forceful orator. The Roman delegation was deeply impressed by the growing wealth and population of their old enemy. On his return to Rome Cato started to end every speech he delivered in the Senate with the same phrase, 'Carthage must be destroyed'. On one occasion he is said to have dropped some figs from the fold of his toga. These, he informed an audience impressed by their size, had been grown in a country a mere three days away by sea. Cato exaggerated the speed with which a Punic fleet might descend on Rome, although one could reach southern Italy in just a few days, and some scholars have rather pointlessly speculated as to whether he had simply bought the figs in Rome or even grown them on his own estate. This was a symbolic gesture and a powerful one which our sources considered worth repeating and is still remembered to this day. Another prominent senator, Scipio Nasica, matched Cato by ending his own speeches with the view that Carthage should be preserved. It is claimed that he believed the presence of a strong rival would preserve the Romans' virtue intact, an argument which became a continual lament in the next century when Rome was plunged into a series of civil wars. At the time few Romans seem to have agreed with him. Plutarch claimed that it was primarily Cato's influence which convinced Rome to destroy Carthage, and in some modern accounts the persistent malevolence of the old man is equally prominent. As in many other aspects of his career, Cato seems to have expressed the mood of the majority of the population.3

There was a growing sense of insecurity in Rome during the 150s BC. The wars in the early decades of the century had been won with great ease by Roman armies composed of highly experienced officers and men. Gradually the generation of the Hannibalic war grew too old for military service and their knowledge and skill was lost. The impermanence of Rome's militia legions ensured that as each army was demobilized, the process of training new troops had to begin afresh. Experienced soldiers were replaced by younger men who were less aware that Rome's military success was based upon thorough training, careful logistical preparation and skilled leadership and believed instead that success was their due simply because they were Roman. The second quarter of the century saw fewer troops under arms and relatively little campaigning. In 155 Lusitanian tribesmen mounted a series of heavy raids on the Roman province of Further Spain, attacks which grew larger in scale with each success. In 154 a Roman praetor was killed and his army heavily defeated. In 153 the Celtiberians inflicted several defeats on a consular army led by Quintus Fulvius Nobilior. Reports of hard and dangerous fighting in Spain produced a minor crisis in Rome when very few men came forward to serve in an army being raised to send against the Celtiberians under the command of Lucius Licinius Lucullus in 151. Only the example set by Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, grandson by adoption of Africanus, who publicly volunteered to serve as a tribune, persuaded enough men to come forth. In fact the war had already been concluded before Lucullus arrived but, eager for glory and riches, the praetor set his army on a friendly tribe, who surrendered only to be treacherously massacred. A similar atrocity occurred in the next year, when the praetor of Further Spain, Publius Sulpicius Galba, already defeated once by the Lusitanians, offered to make peace with the tribesmen. Promising to settle them on good farmland, Galba divided the Lusitanians up into three groups, disarmed them and then ordered his legionaries to slaughter the defenceless warriors. One of the few to escape from this massacre was a man named Viriathus, who was to prove himself a charismatic leader and bitter opponent of Rome. For over a decade the Romans were faced with fierce fighting against both the Lusitanians and Celtiberians. Eventually one of his subordinates was bribed to murder Viriathus in 140, but it took seven more years and massive resources before the main Celtiberian stronghold at Numantia was captured. Galba was prosecuted on his return to Rome for his breach of fides, Rome's cherished faithfulness, Cato joining the attack upon him. Galba was unexpectedly acquitted after bringing his weeping children into court and having them beg for their father. He was later to become one of the most famous orators in Rome.4

The defeats suffered in Spain highlighted the inexperience of most Roman armies. The annual replacement of provincial governors and the rarity of pro-magistracies encouraged commanders to seek glory before they were replaced, and denied them the time necessary to turn their soldiers into an effective army. This had mattered far less in the early part of the century when the quality of Rome's manpower had been higher. Even then the pressure to achieve success in a single year of office had encouraged Flamininus to begin peace negotiations with Philip V in 198, only to break off the talks and press for a military victory once his command was extended for another year. Successive defeats lowered the morale and made further reverses even more likely. The failure to protect allies amongst the Spanish communities encouraged these to defect and created more enemies to fight. At one point large parts of Further Spain had submitted to Viriathus. Losses in Spain were far enough away not to pose a direct threat to Italy, but they were a major blow to Roman prestige. The difficulties in raising officers and men for Spain in 151 were especially shocking, since even the crisis of the Hannibalic invasion had not caused such reluctance to serve amongst Roman citizens.5

Appian says that the Roman Senate secretly decided to seek a pretext for war with Carthage soon after Cato's return from Africa. This may or may not be correct, but their actions make it clear that this was certainly their attitude by 150-149 and it is probable that the payment of the last instalment of Carthage's indemnity in 151 contributed to the decision. All the Romans now needed was an excuse for war. Their Numidian allies were soon to provide it.

Masinissa's Kingdom, 201-150 BC

Cato provided one link between the Second and Third Punic Wars in the same way that Hiero's, Fabius Maximus' and Marcellus' careers had spanned the First and Second Wars. Masinissa was another connection with the past. In 150 he was 88 years old, but still fit enough to ride without a saddle after the manner of his people and to lead his men into battle. When he died two years later, the king left behind a 4-year-old son, one of ten legitimate and illegitimate boys he had sired during his long life. Brought up for much of his early life in Carthage, the Numidian had an extensive knowledge of Punic culture and did much to introduce many aspects of this, from literacy to religion, into the kingdom which he had struggled to create from the independent tribes of his people. Towns were encouraged, although it is unclear to what extent these were populated by an imported population rather than Numidians persuaded to abandon their nomadic way of life. Masinissa gave each of his sons a landed estate to be farmed with the most modern Punic methods, realizing that the promotion of agriculture would both strengthen the kingdom and give power to those who controlled the new sources of production. Despite his admiration for Punic culture and his distinguished service with their armies in Spain, Masinissa displayed a bitter hostility to his former ally throughout his reign.6 The Treaty of 201 had included the somewhat vague provision that

Carthage should restore to Masinissa all territory which had belonged to him or his ancestors. Appian claims that the limit of Punic land was marked by the 'Phoenician trenches', although the precise location of these has proved impossible to establish with much precision. The vagueness of the Treaty encouraged Masinissa to seize more and more slices of Carthaginian territory, claiming that it had once belonged to his people. Eventually his claims extended to allowing the Punic settlers only the area of the Byrsa, the original hill settlement of Carthage which according to myth Elishat had received from the local ruler. Roman delegations sent to resolve the disputes between their two allies repeatedly found in favour of the king, who was able to gain more areas of fertile land and eventually the important coastal ports in the area known as Emporia.7

Eventually, the politicians eager to appease and accommodate Masinissa were expelled from the city around 152-151 and the Popular party gained a temporary dominance. The exiled leaders fled to the king, who sent his sons Gulussa and Micipsa to demand their restitution. Gulussa had in the past acted as the king's representative in Rome, but on this occasion the brothers were not even admitted into Carthage. As they returned, Gulussa's party was mobbed by Hamilcar the Samnite and a group of supporters, who killed several of his attendants. In 150 the Numidians once again began to attack Punic territory, ravaging the land and besieging a city called Oroscopa, the location of which is unknown. For the first time since 201, Carthage decided to fight a war without seeking Roman arbitration or approval, and formed an army of 25,000 foot and 400 horse under the command of Hasdrubal. The cavalry are described as being raised in the City so were presumably citizens. They were few in number, but received a strong reinforcement when a dispute between Masinissa's sons and two Numidian chieftains, Asasis and Suba, led to their desertion with 6,000 light horse. Hasdrubal gained the advantage in some minor skirmishing and followed the Numidian army as it deliberately withdrew, luring the enemy into more rugged terrain, where food and water were in short supply.

Finally Masinissa decided to offer battle and a day-long fight resulted in which neither side gained a decisive advantage. The battle was watched from a distance by Scipio Aemilianus, who was in Africa using his family's link with Masinissa to persuade the old king to furnish elephants for Lucullus' army in Spain. Hasdrubal withdrew to his hilltop camp and negotiations began with Scipio acting an intermediary. The talks broke down when the Carthaginians refused to return Asasis and Suba for punishment. Masinissa's army built a wall and ditch surrounding the enemy occupied high ground, a skill which they had probably learned through service with the Roman army. Cut off from supplies and unwilling to admit defeat and attempt a breakout, Hasdrubal’s army soon consumed the supplies of food carried in its train. Immobile, the Carthaginians slaughtered and ate their pack and draught animals, then the more valuable cavalry mounts. Firewood to cook the meat which was now forming so much of their diet was soon exhausted, so the soldiers chopped up their shields and burned those. Hasdrubal seems to have expected the Numidians to run out of supplies and disperse, but the army Masinissa had created during his reign was clearly a far more organized and efficient force than anything fielded by the tribes in the past. Eventually Hasdrubal surrendered, promising that Carthage would pay a fifty-year war debt and receive back the exiled aristocrats who had fled to Masinissa. As the Carthaginian army marched out in surrender, they were attacked by a group of Numidian horsemen led by Gulussa and many cut down. Whether the attack was premeditated or not, and if so whether Masinissa was involved, is impossible to say, for it has proved similarly difficult to allocate responsibility in similar, more recent massacres. Hasdrubal and many of his officers escaped.8

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