Ancient History & Civilisation

The Roman Response

The ability of Carthage to create an army and fight a war, albeit unsuccessfully, confirmed Roman fears and suspicions. The Treaty of 201 had expressly forbidden the declaration of war in Africa without Roman approval. This was probably enough to justify strong protests, but the Roman Senate, now more experienced in diplomacy after fifty years of close involvement with the Hellenistic world, looked for a stronger pretext for open war. In the meantime, preparations for a major expedition to invade Africa were begun, without declaration of its purpose. Characteristically, the Carthaginians attempted to blame their commander in the field and deny their own responsibility for the recent war. Hasdrubal, Carthalo (the leader of the Popular Party) and several other officers were condemned to death. Hasdrubal's troops must still have been loyal to their commander, for he appears soon afterwards at the head of 30,000 men. Ambassadors were dispatched to Rome to complain of Masinissa's provocation, and to condemn the Punic officers who had rashly gone to war. The Roman response was to point out that if the Carthaginian authorities had truly opposed war then they would have condemned their commanders before they had fought. The delegation was told cryptically that they must 'satisfy the Roman People'. A second embassy failed to discover precisely what the Romans meant by this.9

At this point Utica defected to the Romans, its harbours providing them with an ideal base for an attack on Carthage. In 149 the Senate and Comitia Centuriata both approved the declaration of war. Both consuls were to go to Africa, Manius Manilius in command of the army and Lucius Marcius Censorinus in command of the fleet. As in 218 and 205-204, the Romans concentrated at Lilybaeum in Sicily before embarking for Africa. In the meantime, Carthage sent another embassy to Rome, where the Senate demanded that 300 hostages selected from the children of the main noble families should be handed over at Lilybaeum within thirty days. This was done, despite the fact that the Senate had only promised the Carthaginians their territory and freedom to be governed by their own laws. The wording carefully avoided mention of the city of Carthage itself, a move similar to Scipio's technical justification of breaking the truce in 203. The hostages were conveyed to Rome in a great 'sixteen', a ship probably confiscated from the Macedonian fleet at the end of the Third Macedonian War. io

In spite of the Carthaginians' acceptance of their demands, the consuls still sailed across to land at Utica. Still uncertain of the Romans' intentions, another delegation was formed at Carthage and sent to the consuls, who received them in great state, seated on a tribunal flanked by their senior officers and with the army paraded behind them. It was a daunting display of Rome's might, intended to persuade the ambassadors that any resistance to the consuls' demands was hopeless. Censorinus, elected first by theComitia,probably older and a better orator, spoke in answer to their appeal, demanding that the city hand over all of its stocks of arms and armour. Once again, despite their nervousness at the Roman proposal, the Carthaginians submitted. They are said to have delivered 200,000 panoplies of armour, 2,000 torsion engines, and huge numbers of javelins, arrows and catapult ammunition. As usual the reliability of these numbers is questionable and it is obvious that Roman sources would be inclined to exaggerate the military preparedness of the city they were about to destroy, but it is clear that very large stocks of weaponry were surrendered to the Roman representatives.

The arrival in the Roman camp of the convoy containing this equipment was the preliminary to another, even harsher command. Censorinus informed the ambassadors that the Carthaginians must abandon their city, the entire population moving to a new settlement which they could place anywhere they chose, providing that it was at least 10 miles from the sea. Carthage itself would then be razed to the ground, although the shrines and cemeteries associated with it would not be touched and the

Carthaginians would be allowed to visit them in future. It was an appalling blow, for the city was the physical, spiritual and emotional centre of the State. Severing the link of any new community with the sea, which had for so long been the source of Punic wealth, made it doubly so. Censorinus is supposed to have employed Platonic arguments to support the view that the sea had an unhealthy influence of the political and social life of a city. At the end of this, the ambassadors were roughly ejected by the consuls' lictors, but promised to present these terms to their own government. They even suggested that the Roman fleet demonstrate in the bay outside the city to remind the citizens of the alternative to acceptance of the Roman demands.11

Rumours had spread rapidly in Carthage and a nervous crowd surrounded the ambassadors when they entered the city and waited outside as they reported to the Council of 104. The Roman demand was immediately rejected. Men who had argued for the conciliation of Rome were lynched, as were any Italian traders unfortunate enough to be in the city. The 104 voted for war with Rome and began preparations to find the means with which to fight. Slaves were freed and conscripted into the army, whilst Has-drubal was pardoned and messages sent pleading with him to aid his ungrateful fellow citizens. Another Hasdrubal, son of one of Masinissa's daughters, indicating again the close links between Carthaginian and Numidian nobility, was given command inside Carthage itself. For once, the whole Punic citizen body threw itself wholeheartedly into the war effort. Weapons were hastily produced, women sacrificing their long hair to twine into the ropes needed for torsion catapults.12

The Third Punic War had begun. In many ways the Romans were surprised that the Carthaginians finally decided to fight, after meekly submitting to each outrageous demand made of them. The Romans' behaviour had been cynical in the extreme, concealing their intention to destroy the city until after they had extracted as many concessions as possible. Carthage now appeared to be at their mercy, unprepared and unarmed. Yet the war was to last until 146 and prove far harder than the consuls expected.

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