In this article, we are going to look at Carthage, endeavoring to explain what it is, and the historical significance of the same.
Carthage definition and meaning
Carthage means “new town,” and it is an ancient city that was based on the coast of North Africa near what is present-day known as Tunisia. Phoenicians of Tyre founded the city in 814BC, and since it was a mighty city, it caught the attention of Rome. They ended up coming into conflict in what is known as the Punic Wars. The destruction of Carthage came in 146BC.
It is said that Carthage was not the earliest settlement of Phoenicians. The population is from Phoenicia, an ancient Sematic-speaking civilization based in the Mediterranean region that spoke Canaanite. Their origins are from the Levant, now the area that Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine occupy. Their main population, according to scholars, was based in the coastal regions of modern Lebanon, parts of Northern Israel, and the western parts of Syria. Over time, the Phoenician population made their way to the Western Mediterranean, goings as far as Carthage in Tunisia and parts of Spain.
Something to note is that there is little archeological evidence that shows that there was a unifying aspect that the Phoenician people held them together. They had different languages, lifestyles, and even religion. Based on the findings, Carthage was perhaps the most crucial trading hub in the Ancient Mediterranean civilization. It is for that reason that it was also considered the most affluent cities in the Ancient World. Over time, the area became the capital of the Punic empire (Western Mediterranean) that took over most of the South Western Mediterranean.
The city founder is said to be Queen Dido or Alyssa. Over time the empire grew exponentially to the point that it was a threat to Rome; that led to the Punic Wars. It was in the Third Punic War of 146BS that Carthage was destroyed. After, the Roman empire took over and made it their major city in Africa. Even with the fall, Carthage is one of the longest-surviving and largest states during the Ancient Mediterranean.
Hannibal was a general of the Carthaginian army and is said to be one of history’s greatest military commanders and strategists. He was alive during a time when the Roman Empire was rising and was controlling Italy. During the First Punic War (264-241 BC), his father, Hamilcar Barca, was the leading commander. His younger brothers and also brother-in-law were also commanders of Carthaginian armies. Though Carthage lost the First Punic War, Hannibal, allegedly driven by a drive to keep his promise to his father never to be a friend of Rome, took the state to the Second Punic War.
In 218BC, he attacked an ally of Rome and then proceeded to take the war to Italy. He is family said to have crossed the Alps using African Elephants. From there, he won victory after victory, unlike anything that was done before. What set him aside as one of the greatest commanders in the world was his ability to know the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses and make battle plans accordingly.
For 15 years, he was in control of cities allied to Rome, which was mostly in southern Italy. His chance to win the deciding victory did not take place because the Romans avoided confrontation with him. Instead, Rome launched a counter-invasion in North Africa, which then forced Hannibal to make his way back to Carthage. The end of the Second Punic War ended when Hannibal got defeated in the Wart of Zama, one of his brothers having previously been driven out of the area.
Rome imposed war indemnity on Carthage that would last 50 years, and Hannibal was in charge of making political and financial reforms that would make that possible. However, these reforms did not go well with both the Carthaginian aristocrats and also Rome. For that reason, Hannibal went for voluntary exile. There, he became a military advisor for one’s of Rome’s enemies. After they failed to defeat the Romans, Hannibal fled.
He was after betrayed by the Romans and committed suicide by drinking poison to avoid capture. However, a different narrative says he died from a fever after his finger was wounded by his sword while mounting a horse. The cause of death remains unknown to this day. Even the year he died is disputed, with old writing about Hannibal indicated he died between 183 BC and 181 BC.
Why did Rome destroy Carthage?
Rome destroyed Carthage as a retaliation of a 15-year occupation of a significant part of Italy by Hannibal and also that, long after Hannibal’s death, they still saw Carthage as a threat. What broke the camel’s back was when Carthage fought back against and invaded Numidia that had invaded a small town in the Carthage territory. The reason why this was a significant issue is that after the Second Punic War, Carthage was charged with taking all border disputes to Rome.
Carthage did lose the war against Numidia, and they were forced to pay another 50-year war indemnity. Even after the agreement, Rome as not satisfied and decided to declare war against Carthage. Carthage tried to negotiate a peace treaty, but those efforts bore no fruit. If anything, Rome sent large troops to a defected Carthage city waiting to lay siege and promised to burn Carthage to the ground. When the Carthaginians saw that nothing was working, they abandoned the negotiations and went to war. They were able to hold off the Romans for two years.
They were, after a series of naval losses, able to recover and finally take siege and claimed Carthage. What followed was the Romans getting all the Phoenician warships to the harbor and burning them as the city watched. After, they went from house to house, capturing people to enslave them. From the siege, about 50,000 Carthaginians got sold into slavery. That was a small portion of the original population, most of them have died of starvation during the war and more during the last six days of war where there was intense bloodshed of the Carthaginians.
After, the city was burned to the ground to the point that only rubble and ruins remained. Since the most influential city had been destroyed, the Romans took over other North African locations that were once Carthaginian’s colonies. The extent to which they destroyed the city also has a lot to do with the experience they had under Hannibal. Even without him, Carthage still had a strong army and was always considered a threat.
Before his death, Hannibal is said to have left a note saying, “Let us relieve the Romans from the anxiety they have so long experienced since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man’s death.” He was not wrong about causing the Romans anxiety. He caused a lot of distress to the Roman society, and the terror of him intensified with every battle. The Latin phrase “Hannibal ante portas” which translates to “Hannibal is at the gates” was something the Roman senators would explain is still used today. It is now a common expression used when one is faced with calamity or when a client arrives at the door.
When was Carthage destroyed?
Carthage got destroyed in 146BC. It was Rome’s last attempt to ensure that such an adversary was behind them, and they could rule in peace.
Where is Carthage?
The ancient ruins of the Carthage are located at a residential suburb at the city of Tunis, Tunisia. In 1979, this ancient city got added to the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
Carthage stands out because of their innovation in how the designed ships and how they could navigate the sea. They were able to mass-produce the ship using oak, fir, and pine. For easy assembly, they would mark the pieces using numbers so that putting together the shit was fast. As far back as 256BCE, the Carthage feet was about 350 ships. During their war with Rome, they had to continually build a new ship to make up for the ones they lost at battle.
The naval fleet was propelled by sail and oars. Mounted on the prow right below the waterline, there was a bronze ram that they used to hit enemy vessels to damage them. The primary tactic was to ram into an enemy ship and inflict a hole into the vessel. From there, they would let the water do the rest. The maneuvering of the ship also changed to where they had about four to five men per oar so that the ship would move faster. There were catapults mounted on the deck as well but they were used for long distance warfare and not when there was a ship to ship battle.
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