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Punic Wars


The Punic wars were a sequence of military conflicts fought between the Roman Republic and Carthaginian Empire between 264 BCE and 146 BCE.

**I think more needs to be added here about Who/what Roman republic even is at this point.**



These wars were fought across the Western Mediterranean, and were of such geopolitical importance that the victor would go on to establish a pan-Mediterranean hegemony that would last the next half millennium b. Across the 118-year period in which these wars occurred, there were forty-three years of constant warfare and an estimated 1.5 million killed; making it, not only one of the longest wars fought by Rome, but also one of its bloodiest.

The origins of these wars can largely be attested to an aggressive Roman expansion in Southern Italy, following the Pyrrhic Wars, and Carthaginian meddling on the island of Sicily.

Map of the initial lay of the lands

Inevitably, competition between the two powers over the Island turned into outright warfare. The First Punic war dragged on for 23 years and saw Rome begin its first venture into large-scale maritime warfare. Through a series of land and sea battles Rome emerged triumphant, forcing Carthage into a humiliating peace, annexing Sicily, and finally, occupying Corsica and Sardinia following a Carthaginian mercenary revolt.

The calamity that followed the end of the First Punic war, ingrained a bitter hatred of Rome within the bellies of the Punic people (what defines ‘Punic people’) , none more so than the great Hannibal Barca. His mission was simple, the restoration of Carthaginian pride, and the completed destruction of Rome.

Image of Hannibal?


Carthage, having lost its dominant foothold within the Mediterranean, turned its eyes northwest, to the Iberian Peninsula.


 Expanding her sphere of influence beyond mere coastal cities would provide access to silver and manpower that could once again pose a threat to her greatest rival. Aware of this danger, Rome signed a formal treaty with the North Iberian city of Saguntum (where is this on a map?), before pressing Carthage not to extend her boundaries beyond the river Ebro. Ironically this offered Hannibal the pretext for war he had so craved; in 219 BCE the Punic general besieged and sacked Saguntum, twisting Rome’s arm to a declaration of war.

The story from here is well known. Hannibal, in one of history’s most preposterous military manoeuvres, marched his men across the Alps. Over the fifteen-day slog, Hannibal lost over half his army, mostly through desertion and exposure. He emerged with little over 20,000 infantry and 6000 cavalry, nonetheless, he had not only succeeded in eluding the now dominant Roman navy, but had circumnavigated Rome’s legions. No mention of elephants? Planting himself at the open doorway of the Italian Peninsula, Hannibal prepared to face off against the leviathan that was the Roman army.

What followed, was the complete devastation of Roman manpower and confidence. Over a fifteen-year period Hannibal rampaged across the Italian Peninsula, eradicating army after army sent to end his terror. If ancient sources are to be trusted, Rome may have lost as many as 300,000 men throughout this period, or, in other words, one-sixth of the adult male population. Perhaps more startling, the revelation that the majority of these casualties occurred within the first three years of Hannibal’s Italian campaign. Never again would Rome undergo such desolation in so dense a period.

 In spite of these horrific losses, Rome persevered and eventually went on to attack the ‘soft under-belly’ of the Carthaginian Empire, first in Spain and then in Africa. Led by a young general who had survived the horrors of Cannae, the Roman army reinvented itself and inflicted staggering defeats on Carthaginian forces led by Hannibal’s brothers. Scipio’s successful push into Africa forced Hannibal’s withdrawal from Italy and led to the final showdown of the war, the decisive battle of Zama.


I think the army units need to be woven into the above a bit more.

Army Compositions

Carthaginian Military

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Romano-Punic rivalry is how different the two factions were. First, Carthage, a trading behemoth and the dominant maritime power of the Western Mediterranean. The city state had been founded by Phoenicians, and her Empire had grown rich through the naval traditions instilled by her founders. At the outset of the wars, the Carthaginian navy was the dominant maritime force in the Western Mediterranean; her land forces were less efficient. The wealth accumulated by the Empire, and its distrust of a regular standing army, entrenched a reliance on mercenary troops, paid to battle on her behalf; Libyans, Numidians, Gauls, Iberians and the rest would happily fight for Carthaginian gold. True Carthaginian citizens only served in her army if there was a direct threat to the Empire’s capital. Unlike her army, Carthage’s navy was constantly manned, usually by her citizens. With the dawn of the Second War, Carthage found her navy weak and unable to match the now dominant Roman fleet. In spite of this Carthage possessed two advantages: a tactically flexible mercenary army, and an individual under the name Hannibal Barca. As history would prove, this frightful combination was more than a match for the legions of Rome. 


Numidian Cavalry:

War Elephants:

Libyan Hoplites:



Balearic Slingers: Paid in wine

Iberian warriors: Swordsmen










Roman Army

In contrast the Roman Republic was an agricultural power, which relied on the power of its land forces to achieve victory. The Republican army of this period did not maintain standing or professional military forces, but levied them, by compulsory conscription of her citizens. The majority would serve as infantry, a small minority of wealthier citizens would go on to form the cavalry (equites). Nonetheless, Rome’s strength was her infantry, when assembled they would fight as four different unit types. First the skirmishers, known as the Velites, these were often the young or the poor, whom could not afford armour and instead acted as a screen to the main army that would launch javelins at an approaching enemy. Then came the second line, these were known as the Hastati, young men, armed with two javelins, a gladius and armour; these served as the first melee line of the army. The next two lines comprised of the Principes then Triarii. These would have been the older, wealthier citizens. Armed with gladius, thrusting spear and heavy armour, these men provided the steady backbone of a Roman fighting force. The Roman army would fight in a manipular formation three lines deep (triplex acies) behind a velite screen. This system offered greater tactical strength and flexibilty, allowing individual maniples to be mutually aid one another, however it was prone to being outmanoeuvred and struggled to respond to threats on its flanks; as demonstrated by Hannibal at Cannae.







Italian Allies













Major Events

  • 264 BCE

The Mamertines at Messana on Sicily call for Carthaginian and then Roman help in defence against Syracuse, sparking the First Punic War.

  • 263 BCE

Segesta joins the Roman cause in the First Punic War.

  • 262 BCE

Rome besieges and sacks Agrigento on Sicily in one of the first actions of the First Punic War.

  • 260 BCE

First Roman naval victory against Carthage off Mylae in the First Punic War.

  • 260 BCE

Rome builds a fleet of 120 ships in just 60 days to fight the First Punic War.

  • 258 BCE

Rome wins a naval battle against Carthage at Sulcis during the First Punic War.

  • 256 BCE

Rome lands an army of four legions on African soil at Clupea during the First Punic War.

  • 255 BCE - 253 BCE

Roman fleets are wrecked by storms off Pachynus and Palinurus during the First Punic War.

  • 255 BCE

A Carthaginian army led by the mercenary Spartan commander Xanthippus defeats two Roman legions near Tunis during the First Punic War.

  • 254 BCE

Romans capture Palermo during the First Punic War.

  • 250 BCE

A Carthaginian army led by Hasdrubal is defeated by Roman consul Metellus near Palermo in the First Punic War.

  • 249 BCE

Carthage defeats Rome in a naval battle at Drepanum during the First Punic War.

  • 241 BCE

Roman naval victory off the Aegates Islands leads to victory over Carthage, ending the First Punic War.


  • 229 BCE

Hasdrubal takes command of Carthage's armies in Spain.

  • 226 BCE

Hasdrubal signs an agreement with Rome not to cross the Ebro river in Spain.

  • 221 BCE

Hannibal takes command of Carthage's armies in Spain.

  • 219 BCE

Hannibal crosses the Ebro river in Spain and sacks the city of Saguntum, Rome's ally, sparking off the Second Punic War.


Second Punic War. 218 BCE - 201 BCE

  • Mar 218 BCE

Rome declares war on Carthage after Hannibal sacks Saguntum in Spain. The Second Punic War begins.

  • Apr 218 BCE - May 218 BCE

Hannibal leaves Spain to cross the Pyrenees and Alps into Italy.

  • Nov 218 BCE

Hannibal wins the battle of Ticinus.

  • Dec 218 BCE

Hannibal wins the battle of Trebia.

  • Jun 217 BCE

Hannibal wins the battle of Lake Trasimene.

  • Aug 216 BCE

Hannibal wins the battle of Cannae, the worst defeat in Roman history.

  • 215 BCE

A Carthaginian army led by Hasdrubal is defeated at the battle of Ibera in Spain.

  • 214 BCE

Syracuse joins the side of Carthage in the Second Punic War.

  • 212 BCE

A Carthaginian army is defeated in Sicily by a Roman army led by Marcellus. Syracuse falls to Rome who now control the island.

  • 211 BCE

A Carthaginian army defeats two Roman consuls and their armies in the Tader valley, Spain.

  • 209 BCE

Tarentum comes under Roman control during the Second Punic War.

  • 209 BCE

Scipio Africanus captures the Carthaginian base and treasury Carthago Nova in southern Spain.

  • 208 BCE

Scipio Africanus defeats a Carthaginian army led by Hasdrubal at Baecula in Spain.

  • c. 22 Jun 207 BCE

Rome defeats a Carthaginian army at the battle of Metaurus.

  • 206 BCE - 205 BCE

The Romans conquer Gades. End of the Carthaginian presence on the Iberian Peninsula.

  • 206 BCE

Scipio Africanus wins the battle of Ilipa in Spain.

  • 204 BCE

Scipio Africanus sails to North Africa in the Second Punic War.

  • 203 BCE

Carthaginian commander Mago is unable to join forces with Hannibal and his army is defeated in Cisalpine Gaul.

  • 203 BCE

Scipio Africanus attacks the two camps of Syphax and Gisgo in North Africa and destroys their armies.

  • 203 BCE

Scipio Africanus defeats a Carthaginian army at the battle of Utica.

  • 203 BCE

Hannibal is recalled from Italy to defend Carthage against Scipio Africanus.

  • 19 Oct 202 BCE

Battle of Zama: Scipio Africanus defeats Hannibal, ending the Second Punic War.





  • 150 BCE

A Carthaginian army attacks Numidia, breaking the peace treaty agreed with Rome and sparking the Third Punic War.

  • Third Punic War. 149 BCE - 146 BCE
  • 149 BCE

Rome sends an army of 80,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry to attack Carthage.

  • 148 BCE

The Roman siege of Carthage, in its second year, remains unsuccessful.

  • 147 BCE

Scipio Africanus the Younger takes over command of the siege of Carthage and builds a mole to block its harbour.

  • 146 BCE

Scipio Africanus the Younger sacks Carthage and enslaves its population.


The Main Players

Hannibal- Sometimes there are individuals who exceed all imaginings, true forces of (human) nature that offer us a glimpse at the startling genius possessed by a rare few. Hannibal Barca was one such man. His name, legend and his feats, astonishing. Hannibal led the main Carthaginian army throughout the Second Punic War. Through his daring tactical flare, he inflicted the worst defeats experienced in Roman history. Trebia, Trasimene and Cannae are just a few examples of his startling military acumen. Though he failed to win the war, Hannibal’s legacy remains untarnished. He became a ‘bogeyman’ to the Roman people and fear that another like him could emerge from Carthage led to Rome’s complete destruction of the city. Hannibal Barca remains one of the greatest military leaders in human history.





Scipio Africanus-Military historian Basil Liddell Hart lamented that; history is written by the victors but remembers losers. This could be none more evident than for Scipio Africanus, vanquisher of Hannibal. Despite the historical amnesia that clouds the great man’s name, he is an icon of history and a great amongst generals.


Fabius Cunctator- “The Delayer”

Publius Cornelius Scipio