10 Facts About the Punic Wars

At the time they occurred, it is believed that the Punic Wars were the biggest conflicts in history. They lasted for almost a century and ended with the destruction of Carthage. At the start of the wars, Carthage was a rich and modern city state as well as a major maritime power. Due to the loss of historical records in the destruction of the Third Punic War, knowledge of the city and its culture remains spotty.

Here are 10 facts about the Punic Wars.

1. 3 Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage were fought between 264 BC and 146 BC

Carthaginianempire

2. Carthage was a Phoenician city

Phoenician trireme

The Phoenicians, originally from Lebanon, were known as successful sea traders and naval warriors. They also spread the first alphabet. Their trade routes along the North African and European coasts of the Mediterranean made them a rival of Rome.

3. Carthage is about 10km from the modern city of Tunis, capital of Tunisia

Ruins of Carthage near Tunis

The well-preserved remains that are now a UNESCO World Heritage site include the Roman city that was established on the ruins of the original.

4. The flash point for the wars was the island of Sicily

Syracuse in Sicily

A dispute between the cities of Syracuse and Messina in 264 BC saw the two powers taking sides and a small local conflict turn into a battle for dominance of the Mediterranean.

5. The great Carthaginian general and Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar Barca, commanded the city’s forces in the First Punic War

Probable portrait bust of Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal.

6. Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps (after first crossing the Pyrenees) took place in the Second Punic War in 218 BC

Hanibal crossing the Alps

According to contemporary accounts, he took 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry and 38 elephants into the mountains and descended into Italy with about 20,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry and a handful of elephants.

7. At the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC, Hannibal inflicted on Rome the worst defeat in its military history

Battle of Cannae

Between 50,000 and 70,000 Roman soldiers were killed or captured by a much smaller force. It is considered one of the great military triumphs (and disasters) in history, the perfect ‘battle of annihilation’.

8. Hannibal so concerned the Romans that they demanded his personal surrender long after they had defeated Carthage’s armies

Bust probably of Hannibal

He went into exile to save Carthage from harm, but was still being hounded when he poisoned himself around 182 BC.

9. The Third Punic War (149 – 146 BC) saw Rome achieve total victory over its enemy

Roman slaves

Photo by ‘Jun (Flickr)

The final Siege of Carthage lasted around two years and the Romans completely destroyed the city, selling an estimated 50,000 people into slavery.

10. Carthage had become an obsession to some Romans, most famously Cato the Elder (234 BC – 149 BC)

Cato the Elder

The statesman would proclaim: ‘Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam, (‘By the way I think that Carthage must be destroyed,’) at the end of every speech he made, no matter what he was talking about.

Colin Ricketts studied history at the University of Birmingham, graduating in 1992. He's a qualified librarian, a former journalist and currently a freelance writer and editor.