Why was Carthage so rich?

Carthage : A great power is being destroyed

Polybios is not necessarily to be blamed. The Roman historian of Greek origin researched conscientiously - but since the decisive contract had been removed from the Roman state archive, he was unable to include Rome's blatant breach of law in his description of the first so-called Punic War. "A majority of the Roman leadership must have wanted the war, otherwise Rome's legions would not have marched," says Klaus Zimmermann, ancient historian at the University of Münster.

The ambitious Rome was by no means involved in the war with the great power Carthage through the chain of unfortunate circumstances. Zimmermann has read the sources critically for his recently published book "Carthage - Rise and Fall of a Great Power" and is rewriting this chapter of ancient history.

Carthage, offshoot of the Phoenician city of Tire on the Levant coast, was founded in the 9th or 8th century BC. BC on the African, now Tunisian, north coast. Within around 200 years, the new foundation grew into an independent power in the western Mediterranean. The place quickly became more than a mere base of a purely economically oriented trading power. Carthage pursued a consistent policy of expansion with exploratory trips into the North Atlantic towards England and along the African west coast to the south.

Initially, the Carthaginians were able to establish themselves largely undisturbed in the western Mediterranean with bases in Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and Spain. For centuries, Carthage was one of the most politically successful great powers of antiquity. There were first conflicts when the Greeks in the 5th and 4th centuries. Century BC BC forced their western colonization and established themselves in southern Italy and Sicily. But it was only the conflicts with Rome that became threatening after the three Punic Wars, despite the sensational successes of Hannibal, leading to the total fall of the North African Empire in 146 BC. Led.

Rome destroyed the city and culture so perfectly that today there is only minimal written news from Carthage itself. And even archeology can filter little out of the scanty remains of the leveled city. The history of Carthage in science and school books is the story written by the victors. And so the picture of the greedy pepper sacks was created, who sacrificed their children to a cruel idol ritual and acted notoriously lying. The Roman reports of Hannibal's military successes, exaggerated into legend, served the sole purpose of making his own victories over him all the brighter.

Initially, the great power Carthage and the emerging regional power Rome operated peacefully side by side. For example, the “Philinos Treaty” from 306 BC regulated The borders were clear: Sicily was a Carthaginian, Italy a Roman area of ​​interest, the other had no place there. 264 BC In BC Rome broke the agreement and invaded Sicily under a flimsy pretext, the First Punic War, as it was called in Rome, was purposefully erupted from the fence. Polybius was unable to document the Roman breach of law in his historiography, the Philinos treaty had disappeared. Instead, he reproduces the semi-official account that the Roman Senate passed the decision on the invasion of Sicily to a referendum. The people then agreed to the war with the prospect of loot.

Zimmermann finds this representation highly questionable, he sees rather "clear traces of manipulation", the Senate and its chroniclers were very well aware of the problem of the Roman law violation. The Roman senators would have taken the war with Carthage into account.

The year 264 BC Chr. Became a turning point: Rome acted for the first time with a fleet and became an expansive sea power. For Carthage, the time of unrestricted supremacy in the western Mediterranean was over, the loss of Sicily and Sardinia heralded gradual decline. At first, however, this was not yet apparent. Carthage armed itself, expanded to Spain and soon dominated the southern part up to the Ebro. The legendary Hannibal was already involved in the conquests. The campaigns provided the fuel for the Second Punic War - again combined with a breach of contract by the Romans.

In the "Ebro Treaty", the Romans and Carthaginians set the river Ebro as the northern border for Carthage military operations in Spain. With this treaty, writes Zimmermann, Rome had "expressed or implicitly recognized the Carthaginian claim to the areas south of the river." The city of Sagunto, south of the Ebro, feared for its freedom during Hannibal's campaigns and asked Rome for protection against the Carthaginians. The Roman Senate quickly declared Sagunto an old ally and warned Carthage against conquering the city. With reference to the Ebro Treaty and older agreements, Hannibal and the Carthaginian council felt they were right, besieged Sagunto and conquered the city after eight months.

During this time Rome did not lift a finger to help its "old ally". Only after the fall of the city did Rome declare war on Carthage. "This confirms the assumption that the Romans were not interested in Sagunto, but rather the opportunity to intervene" in Spain, summarizes Zimmermann. Sagunto was a pawn sacrifice "that helped Rome to achieve its strategic goal, the war against Carthage, while maintaining a semblance of legitimacy".

Despite Hannibal's terrific successes in Italy itself, the second Punic War, also instigated by Rome, turned out to be catastrophic for the Carthaginians after 17 years. The Romans attacked Carthage themselves, even Hannibal, who was recalled from Italy, could no longer turn the military tide. Defeated BC. The Carthaginians had to surrender their fleet and the war elephants, send 100 noble hostages to Rome, pay huge reparations costs and confine themselves to their African territory.

The Third Punic War was not a fight, but the cynically staged, merciless execution of Cato's demand, "Incidentally, I am of the opinion that Carthage must be destroyed". 146 BC It was done.

Klaus Zimmermann: Carthage - the rise and fall of a great power. Theiss-Verlag, Stuttgart 2010. 192 pages, € 34.90.

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