By the year 270 the Roman nation state had taken control over every last inch and mile of the Italian peninsula, being the warrior culture that they were, they felt a pressing need to expand. Shortly after, a series of battles would ensue known as the punic wars. Which was a head to head collision of the two major powers that currently ruled over the Mediterranean.
Many Romans believed that these wars would mean the fulfillment of an old prophesy. In Rome’s creation story is chronicled the love affair of Aeneus, prince of Troy, and Dido found and queen of Carthage. Aeneus left Dido to found Rome, and Dido forever cursed his future nation condemning his and hers to be forever enemies. The people of Carthage were of Phoenician descent and were thought of as such by the Romans.
At this point in history, Carthage controlled major islands in the Mediterranean sea, as well as all of North Africa, and parts of Spain. The close proximity of these two powerful empires was enough to create tensions. These wars were initially provoked by a group of Roman pirates who had been stranded in Carthage, and had nothing better to do besides trying to take the city over. This group of pirates had sent word to Rome, claiming that they had been attacked, and that Carthage had declared war on Rome. Thanks to the big egos of the minor few, millions would die in the bloody wars that followed.
“No states, no nations ever met in arms greater in strength or richer in resources; these Powers themselves had never before been in so high a state of efficiency or better prepared to stand the strain of a long war” (Titus Livius History Of Rome, Book 21, Chapter 1)
The Barcid family of Carthage was of the bloodline of the great general Hamilcar, and his son Hannibal, both of whom would have a noticeable impact on history. They were a family of great influence and power in the upper echelons of the Carthaginian elite. With armies in Spain, they were one of the few powerful adversaries of Rome willing to put them on true military trial.
The first Punic war was over the island of Sicily, which both empires considered to be within their borders. This made sense because Sicily was in a prime strategic location being almost in the center of the Mediterranean as well as being the only buffer between the two factions. This head to head rivalry forced the Romans to finally build a navy. Gaius Rufus who was great grandfather to the future emperor Augustus served under the general Aemilius Papas who was in command of the Sicilian offensive. Though from a humble background, his great grand son would be someone of power, wealth, and repute. Augustus’s great-grandfather served in Sicily in the second Punic war as tribune of the soldiers under the command of Aemilius Papus. ”
“His grandfather, content with the offices of a municipal town and possessing an abundant income, lived to a peaceful old age. 3 This is the account given by others; Augustus himself merely writes2 that he came of an old and wealthy equestrian family, in which his own father was the first to become a senator.” (Seutonius, Life Of Augustus, Chapter 2)
Previously the Romans did not construct many warships, yet at this point of the conflict, Rome began to construct a powerful sea faring army with their warships being modeled after that of the Carthaginians.
The battle for Sicily ended up with the Romans being victorious, it was mostly a naval battle. Though despite being defeated the Carthaginian general Hamilcar sought payment from the Carthaginian government for himself and his mercenary army. Since Carthage had gone broke due to wartime expenses, Hamilcar had to walk away open handed, this humiliating defeat would forge a fiery hatred for Rome among his descendants.
Punic war map courtesy of: (http://www.mrdowling.com)
Because the reach of the Carthaginians extended into Spain, this would mean that the Romans would have a very mighty enemy right on their doorstep. An idea which did not sit comfortably with the Roman people.
The next phase of the Punic wars would involve Hannibal son of Hamilcar as the Carthaginian general. Because of his recent lucrative conquests in eastern Spain, the army that he had raised had transitioned from being paid mercenaries to soldiers loyal to the Barkad family.
This part of history was incredibly critical for Rome because for them it meant expanding their borders and their fortunes. Polybius a Greek historian who documented historical progress from 264 to 146 BCE states, “Such then was the occasion and motive of this the first crossing of the Romans from Italy with an armed force, an event which I take to be the most natural starting-point of this whole war.” (Polybius, The Punic Wars, Book 1 Chapter 12)
The second Punic war kicks off with a border dispute in Eastern Spain, along the east coast of Spain there are multiple large rivers, and one of these is said to be the ancient border between Rome and Carthage. (Historians are unsure of which river specifically.) Just barely on the Carthaginian side rested the Greek colony of Saguntas, a popular trading city considered to be an envoy of Rome. Since it was closer to Carthaginian influence, Hannibal claimed that the city was part of his empire, a claim that was very hotly detested by the Romans.
The feud escalated and Hannibal and his mighty Spanish army ended up besieging Saguntas. The people of Saguntas immediately cried out to their Roman benefactors for rescue. Rome did not come to their immediate relief, for the bulk of their military was involved in a heated battle in the region of Illyria. (Present day balkans.) Hannibal sacked the city and sold most of its population that remained alive into slavery. Twenty years went by before two massive armies were sent out by Rome as retaliation. One went to North Africa, and the other to Saguntas. Ready to spill blood over being spurned.
Hannibal sends an army over the alps. The two armies clash, with the Carthaginians temporarily retreating. The roman offensive was lead by the general known as Scipio, who would eventually be slain in the fighting. Hannibal’s army made the arduous crossing over the alps at the beginning of winter and losing the bulk of his army in the process. Once arriving in northern Italy, he attempted to recruit the local galls to his cause, who had no love for Rome. Promising gifts and glory the Galls accepted Hannibal’s terms.
Hannibals Army won a victorious battle near the area of current day Milan. With the armies of Seuchronius scattered, Rome sent reinforcements. With Hannibal’s army resting just 150 miles north of the city, Rome chose a new general by the name of Fabius to lead the offensive. Fabius was strategic and would not be lured into battles in which his side would be at a disadvantage. For the time being, Hannibal and his army continued to ravage the countryside.
Scipio retaliated by sending a secret army to attack the Carthaginian capital city in Spain, Carthago Nova. Because he did not mention his plans to anyone, and purged his ranks of potential spies, his army reached the city completely be surprise. Scipio sacked the city, and then defeated Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal on the field in eastern Spain, sending him and his army running over the alps to join his brother.