Ancient Carthage

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

c. 814 BC–146 BC
Flag of Carthage
Supposed military standard[1] topped by the crescent moon and sun disc symbols
Symbol of the goddess Tanit, the cultic or state insignia of Carthage
Symbol of the goddess Tanit,
the cultic or state insignia
Carthage and its dependencies in 264 BC
Carthage and its dependencies in 264 BC
Common languagesPunic, Phoenician, Berber (Numidian), Ancient Greek
Punic religion
GovernmentMonarchy until c. 480 BC, republic led by Shophets thereafter[2]
Historical eraAntiquity
• Founded by Phoenician settlers
c. 814 BC
• Independence from Tyre
c. 650 BC
146 BC
• 221 BC[3]
3,700,000–4,300,000 (entire empire)
CurrencyCarthaginian shekel
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Africa (Roman province)
Sicilia (Roman province)

Carthage (/ˈkɑːrθɪ/) was a settlement in modern Tunisia that later became a city-state and then an empire. Founded by the Phoenicians in the ninth century BC, Carthage was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC, who later rebuilt the city lavishly.[4][5][6] At its height in the fourth century BC, Carthage was one of the largest metropolises in the world,[7] and the centre of the Carthaginian Empire, a major power in the ancient world that dominated the western Mediterranean.

Carthage was settled around 814 BC by colonists from Tyre, a leading Phoenician city-state located in present-day Lebanon. In the seventh century BC, following Phoenicia's conquest by the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Carthage became independent, gradually expanding its economic and political hegemony across the western Mediterranean. By 300 BC, through its vast patchwork of colonies, vassals, and satellite states, Carthage controlled the largest territory in the region, including the coast of northwest Africa, southern Iberia (Spain, Portugal, and Gibraltar) and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Malta, and the Balearic archipelago.[8]

Among the ancient world's largest and richest cities, Carthage's strategic location provided access to abundant fertile land and major maritime trade routes.[9] Its extensive mercantile network reached as far as west Asia, west Africa and northern Europe, providing an array of commodities from all over the ancient world, in addition to lucrative exports of agricultural products and manufactured goods. This commercial empire was secured by one of the largest and most powerful navies in the ancient Mediterranean, and an army composed heavily of foreign mercenaries and auxiliaries, particularly Iberians, Balearics, Gauls, Britons, Sicilians, Italians, Greeks, Numidians and Libyans.

As the dominant power of the western Mediterranean, Carthage inevitably came into conflict with many neighbours and rivals, from the indigenous Berbers of North Africa to the nascent Roman Republic.[10] Following centuries of conflict with the Sicilian Greeks, its growing competition with Rome culminated in the Punic Wars (264146 BC), which saw some of the largest and most sophisticated battles in antiquity. Carthage narrowly avoided destruction after the Second Punic War, and was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC after the third and final Punic War. The Romans later founded a new city in its place.[11] All remnants of Carthaginian civilization came under Roman rule by the first century AD, and Rome subsequently became the dominant Mediterranean power, paving the way for its rise as a major empire.

In spite of the cosmopolitan character of its empire, Carthage's culture and identity remained rooted in its Phoenician-Canaanite heritage, albeit a localised variety known as Punic. Like other Phoenician people, its society was urban, commercial, and oriented towards seafaring and trade; this is reflected in part by its more famous innovations, including serial production, uncolored glass, the threshing board, and the cothon harbor. Carthaginians were renowned for their commercial prowess, ambitious explorations, and unique system of government, which combined elements of democracy, oligarchy, and republicanism, including modern examples of checks and balances.

Despite having been one of the most influential civilizations of antiquity, Carthage is mostly remembered for its long and bitter conflict with Rome, which threatened the rise of the Roman Republic and almost changed the course of Western civilization. Due to the destruction of virtually all Carthaginian texts after the Third Punic War, much of what is known about its civilization comes from Roman and Greek sources, many of whom wrote during or after the Punic Wars, and to varying degrees were shaped by the hostilities. Popular and scholarly attitudes towards Carthage historically reflected the prevailing Greco-Roman view, though archaeological research since the late 19th century has helped shed more light and nuance on Carthaginian civilization.


The name Carthage /ˈkɑːrθɪ/ is the Early Modern anglicisation of Middle French Carthage /kar.taʒ/, from Latin Carthāgō and Karthāgō (cf. Greek Karkhēdōn (Καρχηδών) and Etruscan *Carθaza) from the Punic qrt-ḥdšt (Punic: 𐤒𐤓𐤕𐤟𐤇𐤃𐤔𐤕, lit.'New City').[12][13]

Punic, which is sometimes used synonymously with Carthaginian, derives from the Latin poenus and punicus, based on the Ancient Greek word Φοῖνιξ (Phoinix), pl. Φοίνικες (Phoinikes), an exonym used to describe the Canaanite port towns with which the Greeks traded. Latin later borrowed the Greek term a second time as phoenix, pl. phoenices.[14] Both Punic and Phoenician were used by the Romans and Greeks to refer to Phoenicians across the Mediterranean; modern scholars use the term Punic exclusively for Phoenicians in the western Mediterranean, such as the Carthaginians. Specific Punic groups are often referred to with hyphenated terms, like "Siculo-Punic" for Phoenicians in Sicily or "Sardo-Punic" for those in Sardinia. Ancient Greek authors sometimes referred to the mixed Punic inhabitants of North Africa ('Libya') as 'Liby-Phoenicians'.[15]

It is unclear what term, if any, the Carthaginians used to refer to themselves. The Phoenician homeland in the Levant was natively known as 𐤐𐤕 (Pūt) and its people as the 𐤐𐤍𐤉𐤌 (Pōnnim). Ancient Egyptian accounts suggest the people from the region identified as Kenaani or Kinaani, equivalent to Canaanite.[16] A passage from Augustine has often been interpreted as indicating that the Punic-speakers in North Africa called themselves Chanani (Canaanites),[17] but it has recently been argued that this is a misreading.[18] Numismatic evidence from Sicily shows that some western Phoenicians made use of the term Phoinix.[19]


Compared to contemporaneous civilizations such as Rome and Greece, far less is known about Carthage, as most indigenous records were lost in the wholesale destruction of the city after the Third Punic War. Sources of knowledge are limited to ancient translations of Punic texts into Greek and Latin, Punic inscriptions on monuments and buildings, and archaeological findings of Carthage's material culture.[20] The majority of available primary sources about Carthage were written by Greek and Roman historians, most notably Livy, Polybius, Appian, Cornelius Nepos, Silius Italicus, Plutarch, Dio Cassius, and Herodotus. These authors came from cultures that were nearly always in competition with Carthage; the Greeks with respect to Sicily,[21] and the Romans over dominance of the western Mediterranean.[22] Inevitably, foreign accounts of Carthage usually reflect significant bias, especially those written during or after the Punic Wars, when the interpretatio Romana perpetuated a "malicious and distorted view".[23] Excavations of ancient Carthaginian sites since the late 19th century has brought to light more material evidence that either contradict or confirm aspects of the traditional picture of Carthage; however, many of these findings remain ambiguous.


Foundation legends

The specific date, circumstances, and motivations concerning Carthage's founding are unknown. All surviving accounts of the city's origins come from Latin and Greek literature, which are generally legendary in nature but may have some basis in fact.[24]

The standard foundation myth across all sources is that the city was founded by colonists from the ancient Phoenician city-state of Tyre, led by its exiled princess Dido (also known as Queen Elissa or Alissar).[25] Dido's brother, Pygmalion (Phoenician: Pummayaton) had murdered her husband, the high priest of the city, and taken power as a tyrant. Dido and her allies escaped his reign and established Carthage, which became a prosperous city under her rule as queen.

The Roman historian Justin, writing in the second century AD, provides an account of the city's founding based on the earlier work of Trogus. Princess Dido is the daughter of King Belus II of Tyre, who upon his death bequeaths the throne jointly to her and her brother Pygmalion. After cheating his sister out of her share of political power, Pygmalion murders her husband Acerbas (Phoenician: Zakarbaal), also known as Sychaeus, the High Priest of Melqart, whose wealth and power he covets.[26] Before her tyrannical brother can take her late husband's wealth, Dido immediately flees with her followers to establish a new city abroad.

Upon landing in North Africa, she is greeted by the local Berber chieftain,

The suicide of Queen Dido, by Claude-Augustin Cayot (1667–1722)

The city's wealth and prosperity attracts both Phoenicians from nearby Utica

and the indigenous Libyans, whose king Iarbas now seeks Dido's hand in marriage. Threatened with war should she refuse, and also loyal to the memory of her deceased husband, the queen orders a funeral pyre to be built, where she commits suicide by stabbing herself with a sword. She is thereafter worshiped as a goddess by the people of Carthage, who are described as brave in battle but prone to the "cruel religious ceremony" of human sacrifice, even of children, whenever they seek divine relief from troubles of any kind.

Virgil's epic poem the Aeneid—written over a century after the Third Punic War—tells the mythical story of the Trojan hero Aeneas and his journey towards founding Rome, inextricably tying together the founding myths, and ultimate fates, of both Rome and Carthage. Its introduction begins by mentioning "an ancient city" that many readers likely assumed was Rome or Troy,[27] but goes on to describe it as a place "held by colonists from Tyre, opposite Italy . .. a city of great wealth and ruthless in the pursuit of war. Its name was Carthage, and Juno is said to have loved it more than any other place ... But she had heard that there was rising from the blood of Troy a race of men who in days to come would overthrow this Tyrian citadel ... [and] sack the land of Libya."[27]

Virgil describes Queen Elissa—for whom he uses the ancient Greek name, Dido, meaning "beloved"—as an esteemed, clever, but ultimately tragic character. As in other legends, the impetus for her escape is her tyrannical brother Pygmalion, whose secret murder of her husband is revealed to her in a dream. Cleverly exploiting her brother's greed, Dido tricks Pygmalion into supporting her journey to find and bring back riches for him. Through this ruse she sets sail with gold and allies secretly in search of a new home.

As in Justin's account, upon landing in North Africa, Dido is greeted by Iarbas, and after he offers as much land as could be covered by a single ox hide, she cuts the hide into very thin strips and encircles all of Byrsa. While digging to set the foundation of their new settlement, the Tyrians discover the head of a horse, which in Phoenician culture is a symbol of courage and conquest. The horse foretells where Dido's new city will rise, becoming the emblem of the "New City" Carthage. In just seven years since their exodus from Tyre, the Carthaginians build a successful kingdom under Dido's rule. She is adored by her subjects and presented with a festival of praise. Virgil portrays her character as even more noble when she offers asylum to Aeneas and his men, who had recently escaped from Troy. The two fall in love during a hunting expedition, and Dido comes to believe they will marry. Jupiter sends a spirit in the form of the messenger god, Mercury, to remind Aeneas that his mission is not to stay in Carthage with his new-found love Dido, but to sail to Italy to found Rome. The Trojan departs, leaving Dido so heartbroken that she commits suicide by stabbing herself upon a funeral pyre with his sword. As she lies dying, she predicts eternal strife between Aeneas' people and her own, proclaiming "rise up from my bones, avenging spirit" in an invocation of Hannibal.[28] Aeneas sees the smoke from the pyre as he sails away, and though he does not know the fate of Dido, he identifies it as a bad omen. Ultimately, his descendants go on to found the Roman Kingdom, the predecessor of the Roman Empire.

Like Justin, Virgil's story essentially conveys Rome's attitude towards Carthage, as exemplified by Cato the Elder's famous utterance, "Carthago delenda est"—"Carthage must be destroyed".[29] In essence, Rome and Carthage were fated for conflict: Aeneas chose Rome over Dido, eliciting her dying curse upon his Roman descendants, and thus providing a mythical, fatalistic backdrop for a century of bitter conflict between Rome and Carthage.

These stories typify the Roman attitude towards Carthage: a level of grudging respect and acknowledgement of their bravery, prosperity, and even their city's seniority to Rome, along with derision of their cruelty, deviousness, and decadence, as exemplified by their practice of human sacrifice.[citation needed]

Settlement as Tyrian colony (c. 814 BC)

To facilitate their commercial ventures, the Phoenicians established numerous colonies and trading posts along the coasts of the Mediterranean. Organized in fiercely independent city-states, the Phoenicians lacked the numbers or even the desire to expand overseas; most colonies had fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, and only a few, including Carthage, would grow larger.[30] Motives for colonization were usually practical, such as seeking safe harbors for their merchant fleets, maintaining a monopoly on an area's natural resources, satisfying the demand for trade goods, and finding areas where they could trade freely without outside interference.[31][32][33] Over time many Phoenicians also sought to escape their tributary obligations to foreign powers that had subjugated the Phoenician homeland. Another motivating factor was competition with the Greeks, who became a nascent maritime power and began establishing colonies across the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.[34] The first Phoenician colonies in the western Mediterranean grew up on the two paths to Iberia's mineral wealth: along the northwest African coast and on Sicily, Sardinia, and the Balearic Islands.[35] As the largest and wealthiest city-state among the Phoenicians, Tyre led the way in settling or controlling coastal areas. Strabo claims that the Tyrians alone founded three hundred colonies on the west African coast; though clearly an exaggeration, many colonies did arise in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Iberia, and to a much lesser extent, on the arid coast of Libya.[36] They were usually established as trading stations at intervals of about 30 to 50 kilometres along the African coast.[37]

By the time they gained a foothold in Africa, the Phoenicians were already present in Cyprus, Crete, Corsica, the Balearic Islands, Sardinia, and Sicily, as well as on the European mainland, in what are today Genoa and Marseilles.[38] Foreshadowing the later Sicilian Wars, settlements in Crete and Sicily continually clashed with the Greeks, and Phoenician control over all of Sicily was brief.[39] Nearly all these areas would come under the leadership and protection of Carthage,[40] which eventually founded cities of its own, especially after the decline of Tyre and Sidon.[41]

The site of Carthage was likely chosen by the Tyrians for several reasons. It was located in the central shore of the Gulf of Tunis, which gave it access to the Mediterranean sea while shielding it from the region's infamously violent storms. It was also close to the strategically vital Strait of Sicily, a key bottleneck for maritime trade between the east and west. The terrain proved as invaluable as the geography. The city was built on a hilly, triangular peninsula backed by the Lake of Tunis, which provided abundant supplies of fish and a place for safe harbor. The peninsula was connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land, which combined with the rough surrounding terrain, made the city easily defensible; a citadel was built on Byrsa, a low hill overlooking the sea. Finally, Carthage would be conduit of two major trade routes: one between the Tyrian colony of Cadiz in southern Spain, which supplied raw materials for manufacturing in Tyre, and the other between North Africa and the northern Mediterranean, namely Sicily, Italy, and Greece.[42]

Independence, expansion and hegemony (c. 650–264 BC)

Animation depicting Carthage, in Latin with English subtitles

In contrast to most Phoenician colonies, Carthage grew larger and more quickly thanks to its combination of favorable climate, arable land, and lucrative trade routes. Within just one century of its founding, its population rose to 30,000. Meanwhile, its mother city, which for centuries was the preeminent economic and political center of Phoenician civilization,[43] saw its status begin to wane in the seventh century BC, following a succession of sieges by the Babylonians.[44][45] By this time, its Carthaginian colony had become immensely wealthy from its strategic location and extensive trade network. Unlike many other Phoenician city-states and dependencies, Carthage grew prosperous not only from maritime commerce but from its proximity to fertile agricultural land and rich mineral deposits. As the main hub for trade between Africa and the rest of the ancient world, it also provided a myriad of rare and luxurious goods, including terracotta figurines and masks, jewelry, delicately carved ivories, ostrich eggs, and a variety of foods and wine. Carthage's growing economic prominence coincided with a nascent national identity. Although Carthaginians remained staunchly Phoenician in their customs and faith, by at least the seventh century BC, they had developed a distinct Punic culture infused with local influences.[46] Certain deities became more prominent in the Carthaginian pantheon than in Phoenicia; into the fifth century BC, the Carthaginians were worshiping Greek deities such as Demeter.[8] Carthage may have also retained religious practices that had long fallen out of favor in Tyre, such as child sacrifice. Similarly, it spoke its own Punic dialect of Phoenician, which also reflected contributions by neighboring peoples.

These trends most likely precipitated the colony's emergence as an independent polity. Though the specific date and circumstances are unknown, Carthage most likely became independent around 650 BC, when it embarked on its own colonization efforts across the western Mediterranean. It nonetheless maintained amicable cultural, political, and commercial ties with its founding city and the Phoenician homeland; it continued to receive migrants from Tyre, and for a time continued the practice of sending annual tribute to Tyre's temple of Melqart, albeit at irregular intervals.

By the sixth century BC, Tyre's power declined further still after its voluntary submission to the Persian king Cambyses (r. 530–522 BC), which resulted in the incorporation of the Phoenician homeland into the Persian empire.[47] Lacking sufficient naval strength, Cambyses sought Tyrian assistance for his planned conquest of Carthage, which may indicate that the former Tyrian colony had become wealthy enough to warrant a long and difficult expedition. Herodotus claims that the Tyrians refused to cooperate due to their affinity for Carthage, causing the Persian king to abort his campaign. Though it escaped reprisal, Tyre's status as Phoenicia's leading city was significantly circumscribed; its rival, Sidon, subsequently garnered more support from the Persians. However, it too remained subjugated, leading the way for Carthage to fill the vacuum as the leading Phoenician political power.

Formation and characteristics of the empire

Although the Carthaginians retained the traditional Phoenician affinity for maritime trade and commerce, they were distinguished by their imperial and military ambitions: whereas the Phoenician city-states rarely engaged in territorial conquest, Carthage became an expansionist power, driven by its desire to access new sources of wealth and trade. It is unknown what factors influenced the citizens of Carthage, unlike those of other Phoenician colonies, to create an economic and political hegemony; the nearby city of Utica was far older and enjoyed the same geographical and political advantages, but never embarked on hegemonic conquest, instead coming under Carthaginian influence. One theory is that Babylonian and Persian domination of the Phoenician homeland produced refugees that swelled Carthage's population and transferred the culture, wealth, and traditions of Tyre to Carthage.[48] The threat to the Phoenician trade monopoly—by Etruscan and Greek competition in the west, and through foreign subjugation of its homeland in the east—also created the conditions for Carthage to consolidate its power and further its commercial interests.

Another contributing factor may have been domestic politics: while little is known of Carthage's government and leadership prior to the third century BC, the reign of Mago I (c. 550–530), and the political dominance of the Magonid family in subsequent decades, precipitated Carthage's rise as a dominant power. Justin states that Mago, who was also general of the army, was the first Carthaginian leader to "[set] in order the military system", which may have entailed the introduction of new military strategies and technologies.[49] He is also credited with initiating, or at least expanding, the practice of recruiting subject peoples and mercenaries, as Carthage's population was too small to secure and defend its scattered colonies. Libyans, Iberians, Sardinians, and Corsicans were soon enlisted for the Magonid expansionist campaigns across the region.[50]

By the beginning of the fourth century BC, the Carthaginians had become the "superior power" of the western Mediterranean, and would remain so for roughly the next three centuries.[51] Carthage took control of all nearby Phoenician colonies, including Hadrumetum, Utica, Hippo Diarrhytus and Kerkouane; subjugated many neighboring Libyan tribes, and occupied coastal North Africa from Morocco to western Libya.[52] It held Sardinia, Malta, the Balearic Islands, and the western half of Sicily, where coastal fortresses such as Motya and Lilybaeum secured their possessions.[53] The Iberian Peninsula, which was rich in precious metals, saw some of the largest and most important Carthaginian settlements outside North Africa,[54] though the degree of political influence before the conquest by Hamilcar Barca (237–228 BC) is disputed.[55][56] Carthage's growing wealth and power, along with the foreign subjugation of the Phoenician homeland, led to its supplanting of Sidon as the supreme Phoenician city state.[57] Carthage's empire was largely informal and multifaceted, consisting of varying levels of control exercised in equally variable ways. It established new colonies, repopulated and reinforced older ones, formed defensive pacts with other Phoenician city states, and acquired territories directly by conquest. While some Phoenician colonies willingly submitted to Carthage, paying tribute and giving up their foreign policy, others in Iberia and Sardinia resisted Carthaginian efforts. Whereas other Phoenician cities never exercised actual control of the colonies, the Carthaginians appointed magistrates to directly control their own (a policy that would lead to a number of Iberian towns siding with the Romans during the Punic Wars).[58] In many other instances, Carthage's hegemony was established through treaties, alliances, tributary obligations, and other such arrangements. It had elements of the Delian League led by Athens (allies shared funding and manpower for defense), the Spartan Kingdom (subject peoples serving as serfs for the Punic elite and state) and, to a lesser extent, the Roman Republic (allies contributing manpower and tribute for Rome's war machine).

In 509 BC, Carthage and Rome signed the first of several treaties demarcating their respective influence and commercial activities.[59][60] This is the first textual source demonstrating Carthaginian control over Sicily and Sardinia. The treaty also conveys the extent to which Carthage was, at the very least, on equal terms with Rome, whose influence was limited to parts of central and southern Italy. Carthaginian dominance of the sea reflected not only its Phoenician heritage, but an approach to empire-building that differed greatly from Rome. Carthage emphasized maritime trade over territorial expansion, and accordingly focused its settlements and influence on coastal areas while investing more on its navy. For similar reasons, its ambitions were more commercial than imperial, which is why its empire took the form of a hegemony based on treaties and political arrangements more than conquest. By contrast, the Romans focused on expanding and consolidating their control over the rest of mainland Italy, and would aim to extend its control well beyond its homeland. These differences would prove key in the conduct and trajectory of the later Punic Wars.

By the third century BC, Carthage was the center of a sprawling network of colonies and client states. It controlled more territory than the Roman Republic, and became one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the Mediterranean, with a quarter of a million inhabitants.

Carthage did not focus on growing and conquering land, instead, it was found that Carthage was focused on growing trade and protecting trade routes. The trades through Libya were territories and Carthage paid Libyans for access to this land in Cape Bon for agricultural purposes until about 550 BC. In around 508 BC Carthage and Rome signed a treaty to keep their commercial planes separate from each other. Carthage focused on growing their population by taking in Phoenicians colonies and soon began controlling Libyan, African, and Roman colonies. Many Phoenician cities also had to pay or support the Carthaginian troops. Punic troops would defend cities and these cities had few rights.

Conflict with the Greeks (580–265 BC)

Unlike the existential conflict of the later Punic Wars with Rome, the conflict between Carthage and the Greeks centered on economic concerns, as each side sought to advance their own commercial interests and influence by controlling key trade routes. For centuries, the Phoenician and Greek city-states had embarked on maritime trade and colonization across the Mediterranean. While the Phoenicians were initially dominant, Greek competition increasingly undermined their monopoly. Both sides had begun establishing colonies, trading posts, and commercial relations in the western Mediterranean roughly contemporaneously, between the ninth and eighth centuries. Phoenician and Greek settlements, the increased presence of both peoples led to mounting tensions and ultimately open conflict, especially in Sicily.

First Sicilian War (480 BC)

Carthage's economic successes, buoyed by its vast maritime trade network, led to the development of a powerful navy to protect and secure vital shipping lanes.[61] Its hegemony brought it into increasing conflict with the Greeks of Syracuse, who also sought control of the central Mediterranean.[62] Founded in the mid seventh century BC, Syracuse had risen to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful Greek city states, and the preeminent Greek polity in the region.

The island of Sicily, lying at Carthage's doorstep, became the main arena on which this conflict played out. From their earliest days, both the Greeks and Phoenicians had been attracted to the large, centrally-located island, each establishing a large number of colonies and trading posts along its coasts; battles raged between these settlements for centuries, with neither side ever having total, long-term control over the island.[63]

In 480 BC, Gelo, the tyrant of Syracuse, attempted to unite the island under his rule with the backing of other Greek city-states.[64] Threatened by the potential power of a united Sicily, Carthage intervened militarily, led by King Hamilcar of the Magonid dynasty. Traditional accounts, including by Herodotus and Diodorus, number Hamilcar's army at around 300,000; though likely exaggerated, it was likely of formidable strength.

While sailing to Sicily, Hamilcar suffered losses due to poor weather. Landing at Panormus (modern-day Palermo),[65] he spent three days reorganizing his forces and repairing his battered fleet. The Carthaginians marched along the coast to Himera, making camp before engaging in battle against the forces of Syracuse and its ally Agrigentum.[66] The Greeks won a decisive victory, inflicting heavy losses on the Carthaginians, including their leader Hamilcar, who was either killed during the battle or committed suicide in shame.[67] As a result, the Carthaginian nobility sued for peace.

The conflict proved to be a major turning point for Carthage. Though it would retain some presence in Sicily, most of the island would remain in Greek (and later Roman) hands. The Carthaginians would never again expand their territory or sphere of influence on the island to any meaningful degree, instead turning their attention to securing or increasing their hold in North Africa and Iberia.[68][69] The death of King Hamilcar and the disastrous conduct of the war also prompted political reforms that established an oligarchic republic.[70] Carthage would henceforth constrain its rulers through assemblies of both nobles and the common people.

Second Sicilian War (410–404 BC)

Coin from Tarentum, in southern Italy, during the occupation by Hannibal (c. 212–209 BC). ΚΛΗ above, ΣΗΡΑΜ/ΒΟΣ below, nude youth on horseback right, placing a laurel wreath on his horse's head; ΤΑΡΑΣ, Taras riding dolphin left, holding trident in right hand, aphlaston
in his left hand.

By 410 BC, Carthage had recovered from its serious defeats in Sicily. It had conquered much of modern-day Tunisia and founded new colonies across northern Africa. It also extended its reach well beyond the Mediterranean; Hanno the Navigator journeyed down the West African coast,[71][72] and Himilco the Navigator had explored the European Atlantic coast.[73] Expeditions were also led into Morocco and Senegal, as well as the Atlantic.[74] The same year, the Iberian colonies seceded, cutting off Carthage from a major source of silver and copper. The loss of such strategically important mineral wealth, combined with the desire to exercise firmer control over shipping routes, led Hannibal Mago, grandson of Hamilcar, to make preparations to reclaim Sicily.

In 409 BC, Hannibal Mago set out for Sicily with his force. He captured the smaller cities of Selinus (modern Selinunte) and Himera—where the Carthaginians had been dealt a humiliating defeat seventy years prior—before returning triumphantly to Carthage with the spoils of war.[75] But the primary enemy, Syracuse, remained untouched and in 405 BC, Hannibal Mago led a second Carthaginian expedition to claim the rest of the island.

This time, however, he met with fiercer resistance as well as misfortune. During the siege of Agrigentum, Carthaginian forces were ravaged by plague, which claimed Hannibal Mago himself.[76] His successor, Himilco, managed to extend the campaign, capturing the city of Gela and repeatedly defeating the army of Dionysius of Syracuse. But he, too, was struck with plague and forced to sue for peace before returning to Carthage.

By 398 BC, Dionysius had regained his strength and broke the peace treaty, striking at the Carthaginian stronghold of Motya in western Sicily. Himilco responded decisively, leading an expedition that not only reclaimed Motya, but also captured Messene (present-day Messina).[77] Within a year, the Carthaginians were besieging Syracuse itself, and came close to victory until the plague once again ravaged and reduced their forces.[78]

The fighting in Sicily swung in favor of Carthage less than a decade later in 387 BC. After winning a naval battle off the coast of Catania, Himilco laid siege to Syracuse with 50,000 Carthaginians, but yet another epidemic struck down thousands of them. With the enemy assault stalled and weakened, Dionysius then launched a surprise counterattack by land and sea, destroying all the Carthaginian ships while its crews were ashore. At the same time, his ground forces stormed the besiegers' lines and routed them. Himilco and his chief officers abandoned their army and fled Sicily.[79] Once again, the Carthaginians were forced to press for peace. Returning to Carthage in disgrace, Himilco was met with contempt and committed suicide by starving himself.[80]

Notwithstanding consistently poor luck and costly reversals, Sicily remained an obsession for Carthage. Over the next fifty years, an uneasy peace reigned, as Carthaginian and Greek forces engaged in constant skirmishes. By 340 BC, Carthage had been pushed entirely into the southwest corner of the island.

Romanticised representation of the Battle of Himera (480 BC). Painted by Giuseppe Sciuti
in 1873.

Third Sicilian War

In 315 BC, Carthage found itself on the defensive in Sicily, as Agathocles of Syracuse broke the terms of the peace treaty and sought to dominate the entire island. Within four years, he seized Messene, laid siege to Agrigentum, and invaded the last Carthaginian holdings on the island. Hamilcar, grandson of Hanno the Great, led the Carthaginian response with great success. Because of Carthage's power over the trade routes, Carthage had a rich and strong navy that was able to lead. Within a year of their arrival, the Carthaginians controlled almost all of Sicily and were besieging Syracuse. In desperation, Agathocles secretly led an expedition of 14,000 men to attack Carthage, forcing Hamilcar and most of his army to return home.[81] Although Agathocles' forces were eventually defeated in 307 BC, he managed to escape back to Sicily and negotiate peace, thus maintaining the status quo and Syracuse as a stronghold of Greek power in Sicily.

Pyrrhic War (280–275 BC)

Routes taken against Rome and Carthage in the Pyrrhic War
(280–275 BC).

Carthage was once again drawn into a war in Sicily, this time by Pyrrhus of Epirus, who challenged both Roman and Carthaginian supremacy over the Mediterranean.[82] The Greek city of Tarentum, in southern Italy, had come into conflict with an expansionist Rome, and sought the aid of Pyrrhus.[83][84] Seeing an opportunity to forge a new empire, Pyrrhus sent an advance guard of 3,000 infantry to Tarentum, under the command of his adviser Cineaus. Meanwhile, he marched the main army across the Greek peninsula and won several victories over the Thessalians and Athenians. After securing the Greek mainland, Pyrrhus rejoined his advance guard in Tarentum to conquer southern Italy, winning a decisive but costly victory at Asculum.

According to Justin, the Carthaginians worried that Pyrrhus might get involved in Sicily; Polybius confirms that existence of a mutual defense pact between Carthage and Rome, ratified shortly after the battle of Asculum.[85] These concerns proved prescient: during the Italian campaign, Pyrrhus received envoys from the Sicilian Greek cities of Agrigentum, Leontini, and Syracuse, which offered to submit to his rule if he aided their efforts to eject the Carthaginians from Sicily.[86][87] Having lost too many men in his conquest of Asculum, Pyrrhus determined that a war with Rome could not be sustained, making Sicily a more enticing prospect.[88] He thus responded to the plea with reinforcements consisting of 20,000-30,000 infantry, 1,500-3,000 cavalry, and 20 war elephants supported by some 200 ships.[89][90]

The ensuing Sicilian campaign lasted three years, during which the Carthaginians suffered several losses and reversals. Pyrrhus overcame the Carthaginian garrison at Heraclea Minoa and seized Azones, which prompted cities nominally allied to Carthage, such as Selinus, Halicyae, and Segesta, to join his side. The Carthaginian stronghold of Eryx, which had strong natural defenses and a large garrison, held out for a long period of time, but was eventually taken. Iaetia surrendered without a fight, while Panormus, which had the best harbour in Sicily, succumbed to a siege. The Carthaginians were pushed back to the westernmost portion of the island, holding only Lilybaeum, which was put under siege.[91]

Following these losses, Carthage sued for peace, offering large sums of money and even ships, but Pyrrhus refused unless Carthage renounced its claims to Sicily entirely.[92] The siege of Lilybaeum continued, with the Carthaginians successfully holding out due to the size of their forces, their large quantities of siege weapons, and the rocky terrain. As Pyrrhus' losses were mounting, he set out to build more powerful war engines; however, after two more months of dogged resistance, he abandoned the siege. Plutarch claimed that the ambitious king of Epirus now had his sights on Carthage itself, and began outfitting an expedition.[93] In preparation for his invasion, he treated the Sicilian Greeks more ruthlessly, even executing two of their rulers on false charges of treason. The subsequent animosity among the Greeks of Sicily drove some to join forces with the Carthaginians, who "took up the war vigorously" upon noticing Pyrrhus' dwindling support. Cassius Dio claimed that Carthage had harboured the exiled Syracusans, and "harassed [Pyrrhus] so severely that he abandoned not only Syracuse but Sicily as well". A renewed Roman offensive also forced him to focus his attention on southern Italy.[94][95]

According to both Plutarch and Appian, while Pyrrhus' army was being transported by ship to mainland Italy, the Carthaginian navy inflicted a devastating blow in the Battle of the Strait of Messina, sinking or disabling 98 out of 110 ships. Carthage sent additional forces to Sicily, and following Pyrrhus' departure, managed to regain control of their domains on the island.

Pyrrhus' campaigns in Italy ultimately proved inconclusive, and he eventually withdrew to Epirus. For the Carthaginians, the war meant a return to the status quo, as they once again held the western and central regions of Sicily. For the Romans, however, much of Magna Graecia gradually fell under their sphere of influence, bringing them closer to complete domination of the Italian peninsula. Rome's success against Pyrrhus solidified its status as a rising power, which paved the way for conflict with Carthage. In what is likely an apocryphal account, Pyrrhus, upon departing from Sicily, told his companions, "What a wrestling ground we are leaving, my friends, for the Carthaginians and the Romans".[96][97]

Punic Wars (264–146 BC)

First Punic War (264–241 BC)

When Agathocles of Syracuse died in 288 BC, a large company of Italian mercenaries previously in his service found themselves suddenly unemployed. Naming themselves Mamertines ("Sons of Mars"), they seized the city of Messana and became a law unto themselves, terrorizing the surrounding countryside.[98]

The Mamertines became a growing threat to Carthage and Syracuse alike. In 265 BC,