Carthage Empire Leaders: Hannibal Starting technologies: Fishing Mining Unique unit: Numidian Cavalry Unique building: Cothon First colony: Spanish Empire DESCRIPTION:
Carthage was an ancient city-state in North Africa located somewhere near the site of modern Tunis. It was settled by Phoenician colonists from the city of Tyre sometime around 814 BC. According to tradition, the first ruler was a queen named Dido, who is mentioned in a number of surviving Greek and Roman legends. Carthage had an excellent harbor, and the city was well situated to form a maritime empire based on Mediterranean trade. As time passed and Carthage expanded, it gained control over the other Phoenician colonies on the northern coast of Africa. Carthaginian merchants dominated trade in the western Mediterranean, and navigators may have sailed as far as Britain and Nigeria. The rise of Carthage in power and influence would bring it into conflict with first the Greek city-states of Sicily, and later the Roman Republic.
Carthage`s government was an oligarchy not unlike that in republican Rome. One or two "Sofetim" (which best translates as "judges") were elected annually from among the wealthy and influential families of Carthage to hold positions of executive and judicial power. These aristocratic families were also represented in a deliberative body that appears to have been similar to the Roman Senate. Although Carthage was primarily controlled by these oligarchs, there were also a few limited elections for minor positions of authority within the government.
Carthage`s economic prosperity was based largely upon its lucrative trade with the silver and tin mines of Spain, and those trade routes were jealously guarded by Carthaginian merchants. Culturally, the Carthaginians practiced the polytheistic religion of the Phoenicians, based upon worship of the divine couple Tanit and Ba`al. The Carthaginians also appear to have participated in the unsavory practice of child sacrifice as part of their religion, although some historians have disputed this.
Carthage first came into military conflict with the Greeks over control of the island of Sicily, whose strategic location would allow the Carthaginians to control access to the western Mediterranean. Carthage fought three separate wars against the Greek colonies on Sicily, all of which largely ended in inconclusive stalemates.
Eventually Rome occupied the Greek colonies in the south of mainland Italy, allowing Carthage an opportunity to conquer most of Sicily. Tension between the two states soon boiled over into the First Punic War (264 - 241 BC) during which the Romans recovered from initial setbacks and built a navy for the first time, with which they defeated the Carthaginians at the Battle of the Aegates Islands. This victory won Sicily for Rome, and the two sides entered into an uneasy peace.
After losing Sicily to the Romans, the Carthaginians expanded their holdings in Spain to compensate. They also began to prepare for a second conflict with Rome. The war faction was led by the members of the Barca family, and in particular the soon-to-be-famous Hannibal. When a border dispute in Spain provoked an incident between the two states, the Carthaginian senate declared war, initiating the Second Punic War (218 - 202 BC).
During this conflict Hannibal was authorized to lead a campaign into Italy. He led his large force - which included war elephants - across the Alps, taking the Romans completely by surprise (and creating one of the most enduring war stories of all time). Hannibal met and soundly defeated the main Roman army at Lake Trasimene (217). Despite this disaster the Romans mustered up an even larger army the following year. The two forces met at Cannae, and employing a series of brilliant tactical maneuvers, Hannibal once again utterly destroyed the Romans.
Following this grisly slaughter, the Romans adopted a Fabian strategy of retreat, refusing to give battle against Hannibal. Hannibal continued to devastate the Italian countryside for the next decade, but he was unable to knock Rome out of the war. Meanwhile, the Roman general Scipio attacked Carthage`s holdings in Spain, gaining complete control of the region by 206. Scipio then led an expedition to Africa itself, and Hannibal was recalled from Italy to defend the city of Carthage. The two sides met at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC and Hannibal was defeated, Scipio taking the name "Africanus" to celebrate his victory. Carthage was forced to sue for peace, and Rome imposed very harsh terms on the city.
Despite the destruction of the Second Punic War and the harsh peace terms, Carthage soon recovered her strength and began once more to exert control over trade in the Western Mediterranean. This caused great fear among the Romans, who had never forgotten the damage that Hannibal had done to Italy in the earlier war. In 149 BC Rome declared war on Carthage again on spurious pretexts, initiating the Third Punic War. The Carthaginians attempted to negotiate a settlement, but the Romans would be satisfied with nothing less than the city`s total destruction. After a long siege, the city fell and its people were killed or sold into slavery. Carthage itself was pulled apart brick by brick and completely destroyed. The city would be rebuilt by the Romans, but the former Phoenician state would never rise again.