The Punic Wars - Overview

The name "Punic Wars" is used for the series of wars between Rome and Carthage in the third and second centuries BC. The Romans called the Carthaginians Poeni [Phoenicians], from which derived the adjective "Punic." There were three Punic Wars:
  • The first marked the first Roman involvement outside of Italy, and represents the beginning of the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean. It was a huge conflict that lasted for more than two decades.
  • The second was the hardest war the Romans ever fought and resulted in huge losses for the Romans in material and manpower.
  • The third was an act of vengeance in which the Romans finally obliterated their bitter enemy. The wars were decisive for the emergence of imperial Rome and the direction of western history.

Before the Punic Wars

Source: Tony Belmonte's Historical Atlas of Europe and the Middle East
First Punic War (Sicilian War): 264-241 BC

The first of the three great confrontations between Rome and Carthage was fought bitterly on land and sea over control of Sicily, with the war being taken for a time to North Africa. In 264 the Mamertine mercenary rulers of Messana called on Carthaginians to protect them from Hiero of Syracuse; then called on Rome to protect them from Carthaginians.

This led to war between Carthage and Rome, primarily about control over Sicily. During this war Rome built a fleet (262 BC) for the first time and defeated the former Mediterranean sea-power, Carthage, at Mylae in 260 BC.

In 256 the Romans invade Africa but the Carthaginians defeat them with the help of a Spartan general and the Romans withdraw.

After initial successes, the Roman fleet was almost entirely destroyed in 254 BC but in 247 BC the rebuilt Roman fleet defeated Carthaginian ships near Aegates (Egedi) islands. A further naval defeat in 241BC results in the surrender of Carthage. 

After 25 years of fighting, Rome finally forced the Carthaginians to accept humiliating surrender terms: give up all claims to Sicily (including land that had been Carthaginian for generations), keep its fleets out of Roman waters, and pay a large fine. This was a bitter pill to swallow, and it is little wonder the peace did not hold.

Tour of the First Punic War...

Timeline of the First Punic War

Before the First Punic War | Between the First and Second Punic Wars | Second Punic War | Between the Second and Third Punic Wars | The Third Punic War and after (until the death of Scipio Aemilianus)

Beginning of the First Punic War | Battles of the First Punic War | Roman motives for starting the war | Limitations of the historical sources | Consequences of the war | Reasons for Roman victory |

Between the First and Second Punic Wars

After this war the Carthaginians are drawn into a civil war - the "Mercenary" or "Truceless" war 241-237; Rome opportunistically siezes Sardinia and Corsica and forces further indemnity on Carthage.

Hamilcar Barca (father of Hannibal) moves his power base to Spain to set up a Barca dynasty there.

Source: Tony Belmonte's Historical Atlas of Europe and the Middle East

Second Punic War (Hannibal's War): 218-201 BC

Hannibal's agression towards Saguntum - Rome's ally - precipitates the Second Punic War.

In 218 BC Hannibal crosses Alps and invades Italy and has a string of successes: Trebbia, Trasimene (217BC) and Cannae (216 BC) and many cities in the south of Italy - including Capua, the second city - defect to Hannibal.

The Romans resort to defensive tactics, avoiding a direct confrontation, but gradually reduce Hannibal's ability to wage war successfully.

The Romans wage an aggressive campaign in Spain which is finally successful and the Carthaginians are driven out of their Spanish possessions. Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal escapes with his army to Italy from Spain but is defeated and killed at Metaurus (207 BC).

Gradually in Italy the cities that defected to Hannibal are recovered by the Romans.

Finally the Romans invade North Africa: Hannibal is recalled and defeated by Scipio Africanus (202 BC). Carthage surrenders (201 BC).

The Second Punic War, fought between Carthage and the Roman Republic from 218-202 BC, was the final major Carthaginian military opposition to Rome's dominence in the Mediterranean.

After the end of the First Punic War in 241 BC, Carthage decided to concentrate on controlling Spain to gain direct control over its mineral resources and to mount an army of the inhabitants to go against the Roman legions. This policy was started by the great leadership of Hamilcar Barca and continued under his son, Hannibal.

In the Second Punic War, with his masterful war tactics, Hannibal wreaked havoc all over Italy under harsh conditions. No Roman commander was able to successfully match his army even though they mounted more numerous and experienced armies. In the end, Roman perseverance was the key, though. Carthage failed to supply Hannibal with needed reinforcements and Rome began to attack Carthage forcing Hannibal to return and defend it. With a smaller but experienced army, the Roman commander Scipio was able to defeat Hannibal and conquer Carthage, ending the war. Carthage was then stripped of much of its power and was never again a formidable opponent to Rome.

Source: Tony Belmonte's Historical Atlas of Europe and the Middle East

Timeline of the Second Punic War

Livy's analysis of the causes of the Second Punic War | Causes of the Second Punic War | Alternative scenarios | After the Second Punic War | Map of the Second Punic War | Deployment of the Roman Legions

Tour of the Second Punic War...

Between the Second and Third Punic Wars | Rome in the East

Third Punic War (Destruction of Carthage): 149-146 BC

Carthage continued to be commercially successful and, though only a minor power, a source of irritation to Rome. The Romans were further incited by the speeches of the censor Cato the Elder, who demanded that"Carthage must be destroyed". Disputes with Rome's client king in North Africa, Masinissa, gave the pretext for the Third Punic War (149-146 BC), in which the Romans, led by Scipio the Younger, captured the city of Carthage, razed it to the ground, and sold the surviving inhabitants into slavery.

Tour of the Third Punic War...

After the Third Punic War | Timeline After the Third Punic WarOverview of the Punic Wars