The Death of the Carthaginian Empire 149-146 BCE


The Siege of Carthage makes for quite a sad story when put into context. A proud trading empire fights two long wars, only to lose both and pay for it dearly. Their enemy now controlling far more territory, the Carthaginians bend to their will and even offer to pay their fifty years of war reparations after only a decade. Once the city started to get a taste of freedom and a hint of the commercial power coming back, they were invaded and crushed by their much more powerful enemy. Within a few generations, the great empire of Carthage withered and finally died in a massive assault on the city.

This map shows the height of the Carthaginian Empire as well as the size of the empire by the start of the siege, shown in purple
This map shows the height of the Carthaginian empire as well as the size of the empire at the start of the siege, shown in purple

After the Second Punic War the Romans enjoyed a long period of glory. They had won a great victory over a formidable foe and had trained and promoted many young soldiers and officers and there were legions full of men who had battle experience. The Romans took advantage of this and fought several wars in the fifty years before the Third Punic War. The Roman holdings grew considerably but Carthage was also beginning to reemerge as a local power. After the fifty year war debt was paid off the Romans began to grow suspicious of Carthage. Wary of how soon they had the capacity to pay off their debt and the memories of the terror of Hannibal prompted some, including the outspoken senator Cato, to call for Carthage to be destroyed once and for all.

The Senator Cato known to end all of his speeches with "Carthago Delenda Est" short for "furthermore, Carthage must be destroyed"
The Senator Cato known to end all of his speeches with “Carthago Delenda Est” short for “furthermore, Carthage must be destroyed” a political stance rejecting any peace and seeking total elimination of their ancient rivals.

The Romans, once they generally accepted that Carthage could not be around anymore, started looking for ways to start a “just” war. They found it in 150 B.C.E. Masinissa, now well into his eighties, had taken advantage of the relative weakness of Carthage and begun seizing chunks of Carthaginian territory claiming it once belonged to his people. The Carthaginians finally had enough and sent an army against the Numidians under the command of Hasdrubal. Hasdrubal was unsuccessful in his attack and was held in Carthage and condemned to death as was normal for Carthage.

The Romans used this as their excuse to go to war Carthage but they were cautious, smart and cruel in their lead up to declaring war. Still frightened of the city, the Romans were determined to weaken the future defenders as much as they could. The city of Utica, upon seeing what could likely unfold, surrendered and pledged allegiance to Rome. Romans demanded the surrender of 300 hostages of prominent politicians in Carthage. Despite the Carthaginians meeting this demand the Romans sailed to Utica with somewhere around 45,000 men. Upon reaching Africa the Carthaginians sent out envoys to two Roman consuls Manius Manilius, who commanded the army and Lucius Marcius Censorinus who commanded the fleet. The consuls demanded that Carthage hand over all of its arms and armor. The Carthaginians nervously complied with the demand and handed over huge amounts of weapons and armor. As the last load of weapons was given to the Romans they sent envoys back with the demand that the people of Carthage must abandon their city and settle anywhere else so long as it was at least ten miles from the sea. They were informed that Carthage would be razed however the shrines and cemeteries would be preserved. This was unacceptable for the Carthaginians and they shut their gates and resolved to fight rather than being led around like cattle.

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