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Friday, August 3, 2012

“The Punic Wars”, by Adrian Goldsworthy

352 pages, Cassell & Co., ISBN-13: 978-0304352845

DELENDA EST CARTHAGO – Carthage Must be Destroyed. Those most famous words were spoken by Marcus Porcius Cato in the 2nd Century BC. In this new book on the Punic Wars by Adrian Goldsworthy we are taken back into this most fascinating period of history. We follow in the steps of Hannibal, Hasdrubal, Hamilcar, Scipio Africanus and many more famous and infamous commanders and leaders as the Roman Legions and the soldiers and sailors of Carthage clash in this gigantic struggle of the Ancient World.

The Romans fought three Punic Wars with Carthage between 265-146 BCE. The best historical sources about this series of wars include Polybius a Greek attached to Scipio Africanus the Roman hero of the second Punic War, and Livy a Roman historian who wrote in the late first century CE. Sources depicting the Carthaginian perspective disappeared long ago. Adrian Goldsworthy relies on the writings of Polybius and Livy, Roman Senate records, other extant material such as Cato's writing on agriculture, as well as archeological findings from various excavations to describe the hundred years' war that ended with the destruction of Carthage.

The first war between Rome and Carthage was fought over and about Sicily and ended with a Roman victory and possession of Sicily. The second Punic War was dominated by the Carthaginian Hannibal who conquered Italy with elephants and dominated the peninsula for a very long time. Unfortunately for Carthage, the Romans never acknowledged Hannibal's conquest. As Goldsworthy puts it, comparing the Romans to the Brits in WWII, "He who conquers is not the victor unless the loser considers himself beaten." Although Hannibal beat the Romans to a standstill, they regrouped and attacked-not Hannibal-but Spain. Then Scipio Africanus conquered large areas in Africa. Finally, when his home town was threatened, Hannibal left Italy, went home to Carthage, engaged the Romans in battle and lost.

The third Punic war was a disgrace. Rome had defeated Carthage in the second Punic War, and it appears not to have posed a `real' threat to Rome. However, day after day Cato harangued on the Senate floor that the Carthaginians were building weapons of mass destruction and should be invaded and destroyed. Finally, he persuaded his fellow Senators who declared war. Rome attacked Carthage and destroyed it. In the end, the civilization founded by the Phoenicians was in ruins and Rome had become an Imperial tyrant.

The legacy of the Punic wars may have been the end of the Roman Republic. In the beginning, the Roman military was composed of yeomen farmers who volunteered for service along with members of the other classes. The upper classes taxed themselves to support the first and second Punic wars. By the third Punic war, yeomen farmers had been replaced with large agricultural farms held by wealthy men like Cato. Roman citizenry from the upper classes disdained military service and the army was largely composed of mercenary forces made up of the dispossessed. This professional army eventually dominated the country though Gaius Marius, Sula, and the Caesars.

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