The Punic Wars
264 BC-146 BC
By the 6th century BC the Carthaginians had founded colonies on the northwest side of Sicily and in less than a hundred years had colonized half the island, with Syracuse (Greece) occupying on the other half. Fighting broke out and went on nineteen years until a group of mercenaries approached Carthaginian and Roman leaders to help defeat Syracuse's King Hiero III.
Rome needed Sicily as a base to invade Athens, and agreed to the alliance with its own agenda in mind. The Roman generals provoked a conflict with Carthage, which resulted in the Punic Wars.
The 1st Punic War (264-241 BC) ended in the Romans' favor because the Romans' unorthodox approach to martime battles caught the Carthaginians by surprise. Inexperienced in the ways of the sea they broke from tradition by hooking the newly built Roman ships to their adversaries’ with "assault bridges" and clambering over for hand-to-hand combat. The war lasted twenty years. Carthage handed over Sicily , as well as Sardinia and Corsica.
The 3rd Punic War (149-146 BC) was provoked by a minor offence that Rome used as an excuse to go to battle against Carthage. Though Carthage had already lost its colonies and paid heavy taxes, Rome was still envious of the city's continued prosperity. Roman general Scipio Aemilianus (son of Scipio Africanus) went in with his his troops, Carthage was destroyed and the survivors sold as slaves.
The 2nd Punic War (218-201 BC) was sparked by the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca when he invaded a Roman province in Spain. While Rome prepared a counter-attack, Hamilcar sent his son Hannibal to Rome over the Alps. His alliance with the Gauls added fifty thousand troops to his depleted forces but after his brother was killed Hannibal had to leave for Africa, where he was defeated by the Roman general Scipio Africanus. This time around the Carthaginians ceded Spain and the Balearic Islands, relinquished their military, and paid a fine.
Rome invades Athens in 86 BC. The occupation of this coveted Greek city establishes Rome as a leading power in the Mediterranean.
King Philip V of Macedonia tried to ally with Carthage to push the Romans back but his plans foiled when the Cartheginians at the last minute sided with Rome.
Syrian King Antiochus III had recently occupied Lebanon, Palestine, and Egypt, and was also feeling threatened by the Latin troublemaker. Antiochus sent his soldiers to capture Athens but they were overpowered by the Roman troops.
Rome imposed the Syrians the highest fine in recorded history. Antiochus was also relieved of his colonies in Asia Minor, his ships and his war elephants.
Punic, or Peoni, is the Roman name used to describe the Phoenician culture and language, which means "treacherous". Around the 10th century BC the Phoenicians were renamed Carthaginians, after the city of Carthage (near Tunis, in Tunisia) that they founded around 860 BC.
The Carthaginians established colonies in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Iberia, Libya, Cyprus, Sardinia, Corsica, the Balearic Islands, and parts of Crete and Sicily.
The island's strategic location in the Mediterranean had Carthage and Greece fighting for decades. The Roman generals, fearing a blockade in the Strait of Messina by the Carthaginians, headed south and destroyed most of the colonies in the region. The Romans' ultimate goal was to occupy all of Sicily, all the Carthaginian colonies and Greece.