Third Punic War
Words: Something Something
The Third Punic War was the third and last of the Punic Wars fought between Carthage and Rome. The war was fought entirely within Carthaginian territory, in modern northern Tunisia. When the Second Punic War ended in 201 BC, one of the terms of the peace treaty prohibited Carthage from waging war without Rome's permission. Rome's ally, King Masinissa of Numidia, exploited this to repeatedly raid and seize Carthaginian territory with impunity. In 149 BC Carthage sent an army, under Hasdrubal, against Masinissa, the treaty notwithstanding. The campaign ended in disaster as the Battle of Oroscopa ended with a Carthaginian defeat and the surrender of the Carthaginian army. Anti-Carthaginian factions in Rome used the illicit military action as a pretext to prepare a punitive expedition.
Table of Contents / Timeline
At the end of the war Masinissa, an ally of Rome, emerged as by far the most powerful ruler among the Numidians, the indigenous population which controlled much of what is now Algeria and Tunisia. Over the following 50 years he repeatedly took advantage of Carthage's inability to protect its possessions. Whenever Carthage petitioned Rome for redress, or permission to take military action, Rome backed Masinissa, and refused. Masinissa's seizures of and raids into Carthaginian territory became increasingly flagrant.
Carthage counter-attacks: Battle of Oroscopa
In 151 BC Carthage raised a large army commanded by the previously unrecorded Carthaginian general Hasdrubal and, the treaty notwithstanding, counter-attacked the Numidians. The campaign ended in disaster at the Battle of Oroscopa and the army surrendered; many Carthaginians were subsequently massacred by the Numidians. Hasdrubal escaped to Carthage, where, in an attempt to placate Rome, he was condemned to death.
Rome declares war on Carthage
Carthage had paid off its indemnity to Rome, imposed fifty years before at the end of the First Punic War, in 151 BC and was prospering economically, but was no military threat to Rome. Nevertheless, there had long been a faction within the Roman Senate that had wished to take military action against Carthage. Using the illicit Carthaginian military action as a pretext, Rome began preparing a punitive expedition. Carthaginian embassies attempted to negotiate with Rome, which responded evasively. The large North African port city of Utica, some 55 km (34 mi) north of Carthage, defected to Rome in 149 BC. Aware that Utica's harbour would greatly facilitate any assault on Carthage, the Senate and the People's Assembly of Rome declared war on Carthage.
The Third Punic War begins
UTICA, Tunis, Tunisia
A large Roman army landed at Utica in 149 BC under both consuls for the year, Manius Manilius commanding the army and Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus the fleet. The Carthaginians continued to attempt to appease Rome, and sent an embassy to Utica. The consuls demanded that they hand over all weaponry, and reluctantly the Carthaginians did so. Large convoys took enormous stocks of equipment from Carthage to Utica. Surviving records state that these included 200,000 sets of armour and 2,000 catapults. Their warships all sailed to Utica and were burnt in the harbour. Once Carthage was disarmed, Censorinus made the further demand that the Carthaginians abandon their city and relocate 16 km (10 mi) away from the sea; Carthage would then be destroyed. The Carthaginians abandoned negotiations and prepared to defend their city.
Siege of Carthage
The siege of Carthage was the main engagement of the Third Punic War fought between Carthage and Rome. It consisted of the nearly-three-year siege of the Carthaginian capital, Carthage (a little north east of Tunis). In 149 BC, a large Roman army landed at Utica in North Africa. The Carthaginians hoped to appease the Romans, but despite the Carthaginians surrendering all of their weapons, the Romans pressed on to besiege the city of Carthage. The Roman campaign suffered repeated setbacks through 149 BC, only alleviated by Scipio Aemilianus, a middle-ranking officer, distinguishing himself several times. A new Roman commander took over in 148 BC, and fared equally badly. At the annual election of Roman magistrates in early 147 BC, the public support for Scipio was so great that the usual age restrictions were lifted to allow him to be appointed commander in Africa.
Scipio's term commenced with two Carthaginian successes, but he tightened the siege and commenced a construction of a large mole to prevent supplies from getting into Carthage via blockade runners. The Carthaginians had partially rebuilt their fleet and it sortied, to the Romans' surprise; after an indecisive engagement the Carthaginians mismanaged their withdrawal and lost many ships. The Romans then built a large brick structure in the harbour area, which dominated the city wall. In the spring of 146 BC, the Romans launched their final assault and over seven days systematically destroyed the city and killed its inhabitants; only on the last day did they take prisoners – 50,000, who were sold into slavery. The formerly Carthaginian territories became the Roman province of Africa, with Utica as its capital. It was a century before the site of Carthage was rebuilt as a Roman city.
Battle of Lake Tunis
Lake of Tunis, Tunisia
The Battle of Lake Tunis was a series of engagements of the Third Punic War fought in 149 BC between the Carthaginians and the Roman Republic. Roman consuls Manius Manilius and Lucius Marcius Censorinus, leading separate forces, made several unsuccessful attempts to breach the walls of Carthage. Later, the Carthaginians launched fire ships, which destroyed most of the Roman fleet. Eventually Censorinus returned to Rome, leaving Manilius to continue fighting.
The Romans elected two new consuls in 148 BC, but only one of them was sent to Africa: Calpurnius Piso; Lucius Hostilius Mancinus commanded the navy as his subordinate. He pulled back the close siege of Carthage to a looser blockade and attempted to mop up the other Carthaginian-supporting cities in the area. He failed: Neapolis surrendered and was subsequently sacked, but Aspis withstood assaults from both the Roman army and navy, while Hippo was fruitlessly besieged. A Carthaginian sortie from Hippo destroyed the Roman siege engines causing them to break off the campaign and go into winter quarters. Hasdrubal, already in charge of the Carthaginian field army, overthrew the civilian leadership of Carthage and took command himself. Carthage allied with Andriscus, a pretender to the Macedonian throne. Andriscus had invaded Roman Macedonia, defeated a Roman army, had himself crowned King Philip VI, and sparked the Fourth Macedonian War.
Third Year: Scipio takes charge
Scipio was elected consul and appointed to sole command in Africa; usually theatres were allocated to the two consuls by lot. He was granted the usual right to conscript enough men to make up the numbers of the forces there and the unusual entitlement to enrol volunteers.
Scipio moved the Romans' main camp back to near Carthage, closely observed by a Carthaginian detachment of 8,000. He made a speech demanding tighter discipline and dismissed those soldiers he considered ill-disciplined or poorly motivated. He then led a successful night attack and broke into the city with 4,000 men. Panicked in the dark, the Carthaginian defenders, after an initial fierce resistance, fled. Scipio decided that his position would be indefensible once the Carthaginians reorganised themselves in daylight, and so withdrew. Hasdrubal, horrified at the way the Carthaginian defences had collapsed, had Roman prisoners tortured to death on the walls, in sight of the Roman army. He was reinforcing the will to resist in the Carthaginian citizens; from this point there could be no possibility of negotiation or even surrender. Some members of the city council denounced his actions and Hasdrubal had them too put to death and took full control of the city.
The renewed close siege cut off landward entry to the city, but a tight seaward interdiction was all but impossible with the naval technology of the time. Frustrated at the amount of food being shipped into the city, Scipio built an immense mole to cut off access to the harbour via blockade runners. The Carthaginians responded by cutting a new channel from their harbour to the sea. They had built a new fleet and once the channel was complete the Carthaginians sailed out, taking the Romans by surprise.
Battle of the Port of Carthage
Gulf of Tunis, Tunisia
In the summer of 147 BC, during the Siege of Carthage, the Roman fleet, under the command of Lucius Hostilius Mancinus kept a close watch on the city from the sea. His warships were reinforced that same year by the forces of Scipio Aemilianus. The Carthaginians managed to find an escape route to the sea that had not been effectively blockaded by the Roman navy and put their fleet of 50 triremes and smaller numbers of other vessels to sea to confront the invading fleet. They engaged the Roman fleet outside the Port of Carthage, and met with initial success in repulsing the Roman attacks to their ships, inflicting heavy casualties on them. As the battle progressed, the Carthaginians decided to return to port. During this operation, the smaller ships of the Carthaginian fleet blockaded the entrance to the port, forcing the Roman vessels very close into shallower waters.
Many of the smaller Carthaginian vessels were sunk, but at dawn, a majority had made it successfully back to port. This victory for the Carthaginian navy was not enough to break the blockade by the Roman navy.
Battle of Nepheris
After the Roman defeat at the Battle of the Port of Carthage, Scipio Aemilianus decided to destroy the Carthaginian army at Nepheris, a stronghold south of the capital where the previous year the Romans had suffered a defeat at the First Battle of Nepheris against Hasdrubal the Boeotarch.
In 147 BC, the Romans blockaded Carthage and effectively cut off all supplies being sent to the defenders at Nepheris whose defense was being conducted by Diogenes of Carthage. Scipio surrounded the Carthaginian camp, forcing them to come out and give battle against the smaller Roman army. Surrounded on all sides, the Carthaginians were soundly defeated, losing thousands of soldiers during the course of the battle. The majority of the remainder of the Carthaginian force was taken prisoner; only 4,000 managed to slip away. The capture of Nepheris marked the turning point in the morale of the defenders of Carthage, which would fall a few months later.
The Fall of Carthage
Scipio's position as the Roman commander in Africa was extended for a year in 146 BC. In the spring he launched a full-scale assault from the harbour area, which successfully breached the walls. Over six days, the Romans systematically worked their way through the residential part of the city, killing everyone they encountered and setting on fire the buildings behind them. On the last day Scipio agreed to accept prisoners, except for 900 Roman deserters in Carthaginian service, who fought on from the Temple of Eshmoun and burnt it down around themselves when all hope was gone.] At this point Hasdrubal surrendered to Scipio on the promise of his life and freedom. Hasdrubal's wife, watching from a rampart, then blessed Scipio, cursed her husband, and walked into the temple with her children, to burn to death.
Rome was determined that the city of Carthage remain in ruins. A ten-man commission was despatched by the Senate and Scipio was ordered to carry out further demolitions. A curse was placed on anyone who might attempt to resettle the site in the future. The former site of the city was confiscated as ager publicus, public land. Scipio celebrated a triumph and took the agnomen "Africanus", as had his adoptive grandfather. Hasdrubal's fate is not known, although he had surrendered on the promise of a retirement to an Italian estate. The formerly Carthaginian territories were annexed by Rome and reconstituted to become the Roman province of Africa, with Utica as its capital. The province became a major source of grain and other food.
The Punic cities which had stood by Carthage to the end were forfeit to Rome as ager publicus, or, as in the case of Bizerte, were destroyed. Surviving cities were permitted to retain at least elements of their traditional system of government and culture.
- Astin, A. E. (1967). Scipio Aemilianus. Oxford: Clarendon Press. OCLC 250072988.
- Astin, A. E. (2006) . "Sources". In Astin, A. E.; Walbank, F. W.; Frederiksen, M. W. & Ogilvie, R. M. (eds.). Cambridge Ancient History: Rome and the Mediterranean to 133 B.C., Volume 8, 2nd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–16. ISBN 978-0-521-23448-1.
- Bagnall, Nigel (1999). The Punic Wars: Rome, Carthage and the Struggle for the Mediterranean. London: Pimlico. ISBN 978-0-7126-6608-4.
- Beard, Mary (2016). SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. London: Profile Books. ISBN 978-1-84668-381-7.
- Le Bohec, Yann (2015) . "The "Third Punic War": The Siege of Carthage (148–146 BC)". In Hoyos, Dexter (ed.). A Companion to the Punic Wars. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley. pp. 430–446. ISBN 978-1-1190-2550-4.
- Champion, Craige B. (2015) . "Polybius and the Punic Wars". In Hoyos, Dexter (ed.). A Companion to the Punic Wars. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley. pp. 95–110. ISBN 978-1-1190-2550-4.
- Fakhri, Habib (1985). "Rome and Carthage Sign Peace Treaty Ending Punic Wars After 2,131 Years". AP News. Associated Press. Retrieved 13 August 2020.
- Fantar, M’hamed-Hassine (2015) . "Death and Transfiguration: Punic Culture after 146". In Hoyos, Dexter (ed.). A Companion to the Punic Wars. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley. pp. 449–466. ISBN 978-1-1190-2550-4.
- Goldsworthy, Adrian (2006). The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265–146 BC. London: Phoenix. ISBN 978-0-304-36642-2.
- Harris, W. V. (2006) . "Roman Expansion in the West". In Astin, A. E.; Walbank, F. W.; Frederiksen, M. W. & Ogilvie, R. M. (eds.). Cambridge Ancient History: Rome and the Mediterranean to 133 B.C., Volume 8, 2nd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 107–162. ISBN 978-0-521-23448-1.
- Holland, Tom (2004). Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic. London: Abacus. ISBN 0-349-11563-X.
- Hoyos, Dexter (2005). Hannibal's Dynasty: Power and Politics in the Western Mediterranean, 247–183 BC. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-35958-0.
- Hoyos, Dexter (2015) . "Introduction: The Punic Wars". In Hoyos, Dexter (ed.). A Companion to the Punic Wars. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley. pp. 449–466. ISBN 978-1-1190-2550-4.
- Jenkins, G. K. & Lewis, R. B. (1963). Carthaginian Gold and Electrum Coins. London: Royal Numismatic Society. OCLC 1024975511.
- Jouhaud, Edmond Jules René (1968). Historie de l'Afrique du Nord (in French). Paris: Éditions des Deux Cogs dÓr. OCLC 2553949.
- Kunze, Claudia (2015) . "Carthage and Numidia, 201–149". In Hoyos, Dexter (ed.). A Companion to the Punic Wars. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley. pp. 395–411. ISBN 978-1-1190-2550-4.
- Lazenby, John (1996). The First Punic War: A Military History. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-2673-3.
- Lazenby, John (1998). Hannibal's War: A Military History of the Second Punic War. Warminster: Aris & Phillips. ISBN 978-0-85668-080-9.
- Miles, Richard (2011). Carthage Must be Destroyed. London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-101809-6.
- Mineo, Bernard (2015) . "Principal Literary Sources for the Punic Wars (apart from Polybius)". In Hoyos, Dexter (ed.). A Companion to the Punic Wars. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley. pp. 111–128. ISBN 978-1-1190-2550-4.
- Mitchell, Stephen (2007). A History of the Later Roman Empire. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-0856-0.
- Pollard, Elizabeth (2015). Worlds Together Worlds Apart. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-91846-5.
- Purcell, Nicholas (1995). "On the Sacking of Carthage and Corinth". In Innes, Doreen; Hine, Harry; Pelling, Christopher (eds.). Ethics and Rhetoric: Classical Essays for Donald Russell on his Seventy Fifth Birthday. Oxford: Clarendon. pp. 133–148. ISBN 978-0-19-814962-0.
- Richardson, John (2015) . "Spain, Africa, and Rome after Carthage". In Hoyos, Dexter (ed.). A Companion to the Punic Wars. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley. pp. 467–482. ISBN 978-1-1190-2550-4.
- Ridley, Ronald (1986). "To Be Taken with a Pinch of Salt: The Destruction of Carthage". Classical Philology. 81 (2): 140–146. doi:10.1086/366973. JSTOR 269786. S2CID 161696751.
- Ripley, George; Dana, Charles A. (1858–1863). "Carthage". The New American Cyclopædia: a Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge. Vol. 4. New York: D. Appleton. p. 497. OCLC 1173144180. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
- Scullard, Howard (1955). "Carthage". Greece & Rome. 2 (3): 98–107. doi:10.1017/S0017383500022166. JSTOR 641578.
- Scullard, Howard H. (2002). A History of the Roman World, 753 to 146 BC. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-30504-4.
- Shutt, Rowland (1938). "Polybius: A Sketch". Greece & Rome. 8 (22): 50–57. doi:10.1017/S001738350000588X. JSTOR 642112.
- Sidwell, Keith C.; Jones, Peter V. (1998). The World of Rome: An Introduction to Roman Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-38600-5.
- "Archaeological Site of Carthage". UNESCO. UNESCO. 2020. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
- Vogel-Weidemann, Ursula (1989). "Carthago delenda est: Aitia and Prophasis". Acta Classica. 2 (32): 79–95. JSTOR 2459-1872.
- Walbank, F.W. (1979). A Historical Commentary on Polybius. Vol. III. Oxford: Clarendon. ISBN 978-0-19-814011-5.
- Walbank, F.W. (1990). Polybius. Vol. 1. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06981-7.
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Get our monthly newsletter sent to your inbox, no spam.
- Notifications on new HistoryMaps
- Find out which HistoryMaps are updated
- Find out which HistoryMaps are coming out next