Carthaginian Empire

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Carthaginian Empire
Ancient Empire of North Africa
LocationWestern Europe, Southern Europe
North Africa and Levant
State existed575–146 BC
GovernmentMonarchy (575-480 BC)
Oligarchal Republic (480-146 BC)
Head of GovernmentKing
2 Shophet's
LegislatureSupreme Council
Major CitiesCarthago Novo
Lepsis Magnus
Area300,000 km2
120,000 sq mi
Preceded byKingdom of Carthage
Succeeded byRoman Republic

The Carthaginian Empire evolved out of the earlier Kingdom of Carthage (814-575 BC). The Carthaginian Empire was an informal empire of Phoenician city-states throughout North Africa and modern Spain from 575 B.C.E. until 146 B.C.E. It was more or less under the control of the city-state of Carthage after the fall of Tyre to Babylonian forces. At the height of the city's influence, its empire included most of the western Mediterranean Sea. At the height of the city's influence, its empire included most of the western Mediterranean Sea. The empire was in a constant state of struggle with the Roman Republic, which led to a series of conflicts known as the Punic Wars. The Carthaginian general Hannibal is regarded as one of the greatest military minds in history. After the third and final Punic War, Carthage was destroyed then occupied by Roman forces. Nearly all of the empire fell into Roman hands from then on. As a result, a major transformation took place in ancient world that continues to impact on human life today. Rome ceased to be a regional power and began to tread on a larger stage.


In order to provide a resting place for merchant fleets, to maintain a Phoenician monopoly on an area's natural resource, or to conduct trade on its own, the Phoenicians established numerous colonial cities along the coasts of the Mediterranean. They were stimulated to found their cities by a need for revitalizing trade in order to pay the tribute extracted from Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos by the succession of empires that ruled them and by fear of complete Greek colonization of that part of the Mediterranean suitable for commerce. The Phoenicians lacked the population or necessity to establish self-sustaining cities abroad, and most cities had fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, but Carthage and a few others developed into large cities.

Some 300 colonies were established in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Iberia, and to a much lesser extent, on the arid coast of Libya. The Phoenicians controlled Cyprus, Sardinia, Corsica, and the Balearic Islands, as well as minor possessions in Crete and Sicily; the latter settlements were in perpetual conflict with the Greeks. The Phoenicians managed to control all of Sicily for a limited time. The entire area later came under the leadership and protection of Carthage, which in turn dispatched its own colonists to found new cities or to reinforce those that declined with Tyre and Sidon.

The first colonies were made on the two paths to Iberia's mineral wealth—along the North African coast and on Sicily, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands. The centre of the Phoenician world was Tyre, serving as an economic and political hub. The power of this city waned following numerous sieges and its eventual destruction by Alexander the Great, and the role as leader passed to Sidon, and eventually to Carthage. Each colony paid tribute to either Tyre or Sidon, but neither had actual control of the colonies. This changed with the rise of Carthage, since the Carthaginians appointed their own magistrates to rule the towns and Carthage retained much direct control over the colonies. This policy resulted in a number of Iberian towns siding with the Romans during the Punic Wars.


The government of Carthage changed dramatically after the total rout of the Carthaginian forces at the battle of Himera on Sicily in 483 BC. The Magonid clan was compelled to compromise and allow representative and even some democratic institutions. Carthage remained to a great extent an Oligarchal Republic, which relied on a system of checks and balances and ensured a form of public accountability. At the head of the Carthaginian state were now two annually elected, not hereditary, Suffets (thus rendered in Latin by Livy 30.7.5, attested in Punic inscriptions as SPΘM /ʃuftˤim/, meaning "judges" and obviously related to the Biblical Hebrew ruler title Shophet "Judge"),similar to modern day executive presidents. Greek and Roman authors more commonly referred to them as "kings", as they were in effect, if not in name, the monarchs of Carthage. SPΘ /ʃufitˤ/ might originally have been the title of the city's governor, installed by the mother city of Tyre.

In the historically attested period, the two Suffets were elected annually from among the most wealthy and influential families and ruled collegially, similarly to Roman consuls (and equated with these by Livy). This practice might have descended from the plutocratic oligarchies that limited the Suffet's power in the first Phoenician cities. A range of more junior officials and special commissioners oversaw different aspects of governmental business such as public works, tax-collecting, and the administration of the state treasury. The aristocratic families were represented in a supreme council (Roman sources speak of a Carthaginian "Senate", and Greek ones of a "council of Elders" or a gerousia), which had a wide range of powers; however, it is not known whether the Suffets were elected by this council or by an assembly of the people. Suffets appear to have exercised judicial and executive power, but not military, as generals were chosen by the administration. The final supervision of the Treasury and Foreign Affairs seems to have come under the Council of Elders.

A Carthaginian silver shekel depicting a man wearing a laurel wreath on the obverse, and a man riding a war elephant on the reverse, c. 239-209 BC There was a body known as the Tribunal of the Hundred and Four, which Aristotle compared to the Spartan ephors. These were judges who acted as a kind of higher constitutional court and oversaw the actions of generals, who could sometimes be sentenced to crucifixion, as well as other officials. Panels of special commissioners, called pentarchies, were appointed from the Tribunal of One Hundred and Four: they appear to have dealt with a variety of affairs of state. Although the city's administration was firmly controlled by oligarchs, democratic elements were to be found as well: Carthage had elected legislators, trade unions and town meetings in the form of a Popular Assembly. Aristotle reported in his Politics that unless the Suffets and the Council reached a unanimous decision, the Carthaginian popular assembly had the decisive vote — unlike the situation in Greek states with similar constitutions such as Sparta and Crete. Polybius, in his History book 6, also stated that at the time of the Punic Wars, the Carthaginian public held more sway over the government than the people of Rome held over theirs (a development he regarded as evidence of decline). This may have been due to the influence of the Barcid faction.

Eratosthenes, head of the Library of Alexandria, noted that the Greeks had been wrong to describe all non-Greeks as barbarians, since the Carthaginians as well as the Romans had a constitution. Aristotle also knew and discussed the Carthaginian constitution in his Politics (Book II, Chapter 11). During the period between the end of the First Punic War and the end of the Second Punic War, members of the Barcid family dominated in Carthaginian politics. They were given control of the Carthaginian military and all the Carthaginian territories outside of Africa.


Main Article: Armed Forces of Carthage

Carthage did not maintain a large, permanent, standing army. According to Polybius, Carthage relied heavily, though not exclusively, on foreign mercenaries, especially in overseas warfare. The core of its army was from its own territory in Northwest Africa (ethnic Libyans and Numidians (modern northern Algeria), as well as "Liby-Phoenicians"—i.e., Phoenicians proper). These troops were supported by mercenaries from different ethnic groups and geographic locations across the Mediterranean, who fought in their own national units. For instance, the Celts and Balearics and Iberians were recruited to fight in Sicily. Particularly, Carthage had been employing Iberian troops for a long time even before the Punic Wars; this was supported by the accounts of Herodotus and Alcibiades who both described the fighting capabilities of the Iberians among the western Mediterranean mercenaries. Later, after the Barcids conquered Iberia[dubious – discuss] (modern Spain and Portugal), Iberians came to form an even greater part of the Carthaginian forces.

Carthage seems to have fielded a formidable cavalry force, especially in its Northwest African homeland; a significant part of it was composed of light Numidian cavalry. Other mounted troops included North African elephants (now extinct), trained for war, which, among other uses, were commonly used for frontal assaults or as anticavalry protection. An army could field up to several hundred of these animals, but on most reported occasions fewer than a hundred were deployed. The riders of these elephants were armed with a spike and hammer to kill the elephants, in case they charged toward their own army. The Carthaginians also fielded troops such as slingers, soldiers armed with straps of cloth used to toss small stones at high speeds.


The Carthaginian Navy was one of the largest in the Mediterranean, using serial production to maintain high numbers at moderate cost. The sailors and marines of the Carthaginian navy were predominantly recruited from the Phoenician citizenry, unlike the multiethnic allied and mercenary troops of the Carthaginian armies. The navy offered a stable profession and financial security for its sailors. This helped to contribute to the city's political stability, since the unemployed, debt-ridden poor in other cities were frequently inclined to support revolutionary leaders in the hope of improving their own lot.[98] The reputation of her skilled sailors implies that training of oarsmen and coxswains occurred in peacetime, giving their navy a cutting edge in naval matters.

The trade of Carthaginian merchantmen was by land across the Sahara and especially by sea throughout the Mediterranean and far into the Atlantic to the tin-rich Cassiterides,[99] and also to Northwest Africa. Evidence exists that at least one Punic expedition, that of Hanno, may have sailed along the West African coast to regions south of the Tropic of Cancer.[100]

Polybius wrote in the sixth book of his history that the Carthaginians were "more exercised in maritime affairs than any other people." Their navy included some 300 to 350 warships. The Romans, who had little experience in naval warfare prior to the First Punic War, managed to finally defeat Carthage with a combination of reverse-engineered, captured Carthaginian ships, recruitment of experienced Greek sailors from the ranks of its conquered cities, the unorthodox corvus device, and their superior numbers in marines and rowers. In the Third Punic War, Polybius describes a tactical innovation of the Carthaginians, augmenting their few triremes with small vessels that carried hooks (to attack the oars) and fire (to attack the hulls). With this new combination, they were able to stand their ground against the numerically superior Romans for a whole day.


Sicilian Wars

The Sicilian Wars, or Greco-Punic Wars, were a series of conflicts fought between Ancient Carthage and the Greek city-states led by Syracuse, Sicily, over control of Sicily and the western Mediterranean between 580–265 BC. Carthage's economic success and its dependence on seaborne trade led to the creation of a powerful navy to discourage both pirates and rival nations. They had inherited their naval strength and experience from their forebearers, the Phoenicians, but had increased it because, unlike the Phoenicians, the Punics did not want to rely on a foreign nation's aid. This, coupled with its success and growing hegemony, brought Carthage into increasing conflict with the Greeks, the other major power contending for control of the central Mediterranean.

  1. First Sicilian War (480 BC) Carthage's economic successes, and its dependence on shipping to conduct most of its trade, led to the creation of a powerful Carthaginian navy to discourage both pirates and rival nations. This, coupled with its success and growing hegemony, brought Carthage into increasing conflict with the Greeks, the other major power contending for control of the central Mediterranean.
  2. Second Sicilian war (410 BC–404 BC) By 410 B.C.E. Carthage had recovered after serious defeats. It had conquered much of modern day Tunisia, strengthened and founded new colonies in North Africa, and sponsored Mago Barca's journey across the Sahara Desert and Hanno the Navigator's journey down the African coast.
  3. Third Sicilian War (315 BC–307 BC). In 315 BC, Agathocles, the tyrant of Syracuse and considered as one of the Diadochi, seized the city of Messene (present-day Messina). In 311 BC, he invaded the Carthaginian holdings on Sicily, breaking the terms of the current peace treaty, and laid siege to Akragas. Hamilcar, grandson of Hanno "Magnus",[115] led the Carthaginian response and met with tremendous success. By 310 BC, he controlled almost all of Sicily and besieged Syracuse itself.
Pyrrhic War

The Pyrrhic War occurred between 280 and 275 BC, Pyrrhus of Epirus waged two major campaigns in the western Mediterranean: one against the emerging power of the Roman Republic in southern Italy, the other against Carthage in Sicily.

Punic Wars

The Punic Wars were a series of conflicts fought between Rome and Carthage between 264 and 146 BC.[1] They were probably the largest wars in the ancient world. The term "Punic" comes from the Latin word Punicus (or Poenicus). This was the word the Romans used for the Carthaginians, due to their Phoenician ancestry. The main cause of the Punic Wars was the clash of interests between the existing empire of Carthage and the expanding Roman Republic. What was at stake was control of the trading around the Mediterranean sea. Carthage lost the three wars.

  1. First Punic War 264 to 241 BC. Hannibal's father Hamilcar Barca was the Carthaginian general.
  2. Second Punic War 218 to 201 BC. Hannibal was the Carthaginian general. Hannibal crossed the Alps with war elephants in order to attack Rome on land, because they had put their fortifications on the coast, expecting a naval attack. Carthage lost when Romans invaded Africa.
  3. Third Punic War 149 to 146 BC. Carthage lost again and their city was completely destroyed by the Romans.


Carthaginians spoke Punic, a variety of Phoenician, which was a Semitic language originating in the Carthaginians' original homeland of Phoenicia (present-day Lebanon).


Carthaginian commerce extended by sea throughout the Mediterranean and perhaps into the Atlantic as far as the Canary Islands, and by land across the Sahara desert. According to Aristotle, the Carthaginians and others had treaties of commerce to regulate their exports and imports. The empire of Carthage depended heavily on its trade with Tartessos and with other cities of the Iberian peninsula,[107] from which it obtained vast quantities of silver, lead, copper and – even more importantly – tin ore, which was essential for the manufacture of bronze objects by the civilizations of antiquity. Carthaginian trade-relations with the Iberians, and the naval might that enforced Carthage's monopoly on this trade and the Atlantic tin trade, made it the sole significant broker of tin and maker of bronze in its day. Maintaining this monopoly was one of the major sources of power and prosperity for Carthage; Carthaginian merchants strove to keep the location of the tin mines secret. In addition to its role as the sole significant distributor of tin, Carthage's central location in the Mediterranean and control of the waters between Sicily and Tunisia allowed it to control the eastern peoples' supply of tin. Carthage was also the Mediterranean's largest producer of silver, mined in Iberia and on the Northwest African coast; after the tin monopoly, this was one of its most profitable trades. One mine in Iberia provided Hannibal with 300 Roman pounds (3.75 talents) of silver a day.


Carthaginian religion was based on Phoenician religion (derived from the faiths of the Levant), a form of polytheism. Many of the gods the Carthaginians worshiped were localized and are now known only under their local names. Carthage also had Jewish communities. The supreme divine couple was that of Tanit and Ba'al Hammon. The goddess Astarte seems to have been popular in early times. At the height of its cosmopolitan era, Carthage seems to have hosted a large array of divinities from the neighbouring civilizations of Greece, Egypt and the Etruscan city-states. A pantheon was presided over by the father of the gods, but a goddess was the principal figure in the Phoenician pantheon.


  3. Carthage