Carthaginian Navy

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Carthaginian Navy
Punic Navy ensign.
Active814-149 BC
AllegianceCarthaginian Empire
RoleNaval warfare
Size350 warships
150,000 men
HeadquartersAdmiralty Building, Port of Carthage
Nickname(s)Senior Service
Motto(s)Steadfast until the End
Colors(Teal, Bronze)
MarchTo the Seas
Engagements(see engagements below)
Naval Ensign100px
Naval Jack100px

The Carthaginian Navy was the strongest force of the Carthaginian Armed Forces of the Carthaginian Empire. The empire was born of the Phoenician state Kingdom of Carthage. The military forces of Carthage was one of the largest military forces in the Ancient World.


The Carthaginian Navy is descended from the navies of the Phoenician city-states in the Levant, which founded Carthage and other trading posts throughout the Mediterranean. The strong sea-faring and merchant traditions of the Phoenician settlers ensured a navy was rapidly developed to defend the city-state's trade and enforce treaty provisions within its ever-growing sphere of influence. The Carthaginian Empire was an empire that evolved out of the Kingdom of Carthage. Carthage practiced highly advanced and productive agriculture and manufacturing.The empire traded in almost every commodity wanted by the ancient world, including spices from Arabia, Africa, and India. It also participated in the slave trade.The military of Carthage was one of the largest military forces in the ancient world; its navy was its strongest force.

The early navy was composed of rowed galleys, initially biremes and later triremes once the type was developed in Phoenicia. By the third century BCE, the trireme had become the primary warship of the Punic Navy, supplemented by light ships such as the lembos and trihemiolia. The Navy was based in a fortified port in the city of Carthage, allowing ships to be built, fitted, and repaired safely behind the city's walls. With these ships, the Punic Navy supported Carthage's long struggle with the Greeks for control of the island of Sicily to halt the expansion of Magna Graecia, operating out of the fortress-ports of Motya and Lilybaeum. While the Carthaginian Navy remained dominant on the seas, success on land against the Greeks led by Syracuse was elusive, and the island remained contested for centuries. In the middle of the third century, Carthage began to influence naval design in the Mediterranean with the introduction of the larger quadrireme, which supplanted the trireme as the predominant heavy warship in the Mediterranean until the introduction of the quinquereme by Dionysus I of Syracuse. Despite the origin of the design, the Carthaginian Navy rapidly adopted the new class and it remains one of the best-known types of antiquity due to its importance in the Punic Wars with Rome from 265 BC to 146 BC.

Despite the Roman lack of experience in naval affairs, the war at sea between Carthage and Rome was fiercely contested. The Romans quickly developed a navy based on captured Carthaginian warships, relying on the corvus to leverage the experience of their soldiers against the superior Carthaginian seamanship. A string of defeats at Mylae, Cape Ecnomus, and the Aegates Islands ended in defeats for the Carthaginian Navy, although rough weather and other skirmishes resulted in higher Roman naval losses overall, with the bulk of the Carthaginian fleet escaping intact. The Second Punic War saw a more even struggle, with the Punic Navy emerging victorious in the Second Battle of Cape Ecnomus and the Battle of Gades, stranding the Roman armies in Africa. The main cause was the conflict of interest between the existing Carthaginian Empire and the expanding Roman Republic. The Third Punic War began in 149 BC, and culminated in the defeat of Carthage. Following the settlement of the Punic Wars, the Navy focused much of its efforts on exploration along the coasts of Africa and Europe, due to the inability of galleys to brave long ocean voyages. Phoenician settlements were established in the Canary Islands and along the Moroccan coastline throughout the reign of Hasdrubal the Seafarer, although colonization slowed by the fourth century CE due to the empire's ongoing economic decline.


Command of the navy was in the hands of an Admiral selected by the Council of Carthage. He had equal status to the commander of the land army, and only very rarely were the two forces commanded by the same person. Each ship was run by three officers, one of whom was the navigator. A typical quinquereme crew would have consisted of 300 rowers taken from the citizenry of Carthage and allied cities such as Utica. In later times slaves were also used to meet the high demands of warfare. The lesser-skilled slaves could be used to good effect in the larger ships where two men manipulated most of the oars. This arrangement allowed one skilled oarsman to guide the oar but also benefit from the power of the second man.


Main Article:Carthage Harbour

The Punic naval fleet had its own harbour separate from but connected to the merchant harbour at Carthage. The naval harbour was massive and circular whilst the merchant ships anchored in a rectangular one. Both ports were man made, about twenty meters deep, and they possibly date to 220-210 BC. The center of the naval harbour was dominated by a tower structure known as the ‘the admiral’s island, the facilities were included over 220 docks.

Size of the Navy

The Carthaginian navy typically consisted of 100-200 warships, and thus approximately 30,000 to 60,000 men throughout most of its history. It reached a peak of 350 warships or 150,000 men in 265 BC during the Battle of Cape Ecnomus against the Roman Republic Navy.

Naval Engagements

# name against date/s part of result
1. Battle of Alalia Phocaean Navy 540 BC Carthaginian Expansion Draw
2. Battle of the Strait of Messina Epirote Navy 459 BC Pyrrhic War Won
3. Siege of Akragas Akragasian and Syracusian Navies 406 BC Sicilian Wars Won
4. Battle of Catana Syracusian Navy 397 BC Sicilian Wars Won
5. Battle of the Lipari Islands Roman Republic Navy 260 BC First Punic War Won
6. Battle of Mylae Roman Republic Navy 260 BC First Punic War Loss
7. Battle of Sulci Roman Republic Navy 258 BC First Punic War Loss
8. Battle of Tyndaris Roman Republic Navy 257 BC First Punic War Loss
9. Battle of Cape Ecnomus Roman Republic Navy 256 BC First Punic War Loss
10. Battle of Drepana Roman Republic Navy 249 BC First Punic War Won
11. Battle of Phintias Roman Republic Navy 249 BC First Punic War Won
12. Battle of Lilybaeum Roman Republic Navy 218 BC Second Punic War Loss
13. Battle of Ebro River Roman Republic Navy 217 BC Second Punic War Loss
14. Battle of Decimomannu Roman Republic Navy 215 BC Second Punic War Loss
15. Battle of Carteia Roman Republic Navy 206 BC Second Punic War Loss
16. Battle of Lake Tunis Roman Republic Navy 149 BC Third Punic War Won
17. Battle of the Port of Carthage Roman Republic Navy 147 BC Third Punic War Won


  3. of Carthage
  4., Laura, (2006). Carthaginian Casualties: The Socioeconomic Effects of the Losses Sustained in the First Punic War, History Theses, Georgia State University