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Punic Wars and The Development of Carthage

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Many conversations within the idea of alternative history range from the insane to a possible result if the variables fell in the exact time and place. Used as a source of entertainment in literature, games, and moving pictures, certain topics will get the treatment but will also receive the attention of scholars and intellectuals. Dissected and applied in theory, the outcomes vary depending on the necessities for such a course of history to follow through. Amongst those that have been discussed and intellectually investigated, such as John F. Kennedy surviving his assassination or the D-Day landings failing, Carthage runs through the minds of the ‘what if’ when observing the events of the Punic Wars. A state of similar status and power, it rivaled against another whose impact continues to affect our lifetime, the Roman Republic. Though far from analyzing the consequences if Carthage managed to win or survive Rome’s takeover, the aim is on its sustainability and assembly. Carthage’s investment in trade allowed them to display their power of status from its expansion over the western Mediterranean rivaling at an equal foot to Rome’s through the use of colonies, its reign of kings, and its conflict between themselves and the Greeks.

Since its birth as a Phoenician colony and outgrowing into the capital of a Punic empire, its roots in the profession of trade originated towards its beginning purpose as to facilitate it in the western Mediterranean from the cities of Sidon, Tyre, and others located in modern-day Lebanon. Though Tyre was considered the commercial and political hub of the Phoenicians, ‘its destruction by Alexander the Great passed the leadership to Sidon and then to Carthage’. Each colony paid tribute to Tyre and Sidon with neither of them controlling them, but with Carthage taking up the mantle, it appointed each colony with its own magistrates to rule towns and have much direct control over them. By the end of the 7th century BC, it was becoming one of the leading commercial centers of the western Mediterranean region with its trade of short-lived materials. Establishing colonies and repopulating old Phoenician ones expanded their networks while coming to the defense of other Punic colonies under threat and expanding brought in tribute and men for the army. However, they didn’t conquer lands adjacent to the city prior to going for overseas ventures. They depended on trade and focused their efforts on protecting their trade network, evolving Carthage into an overseas hegemony before their push inland into Africa. Their spread of influence along the west coast remained intact, but wars against the Libyans, Numidians and Mauri did not end with the creation of a Carthaginian empire. Carthage’s degree of control over their territories varied and in ways their hegemony shared the characteristics of powerful entities. The Delian League; its allies sharing defense expenditures, the Spartan Kingdom; with its serf tiling for the Punic elite and state, and the Roman Republic; allies contributing manpower and tribute to furnishing the Roman war machine. Phoenician cities paid annual tributes or provided personnel for the army and navy. They could run their own internal affairs, though with no independent foreign policy. Sardinia and Iberia surrendered control of their domain for Carthaginian protection, which provided a fleet to combat piracy external threats. Gains by these actions elevated Carthage in receiving the status of central authority that cemented their area of control and constant supply of resources to those far equipped to defend themselves.

Initially ruled by kings, elected by the Carthaginian senate on merit and served for a certain time period with no heirs. Though the crown and military command could’ve been bought by the highest bidder, leading to absolute power yet curtailed as Carthage became more democratic, the Magonid family produced several members who were at the forefront of the overseas expansion. Carthage’s economic successes prospered trade among the Etruscan cities, as it had treaties with them to regulate these activities. Its dependence on shipping to conduct most of its trade led to the creation of the state’s navy to discourage pirates and rival nations. Coupled with its success and a growing hegemony brought Carthage into conflict with the Greeks, another major power competing for control of the central Mediterranean. During these conflicts, spanning between 600-310 BC, the maritime empire of Carthage came into being under the military leadership of the ‘kings.’ During Mago’s reign, and through his Magonid family, Carthage had grown into a thalassocracy. Under him, he established the warlike tradition of Carthage by their successes in Africa, Sicily, and Sardina which brought the state pre-eminence among the Phoenician colonies in the western Mediterranean. He also initiated the practice of recruiting the army from subject peoples and mercenaries ‘due to Carthage’s small population in providing defense for the scattered empire’ (Warmington, 52).

The conflict between Carthage and the Greeks was more due to economic factors than ideological and cultural differences. The Greeks waged a crusade to extend their own area of influence to which Carthage wasn’t interested in wiping out Greek ideals. It was the fragile state of the Carthaginian economy to Greek commercial competition that caused them to take on the Greeks during the early years of the empire. The trade network that Carthage inherited from Tyre depended heavily on keeping their commercial rivals at arm’s length. The goods they produced ‘were for the local African market and were initially inferior to Greek goods’ (Markoe, 104). They were the middlemen between mineral rich Iberia and the east, bartering low-priced goods for metals, then for finished goods in the east and distributing them through their network. The Greek threat was threefold: undercutting the Phoenicians by offering better products, taking over the distribution, and preying on Punic shipping. Though they offered increased opportunities for trade and piracy, their noses up into areas of Punic influence cause the Punic cities to look for protection from their strongest city, Carthage. Twenty years after the founding of Massalia, the Phoenician cities in Sicily repelled an invasion of Dorian Greek settlers in Sicily in 580 BC. The result was the defeated Greeks finding in Lipera, becoming a pirate hub, a threat to all commerce. Carthaginians under a ‘king’ called Malchus warred successfully against the Libyan tribes in Africa, and then defeated the Greeks in Sicily. In the 530s there had been a three-sided naval struggle between the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the Etrusco-Punic allies. Etruscans attacked Greek colonies in the Campania south of Rome, but unsuccessfully. As a result, Rome threw off its Etruscan kings and evolved into the Roman Republic. In 509 BC, they entered a treaty with Carthage which defined their respective commercial zones. The final string of conflicts between Carthage and the Greeks ranged from 310-307 BC. The recently defeated Greek tyrant Agathocles attempted a bold strategy by putting his forces aboard ships, leaving Sicily, and landing his Greek army at Cape Bon, very near Carthage, who were ‘alarmed with palpable anxiety’ (Warmington, 122). Yet Carthage again defeated Agathocles. From their own, occupied with its conquest in the east of the Persian Empire, the Greek world lost interest in expanding its colonies in Sicily. Their influence in the western Mediterranean became supplanted by Rome, the new rival of Carthage. However, during these centuries, Carthage enlarged its commercial sphere, augmenting its markets along the African coast, southern Iberia, and islands among the west, venturing south to develop rudiments of the Saharan trade, and exploring commercial opportunities in the Atlantic. 

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