The second so-called Punic War between Carthage and Rome came to an end in 202 BCE. Rome had prevailed and a peace treaty was signed in 201 between the two Mediterranean powers, with heavy concessions and indemnity to be paid to the victor. The deciding factor, according to the classical record (composed almost exclusively of pro-Roman accounts, the Carthaginian reports having been conveniently lost or destroyed), was the Battle of Zama. Hannibal, probably the most brilliant military genius in history, after remaining unvanquished for 16 years on enemy land, facing overwhelming odds and receiving almost no reinforcements, was allegedly decisively defeated by the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio, who would be awarded the title Africanus in recognition of his great victory. Is this really what happened? A number of problems, inconsistencies, and paradoxes suggest otherwise.
The battle of Zama, supposedly waged in North Africa in 202 BCE, between the armies of Hannibal Barca and the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio, was the final military engagement of the Second Punic War, and a decisive turning point in the history of the Mediterranean cultures and the rest of the world. The traditional accounts of the battle, based practically in their entirety on pro-Roman sources, paint a strange and highly unlikely picture of the conflict and its outcome. Let us first examine the reasons for the distortions presented by the classical record, and the circumstances leading up to the battle. In a following article I will attempt to reconstruct what actually happened on that fateful day, looking through what can only be characterized as smoke and mirrors in the standard sources.
Carthage, the Queen of the Mediterranean, was founded by Phoenicians in 814 BCE, on the coast of what is now Tunisia. It grew to become a resplendent commercial metropolis, with multi-storied buildings, refulgent temples, libraries, marketplaces, and a glorious dual harbor, which was an architectural marvel for all to see. At its zenith it had a population that may have approached a million.
The Carthaginians were gifted sailors and talented merchants who came to dominate the ancient Mediterranean, in the process coming into conflict with the Greeks and later with the Romans. Athens was the maritime center of Greece, and a number of Greek colonies were established in Asia Minor, southern Italy, and Sicily, among others. Since the Carthaginians also had an interest in Sicily, a number of conflicts ensued between the navies and land forces of the two powers. As is typical in such confrontations, each side must have resented the other and described its adversaries in unflattering terms. The Greeks referred to the Carthaginians as greedy and faithless, and although the records and libraries of the latter were destroyed in 146 BCE, we can imagine that they applied reciprocal pejoratives to their Greek rivals.
The wars between Carthage and Rome in antiquity resulted in death and destruction in a scale so vast that it is comparable to that of WWI and WW II. Called “Punic Wars” by the Romans, they were surely known as “Roman Wars” by the Carthaginians, whose records have been lost or obliterated. The conflict lasted over a century, from 264 to 146 BCE, longer than any other war in recorded history. The protagonists were a North African maritime trading city-state and an emerging imperialistic power in the Italian peninsula. The struggle between them devastated the Mediterranean world and resulted in well over a million deaths. But who deserves the blame for these conflagrations—who started them, and why? In this article we will examine the matter of the culpability or Kriegsschuldfrage in the “Punic” (or “Roman”) wars. This question has generated quite a bit of literature and debate, as reflected by the entries in the bibliography at the end of this paper.