Did the Romans Salt the Earth Around Carthage After They Destroyed It?

Did the Romans Salt the Earth Around Carthage after the Third Punic War?

The notion that the Romans salted the earth around Carthage is a bit like the story of Washington cutting down the cherry tree. It is something every school child knows, and is also something that, in all likelihood has no basis in truth.

Rome and Carthage fought three successive wars. The First Punic War lasted for 23 years, from 264 to 241 B.C. and ended in a treaty on Roman terms. The Second Punic war, in which the Carthaginian Hannibal invaded Italy, lasted 16 years, from 218 to 202 B.C. and, after the defeat of Hannibal by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus at Zama, also ended with a treaty on Roman terms. The Third Punic war lasted from 149 to 146 B.C. and ended with Carthage destroyed and some 50,000 survivors sold into slavery.

There is nothing in the ancient literature that suggests that Rome actually salted the earth around Carthage after the Third Punic War. The notion may have come about through the writings of the German historian Ferdinand Gregorovius. There are sound logical reasons to believe that the Romans did not salt the earth around Carthage. For one thing, salt was an expensive commodity and the pragmatic Romans would not have been so profligate with it. Secondly, Rome was becoming increasingly dependent on foreign sources of grain and were not likely to ruin good farmland which might be used to feed their hungry citizens. Thirdly, Rome was contemplating colonizing Carthage as early as the time of Gaius Graccus. 121 B.C. and Gracchus himself attempted to found a colony there. It failed for various reasons, but the attempt would not have been made if the earth surrounding Carthage had been salted. About a century later the Emperor Augustus actually did refound Carthage as a Roman city and it lasted until 698 when it was destroyed by the Muslims.


  1. Pamela Johnston says

    Good post! With any luck we can stop this “a-salt” on history. (You might want to correct the date for Gaius Graccus, though–it is a century off.)

  2. Quite right, Pamela, have corrected that date.

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