Quora Question: How Did Rome Finally Defeat Carthage?

Rome and Carthage fought three wars during the third and second centuries B.C. The first and second wars both ended with treaties on Roman terms.
Some fifty years after the end of the Second Punic War, Rome was strongly influenced by an aged veteran of that war named Marcus Porcius Cato, AKA Cato the Elder. Cato addressed the Roman Senate frequently and he ended every speech, no matter what the subject, with the words “Cetera censeo Cartagine esse delendum” -”and furthermore I feel that Carthage must be destroyed.”
Carthage posed no military threat to Rome at that point but they had become prosperous during the fifty years after the previous war and they were an economic rival. It is likely that influential Romans wanted them out of the way so that Rome could control trade.
The Second Punic War established Rome’s ally, Massinissa as King of Carthage’s Numidian neighbor, and Massinissa was still alive fifty years later. He and his army invaded Carthaginian territory approximately every decade and claimed territory on the basis of it being ancestral Numidian land. In 150 B.C. he invaded Carthaginian territory and the Carthaginians raised an army to resist him. There was a battle and Carthage lost about 50,000 soldiers. This left Carthage particularly vulnerable to Roman aggression.
The treaty that ended the Second Punic War had forbidden Carthage to go to war without Roman permission. The Roman Senate declared that the Carthaginians had broken the treaty by going to war with Numidia, and they declared war on Carthage. The Carthaginians had no desire for war and they begged for peace terms. The Romans demanded three hundred young noble hostages, which the Carthaginians delivered. The Romans then invaded Africa with 80,000 legionaries. The Carthaginians once more begged for peace and the Romans demanded that they completely disarm themselves. The Carthaginians complied. Then the Romans demanded that the Carthaginians abandon their city and build another one at least ten miles inland. This demand was too much for the Carthaginians and they decided to resist.
Historian Adrian Goldsworthy in his book The Fall of Carthage writes “There is no doubt that the Third Punic War was deliberately provoked by the Romans, who had made a conscious decision to destroy their old enemy. Roman negotiators shamelessly exploited the Carthaginians’ willingness to grant concessions in their desire to avoid war with Rome, stealthily increasing their demands to force a conflict on a weakened enemy. It was a far worse display than any of the recorded examples of ‘Punic treachery’.”
Despite the military weakness of the Carthaginians, the war did not go well for the Romans during the first two years as the Roman Consuls conducting the war were corrupt and inept. The Romans, however, found a competent military leader in the person of Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, the son of Aemilius Paullus who had conquered Macedonia twenty years before, and adoptive grandson of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus who had defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama. Scipio laid siege to the city causing conditions of famine and plague, and after eight months succeeded in breaching the walls. Street fighting went on for six days, during which Scipio destroyed much of the city. The remaining civilian population of the city, some 50,000, took refuge in the Temples on the Bursa, the Carthaginian citadel. Some of the priests from the Temples went to Scipio to beg for mercy for the survivors and Scipio allowed them to surrender and be sold into slavery.
Scipio’s legionaries destroyed the city down to the last building. What they did not do was sow the surrounding land with salt. That is a modern myth for which there is absolutely no evidence from ancient sources.
To learn more about the end of Carthage read The Fall of Carthage by Adrian Goldsworthy, or for something less academic, read my book The Last Carthaginian which is available on Amazon and Kindle.

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