Was There Anything Carthage Could Have Done to Prevent its Destruction by Rome in the Third Punic War?

Unfortunately for Carthage, there was no way to stop Rome from conquering and destroying Carthage.

A year before the Romans declared war on Carthage, the Carthaginians had lost about 50,000 soldiers in a war with its Numidian neighbor Masinissa, so they were in a much-weakened position.

The Romans were urged on by Marcus Porcius Cato, (Cato the Elder, or Cato the Censor) who ended every speech with the words “Cetera censeo Cartaginem esse delendam”-”and furthermore I say that Carthage must be destroyed!”

The Carthaginians did everything they could to try to mollify the Romans as the last thing they wanted was another war with Rome. When the Romans declared war on them on the pretext that they had gone to war with Numidia in violation of the treaty that ended the Second Punic War, the Carthaginians surrendered without a fight. They complied with the Roman demand that they send 300 young, well-born hostages to Rome. They complied with the Roman demand that they disarm themselves.

Then Rome demanded that they leave their city and move at least ten miles inland from the sea, so that Rome could destroy it. Then they decided to resist.

This is what the Carthaginian leader Banno said when the Romans made this final demand:

“Romans, you desire a good name and reputation for piety in all that you do, and you announce and claim moderation in all your successes and acquisitions. I implore you in the name of Jupiter and all of your other gods, do not tarnish your good name for the first time in your dealings with us. Do not defile your reputation by an act so horrible to do and to hear, which you will be the first in all history to perform.

“Greeks and barbarians have waged many wars, and you, Romans, have waged many wars against other nations, but no one has ever destroyed a city whose people had surrendered before the fight, and delivered up their arms and children and submitted to every other penalty that could be imposed upon men. Reminding you of the oaths sworn before the gods, of the mutability of the human lot, and of the avenging Nemesis that ever lies in wait for the fortunate, we beseech you not to do violence to your own fair record, and do not push our calamities to the last extremity.”

Nothing Banno could say would dissuade the Romans who were determined to destroy Carthage.

According to the Historian Adrian Goldsworthy: “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’.”

There was no way out for Carthage. The reason that the war lasted as long as it did was that the Roman Consuls in charge of the legions during the first two years of the war were corrupt and incompetent, but once the Romans found a competent general, Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, (Scipio Minor) the destruction of the city was inevitable.

Contrary to myth, the Romans did not salt the land around Carthage. That’s a 20th century myth.

If interested in the Third Punic War, read my historical novel The Last Carthaginian. It’s available on Amazon and Kindle.

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