Would Carthage Have Destroyed Rome If They Had Been Victorious in the Punic Wars?

After the Battle of Cannae in which Hannibal’s army killed some 50,000 Roman and allied soldiers, Hannibal expected the Romans to sue for peace. He was not inclined to destroy the city.

The Romans were having none of that. They would not allow Hannibal’s emissary into the city, and the Senate made it a crime to even mention the word “peace.” Under the leadership of Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator, the war became largely one of attrition, and, in the absence of substantial assistance from Carthage, which was not forthcoming, Hannibal could not prevail in the long run.

In general, it was not the custom in the ancient world to destroy a city after its inhabitants sued for peace. When the Romans declared war on Carthage in 149 B.C. the city, not wanting a war with Rome, surrendered unconditionally. They sent 300 young hostages and totally disarmed and gave their arms to the Romans. But then the Romans demanded that they leave the city altogether and move at least ten miles inland. This was not acceptable to the Carthaginians, and they decided to resist.

One of their leaders, a man named Banno, made the following speech in an attempt to change the minds of the Romans: “Romans, you desire a good name and reputation for piety in all that you do, and you announce and claim moderation in all of 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, and 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.”

It is not possible to know exactly what would have happened if Carthage had been victorious. I suspect that Rome would have been subdued and reduced to a backwater. I doubt that the city would have been destroyed the way Rome destroyed Carthage in 146 B.C. That was not the general custom in the ancient world.

The above quotes originated from The History of Rome by Appian of Alexandria and are quoted in my book The Last Carthaginian. The book is available on Amazon and Kindle.

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