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The Second Punic War History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

When looking at the Second Punic War and why the anger of Hamilcar Barca was attributed by Poluybius to its outbreak we must take the following into account. Firstly, we should look at the reason for the Second Punic War; was it due to revenge, a lust of power or expansion of Carthage’s empire? Also, are the sources of the time, which are few and were not all written at the time. Only a few ancient sources talk about this period of history, known as the age of the Roman Republic.

Some historians who have written about the Second War talk about events which happened centuries before they were born and therefore relied on other ancient sources that we ourselves do not have access to. As well, this topic is an issue of great debate. Polybius is a historian who gives very good accounts of events that led to the war, blaming the Carthaginians for causing the war yet it also raises a very large question that we look to explore on this.

Most of our theorizing and knowledge regarding the Second War comes from Polybius the closest writer of the time. We rely on the fact that what he states is the truth as he was a Greek, but the writing is from a perspective other than Roman. Therefore we must look at the evidence that has been left behind in the literary sources and what modern historians have concluded from these sources as to the reasons for the outbreak of the Second War. Whether they agree with Polybius’ viewpoint that it was the anger of Hamilcar Barca that caused the Second Punic War.

So first we should look at our primary source Polybius who is a Greek historian writing history about the Romans. He sets for himself very high standards in his discussions about the Punic Wars saying that any man who would take “take up the role of the historian” must “discard all considerations of this kind.” He seems to keep to this set of standards that most ancient historical writers try to attain yet when looking at his reasons for the causes of the second punic war we can see hints of bias readily in the appraisal of Hamilcar and Hannibal for he differs from other writers in saying the crossing of the Ebro and Hannibal’s siege of Saguntum were the “beginnings” of the conflict and not the real “causes”. These causes being identified more so with anger of Hamilcar Barca and the expulsion of the Carthaginians from Sardinia. We have other ancient writers who did not accept his reasoning of the matter such as Cicero who wrote “The siege of Saguntum was the cause of the second Punic war, which Hannibal carried on against our ancestors”. Cicero wrote this many years after Polybius.

Next, we must look at the background of the Second Punic War. This occurred shortly after the First Punic War. Hamilcar was the General of the Army which fought off the roman armies that invaded Carthage. Despite the fact that it ended with the Carthaginian’s defeat Hamilcar was seen as a war hero and was very popular with his troops, which could have made the ruling clique of Carthage uneasy and wish to remove him from the city as he was both ambitious and successful. There could have also been fear that without a military campaign to occupy Hamilcar that he might have upset the already unstable domestic politics of the time.

Also, after the defeat of Carthage in the First Punic War of 241 BC Hamilcar might not have harboured intentions of opening further hostilities with Rome as he had led the initial peace negotiations with the Romans. He would have needed to keep what was left of their armies to protect the Carthaginian cities against the native Iberians. In the end, Hamilcar left Carthage for the Iberian Peninsula. He took possession of many silver mines exploiting the country’s wealth. He managed to produce vast quantities of precious metal to boost the depleted coffers of Carthage and maybe his own private funds. Hamilcar also managed to conquer many tribes and increased the size of his army with the tribesmen he conquered (question?

Once Carthage defeated their enemies during the Mercenary War there existed two parties, the reformist party led by Hamilcar Barca the other, led by Hanno the Great and the old Carthaginian aristocracy. When he and Hamilcar were commanders of Carthage’s armies, the soldiers supported Hamilcar.

Another factor which must be taken into consideration was the time between the First and Second Punic War and the seizure of Sardinia. Rome had annexed Sardinia by revisiting the terms of the treaty that ended the first Punic War. At that time Carthage was under siege, engaged in a harsh civil war, they had to accept the loss of Sardinia and Roman conditions for ongoing peace, which also increased the war indemnity levied against Carthage following the first Punic War. This caused relations between both powers to reach a fragile truce.

The loss of the country after having recently lost Sicily would have had serious effects on the revenues of Carthage, jeopardising the personal profits of the commercial class and would have made the ruling class deeply resentful at losing another source of income. That Hamilcar Barca was one of these ruling classes in Carthage meant that he would have been resentful at the loss.

Due to this Carthage for the interests of its empire had to embark on a program of overseas expansion to find an alternative source of revenue. Also, if there was to be any possibility of being able to fight back the Romans, maybe realising at the same time that conflict between the two powers was inevitable and that they would need to be adequately prepared. To do so and be on equal footing with Rome they would need to have a limitless supply of manpower, resources to pay for that manpower as (mercenaries?) and activities to keep it efficiently employed and battle ready. The ruling clique seem to have sent Hamilcar on this military campaign to re-establish Carthaginian control over Spain and conquer new territory as well. Taking his forces along with his son-in-law Hasdrubal and nine-year old Hannibal he set off to do this with maybe the promise of future revenge in mind.

When he settled into Spain while campaigning for Carthage Hamilcar seems to have assumed a princely status in Spain which the government of Carthage did not dispute as long as he did not use his power against them.

Polybius himself seems to believe that “the success of the Carthaginian enterprise in Spain” was one of the causes of the Second Punic War and that Hamilcar who was angered by the outcome of the First Punic War and the subsequent Roman actions of taking Sicily and Sardinia intended “using these resources to prepare for a war against Rome”, many modern historians support this viewpoint. Looking at such modern historians such as Gavin de Beet seems to agree with the idea that Hamilcar developed Spain as a base and source for both manpower and supplies for the future invasion of Italy. In retrospect to this another historian, Caven, suggests that Hamilcar might have wanted a base far enough away from both Carthage and Rome to prevent e3ither from knowing what was going on.

In contrast to this we have Cassius Dio who talks of the Roman envoys that were sent to investigate what Hamilcar was up to in Spain and how they were satisfied in his explanation: “that he was obliged to fight against the Spaniards in order that the money which was still owing to the Romans on the part of Carthaginians might be paid; for it was impossible to obtain it from any source.” This argument seems to be very true with the losses of Sardinia and Sicily along with the depleted silver mines that existed in Carthage that was used to try to keep the empire afloat. There seems to be doubt of Dio’s story as Polybius says that Rome had nothing to do with Spain until 226BC but even if Dio is incorrect about the visit of the Roman embassy in 331BC, there seems to have been reliable evidence from Polybius to suggest that Hamilcar was planning a war of revenge. It is true that Hamilcar himself might have believed that it was inevitable that another was with Rome was a possibility, even hoping that it would occur and he would take command but there was no obvious move made by him towards the Romans and it seems that in turn the Romans were not overly suspicious of Carthage, likely seeing a weakening empire that was trying to lick its wounds.

Yet we must also take into consideration that the expansion of Carthaginian power in Spain and Hamilcar’s gaining of almost princely status in Spain questions Hamilcar’s motives regarding what his true agenda was. For centuries this has been debated endlessly by both ancient and modern historians.

Yet during the nine years that Hamilcar spent restoring the prosperity of Carthage, shipping silver and other previous materials in the south and east of the country Patricia Southern argues that the accusation of him using Spain as a base for the raising and training of an army to use against the Romans was more of a legendary interpretation to explain the long struggle with Hannibal. This can be supported as we do not know whether this was a true fact or not as he made both his son-in-law Hasdrubal and more famous son Hannibal take an oath, which would later be said to have caused Hannibal to develop a deep-rooted loathing of Rome.

If the oath was in fact true then Hamilcar might have had slight ripple effects in producing the Roman-hating mindset of his son Hannibal, he himself was not responsible for the first attack that was made against the Romans, having drowned while laying siege to one of the cities of Spain back under the control of Carthage in 229BC. This was ten years before the Second War.

Goldsworthy another historian says that there was no complete victory on Rome’s part; Carthage made Rome nervous as it was not absorbed into their slowly expanding empire. That they had been so successful in Spain that gave them a new place to recruit solders and resources to provide for a major army, reinforced the Carthaginian idea that there was no reason for a state such as themselves to back down from Rome. Goldsworthy does not count out the fact that Hannibals’ siege of Saguntum and the crossing of River Ebro was purely a conquest for power and glory. He concludes that the demands of Rome and the Carthaginian’s desire to reassert themselves as a major power is what could have really led to the Second Punic War.

So from this we can conclude from looking at the ancient sources and the modern historian opinions that it is possible that Polybius could attribute the outbreak of the Second Punic War to the anger of Hamilcar Barca as he did from the evidence that we have at the time and take it as fact played an important role in bringing about the Second War despite his death ten years before the war actually took place. Yet it is due to the events of the First Punic War and the success in Spain distilled a hatred for Rome within the Carthaginian people and his son Hannibal who had grown up in the First War. That also Rome had not helped matters in intruding and demanding time after time upon Carthage it would not have led to the desire for the city to want to reassert as an Empire which is the more likely factor that led to the incursion of the Second Punic War. The war though regardless was inevitable as the previous one did not yield with a complete victory on Rome’s part which would in turn have stopped Carthage from trying to rise back as a major power. So from this we can say that yes Polybius was correct to say that Hamilcar was very likely a major cause for contributing into Hannibal beginning the Second Punic War.


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