Roman-Carthaginian Relations Before the Punic Wars

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18th May 2020 Theology Reference this

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In Virgil’s Latin epic poem The Aeneid, Virgil wrote about Juno trying to kill the Trojans by sinking their ships, however, Neptune interfered and protected the Trojans because he did not like Juno being malicious inside the seas which was his territory. To avoid this, Aeneas and his fleet fled to the coast of Africa where they eventually made their way to Carthage. Once Aeneas was at Carthage he tried to improve relations with the queen of Carthage, Dido, in order to survive. At the time, Carthage was only a small city-state that was founded by Phoenician settlers from Tyre. This early interaction was a peaceful one, but the relationship between the Romans and the Carthaginians soon evolved into one of the most well-known rivalries in history. Both were the rising empires of the time with the constant expansion and warfare of the Romans, and the dominant trade and colonization of the Carthaginians. Both of these powers eventually grew so large in power that they began to battle over territory in a series of conflicts known as the Punic Wars. However, the relationship between the Romans and the Carthaginians wasn’t always so bitter. Both nations had amicable relations and several alliances before the start of the First Punic War. What caused this relationship to deteriorate can be boiled down to the Romans and the Carthaginians expanding spheres of influence colliding in Sicily and Roman cultural beliefs overshadowing any sort of militaristic or commerce alliance they would have had with Carthage.

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Since the Carthaginians and the Romans discovered each other up to 279 BCE, the relationship between the two powers was mostly in regard to trade. With Carthage expanding its colonies throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and Rome conquering large amounts of Etruria, both civilizations agreed to similar treaties in 509 BCE, 348 BCE, and 306 BCE which established which areas in the central Mediterranean were under whose control. The treaties established the island of Sicily as neutral territory due to its strategic importance and many port cities. The treaties also put regulation on the Romans in order to limit their methods of expansion through Italy and Sicily. Other parts stipulated that there would be a long-lasting friendship between the Romans and its allies with the Carthaginians, specifically stating “There shall be friendship between the Romans and their allies, and the Carthaginians, Tyrians, and township of Utica, on these terms: The Romans shall not maraud, nor traffic, nor found a city east of the Fair Promontory, Mastia, Tarseium.”[1] These treaties established trust and peace between Rome and Carthage and limited the expansion of both civilizations in order to avoid conflict. These treaties laid the support for what would be an alliance when going against Pyrrhus and the Greek city-states.

This peaceful state of expansion between these two great powers was tested by Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus, when he aided the people of the greek city-state of Tarentum with their war against the Romans. Pyrrhus initially was successful against the Romans in many of the initial battles but was taking heavy losses that he could not replenish compared to the Roman’s large reserves of legionary manpower. Running low on manpower after several battles, Pyrrhus went to Sicily and allied himself with the Greek city-state colonies that had been established there. Worried that Pyrrhus might interfere with the Carthaginian settlements on Sicily, Carthage formed an alliance with the Romans where the Romans would primarily fight with its army and the Carthaginians would assist from the seas with its massive navy. This was useful to the Romans as they had no navy being primarily focused on land combat for most of their history, unlike the Carthaginians who are experienced in shipbuilding due to their trade empire. This Roman-Carthaginian alliance against Pyrrhus caused him great trouble as he had to both fend off the Roman army and the Carthaginian navy. While Pyrrhus was still fighting battles in Sicily and facing heavy losses, he received information from Tarentum that it was difficult to defend the city on their own and that they needed assistance. This forced Pyrrhus to abandon Sicily and return to Greece where he was forced to defend the cities at a high cost to his own manpower. When Pyrrhus returned to Greece, he negotiated for peace and made several concessions to the Romans. This alliance between the Romans and the Carthaginians showed that both civilizations had a high amount of trust between each other and that their relationship was more than friendly, it had military and trade aspects to it as well. With the war over, both civilizations returned to their own respective territories and continued expanding. Yet 11 years later, their spheres of influence collided in the First Punic War.

11 years was a short time period of time for Rome and Carthage to go from allies to full out enemies at war, so there had to be a factor that made their relationship turn sour. This can be narrowed down to Roman culture and tradition. Romans have always been greedy for land and aggressive towards their neighboring civilizations. Unlike the Carthaginians, commerce was not of interest to the Romans, Romans preferred to control as much territory as possible and use that territory’s resources to expand the Republic. One of Rome’s enemies, a king named Mithridates, stated that Romans were “Warmongers against every nation, people and monarch under the sun,  They have only one abiding motive – greed, deep-seated, for empire and riches.”[2] Although the Romans had a friendly relationship with the Carthaginians, curtailing Carthage’s expanding sphere of influence took precedence over any alliance in the eyes of the Romans.  The alliance and treaties that Rome had with Carthage prevented Rome from expanding towards Carthage. If Rome wanted to go to war with Carthage, Rome would have to find a valid justification to do so in order to break the alliance. Rome found that casus belli in Sicily. Sicily at the time was an important island owned by Carthage centered between Rome and Carthage and had many ports. All of this gave Sicily economic and militaristic importance to the Romans and the Carthaginians. Rome jumped at the opportunity to go to war when border skirmishes occurred starting the First Punic War.

 In Virgil’s The Aeneid, the initial relationships between Carthaginians and Romans were friendly and had lots of potential. This friendly relationship eventually turned into treaties that respected each other’s spheres of influence and alliances that protected each other’s spheres of influence from foreign invasion. Yet this relationship eventually turned sour because their spheres of influence started to collide over Sicily and because Roman militaristic cultural beliefs inclined the Romans to conquer its neighbors to eliminate a possible rival rather than maintain any sort of alliance. This sour relationship manifested itself into the First Punic War becoming one of the most famous war of the period.

Bibliography


[1] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Plb.+3.24&redirect=true

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2010/nov/08/ancient-world-rome

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