The Third Punic War

The peace between Carthage and Rome, after the second Punic war, lasted

fifty years, during which the Carthaginians gave the Romans no cause of

complaint. Carthage, in the enjoyment of peace, devoted itself to commerce

and industrial arts, and grew very rich and populous. The government alone

was weak, from the anarchical ascendency of the people, who were lawless

and extravagant.

Their renewed miseries c
n be traced to Masinissa, who was in close

alliance with the Romans. The Carthaginians endured everything rather than

provoke the hostility of Rome, which watched the first opportunity to

effect their ruin. Having resigned themselves to political degradation,

general cowardice and demoralization were the result.

Masinissa, king of Numidia, made insolent claims on those Phoenician

settlements on the coast of Byzacene, which the Carthaginians possessed

from the earliest times. Scipio was sent to Carthage, to arrange the

difficulty, as arbitrator, and the circumstances were so aggravated that

he could not, with any justice, decide in favor of the king, but declined

to pronounce a verdict, so that Masinissa and Carthage should remain on

terms of hostility. And as Masinissa reigned for fifty years after the

peace, Carthage was subjected to continual vexations. At last a war broke

out between them. Masinissa was stronger than Carthage, but the city

raised a considerable army, and placed it under the conduct of Hasdrubal,

who marched against the perfidious enemy with fifty thousand mercenaries.

The battle was not decisive, but Hasdrubal retreated without securing his

communication with Carthage. His army was cut off, and he sought terms of

peace, which were haughtily rejected, and he then gave hostages for

keeping the peace, and agreed to pay five thousand talents within fifty

years, and acknowledge Masinissa's usurpation. The Romans, instead of

settling the difficulties, instigated secretly Masinissa. And the Roman

commissioners sent to the Senate exaggerated accounts of the resources of

Carthage. The Romans compelled the Carthaginians to destroy their timber

and the materials they had in abundance for building a new fleet. Still

the Senate, having the control of the foreign relations, and having become

a mere assembly of kings, with the great power which the government of

provinces gave to it, was filled with renewed jealousy. Cato never made a

speech without closing with these words: "Carthago est delenda." A blind

hatred animated that vindictive and narrow old patrician, who headed a

party with the avowed object of the destruction of Carthage. And it was

finally determined to destroy the city.

The Romans took the Carthaginians to account for the war with

Masinissa, and not contented with the humiliation of their old rival,

aimed at her absolute ruin, though she had broken no treaties. The

Carthaginians, broken-hearted, sent embassy after embassy, imploring the

Senate to preserve peace, to whom the senators gave equivocal answers. The

situation of Carthage was hopeless and miserable--stripped by Masinissa of

the rich towns of Emporia, and on the eve of another conflict with the

mistress of the world.

Had the city been animated by the spirit which Hannibal had sought

to infuse, she was still capable of a noble defense. She ruled over three

hundred Libyan cities, and had a population of seven hundred thousand. She

had accumulated two hundred thousand stand of arms, and two thousand

catapults. And she had the means to manufacture a still greater amount.

But she had, unfortunately, on the first demand of the Romans, surrendered

these means of defense.

At last Rome declared war, B.C. 149--the wickedest war in which she

ever engaged--and Cato had the satisfaction of seeing, at the age of

eighty-five, his policy indorsed against every principle of justice and

honor. A Roman army landed in Africa unopposed, and the Carthaginians were

weak enough to surrender, not only three hundred hostages from the noblest

families, but the arms already enumerated. Nothing but infatuation can

account for this miserable concession of weakness to strength, all from a

blind confidence in the tender mercies of an unpitying and unscrupulous

foe. Then, when the city was defenseless, the hostages in the hands of the

Romans, and they almost at the gates, it was coolly announced that it was

the will of the Senate that the city should be destroyed.

Too late, the doomed city prepared to make a last stand against an

inexorable enemy. The most violent feelings of hatred and rage, added to

those of despair, at last animated the people of Carthage. It was the same

passion which arrayed Tyre against Alexander, and Jerusalem against Titus.

It was a wild patriotic frenzy which knew no bounds, inspired by the

instinct of self-preservation, and aside from all calculation of success

or failure. As the fall of the city was inevitable, wisdom might have

counseled an unreserved submission. Resistance should have been thought of

before. In fact, Carthage should not have yielded to the first Africanus.

And when she had again become rich and populous, she should have defied

the Romans when their spirit was perceived--should have made a more gallant

defense against Masinissa, and concentrated all her energies for a last

stand upon her own territories. But why should we thus speculate? The doom

of Carthage had been pronounced by the decrees of fate. The fall has all

the mystery and solemnity of a providential event, like the fall of all

empires, like the defeat of Darius by Alexander, like the ruin of

Jerusalem, like the melting away of North American Indians, like the final

overthrow of the "Eternal City" itself.

The desperation of the city in her last conflict proves, however,

that, with proper foresight and patriotism, her fall might have been

delayed, for it took the Romans three years to subdue her. The disarmed

city withstood the attack of the Romans for a period five times as long as

it required Vespasian and Titus to capture Jerusalem. The city resounded

day and night with the labors of men and women on arms and catapults. One

hundred and forty shields, three hundred swords, five hundred spears, and

one thousand missiles were manufactured daily, and even a fleet of one

hundred and fifty ships was built during the siege. The land side of the

city was protected by a triple wall, and the rocks of Cape Camast and Cape

Carthage sheltered it from all attacks by sea, except one side protected

by fortified harbors and quays. Hasdrubal, with the remnant of his army,

was still in the field, and took up his station at Nephesis, on the

opposite side of the lake of Tunis, to harass the besiegers. Masinissa

died at the age of ninety, soon after hostilities began.

The first attack on Carthage was a failure, and the army of the

Consuls Censorinus and Manius Manilius would have been cut to pieces, had

it not been for the the reserve led by Scipio AEmilianus, a grandson of

Africanus, who was then serving as military tribune. He also performed

many gallant actions when Censorinus retired to Rome, leaving the army in

the hands of his incompetent colleague.

The second campaign was equally unsuccessful, under L. Calpurnius

Fiso and L. Mancinus. The slow progress of the war excited astonishment

throughout the world. The suspense of the campaign was intolerable to the

proud spirit of the Romans, who had never dreamed of such resistance. The

eyes of the Romans were then turned to the young hero who alone had thus

far distinguished himself. Although he had not reached the proper age, he

was chosen consul, and the province of Africa was assigned to him. He

sailed with his friends Polybius and Laelius. He was by no means equal to

the elder Scipio, although he was an able general and an accomplished man.

He was ostentatious, envious, and proud, and had cultivation rather than


When he arrived at Utica, he found the campaign of B.C. 147 opened

in such a way that his arrival saved a great disaster. The admiral

Mancinus had attempted an attack on an undefended quarter, but a desperate

sally of the besieged had exposed him to imminent danger, and he was only

relieved by the timely arrival of Scipio.

The new general then continued the siege with new vigor. His

headquarters were fixed on an isthmus uniting the peninsula of Carthage

with the main-land, from which he attacked the suburb called Megara, and

took it, and shut up the Carthaginians in the old town and ports. The

garrison of the suburb and the army of Hasdrubal retreated within the

fortifications of the city. The Carthaginian leader, to cut off all

retreat, inflicted inhuman barbarities and tortures on all the Roman

prisoners they took. Scipio, meanwhile, intrenched and fortified in the

suburb, cut off all communication between the city and main-land by

parallel trenches, three miles in length, drawn across the whole isthmus.

The communication with the sea being still open, from which the besieged

received supplies, the port was blocked up by a mole of stone ninety-six

feet wide. The besieged worked night and day, and cut a new channel to the

sea, and, had they known how to improve their opportunity, might, with the

new fleet they had constructed, have destroyed that of their enemies,

unprepared for action.

Scipio now resolved to make himself master of the ports, which were

separated from the sea by quays and a weak wall. His battering-rams were

at once destroyed by the Carthaginians. He then built a wall or rampart

upon the quay, to the height of the city wall, and placed upon it four

thousand men to harass the besieged. As the winter rains then set in,

making his camp unhealthy, and the city was now closely invested by sea

and land, he turned his attention to the fortified camp of the enemy at

Nephesis, which was taken by storm, and seventy thousand persons put to

the sword. The Carthaginian army was annihilated.

Meanwhile famine pressed within the besieged city, and Hasdrubal

would not surrender. An attack, led by Laelius, on the market-place, gave

the Romans a foothold within the city, and a great quantity of spoil. One

thousand talents were taken from the temple of Apollo. Preparations were

then made for the attack of the citadel, and for six days there was a

hand-to-hand fight between the combatants amid the narrow streets which

led to the Byrsa. The tall Oriental houses were only taken one by one and

burned, and the streets were cumbered with the dead. The miserable people,

crowded within the citadel, certain now of destruction, then sent a

deputation to Scipio to beg the lives of those who had sought a retreat in

the Byrsa. The request was granted to all but Roman deserters. But out of

the great population of seven hundred thousand, only thirty thousand men

and twenty-five thousand women marched from the burning ruins. Hasdrubal

and the three hundred Roman deserters, certain of no mercy, retired to the

temple of AEsculapius, the heart of the citadel. But the Carthaginian,

uniting pusillanimity with cruelty, no sooner found the temple on fire,

than he rushed out in Scipio's presence, with an olive-branch in his

hands, and abjectly begged for his life, which Scipio granted, after he

had prostrated himself at his feet in sight of his followers, who loaded

him with the bitterest execrations. The wife of Hasdrubal, deserted by the

abject wretch, called down the curses of the gods on the man who had

betrayed his country and deserted at last his family. She then cut the

throats of her children and threw them into the flames, and then leaped

into them herself. The Roman deserters in the same manner perished. The

city was given up to plunder, the inhabitants whose lives were spared were

sold as slaves, and the gold and works of art were carried to Rome and

deposited in the temples.

Such was the fate of Carthage--a doom so awful, that we can not but

feel that it was sent as a chastisement for crimes which had long cried to

Heaven for vengeance. Carthage always was supremely a wicked city. All the

luxurious and wealthy capitals of ancient times were wicked, especially

Oriental cities, as Carthage properly, though not technically, was--founded

by Phoenicians, and a worshiper of the gods of Tyre and Sidon. The Roman

Senate decreed that not only the city, but even the villas of the nobles

in the suburb of Megara, should be leveled with the ground, and the

plowshare driven over the soil devoted to perpetual desolation, and a

curse to the man who should dare to cultivate it or build upon it. For

fourteen days, the fires raged in this once populous and wealthy city, and

the destruction was complete, B.C. 146. So deep-seated was the Roman

hatred of rivals, or States that had been rivals; so dreadful was the

punishment of a wicked city, of which Scipio was made the instrument, not

merely of the Romans, but of Divine providence.

All the great cities of antiquity, which had been seats of luxury

and pride, had now been utterly destroyed--Nineveh, Babylon, Tyre, and

Carthage. Corinth was already sacked by Mummius, and Jerusalem was to be

by Titus, and Rome herself was finally to receive a still direr

chastisement at the hands of Goths and Vandals. So Providence moves on in

his mysterious power to bring to naught the grandeur and power of

rebellious nations--rebellious to those mighty moral laws which are as

inexorable as the laws of nature.

The territory on the coast of Zeugitana and Byzantium, which formed the

last possession of Carthage, was erected into the province of Africa, and

the rich plain of that fertile province became more important to Rome for

supplies of corn than even Sicily, which had been the granary of Rome.

Scipio returned to Rome, and enjoyed a triumph more gorgeous than

the great Africanus. He also lived to enjoy another triumph for brilliant

successes in Spain, yet to be enumerated, but was also doomed to lose his

popularity, and to perish by the dagger of assassins.

Rome had now acquired the undisputed dominion of the civilized

world, and with it, the vices of the nations she subdued. A great decline

in Roman morals succeeded these brilliant conquests. Great internal

changes took place. The old distinction of patricians and plebeians had

vanished, and a new nobility had arisen, composed of rich men and of those

whose ancestors had enjoyed curule magistracies. They possessed the

Senate, and had control of the Comitia Centuriata, by the prerogative vote

of the equestrian centuries. A base rabble had grown up, fed with corn and

oil, by the government, and amused by games and spectacles. The old

republican aristocracy was supplanted by a family oligarchy. The vast

wealth which poured into Rome from the conquered countries created

disproportionate fortunes. The votes of the people were bought by the rich

candidates for popular favor. The superstitions of the East were

transferred to the capitol of the world, and the decay in faith was as

marked as the decay in virtue. Chaldaean astrologers were scattered over

Italy, and the gods of all the conquered peoples of the earth were

worshiped at Rome. The bonds of society were loosed, and a state was

prepared for the civil wars which proved even more destructive than the