Causes of the Second Punic War
The Second Punic war “was the greatest and most dangerous one Rome was compelled to fight on their way to the conquest of the Mediterranean.” With 17 years of battle causing heavy casualties to be suffered on both sides, the Second Punic War has proven to be an important time period in the Roman and Carthaginian empires. For Rome, the end of the war meant “the defection of most Southern Italy” (Kagan 232, 1995) and many economic problems. For Carthage this meant the end of their rise to power, and the realization that the idea of Mediterranean control being based in Africa rather than Europe was no longer a possibility (Kagan 233, 1995). Both empires had a lot at stake upon entering the war, but as will be discussed, many historians believe that eventual conflict was inevitable. Past grievances and battles pitted the Romans and Carthaginians against one another ultimately leading to the Second Punic War and the resulting downfall of Carthage.
The ancient sources written by Livy, Polybius Dio Cassius and Appian place a great deal of blame on Hannibal in starting the Second Punic War. Though some of the authors justify his actions to an extent, Hannibal’s invasion of Saguntum is pinpointed as the immediate cause of the Second Punic War. Dio Cassius and Appian find little sympathy in the motives behind Hannibal’s actions. As discussed by each of the writers, Hannibal’s father, after the loss of Sicily, harbored extreme hatred toward the Romans and instilled these feelings into Hannibal from a very young age. All four authors mention an oath taken by Hannibal at age nine in which he vowed revenge against the Romans for their unjust actions. Livy writes that this oath “bound Hannibal to prove himself, as soon as he could, an enemy to the Roman people” (Kagan 93-94, 1975). Sure enough, upon ascending to power, “as if Italy had been decreed to him as his province, and the war with Rome committed to him,” (Kagan 95, 1975) Hannibal marched toward Saguntum with the knowledge that this would get a rise out of the Romans. Ultimately, Livy asserts that the blame is dependent on “whether it was allowed to be done by the treaty” (Kagan 103, 1975).
Polybius outlines three clear causes of the Second Punic war. First, as other ancient authors, Polybius points to Hannibal’s oath and longstanding grudge against the Romans. However, he continues to explain the reasons for Hannibal’s rage, the First Punic War, which Polybius calls “the most important cause of the subsequent war” (Kagan106, 1975). At the close of the mercenary war, Carthage did all it could to avoid conflict with Rome, eventually costing them Sardinia and large indemnities that were to paid to the Romans both immediately and over time. This unequal treaty on the part of the Romans is the leading factor in Carthage’s hatred toward Rome. Thirdly, Polybius credits the Carthaginian successes in Ibera as the third leading cause of the Second Punic war. Having secured a great deal of territory and further motivated by victories, Carthage felt that they were strong and powerful enough to take on Rome. It is for this reason that Hannibal chose to attack Saguntum at this time to elicit a response from the great empire. Upon being confronted by the Romans, Hannibal does not concede the real underlying causes for his attack, but insists instead that it is retaliation for the Carthaginian leaders put to death by Roman arbitrators in Saguntum. Polybius makes an interesting point that this failure to disclose his true motives may have caused more blame to fall on Hannibal’s shoulders. Polybius writes, “he had not said a word of the real cause, but alleged the fictitious one of the matter of Saguntum; and so go the credit of beginning the war” (Kagan 107, 1975) This assertion is important to consider in analyzing the ancient sources, as many contain a pro-Roman bias. Polybius recognizes that the immediate action that brought the war was that of...
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