Causes of the Second Punic War

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The two biggest powers of the Mediterranean where always destined to come head to head once again after the First Punic War (264 to 241 BC). There was no clear victor and the terms set by the Romans were extremely harsh. Even though the main cause of the second war was the war on Saguntum you must go back all the way to the ending of the First War. The war on Saguntum was seen by Polybius to be just the first incident in the war. In this essay I will look into the causes of the Second Punic War with the intention of backing up Polybius argument that the war on Saguntum was just the first incident and not a cause as Livy views it. I will be doing this with close analysis of our ancient sources. Three main causes will be looked into along with a few others. The first one being the treatment Carthage received after the war. Putting restrictions to such a vast empire was never going to go well with the Carthaginian leaders; Hamilcar and his son Hannibal. Even more so when the Carthage Empire was still a powerful state and could probably still match Rome in war. Also the fact that hatred towards the Romans had increased and many wanted justice in the form of revenge for the harsh terms set by the Romans was another contributing factor.

The mistreatment of the Carthage Empire by the Romans could be seen as a major cause of the war. Unlike what occurred in Italy where in the case of a Roman victory the enemy stopped posing a threat and was then turned into a subordinate ally, Carthage was just too far away and too big of an empire to be immersed by Rome. Instead of treating Carthage as an equal they treated them as inferiors and this caused resentment towards Rome by the Carthaginians. “From the Carthaginian perspective, there was no reason for them to behave as a subordinate ally to Rome.” Contrary to popular belief in Rome, Carthage had in fact not been weakened as much as they thought and with the growth of their empire in Spain they were only getting stronger and wealthier. Punic citizens therefore did not see themselves as inferior to their Roman counterparts and “their resentment at the Romans’ refusal to acknowledge this is understandable”. The constant ‘inferior’ treatment they received just led to even more resentment. As Brian Caven explains in his book “The Punic Wars”, restrictions in treaties such as the Ebro treaty and the constant second-rate treatment the Carthaginians received at the hands of the Romans was just adding fuel to the fire which had been lighted after the First Punic War. The passage below, from his book, clearly identifies the issues going on:

Whilst the Ebro treaty may not have imposed a major limit on Carthaginian expansion in Spain, it nevertheless made it clear that the Romans felt at liberty to impose such restrictions on Punic activity far from their own territory. The acceptance of some form of alliance with Saguntum reminded the Carthaginians that the Romans placed no such limits upon themselves.

From this we can gather that war was eventually going to happen as Carthage was a still a powerful state even though Rome treated it as being inferior. The Carthaginians were proud people and saw no reason as why they had “submit to such arrogant Roman demands”. It can be said that war occurred due to the fact that the Mediterranean only had space for one dominant power and not two. The clash was inevitable.

Polybius and Livy both agree that one of the main causes of the war was the way in which Hamilcar responds to the harsh terms set out by the Romans. After twenty three years of fighting in the First Punic War, Rome come out on top and as it usually is in war the victor decided the terms of the peace treaty. Harsh terms were set out by the Romans even though they “came nearer to destruction than their adversaries”. The treaty forced Carthage to withdraw from Sicily and other islands that were near it. The Romans then forced them to pay 1000...
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