The Causes of the Second Punic War

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  • Topic: Carthage, Hannibal, Second Punic War
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Dating back to 509BC, two great powers of the Mediterranean - Rome and Carthage - had friendly treaties with each other. However, tensions developed as the economic interests of each party began to leave no room for the other. While Carthage was larger and richer with an excellent Navy, Rome had a strong government backed with a seemingly inexhaustible land army of citizens. In particular, conflicts occurred over a clash of economic interests. The First Punic War (also called the Sicilian War) began in 264BC as a result of both Rome and Carthage wishing to have exclusive control over Sicily. Rome managed to win a victory in the Aegates Islands after twenty three years of fighting, by working hard to match Carthage’s strong naval power. A peace was forced, with Rome deciding the terms of the treaty. However, as often happens with wars that are concluded on such harsh terms, another war was to follow in 218BC, just twenty three years after the First Punic War. That said, the treaties, while a major reason for the Second Punic War, were not the only cause.

The treaty that Rome made with Carthage was complicated, and had numerous political results. Carthage was asked to totally evacuate Sicily and the Aegadian Islands, which lay west of it, as well as the small islands that lay between Sicily and Africa. According to Wikipedia, “Perhaps the most immediate political result of the First Punic War was the downfall of Carthage's naval power.” They also had to return all Roman prisoners of war to Rome without ransom, but make a huge payment for their own people. The Carthaginians were not permitted to attack Syracuse and her allies, and the allies of both Rome and Carthage were not allowed to make war on each other. A small group of Islands, north of Sicily – Aeolian Islands and Ustica – that had previously belonged to Carthage were to be transferred to Rome’s control. On top of this, Carthage was to pay a fine of 2200 talents over ten yearly instalments, plus an additional guarantee of 1000 talents right away. This treaty made huge political differences for both Rome and Carthage. Rome had possession of more land than before, as well as having Sicily as their first ever province. Carthage, however, lost land, naval power and state funds. The Carthaginians desired justice in the form of revenge. Meanwhile, they would need to find money from elsewhere with which to pay Rome.

To rebuild its weakened power, the Carthaginian Empire sought to control Spain, a land rich in resources and manpower. Meanwhile, Rome was increasing its strength through the capture of Cisalpine Gaul. The policy of Hamilcar Barca was to raise new armies in Spain which would give Carthage the means to conquer Italy. Mineral resources including silver mines and copper deposits were developed to finance the undertaking. Alternatively, Hasdrubal’s campaigns in Spain (221BC) could be thought of as an endeavour to capture more fertile lands for feeding his soldiers. However, regardless of Carthage’s motives, it could be argued that the Second Punic was directly caused by the rapid expansion of Carthaginian domination in Spain. A new Carthaginian army was formed with Spanish tribal people as recruits, and at Cartagena (New Carthage) a large military base and trading centre was constructed. Although Hamilcar assured Rome that the new Spanish province was solely for the purpose of paying off war indemnities, Rome rightfully remained suspicious of Carthage’s intentions.

Although Rome was not even remotely involved with Spain, and Carthage’s Spanish borders were quite far east of Italy, she felt that she was entitled to interfere in Carthage’s affairs. Therefore, in 226BC, Rome formed a treaty with Hasdrubal, general of Carthage and governor of Spain, stating that Rome would stay north of the Ebro River; and Carthage would only expand south of Ebro River. However, sources suggest that after this agreement, Rome...
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