“Carthago delenda est.”

Cato the Elder

“Carthage must be destroyed.” RT well remembers how silly and useless our lessons on the Punic Wars seemed to his classmates in High School; who cared what happened in the Mediterranean basin thousands of years ago?

But of late, RT has not been so sure that this major series of wars between Rome and Carthage, fought between 264 and 146 B.C., deserves only a footnote in the history books. Nobody, for starters, believes that these wars, which Rome won, didn’t leave the Roman Republic the dominant power in the Mediterranean, poised to conquer the entire region and become a world empire.

But why did Rome prosecute the wars with such ferocity? RT can think of no reason for the total of destruction of Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War–all of Carthage’s inhabitants were either killed or enslaved and its ruins sowed with salt. Why not simply reduce Carthage to a client state? Why not maintain the illusion of independence while wielding the real power?

Rome and Carthage shared much in common–both were former monarchies that had become republics, farming communities on the edge of their cultural spheres that grew to become formidable powers. Both had been self-governing for centuries and were of necessity military powers commanding large armies and navies. It is true that Rome lay within the cultural sphere of the Etruscans and ultimately, of Greece, while Carthage was a colony of Tyre and thus a part of Phoenician society, but how much difference can there have been between the two, each worshiping a related pantheon of gods as it did.

And yet Cato the Elder (234-149 B.C.), a Roman Senator, ended most of his speeches with the slogan, “Carthago delenda est.” Why had the phrase become a byword in Rome?

The short answer is: RT thinks an examination of the struggle between Rome and Carthage will help clarify the transition from ancient Mesopotamian society to the helennization of the ancient world. Stay tuned for more…



Image: WikiCmns, Public Domain.


  1. lightningjcb
    March 26, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Reblogged this on Butterfly Tales.

    • March 26, 2013 at 10:30 pm

      ljcb: thank you; it’s much appreciated! RT

  2. March 27, 2013 at 11:06 am

    That North African coast is very interesting as part of the Mediterranean networks of trade. One of the great what-ifs of history is what if Carthage had defeated Rome?

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