Monday, July 7, 2014

Carthage perishes by the hands of Rome

After the defeat at Cannae, after the initial shock, Roman strength of will to win the war fired to ever greater depth.

A reversal to Carthage occurred in Spain and it lifted the Roman mood. Although the win was not decisive, the Roman forces that had been fighting in Spain all this time defeated the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal. Hannibal met a rare setback in Campania. Syracuse was recaptured and Capua besieged. While Rome assaulted Capua, Hannibal did march on Rome, hoping to draw the legions away. But the soldiers pressed on and took the city back for Rome.

Hasdrubal, determined to aid his brother Hannibal, marched his army from Spain over the Alps and into north Italy, camping south of the Metaurus River. If the armies of Hasdrubal and Hannibal were to combine, its force would have constituted a massive body of men at arms. Rome might have been defeated. Ancient history in the Mediterranean would surely have changed dramatically.

Hasdrubal sent riders to Hannibal to announce his arrival; they were captured and his presence and plans were discovered by Roman forces further south, facing Hannibal and under the command of Consul Claudius Nero. He quickly conducted a forced march north with part of his army to converge with Roman forces under Marcus Livius near the Metauras.

Fearing to battle the augmented Roman Army, Hasdrubal attempted retreat. If he could ford the Metauras, he would have been able to engage the Romans from the river banks as they emerged from the water. But the river was swollen most likely from spring rain and melting snow. Despite a desperate search for a crossing, Hasdrubal found himself blocked with the river at his back.

The following battle was hotly contested; its outcome not predictable in advance. The Roman center was pushed back by fierce Carthaginian assault and massive, enraged elephants charging. Hasdrubal on the right with sturdy, loyal African and Spanish troops then attacked the Roman center while it was being held in check. Before the battle, Hasdrubal had positioned his least trained, most unsteady Gallic troops in wooded, hilly terrain on his left. The Romans tried to get at the Gauls, but could not traverse the steep hills. The Roman commander on this line, Consul Nero, subsequently not engaged, decided to detach half a legion. He circled them into the pitch of battle at the center and threw the Carthaginians into disarray at the height of the contest. With no hope of victory, Hasdrubal charged the Romans on his horse and was slain.

His head was severed and heaved into Hannibal’s camp many miles south. Thus did Hannibal learn of Hasdrubal’s entrance into Italy and the fate of his brother’s army. Hannibal is said to have remarked that I now see the fate of my country.
It would have been different but for the odds, the decisions of men and the force of nature.

But the battle at the Metauras was not mere Roman victory; it was triumph that sealed the course of the war. It settled which path of history the ancient western world would take and virtually assured the stamp of Rome on its future empire.

Hannibal remained in south Italy but contained and offering little further threat to Rome. During all this time, the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio had continued to wage war against Carthage in Spain. The Roman general in time conquered the whole of Iberia and was elected consul. With the consent of the Senate, he carried the war to Africa, embarking from Sicily.

Publius Cornelius Scipio
Carthage incurred repeated defeats at the hands of Scipio, until it called upon Hannibal to return and defend his homeland. The sense of relief in Rome must have been palpable. No more fierce and no more capable military leader had brought Rome so near to demise.

Hannibal and Scipio met at Zama in 201 BC and fought the final battle of the Second Punic War. Hannibal was soundly defeated. He reportedly lost 20,000 soldiers killed and 20,000 more to slavery. Carthage was not sacked, but Rome fixed harsh terms of peace and extracted much territory. The defeated enemy was ordered to pay to Rome about $250,000 a year for fifty years, and Rome ordered Carthage not to wage war without its permission.

No history of the wars between Carthage and Rome would be complete without the story of the Third Punic War. It began fifty six years after Zama. A Roman ally in Africa had been troubling Carthage with military incursions, yet Rome refused permission to engage in defensive operations. When Carthage fought back anyway, Rome invaded. It was the death of Carthage as a state or a power.

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