The Third Punic War (149 – 146 BC) was the last in the trilogy of conflicts between Rome and Carthage. While the first two wars were among the largest ever fought at the time and took place all over Europe and North Africa, most of the Third Punic War took place in and around Tunisia. Ultimately, the war ended in a decisive Roman victory and the utter destruction of Carthage as an independent state. Let’s now take a look at the important events of the Third Punic War.
1 – Carthage Breaks the Peace Treaty, War is declared
Carthage was the big loser in the two previous Punic Wars. After defeat in the First Punic War in 241 BC, Carthage lost control of Sicily. Although Hannibal caused havoc and destruction during the Second Punic War, Carthage surrendered in 201 BC and lost its empire in Spain, its fleet, and independence of military action. However, although Carthage had to pay massive reparations after the Second Punic War, it seemingly recovered well and became prosperous due to trade.
Carthage even stayed friendly with Rome and declared Hannibal an enemy of the state when he went on the run and fled to Antiochus III. As well as receiving money from Carthage, Rome benefitted from grain and military help in other campaigns. However, Carthage became more agitated with its lack of power; the state was especially angry at the loss of territory to Numidia. By 150 BC, the Carthaginians were fed up with Numidian expansion, which incorporated old Carthaginian territory, so they attacked Numidia.
The campaign was a failure, and its army suffered enormous losses. In Rome, there was concern over Carthage’s renaissance and a desire amongst some members of the Senate to destroy the old enemy once and for all. In 153 BC, Cato the Elder visited Carthage during a diplomatic visit and was impressed and alarmed at how the Carthaginians were flourishing. By 151 BC, Carthage had fully repaid its debt to Rome and believed the treaty of 201 BC had expired.
Rome didn’t agree and saw the treaty as a guarantee of permanent Carthaginian obedience. For the previous half century, Carthage was required to take all border disputes with Numidia to the Roman Senate which always found for the Numidians. The Roman Senate was probably secretly delighted that Carthage provided an excuse to go to war. The city of Rome had expanded to 40,000, and a food shortage was possible if the Romans coffers lost a major source of income. The end of the Carthage payments in 151 BC was such a scenario, so Rome already had a tailor-made reason for invading its old enemy.
Carthage offered fertile lands and easy booty in the event of another victory so when it invaded Numidia, Rome had no hesitation in declaring war. Cato the Elder regularly finished speeches in the Senate by saying: “Furthermore, it is my opinion that Carthage must be destroyed.” However, Rome initially offered the pretense of diplomacy, but its leading citizens were adamant that war was inevitable.
Carthage sent envoys to Rome to explain its actions against Numidia, but they were rebuffed. A long-term ally of Carthage, Utica, defected to Rome. This was good news for the Romans because Utica was just one day away from Carthage by sea and made an excellent harbor for Roman ships. In 149 BC, the Senate asked for 300 Carthaginian noble children as hostages, but it quickly revealed its intentions by declaring war on Carthage. Rome sent approximately 4,000 cavalry and 80,000 infantry to North Africa; the Third Punic War had begun.