(ROME STAGGERS to EMPIRE – continued)

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Rome Destroys Carthage and Conquers from Hispania to Greece

In 157 a Roman senator, Cato, visited North Africa and became aware that prosperity had returned to Carthage – forty-four years after the Rome's last war with Carthage had ended. He assumed that this made Carthage a menace and an enemy to Rome. Not wanting to put aside old conflicts, he postured with overwhelming righteousness concerning Rome's two wars against Carthage, and he began ending his speeches in the Senate with the words "Carthage must be destroyed."

A neighbor of Carthage, Numidia, took advantage of Rome's hostility to Carthage by making encroachments on Carthaginian territory and then asking Rome for arbitration. Rome failed to act with the impartiality that might have inhibited Numidia from making further encroachments. And after suffering a number of aggressions by Numidia, Carthage lost its patience and retaliated against Numidia. Rome in its bias saw this as a breach of peace by Carthage, and, in the year 150, Rome's Senate mustered its arrogance and voted for another war against Carthage.


Cato, conservative Roman politician.Cato's biography.

Believing that war against Rome was hopeless, a delegation that Carthage sent to Rome offered surrender in the form of a commitment to "the faith of Rome" – understood to mean that Rome could take possession of Carthage but that the lives of the people of Carthage would be spared and that they would not be taken as slaves. Rome's Senate responded by granting Carthage self-rule and the right of the city and its people to keep all their possessions on condition that Carthage send to Rome three hundred of its leading citizens as hostages. Hoping to save their city from destruction, amid much grieving, the Carthaginians sent their leading citizens to Rome as hostages.

But Rome had already decided to wipe Carthage from the map. Rome demanded that Carthage surrender all its weapons, and Carthage did so, including 200,000 suits of mail and two thousand catapults. Then Rome demanded that the people of Carthage surrender their city and move ten miles inland. For the Carthaginians this meant leaving behind their homes, their docks and quays and their ability to carry on their sea-going trade. The people of Carthage preferred war and refused. Rome responded as it had planned, with military operations, which began in the year 149, the year that Cato, at 85, died.


Carthage, photo of a model

The war against Carthage was delayed as people in what today is Portugal – the Lusitani – were again attempting to free themselves from Roman domination, and so too were peoples in central Hispania (today Spain). Roman legions overwhelmed the Lusitani. Rome offered them peace and land, trapped them, slaughtered 9,000 of them and enslaved 20,000. A new leader arose among the outraged Lusitani and renewed his people's war against the Romans, the Lusitani achieving their first success in the year 147, killing 10,000 Roman soldiers.

One response by Rome to the new trouble in Spain was a change in the calendar.  To give one of its generals a longer season for campaigning, the Senate moved the date of the New Year from March 15 to January 1.

While Rome was busy against the Lusitani and was continuing its war against the Cartheginians, in Macedonia someone who claimed to be the son of Perseus, Andricus, defied Rome by reuniting that country politically. Rome sent an army to Macedonia that arrived in 148 and drove out Andricus.

Rome decided that its presence would be needed in Macedonia to keep the Macedonians in line, and it began a permanent rule and military occupation there, Macedonia becoming the first Roman province east of the Adriatic Sea.

Some in the city of Corinth saw the continuing war between Rome and Carthage and the continuing rebellion in Spain as an opportune time to stand up against Rome's pretensions of authority over Greek cities. If the various people opposed to Rome, from the Lusitani, the Carthaginians to the Greeks, had united in a simultaneous effort to defeat Rome militarily, it might have been too much for Rome. But this had not happened.

A leader from the city of Corinth traveled from town to town in Greece calling for debt reform and opposition to Rome. He described the real enemies of the Greeks as those among them who called for conciliation with Rome. Moderate opinion in Corinth was silenced. In the spring of 146 the Achaean League was persuaded to declare war against Rome's presence in their part of the world. The city of Thebes, resenting Roman interference in their affairs, allied itself with the Achaean League. Across Greece, patriotic clubs appeared and denounced Rome. Athens and Sparta stayed out of the war, but elsewhere across Greece men eagerly joined armies and prepared to fight Rome. Slaves were freed and recruited for the fight, and wealthy Greeks who favored Rome were frightened into contributing jewelry and money to the cause.

Meanwhile, Rome's legions were in control of the countryside around Carthage, and in the spring of 146 Roman soldiers were finally able to penetrate Carthage's walls. They swarmed into the city and began fighting street by street. First Carthage's harbor area fell to the Romans, then the market area, and finally the citadel in the city-center. Amid suicides and carnage, the Romans demolished and burned the city. They carried off survivors, selling the women and children into slavery and throwing the men into prison, where they were to perish. Then the Romans spread salt across what had been Carthage's farmlands. Carthage was no more.

Also in 146, a Roman army went against its enemies in Greece. An army of 23,000 infantry and 3,500 cavalry attacked a leading member of the Achaean League, the city of Corinth, defended by 14,000 infantry and 300 cavalry. To warn others, the Romans slaughtered all the men they found in Corinth. They enslaved the city's women and children, and they shipped Corinth's treasures to Italy and burned the city to the ground.

Greek cities hostile to Rome had their walls demolished and their people disarmed. The Romans found Thebes entirely empty of people, its inhabitants having fled to wander through mountains and wilderness. According to the Greek historian Polybius, people everywhere were throwing themselves "down wells and over precipices."

Rome dissolved the Achaean League and had its leaders put to death. Rome's governor to Macedonia became governor also of the entire Greek peninsula. In Greece, Rome would now allow only local city politics dominated by wealthy elites. Any border disputes were to be settled by the Romans. It was the beginning of domination of Greece by foreigners that was last two thousand years.

The Romans emerged from their oppressions as had other conquerors, as agents of their gods and therefore as righteous and honorable.


The Immense Majesty, by Thomas W. Africa, 1974

A History of the Roman World, 757 to 146 B.C. , H H Scullard, 4th Edition, 1991

The Grandeur that was Rome, by J C Stobard, 1920

Rome, by M Rostovzeff, 1927

Roman Realities, by Finley Hooper, 1979

Life in Ancient Rome, by F R Cowell, 1976

Early History of Rome, Books I~4, by Titus Livy, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt, Penguin Classics, 1969

From Alexander to Constantine, Sir Ernest Barker, 1956

Chapters is Social History, by Henry S Spaulding, 1925

The Roman Empire in the First Century, a PBS documentary, 2001

The Dawn of Empire – Rome's Rise to World Power, by P M Errington, 1972

The Rise of the Roman Empire, by Polybius, translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert, 1980

Oxford History of the Classical World, 1986

Additional Reading

Topsoil and Civilization, Chapter 9, "Italy & Sicily," by Tom Dale and Vernon G Carter, 1955

An online English translation of The Satyricon, a satirical novel by Petronius about Roman decadence.

Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.