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Outbreak of the Second Punic War

Discussion in 'World History' started by Ciceronian, Sep 18, 2005.

  1. Ciceronian

    Ciceronian Latin Scholar

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    About a year ago I wrote an essay about the outbreak of the Second Punic War in 219/218 BC, and recently I sent it to a fellow CFCer who read it and suggested I post it here. So here you go, comments are welcome. Oh and all dates are BC unless otherwise stated.


    The First Punic War (264 – 241) had left Carthage at a temporary disadvantage as Sicily, a valuable source for commerce and grain, had been lost to the Romans. Due to the indemnities which had to be paid to the Romans, the Carthaginians could not pay the mercenaries which had fought alongside them in the war. This resulted in the Mercenary War (240 – 237), which was waged with extreme brutality on both sides, but the Carthaginians were eventually successful in rebuffing their former soldiers. In 237, when the Carthaginian garrison in Sardinia invited the Romans to occupy the island, the Romans consented. Carthage could do nothing to regain the island but declare war, so they backed down but nevertheless considered it a serious financial loss and a humiliation. To add insult to injury, the Romans even extorted another indemnity.

    Due to these territorial losses, the Carthaginian Senate commissioned Hamilcar Barca with the expansion into Spain, as the rich mineral deposits (especially of silver) would increase the revenue, and Spain would also be a good supply for Carthage in manpower. The Romans inquired about Carthaginian activities in Spain, but were satisfied with the response that Spain was being conquered “in order that the money which was still owing to the Romans on the part of the Carthaginians might be paid.” When Hamilcar died in 229, his son-in-law Hasdrubal was given the command, and he preferred a more diplomatic approach to matters. In 226, he signed the Ebro River Treaty, in which he guaranteed that “the Carthaginians shall not cross the Ebro in arms”. Essentially, the Ebro was designated as the boundary between their fields of interest. This suited the Romans as they were currently occupied with the Cisalpine Gauls and Illyrian pirates, so they did not want to concern themselves over Carthaginian expansion in Spain. Hasdrubal died in 221, leaving Hamilcar’s youthful son Hannibal in charge of operations, who continued with the subjugation of the Spanish tribes.

    Since some time the Spanish town of Saguntum, which was south of the Ebro River, had placed itself under the protection of Rome, but this friendship did not violate the Ebro River Treaty, as the treaty did not bar either side from having friendly relations on the other side of the Ebro. However Rome, who had now eliminated the threat posed by the Gauls, began to interfere in Saguntine politics and the Saguntines started to quarrel with some neighbouring subjects of Carthage. The Romans threatened Hannibal to leave Saguntum alone, possibly thinking it to be north of the Ebro, but Hannibal attacked Saguntum in view of the fact that it had been encroaching on Carthage’s subjects. After eight months of siege, in December 219, Saguntum fell, but the Romans had made no move to assist them. Hannibal was sure that Rome would declare war after the fall of Saguntum, so he already made preparations for marching into Italy across the Alps. Sure enough, the Romans did declare war, as they could now not back down over the matter without losing face. Who therefore was at fault for the outbreak of the Second Punic War, Rome or Carthage?

    In examining this problem we must consult some ancient sources, but here the problems begin. All our sources are Roman, mainly the writings of Polybius and Livy, which are likely to be biased against Carthage. Hannibal did not leave any written evidence which might give insight into why he attacked Saguntum, and whether he was planning to declare war on the Romans in the long term. Livy believes that it was a war of revenge by the Barcid faction, since “Hamilcar was a proud man and the loss of Sicily and Sardinia was a cruel blow to his pride;” and that Hamilcar, in expanding into Spain, was only preparing to attack Rome at a later stage. Since he died though, Hannibal was left to carry out that part of the plan. However, Livy is not totally credible as he was writing a while after events took place, and his elegant style is more to be praised than his historical facts, which were often confused. Polybius, who lived in the second century, is a more reliable source, due to his eager and thorough research, and his relative honesty as opposed to Livy’s patriotism. Polybius mentions three main causes: Like Livy, he believes that the war was a result of Hamilcar’s anger; secondly, the Sardinian event had provoked the Carthaginians; and lastly, Carthage’s successes in Spain had made them bold and confident enough to undertake a war. Polybius later suggests that Saguntum was not the cause of the war, but merely its first event. Assuming then that the seizure of Sardinia was the prime reason for the war, the Carthaginians “had every good reason to embark on the war”.

    Many modern historians follow Polybius in his reasoning that that the Sardinian question was one of the main reasons for war. Carthage had to submit to Rome’s bullying tactics in 237, weakened as they were by the Mercenary War, but after their successes in Spain, they had become bold enough to resist. They were afraid that the Romans would continue with interference in Spain, and Lazenby points out that Rome “would have been open to any Spanish community which felt itself threatened by Carthage, to seek Roman protection”. Yet it is probable that Rome’s warning of Hannibal not to attack Saguntum was not much more than an admonition to remain peaceful and not to cross the Ebro. Hannibal however understood the matter as a direct threat to Carthaginian dominance in Spain and felt compelled to react.

    The role of Hannibal himself as a cause of the conflict is also controversial. He was quite young (28) when the Saguntine incident occurred and Caven describes him as “an impetuous young man in whom the principal motivating force was a burning desire for military glory”. Some historians also argue that Hannibal deliberately engineered the incident to place the blame for the war on the Romans. They had provoked the attack on Saguntum and they actually declared war, because they did not want to retreat from their threat to Hannibal. Now the Carthaginian ruling clique was forced to support Hannibal’s campaign against Rome, which they may not have done if Hannibal would have marched across the Alps without any immediate cause.

    It is difficult to assess who was more at fault in the outbreak of the Second Punic War. The Carthaginian nobility were eager for peace and preferred trade to war, while Rome also did not have such an imperialistic orientation yet as they did in the 2nd century. The war was a result of mounting suspicions and a lack of knowledge of the other power’s motives and long-term aims. The aggression of Hannibal can be cited as the main cause for the war, but we have no real proof of this and cannot be sure of his long-term objectives. On the other hand, Roman interference, starting with the seizure of Sardinia, is a definite fact. The Carthaginians had to react when a similar strategy of the Romans became evident in their policy concerning Saguntum. The Romans were also too rash when they declared war due to an incident which was not of immediate concern or importance, as Saguntum was south of the Ebro and not within their direct field of interest. So the Romans bear the greater blame for the war, but Carthage also played a significant role in bringing it about.
     
  2. Dreadnought

    Dreadnought Deity

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    You wrote this? Excellent work! :goodjob: Too bad no Carthaginian information excists though...
     
  3. Ciceronian

    Ciceronian Latin Scholar

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    Thanks a lot! And yes, you're right, all historians wish they had a Carthaginian viewpoint aswell as the Roman historians were obviously biased. Though Polybius (OK, he was Greek but wrote in the service of Rome) wasn't as bad as Livy.
     
  4. Xen

    Xen Magister

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    very cool summation of the causes of the war. though I have a feelign the reality is that factions on both sides who were pressing for war simply got thier way by subverting their respective governments; no real other reason for the continued indemnities by the Romans (it was to give Rome a pretext for war; not to conqore for conquests sake, but simply because the Romans seem to have already developed a stern biasedness agianst the Punics, and the entirety of the Punic wars wer elittle more then a "duel of republics over the matter of pride") And the loser fo a war is always resentful; that it would be limited ot the barca familly is unliklly; and its very possible that more then a few in the crathaginian Oligarchy had thier eyes set on a renewed war just after the peace treaty was signed
     
  5. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Hanafubuki Retired Moderator Supporter

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    Nicely written. If you want an excellent analysis of the 2nd Punic War I suggest "The Art of War, Antiquity"; by Hans Delbruck.It covers the Greek wars against Persia all the way to Caesar's campaigns in Gaul.
     
  6. Knight-Dragon

    Knight-Dragon Unhidden Dragon Retired Moderator

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    We can always do with articles. Keep them coming. :)

    Listed.
     
  7. Aegis

    Aegis Deity

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    This is a well thought-out article and was interesting to read. Thank you, Ciceronian. =o)
     
  8. thetrooper

    thetrooper Schweinhund

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    Great article Ciceronian! :goodjob:

    For what purpose did you write the article?
     
  9. Ciceronian

    Ciceronian Latin Scholar

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    Thanks to all for your praise and glad you enjoyed it! :)
    Yes, there were factions on both sides just itching for war whilst there were those who vehemently defended the peace. It is often the case that conflicts are brought to an end and then rekindled not long after either by the losers seeking revenge or the winners sensing a renewed threat. Think of the Peloponessian Wars or more recently WWI and II.
    This was written almost a year ago, last October/November. I'd just applied to the University of Cambridge one day before the deadline when they reminded me to send them two essays on Classical topics which I had written for class. They explicitly stated that they should not have been written specifically for Cambridge. Problem was we never wrote any essays for Latin class and we'd only covered Post-WWII topics in History, and there were only two or three weeks left until the essay deadline. So of course there was no other possibility but to sit down for my whole one-week autumn holiday and write two essays. One of them was more about linguistics, the style of Cicero (!) to be precise, and the other one is the one I posted here. I had my Latin teacher mark them quickly and then I just submitted them to Cambridge with false dates on them. Now before anyone accuses me of cheating there was no other possibility other than to send them nothing which wouldn't exactly have helped my chances of success. Anyway I e-mailed the article to my "tutor" luceafarul for his own interest a few days ago and he was quite impressed and suggested I post it here, which I did. Incidently the Cambridge lot seemed to like the essays too, so my application was successful (which you can see 'cos of the location change in my profile).
     
  10. Rambuchan

    Rambuchan The Funky President

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    This is a great article. The crushing of the Gauls shows how when butterflies flap there wings in one part of the world, generals get their war elephants out in another ;). I like the fact you have acknowledged the lack of Carthaginian histories and worked hard at presenting the balanced view. I'm wondering though, if no records were left, how did you know the purpose for which they really colonised / conquered Spain? From later Iberian histories? Another two things that this thread leaves me puzzled about: a) Have you arrived in Cambridge already? b) Do you fancy a beer by the river and some good chatter? :D
     
  11. Ciceronian

    Ciceronian Latin Scholar

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    I guess you're referring to my earlier exchange with Dreadnought where he said that no Carthaginian information exists. Well there is some information, but it is very scant. The Carthagininas did have an alphabet, they used the Phoenician alphabet to be precise which is almost the same as Hebrew. The problem is that they were not really a people of writers like the Romans and that most of their writings were lost or destroyed. However I think they made inscriptions and such about important events. We certainly have a tiny bit of Carthaginian information. But the Iberians did not have any alphabet, so there is no information from them. It's fairly certain though the Carthaginians went to Spain initially for the rich silver deposits and to recruit the tribes into their forces. I suppose they also had in mind that it might serve as a nice base for an assault on Rome. But remember the Carthagians were merchants by nature and benefited more from peace than from war.
    a) Don't worry, I'm not flying until Saturday morning, I'm still (or rather should be) packing and (should be) revising my Greek.
    b) Sure! :D I'll PM you before I fly.
     
  12. Rambuchan

    Rambuchan The Funky President

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    When I said Iberian I really meant early Catalan, where the Visigothic kingdoms arose after Roman rule. I thought perhaps they had tucked away some stories of Carthage's presence in the area. But now I think of it the Visigoth educational institutions were both backward and heavily modelled after the Romans, so I doubt there would have been a great deal of records kept, and hardly any impartial to the Roman legacy.

    It would be interesting to find some sources conflicting with the Roman telling of events. As I will show in one of the coming articles in Imago Mundi, Roman learning and historical methods 'ain't all that' :lol:. Point being that the histories we have from the Romans are heavily biased pieces of propaganda in the main, prone to mythologising the world, including Roman rule. They were not so intersted in objective studies and analytical learning. Note that folk like Pliny can be seen as storyteller type historians, not impartial analysts of political events in the Roman world.
    OK OK, send that PM, happy to show you round. :)
     
  13. MCdread

    MCdread Couldn't she get drowned?

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    Actually, there are inscriptions in an autoctonous (sp?) writing in a few stones found in southern Spain and Portugal.
     

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