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 Hamilcars 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 Carthages 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 Livys patriotism. Polybius mentions three main causes: Like Livy, he believes that the war was a result of Hamilcars anger; secondly, the Sardinian event had provoked the Carthaginians; and lastly, Carthages 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 Romes 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 Romes 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 Hannibals 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 powers 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.