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A trading and naval power with contacts from Britain all the way to West Africa and the Middle East, the city of Carthage rose out of the dunes of North Africa to weather the crises of the 4th and 5th centuries BCE, becoming a trading power based on the lucrative traffic involved in the production of purple due and bronzeworking. It sent explorers to the West Coast of Africa, formed alliances with the Celtic and Etrurian peoples of Western Europe, and even surpassed its home cities in the Middle East in wealth and splendour. Greek aggression and competition from Rome soon checked Carthage's journey to empire, however, with several wars that eventually saw the destruction of Carthage itself and its subjugation at the hands of the Romans.

The PhoeniciansEdit

The progenitors of Carthage were the Phoenicians who originated in present-day Lebanon and were known for their excellent shipworking skills and business savvy, which would eventually be passed down to their Carthaginian forbears too. They are also credited by Herodotus for creating the first human alphabet. In the days of the Persian Achaemenids, the Phoenicians were tasked with the formation and provision of the navies of the Shahs.

Despite being fairly prosperous from trade, the Phoenicians never existed as a unified nation, and dwelled in several city-states along the shore of the Levant, and as a result often had to face the depredations of larger and more belligerent neighbours, most notably the Assyrians, the Persians and later the Greeks led by Alexander and his successors. Indeed, the term "Phoenician" is actually the Greek name given to these peoples, and was possibly even based on the demonym given to them by the ancient Egyptians.

It is thought that in times of invasion, those who fled to survive the onslaughts on their cities would go west, and eventually in the 9th century BCE found a new city (in Punic, Qart-hadhasht) near a pre-existing city in present-day Tunis named Utica. This city would become Carthage, and continued as the hub of Phoenician commerce even as the heartland of old Phoenicia fell to the might of foreign conquerors. 

Rise of CarthageEdit

According to various sources, Carthage proper was originally a colony of the Phoenician city-state of Tyre, and various tales maintain that the first ruler of Carthage was a Tyrian princess named Elisa - some Classical Western sources maintain however that this noblewoman was named Dido.

What is certain, however, based on evidence accessible to us, is that by the 9th century BCE Carthage was well in full existence, and by the 7th century BCE appeared  to have been fully independent of Old Phoenicia, and was capable of maintaining its own commercial life and navy. As the Persians and the Greeks came to dominate the eastern Mediterranean, Carthage may have come to dominate the west. The Carthaginians would have been producing the "Tyrian purple" whelk dye for which the Phoenicians were famous for (in Greek, phoînix), but they would also certainly have had a stranglehold on the lucrative trade of commodities from the Atlantic beyond the Straits of Gibraltar — the most notable exports that the Phoenicians would have brought in would have been precious metals, especially tin and copper from 
Qrthd temple
Britain as well as gold from the hills of southern Iberia.

Very few details of the political history of Carthage have found their way to us, because the Romans destroyed most literature that was based in Carthage during the last Punic War. However, there may have been plenty of sources which were absorbed and transmitted by other authors, particularly Greek ones. For example, we know from Aristotle (see Politica, Bk 2 pt XI) and Herodotus that Carthage was a republic ruled by magistrates as early as the days of Alexander the Great.

Conflict and Hegemony: A Necessary Empire?Edit

Carthage administered an extensive number of colonies throughout the Mediterranean to support their vast and extensive trade networks throughout the ancient world. The pride of Carthage's military might was its navy; although it like the Greeks also fielded substantial citizen armies consisting of warriors who fought as armoured hoplites, it too was dependent on the use of mercenaries whenever it was deemed necessary. Shortfalls in manpower and military equipment were filled in using diplomacy — the Carthaginians were noted to have had alliances with local tribes resident in Iberia, Africa, Italy and Gaul. This was corroborated by the 1964 discovery of the Pyrgi Tablets (inscribed with both Punic and Etrurian), which proved that Carthage also had a military alliance (as late as the 4th century BCE) with the Etrurians of Central Italy (as attested by Polybius) as well as the local tribes scattered throughout the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The city of Carthage itself was well-defended, on a near-peninsula, with a very impressive three lines of huge walls, but it was the navy which was the centrepiece of Carthaginian military might, symbolised by a famous cutting-edge military harbour (although not built until the Second Punic War) with an admiralty station and room enough to 200 drydocks.

The first known conflict in which Carthage participated in was with the Greeks. towards the 7th century BCE, the Greeks had begun colonising many parts of the Mediterranean and the Near East, either as traders or soldiers of fortune. Of these, however, the most notably of the Greek enclaves was southern Italy, which the Greeks called Megale Hellas or "Greater Greece", centred around the cities of Neapolis and Syracuse, the latter being just north of Carthage.

This, the Carthaginians felt, was too close for comfort and conflict soon ensued, with three wars fought between the Greeks and the Carthaginians for control of Sicily. Moreover, Greek activity in Italy also threatened the native Etruscans, who were Carthage's main partner to the north. Although the Carthaginians could not push the Greeks off the island entirely, they still managed to maintain a beachead on the western coast, and had managed to limit further Greek expansion throughout Italy.

This status quo was not to last, however. In 509BCE, the Romans overthrew their Etruscan overlords and began to aggressively assimilate their neighbours — including their Etruscan foes — throughout Italy. When the Romans attempted to intervene on behalf of a friendly Greek city in southern Italy, they caused a diplomatic crisis, particularly with the Greek colony of Tarentum, which then appealed to Greece for help against Rome. Help however came soon in the form of the expansionist Pyrrhus of Epirus, who sought to use the conflict with Rome as a means of conquering land in Italy. This however resulted in the onset of war in 280BCE between the Epirote Greeks on one side and the  Carthaginians and Romans on the other, the latter emerging victorious despite costly losses. The Carthaginians, on the other hand, lost out as Pyrrhus' managed to drive them out of Sicily. Although the Carthaginians and Romans were allied with each other in this conflict, Rome had however strengthened itself considerably through this conflict (known as the Pyrrhic War) and would prove to become Carthage's greatest enemy as conflicting colonial interests brought them in a series of wars known as the Punic Wars, which eventually saw the annihilation of the Carthaginian Empire and Rome emerging as a world power.

The Punic WarsEdit

"You know how to gain a victory, but you do not know how to make use of it."
Maharbal, to Hannibal after the battle of Cannae

Rome had originally signed a treaty with Carthage to acknowledge their dominion over Sicily. However, things began to unravel when a band of Mamertine pirates (who were of Italian origin) had set up a colony in Sicily. The Syracusans of southeastern Sicily, tired of their raids on the countryside and on shipping, decided to attack them and use the opportunity to take over the rest of the Island. So these Mamertines, decided to appeal to Rome for help in defending them against the Syracusans. Rome was hesitant to help them, partly because it felt it improper to support what was virtually a robber-state, and partly because it feared war with the Carthaginians.

So the Mamertines appealed to the Carthaginians for help, which they did in fact answered, and convinced the Syracusans to back down. However, a few of the Mamertines did not want the Carthaginians occupying Sicily and again sent for Roman help but this time to remove the Carthaginians. This time the Romans did come to their aid, since Rome was becoming the de facto guardian of all things Italian as they unified the mainland. This action brought two powerful nations at odds with each other, and resulted in the defeat of the Carthaginian fleet, and Rome getting a foothold on both Sicily and Sardinia. The Second Punic War (218–201BCE) began when Hannibal mounted his famous invasion of Italy over the Pyrenees. In battle after battle, he defeated the Romans on the field. His strategy at Cannae, which entailed brilliant cavalry tactics is counted as one of the most noteworthy in history. However he lacked the support he need to take Rome outright, and had to settle for raiding the country side in hopes the Romans would meet him on the field. However, in a stroke of daring, the Romans under the command of Scipio Africanus, landed a force on the Carthaginian homeland. This forced Hannibal to withdraw from Italy and return home. Hannibal's forces outnumbered the Roman armies, but when they met at Zama he offered peace terms so that Carthage would not be risked. Scipio refused, knowing that his Numidian allies would join him. Hannibal attempted to repeat his tactics at Cannae, but this time, the Romans had superior men and cavalry against his green recruits. Predictably, Hannibal was defeated, forcing Carthage to cede all of its colonial possessions and the surrender of its war fleet to Rome. Hannibal fled to the Seleucid Greek Empire, and the Romans pursued him. Using the excuse that the Greeks were harboring an enemy of Rome and had aided him in invading Rome, they now also made war on the Macedonians. The Macedonian phalanx while deadly, was no match for the tactics now employed by the Romans.

The Third Punic war (149–146BCE), was the killing blow to the Carthaginians. The Numidians were encroaching on Carthaginian territory, so they declared war on the Numidians, who were Roman allies. Using the excuse that the Carthaginians were in material breach of the peace terms of the last war. Scipio returned to Carthage, razed the city to the ground, and sold the inhabitants into slavery.


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