The Second Punic War was one of the most significant conflicts in the history of ancient Rome. Who won the war?
Rome won the Second Punic War in 202 BCE. A Roman army, under the command of Scipio Africanus, defeated the forces of Hannibal at the Battle of Zama. The defeat marked the downfall of Carthage as a significant power in the Mediterranean.
For more on the Second Punic War and its impact on Rome, read on.
First Punic War
The First Punic War marked a significant turning point in the history of ancient Rome. Before the war, Roman civilization had been restricted to the Italian peninsula and Rome looked to Sicily as an obvious location for its first overseas territory.
Sicily was already under the control of Carthage, the North African city-state. Carthage had one of the mightiest navies of the ancient world and Rome’s paled in comparison.
Over the course of the war, Rome assembled a mighty fleet of its own. It was ultimately able to defeat Carthage, marking the emergence of Rome as the leading naval power in the Mediterranean.
In 241 BCE, Carthage surrendered and withdrew from Sicily, granting Rome its first territory outside of the Italian mainland. Carthage also agreed to pay Rome 3,200 talents as part of the terms of surrender.
The First Punic War had proven that Carthage could not compete with Rome’s ability to produce ships. The city’s leaders understood that, if they were ever to defeat Rome, they would need to do it on land.
Carthage struggled financially in the aftermath of the war. They fought against mercenary troops who had not been paid for their services in the First Punic War. While Carthage was preoccupied, Rome conquered Sardinia, Carthage’s largest supplier of grain.
In order to rebuild its treasury, Carthage looked to Spain, where it already had colonies. Under the command of Hamilcar Barca, Carthage expanded its Spanish territory and amassed an army of approximately 50,000 men and 100 elephants.
When Hamilcar Barca died in 229 BCE, Hasdrubal the Fair replaced him and continued expanding Carthage’s military. Under his supervision, it grew to include 60,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and 200 elephants.
Hamilcar Barca’s eldest son, Hannibal, had sworn to his father that he would never be an ally of Rome. Hasdrubal signed an agreement with Rome in 226 BCE that he would not expand Carthaginian territory past the River Ebro.
Hannibal, the commander of Carthage’s troops in Spain, ignored the agreement and conquered one of Rome’s allies, Saguntum in 219 BCE. Rome was outraged by the action and demanded that Hannibal be handed over by the government of Carthage.
When Carthage refused, in March 218 BCE, Rome declared the Second Punic War. Rome began the war on the offensive, sending legions to Spain and Sicily. Its leaders did not anticipate that Hannibal would look to invade Italy itself.
Over the course of a fortnight, Hannibal crossed the Alps. Attacks from Gallic tribes and widespread desertion diminished his army from 90,000 soldiers to 20,000 by the time he arrived in northern Italy.
Hannibal won several battles and employed psychological tactics. He executed Roman citizens but freed Italian residents, looking to win them to his cause.
He won perhaps his greatest victory at the Battle of Cannae, using his cavalry in flanking actions to defeat a much larger Roman force. Many Italian city-states defected and allied with Carthage, but not enough to completely isolate Rome itself.
Hannibal did not invade the city of Rome. It is believed that he was looking to defend Carthage’s territory, rather than destroy the Roman Republic, but the decision proved costly.
Rome, unwilling to face Hannibal in battle, attacked his allies and supply routes. When Carthage sent a sizeable army to Spain instead of Italy, Hannibal’s prospects dwindled.
A Roman army under the command of Scipio (later Scipio Africanus) invaded Spain and defeated all Carthaginian opposition. When Scipio invaded Carthage’s territory in North Africa, Hannibal returned home to face him.
Scipio defeated Hannibal’s forces at the Battle of Zama in October, 202 BCE, and Carthage was defeated. Rome imposed harsh peace terms, stripping Carthage of its navy and specifying that Carthage could not wage war without Roman permission.
From being the stronger civilization at the beginning of the First Punic War, Carthage was now left broken. A half-century later, it would be destroyed entirely when Rome conquered Carthage during the Third Punic War.