Nearly equal in power, nearby in proximity, and separated only by Mediterranean Sea, Carthage and Rome were two growing Empires in one small region. Syria and Macedonia were also growing powers in the region, making the Mediterranean a stew of conflict (Morey, 1901, Ch.14). Carthage and Rome had different focuses: Carthage on trade and commerce, while Rome focused on military, politics, and growth their inclusive empire. These different goals allowed Carthage and Rome to coexist happily for a long time until they fought over common territories. These conflicts enabled Rome to gain supremacy and build naval superiority.
How Carthage Became Almost Equal to Rome
Carthage, on the northern coast of Africa, embraced the Mediterranean ideas, civilization, and government models, having even a similar council of elders to the Roman senate. Carthage became rich due to its strong trade and was a very successful, growing civilization (Morey, 1901, Ch.14). Carthage, by 265 B.C., was not only the leading naval power in the region, but also the wealthiest and most advanced city in the region (History.com Editors, 2019).
Carthage built its strength not from its military, like Rome did, but from the strength of its trade. As a result of citizenship being tied to military service in Rome (as well as their inclusion of conquered territories in their army and citizenship), Roman armies were longstanding and were able to endure long wars and sieges. Carthaginians were motivated by money and did not last during long wars. Carthage did not force inclusion and citizenship to Carthage as it expanded, focusing mainly on trade (Mann, 2016). This is an important point: Rome included all citizens from conquered territories as citizens and included them in their military and in their Roman peace, giving them a vast number of loyal Roman resources and people.
The expansion of the trade-focused Carthage became enriched with jewels, iron, tin, copper, ivory, food, slaves, fine cloths, gold, silver, electrum, and bronze. By minting their own coinage from precious metals, Carthage was able to facilitate even stronger commerce. Carthaginians trading ships were ruthlessly defended by the Carthaginian, who sunk any foreign ship or pirate in Carthage trade routes (Cartwright, 2016).
Carthage historically had been friendly with Rome, although Carthage did battle with other territories, such as Greece (History.com Editors, 2019). Being so close, both Rome and Carthage contested for many of the same territories, including Spain and Sicily. Sicily, as a result, was the subject of the first Punic War between Rome and Carthage (Morey, 1901, Ch.14).
Rome Became a Naval Power to Confront Carthage
After its defeat in Northern Africa, Rome revamped its navy in order to defeat Carthage (History.com Editors, 2019). Rome modeled their new ships after a Carthaginian vessel that had been wrecked on the nearby shore and trained their soldiers to become sailors and rowers. They also built drawbridges (called a corvus) for boarding enemy ships (Morey, 1901, Ch.14) and catapults with iron hooks to drag enemy ships closer for boarding. Italy had large forests to build boats from built 100 copies of these Carthaginian quinqueremes in two months (Gabriel, 2007).
Carthage had a great civilization built around trade and naval supremacy. Rome had a growing empire with a military and political focus which included all people from all conquered lands as Roman citizens. Both civilizations, located along the Mediterranean Sea, grew in influence and left each other alone until they bumped heads over Sicily, which triggered the Punic Wars. Once Rome experienced the power of the Carthaginian navy, they reformed their own, built new fleets, and became the naval superpower in the region. As a result of the three Punic Wars, Rome’s influence expanded and Carthage’s influence disappeared.
Cartwright, M. (2016). Carthaginian Trade. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/article/911/carthaginian-trade/
Gabriel, R. (2007) The Roman Navy: Masters of the Mediterranean. Retrieved from https://www.historynet.com/the-roman-navy-masters-of-the-mediterranean.htm
History.com Editors. (2019). Punic Wars. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/punic-wars
Mann, A. (2016). Why and how, then, did Rome defeat Carthage? Quora.com. Retrieved from https://www.quora.com/Both-Rome-and-Carthage-were-founded-at-around-the-same-time-formed-extensive-powerful-States-were-located-at-places-of-geostrategic-advantage-and-were-ruled-by-an-aggressive-expansionist-aristocracy-Why-and-how-then
Morey, W. C. (1901). Outlines of Roman History. Forum Romanum. http://www.forumromanum.org/history/index.html