Carthage now desired to disband her forces, but the mercenaries claimed their arrears of pay, and on being refused revolted under Spendius and Matho, pillaged the suburbs of Carthage and laid siege to the city itself. Only the genius of Hamilcar Barca raised the siege; the mercenaries were caught in the defile of the Axe, where they were cut down without mercy. This war, which all but ruined Carthage, is known to the Roman historians as the bellum inexpiabile.
This peril averted, Carthage undertook the conquest of Spain. It was the work of Hamilcar, and lasted nine years up to the day of Hamilcar’s death, sword in hand, in 228. His son-in-law, Hasdrubal Pulcher, built Carthagena in 227 and concluded with Rome a treaty by which the Ebro was adopted as the boundary of the Carthaginian sphere. On his death the soldiers chose for themselves as leader Hannibal, son of Hamilcar. At this period Carthage, with a population of perhaps 1,000,000, was in the enjoyment of extraordinary prosperity alike in its internal industries and in its foreign trade. The manufacture of woven goods, especially, was a flourishing industry; the Greek writer Polemo records a special treaty dealing with Carthaginian fabrics which were a recognized luxury throughout the ancient world. In Sicily, Italy and Greece the Carthaginians sold especially black slaves, ivory, metals, precious stones and all the products of Central Africa, which came thence by caravan. In Spain they sought copper and silver, and it was by them that the modern mines of Huelva, as also those of Osca and Carthagena, were first exploited. The district round Carthage, with its amazing fertility, was the granary of the city, as it was later that of Rome. Mago had drawn up a treaty dealing with agriculture and’ rural economy generally, which was subsequently brought to Rome and translated into Latin by Decimus Silanus by order of the senate (J. P. Mahaffy, “The Work of Mago,” in Hermathena, xv. pp. 29-35).
In the midst of this prosperity the Second War with Rome broke out. At this time the genius of Carthage is incarnate in Hannibal; his campaigns in Spain, Italy and Africa have won the admiration of military experts of all periods. The war became inevitable in 210 when Hannibal captured Saguntum, which was in alliance with Rome. Passing through Spain and Gaul, Hannibal resolved to carry the war into the heart of Italy (218–217). The battles of the Ticinus, Trebia and Trasimene Lake are but stages in the wonderful progress which culminated in the battle of Cannae (August 2, 216). The road to Rome was now open to him, but he did not profit by his advantage, while the Carthaginian senate, to its shame, withheld all further support. His brother Hasdrubal with his relieving army was defeated at the Metaurus in 207; the Romans recovered their hold in Spain, and, seeing that Hannibal was unable to move in Italy, carried the war back to Africa. Hearing that Scipio had taken Utica (203) and defeated Hasdrubal and Syphax, king of Numidia, Hannibal returned from Italy, but with a hastily levied army was defeated at Zama (October 19, 202). The subsequent peace was disastrous to Carthage, which lost its fleet and all save its African possessions.
After the Second War Carthage soon revived. The population is said still to have numbered 700,000, and despite its humiliation, the city never ceased to inspire alarm at Rome. The Numidian prince Massinissa, rival of Syphax and a Roman protégé, took advantage of a clause in the treaty of 202, which forbade Carthage to make war without the consent of the Roman senate, to extend his possessions at the expense of Carthage. In response to a protest from Carthage an embassy including M. Porcius Cato the Elder was sent to inquire into the matter, and Cato was so impressed with the city as a whole that on returning to Rome he never made a speech without concluding with the warning “Delenda est Carthago.”
At this time there were three political parties in Carthage: (1) that which upheld the Roman alliance, (2) hat which advocated the Numidian alliance, and (3) the popular party. These three were led respectively by Hanno, Hannibal Passer, Hasdrubal and Carthalo. The popular faction, which was turbulent and exasperated by the bad faith of the Romans, expelled the Numidian party and declared war in 149 on Massinissa, who was victorious at Oroscope. Rome then intervened, determined finally to destroy her now enfeebled rival. War was declared on the pretext that Carthage had engaged in war with Massinissa without the sanction of Rome. The third Punic War lasted three years, and after a heroic resistance the City fell in 146. The last champions of liberty entrenched themselves under Hasdrubal in the temple of Eshmun, the site of which is now occupied by the chapel of St Louis. The Roman troops were let loose to plunder and burn. The thick bed of cinders, blackened stones, broken glass, fragments of metal twisted by fire, half-calcined bones, which is found to-day at a depth of 13 to 16 ft. under the remains of Roman Carthage between Byrsa and the harbours, bears grim witness, in accord with the accounts of Polybius and Appian, to the terrible fate which overtook this part of the city. Before long a commission arrived from Rome to decide the fate of the province of Carthage. In the city itself, temples, houses and fortifications were levelled to the ground, the site was dedicated with solemn imprecations to the infernal gods, and all human habitation throughout the vast ruined area was expressly forbidden.
Constitutional History.—The narrative must here be interrupted by an account of the political and religious development of Phoenician Carthage. Carthage was an aristocratic republic based on wealth rather than on birth. Indeed, the popular party, which included certain noble families such as the Barcidae, was always powerful, and thus government by demagogues was not infrequent. So Aristotle, writing about 330, emphasizes the importance of great wealth in Carthaginian politics. The government was in fact a plutocracy. The aristocratic party was represented by the two suffetes and the senate; the democratic by the popular assembly. The suffetes (Sofetim) presided in the senate and controlled the civil administration; the office was annual, but there was no limit to re-election. Hannibal was elected for twenty-two years. The senate, which, like that of Tyre, was composed of 300 members, exercised ultimate control over all public affairs, decided on peace and war, nominated the Commission of Ten, which was charged with aiding and controlling the suffetes. This commission was subsequently replaced, by a council of one hundred, called by the Greeks gerousia. This tribunal, which maintained law and order and called the generals to account, gradually became a tyrannical inquisition. Frequently it met at night in the Temple of Eshmun On Byrsa, in secret sessions described by Aristotle as συσσίτια τῶν ἑταιριῶν.
The popular assembly was composed, not of all the citizens, but of the timuchi (Gr. τιμἠ, ἔχειν), i.e. those who possessed a certain property-qualification. The election of the suffetes had to be ratified by this assembly. The two bodies were almost always in opposition, and this was one of the chief causes of the ruin of Carthage.
The army was recruited externally by senators who were sent to the great emporia or trade-centres, even to the most remote, to contract with local princes for men and officers. The payments, agreed upon in this way, were frequently in arrears; hence the terrible revolts such as that of the “bellum inexpiabile.” It was not till the 3rd century that Carthage, in imitation of the kings of Syria and Egypt, began to make use of elephants in war. The elephant used was the African type (elephas capensis), which was smaller than the Asiatic (elephas indicus), though with longer ears. In addition to the mercenaries, the army contained a legion composed of young men belonging to the best families in the state; this force was important as a nursery of officers.
Religion.—The religion of Carthage was that of the Phoenicians. Over an army of minor deities (alonim and baalim) towered the trinity of great gods composed of Baal-Ammon or Moloch (identified by the Romans with Cronus or Saturn); Tanit, the virgin goddess of the heavens and the moon, the Phoenician Astarte, and known as Juno Caelestis in the Roman period; Eshmun, the protecting deity and protector of the acropolis, generally identified with Aesculapius. There were also special cults: of Iolaus or Tammuz-Adonis, whom the Romans identified to some extent with Mercury; of the god Patechus or Pygmaeus, a deformed and repulsive monster like the Egyptian Ptah, whose images were placed on the prows of ships to frighten the enemy; and lastly of the Tyrian Melkarth, whose functions were analogous to those of Hercules. The statue of this god was carried to Rome after the siege of 146 (Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxxvi. 12. 39). From inscriptions we know the names of other minor deities, which are perhaps only other names of the same gods, e.g. Rabbat Umma, “the great mother”; Baalat haedrat, “mistress of the sanctuary”; Ashtoreth (Astarte), Illat, Sakon, Tsaphon, Sid, Aris (? Ares).From the close of the 4th century B.C. the intimate relations between the Carthaginians and the Sicilian Greeks began to introduce Hellenic elements into this religion. In the forum of Carthage was a temple to Apollo containing a colossal statue, which was transported