Had Carthage defeated Rome in the Punic Wars, would it have created a massive Mediterranean Empire just like the Romans did?

Oct 2018
The Phoenician, even with some local differences, should be talked in the Phoenician colonies around the Mediterranean. Many of these Phoenician cities felt to the Carthaginian empire. If my memory doesn’t fail me epigraphy was found in Phoenician in some Phoenician colonies well after the 3rd Punic War, often this is called neo-Punic, already with some Latin influences.
I recall reading that there are Neo-Punic inscriptions from North Africa dating to as late as the fourth or fifth century AD. I came across it in the article 'Vandal North Africa and the Fourth Punic War' by Richard Miles.
Oct 2018
Our sources are Roman for this, so we have always more gaps than we want. And Hasdrubal may not have crossed the Tagus, but Hannibal did, according to Polybius 3.14:

“14 1 Next summer he made a fresh attack on the Vaccaei, assaulted and took Hermandica at the first onset, but Arbacala being a very large city with a numerous and brave population, he had to lay siege to it and only took it by assault after much pains. 2 Subsequently on his return he unexpectedly found himself in great peril, the Carpetani, the strongest tribe in the district gathering to attack him and being joined by the neighbouring tribes, 3 all incited to this by the fugitive Olcades, and also by those who had escaped from Hermandica. 4 Had the Carthaginians been obliged to meet all this host in a pitched battle, they would assuredly have suffered defeat; 5 but, as it was, Hannibal very wisely and skilfully faced about and retreated so as to place the river Tagus in his front, p35 and remained there to dispute the crossing, availing himself of the aid both of the river and of his elephants, of which he had about forty, so that everything went as he had calculated and as no one else would have dared to expect. 6 For when the barbarians tried to force a crossing at various points, the greater mass of them perished in coming out of the river, the elephants following its bank and being upon them as soon as they landed. 7 Many also were cut down in the stream itself by the cavalry, as the horses could bear up better against the current, and the mounted men in fighting had the advantage of being higher than the unmounted enemy. 8 Finally, Hannibal in his turn crossed the river and attacked the barbarians, putting to flight a force of more than one hundred thousand. 9 After their defeat none of the peoples on that side of the Ebro ventured lightly to face the Carthaginians, with the exception of the Saguntines. 10 Hannibal tried as far as he could to keep his hands off this city, wishing to give the Romans no avowed pretext for war, until he had secured his possession of all the rest of the country, following in this his father Hamilcar's suggestions and advice.”

(From: Polybius • Histories — Book 3)

And Livy 21.5:

“[21.5][…]At the beginning of spring he extended his operations to the Vaccaei, and two of their cities, Arbocala and Hermandica, were taken by assault. Arbocala held out for a considerable time, owing to the courage and numbers of its defenders; the fugitives from Hermandica joined hands with those of the Olcades who had abandoned their country - this tribe had been subjugated the previous year - and together they stirred up the Carpetani to war. Not far from the Tagus an attack was made upon Hannibal as he was returning from his expedition against the Vaccaei, and his army, laden as it was with plunder, was thrown into some confusion. Hannibal declined battle and fixed his camp by the side of the river; as soon as there was quiet and silence amongst the enemy, he forded the stream. His entrenchments had been carried just far enough to allow room for the enemy to cross over, and he decided to attack them during their passage of the river. He instructed his cavalry to wait until they had actually entered the water and then to attack them; his forty elephants he stationed on the bank. The Carpetani together with the contingents of the Olcades and Vaccaei numbered altogether 100,000 men, an irresistible force had they been fighting on level ground. Their innate fearlessness, the confidence inspired by their numbers, their belief that the enemy's retreat was due to fear, all made them look on victory as certain, and the river as the only obstacle to it. Without any word of command having been given, they raised a universal shout and plunged, each man straight in front of him, into the river. A huge force of cavalry descended from the opposite bank, and the two bodies met in mid-stream. The struggle was anything but an equal one. The infantry, feeling their footing insecure, even where the river was fordable, could have been ridden down even by unarmed horsemen, whereas the cavalry, with their bodies and weapons free and their horses steady even in the midst of the current, could fight at close quarters or not, as they chose. A large proportion were swept down the river, some were carried by cross currents to the other side where the enemy were, and were trampled to death by the elephants. Those in the rear thought it safest to return to their own side, and began to collect together as well as their fears allowed them, but before they had time to recover themselves Hannibal entered the river with his infantry in battle order and drove them in flight from the bank. He followed up his victory by laying waste their fields, and in a few days was able to receive the submission of the Carpetani There was no part of the country beyond the Ebro which did not now belong to the Carthaginians, with the exception of Saguntum.”

(From: Livy's History of Rome)

Wikipedia as a map: Batalla del Tajo - Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre

Eduardo Sánchez-Moreno as an article about it (in Spanish):

(Edit: having some difficulties to upload the pdf, the file is too large)
Indeed. Hoyos suggests that Hannibal's operations north of the Tagus quickly transformed the Ebro Accord into a hindrance for Carthage, when in 226 it may have seemed fairly reasonable.
Apr 2018
Upland, Sweden
I agree with the folks who say that Carthage didn't have really have it in them to go on to achieve great conquests as did the Romans.

A few things:

1. From what little I know about them and their history, I don't think they were good at war. While they had success against "barbarians," in Spain and elsewhere, against Greeks the results were at best mixed and against the Romans they lost every single war. And Hannibal, imo, seems like a fluke; if you take away his contributions, then the Carthaginian war record looks even more paltry.

2. As has been mentioned already, how good at war or how warlike can a people be if they really don't have any soldiers of their own? Relying mostly on mercenaries doesn't seem like a good long term strategy. To be successful at the long game, I think it requires a more martial tradition among the people or culture; something that Carthage never really had.

just my $0.02
From what I've understood (which, admittedly might not be as much as I think it is) the Carthaginians did use their citizens to man their navy, and also had some citizen soldiers who faught in the Greek manner. The overall military focus for the average citizen seems to have been naval, though - to the degree that it was military. While this might have given them naval superiority over the Romans, especially initially - the question is how much that matters. You need to own cities and farmland. You need to tie these places to you. If your citizens can't do it, then you are - as you say - obviously going to have to be reliant on mercenaries with all the problems that entails.

The Navy just seems like a more fragile way of spending resources. All that needs to happen is one storm, and whoopsiedaise, how many hard to replace carthaginian citizens are dead now? Not to speak of the expensive ships (given your commercial nature, you are also probably going to be more focused on buying/ selling things from the market rather than forcefully recruting or commissioning people/ships. I think the fact that the Roman economy was - I'm guessing - less financially developed might have been an advantage to the Romans in this regard.). Similarly, naval power seems a bit easier to copy in the ancient world once you reach the basic level of technology and are in the same ballbark resource wise. What was it the Romans had to do really, to get navally on par with Carthage? Basically all it takes is to reverse engineer a Quinquereme, and then build a lot of ships. Then you're there. Sure, you might not have as good rowers - so you respond by building even more ships and by inventing the corvus to even the odds. Problem solved. Cathage's navy is great at withholding the enemy but it cannot conquer and hold land. Even if the Romans' "pirated" quinqueremes are not made with the same craftmanship or manned with as experienced rowers... once again - all it takes is what, how many hits with the ram, and your ship is probably gone anyway. I am no expert, but ancient naval warfare does not strike me as a form of warfare that allows robustness to come into play. Any ship, no matter how well built is going to be fundamentally fragile. There is not really any such thing as "defensive" naval warfare at a time when the way you fight is either by ramming or boarding.

In infantry warfare things are different. While I don't think I have what it takes to be in an ancient trireme or quinquereme, I know I don't have what it takes to fight in a Roman legion. There seems to be a greater psychological component to it, and also a greater requirement of training (maybe this is part of the reason why the lower classes traditionally manned Athens' navy?) than serving in the navy requires. If you are an adult Carthaginian man, used to rowing in the navy perhaps, and maybe having your dad and granddad rowing or commanding or serving as marines in the navy as well - how well are you going to readjust to infantry warfare, compared with a Roman in the opposite position? On the other hand, a power or a people that are good at infantry warfare will always feel secure in their own homes, and they have the ability to fight conservatively and defensively EDIT: Maybe the use of words here is strange, I suppose what I mean is what I write in the next sentence. Just because you put a bunch of soldiers on a field doesn't automatically put them at risk the same way you do when you put a bunch of guys - who probably can't swim, if the Greek example is anything to go by - into a wooden box and let it out on the ocean.

It seems like the Carthaginians adopted a "high risk/ high reward" strategy for building their Empire. Sure, they got wealthy - but they were also dependent on a counterpart willing to play their game. Their naval focus seems to have put them into a position where they were less adaptable. Maybe if the geography of the Meditteranean had looked differently and Carthage was a big island in the middle of it their strategy would have worked for them.
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Oct 2018
I'm pretty skeptical on Carthage having a chance to beat Rome longterm though. Maybe they'd win the 2nd Punic War - even if they did, I believe it is not entirely unlikely Rome might return.
You make many interesting points in your post, but you have interpreted the hypothetical differently to how I interpreted it. I was working off the assumption that Rome, in this hypothetical situation, is effectively out of the picture. Just as Rome's victory in three Punic wars ended in the destruction of Carthage, our hypothetical, as I interpreted it, resulted in the destruction or effective neutering of Rome.

If we are to consider whether Carthage could actually defeat Rome, I would tend to agree that it is very unlikely. 1. Rome had a much stronger hegemony over her subjects and allies. 2. Rome's stronger hegemony enabled her to field more troops. 3. Rome was a more militaristic society, and could thus conscript a greater number of citizens. I once heard a lecturer state that the percentage of citizens recruited during the Second Punic War appears unmatched throughout history. 4. Roman aristocratic society was militaristic. The greatest achievement for a Roman aristocrat was to win military victories. And a consul generally had one year to win their victory, which encouraged determination and boldness. The Carthaginian aristocracy did not have the same attitude. If they did, they'd never have allowed single generals to command wars for so many years at a time, which seems to have been their modus operandi in war. I.e. the Carthaginians do not appear to have been competing for commands to the same extent. And why should they have been? To lose a war could mean crucifixion! This danger is probably a major reason why many Carthaginian generals seem rather unimaginative, because boldness followed by failure could lead to censure and execution. This apparently wasn't an issue for the Barcids during their ascendancy, but it was an issue for generals during the First Punic War (These issues are discussed in Lazenby, The First Punic War. 5. Romans refused to abide by the norm that if you are losing, you seek out a treaty and accept defeat. The Romans simply would not accept defeat. Most other states would call it a day after Cannae, if not after Lake Trasimene, and get to the business of negotiation. Not so with Rome. It is these differences between Rome and Carthage that suggest that Carthage could not have matched Rome's power should they have somehow managed to permanently knock out the Romans.

That being said, Lazenby (Hannibal's War; The First Punic War) and Hoyos (Truceless War) have argued that Polybius has an especial dislike of mercenaries that goes beyond a rational assessment of their worth. Certainly, the Mercenary War is a stain on the history of Carthage's use of mercenaries, but it is a one-off event caused by the exceptional situation that was defeat in the First Punic War (and the accompanying financial issues). Lazenby notes that there are a couple of times during the First Punic War when Gallic mercenaries became mutinous, but the lack of similar examples during the war suggests to Lazenby that this has less to do with mercenaries in general and more to do with the nature of Gallic war-bands. I do recall that a few Numidians in Italy defected to the Romans during the Second Punic War. Numidians for the most part do not appear to have been mercenaries, but rather allied units. In any case, mercenaries were professional soldiers, and thus valuable assets. But I suppose that a mercenary army, no matter how formidable, is going to have a hard time competing with an exceptionally militaristic society that will recruit large numbers of men on repeat and never give up.

The question of how the Barcid ascendancy would have changed the Carthaginian political system in the long-run is an interesting one, and I guess I sit on the fence. On the one hand, as you note, the Barcid ascendancy had the potential to follow the example of Hellenistic monarchies. The term Strategos Autokrator had been used by the Syracusan tyrant Agathokles, and Hellenistic monarchy was an important part of the 3rd century BC zeitgeist. On the other hand, they were not the first family to dominate Carthaginian politics. The Magonids were supreme from the mid-sixth century to the 390s, and the Hannonians enjoyed periods of dominance during the mid- and late fourth century.

However, if we do accept the hypothetical that the Romans are out for the count, then an interesting question is how would the Carthaginians have fared against the Hellenistic powers in the east. I'll use the Seleucids as a point of comparison:

Points of similarity:
- Multi-national forces
- Mercenaries
- If we postulate that the Barcids take on the appearance of a Hellenistic monarchy, then this is also a point of similarity. Both Carthaginian and Seleucid armies would be expected to be loyal to rulers over a specific city or people.
- Elephants
- The strong use of cavalry

Possible Seleucid advantage:
- Macedonian and Macedonian-style Phalangites

Possible Carthaginian advantages:
- Carthage twice puts up a much more determined fight against Rome than the Hellenistic powers ever did. This determination is reflected in the lengths of their wars, their toleration of many defeats (e.g. quite a few naval defeats in the first war, a string of Scipionic victories during the second war's second half), their launching of multiple large fleets (and at least one massive fleet) during the first war (to a magnitude recognized by Polybius to be greater than that seen in eastern naval wars), and their engagement in six different theatres during the second war (Africa, Spain, Greece, Sicily, Sardinia, Italy), often at the same time.
- Could the ambitious behavior of Hamilcar and later Hannibal have encouraged a new norm in Carthaginian military behaviour? - The launching of ambitious attacks, the launching of numerous theatres of war?

It's all a matter of conjecture of course, but it's an interesting scenario to consider.
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Oct 2018
While they had success against "barbarians," in Spain and elsewhere, against Greeks the results were at best mixed and against the Romans they lost every single war.
The principal Greek power that Carthage fought was Syracuse, who were somewhat similar to Carthage in the sense that they appear to have relied to a large degree on mercenaries (e.g. the Campanian mercenaries who later became the Mamertines). Mercenaries appear to have been a key part of Syracuse's military in part because, in the pay of Syracusan tyrants, they protected said tyrants against civil uprisings. The Carthage vs Syracuse record is fairly mixed, but leans in Carthage's favour. Syracuse won the first, third and sixth wars, Carthage the second, fourth, fifth and seventh wars. Carthage was close to winning the eight and final war with Syracuse, had not Pyrrhus intervened. Pyrrhus took important Carthaginian bases in Sicily and holed up the Carthaginians in their principal base of Lilybaeum. He found himself unable to take Lilybaeum (the Romans had the same problem in the First Punic War), and then wore out his welcome with the Syracusans, withdrawing from the island. While it's popular to view Pyrrhus as a bit of a screw-up because of the term 'Pyrrhic War' and his attention-deficit approach to war, he was pretty formidable. He did after all defeat two Roman armies and twice conquered Macedon. So there isn't too much shame in the fact that Pyrrhus gave Carthage a hard time. I do however agree that Carthage was not on the same level as Rome.
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Lord Oda Nobunaga

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
Ontario, Canada
Carthage was an extremely unstable country. It lacked the political, social or administrative authority to outright form an empire. Rome succeeded because it had a strong amount of social cohesion, large amounts of state authority and a populace willing to fight and die in some senator's foreign wars.

Unless Hannibal or someone could somehow take over Carthage, reform the administration into something capable of mobilizing the populace and economy and somehow not get killed by sneaky aristocrats, then I can't see Carthage succeeding. Carthage was essentially a collection of city states, vassals and corporate entities, with a considerable merchant class all ruled by an oligarchy.

Rome had successfully formed and conquered a bunch of cities but controlled all of them through the power of a centralized state. Something which even the Greeks struggled to do, and the Makedones when they conquered Greece. The Eastern states like Persia did not revolve around this city structure but Rome and Carthage did. Rome formed an actual empire and not just a collection of city-states that were loosely tied together. By ancient terms, this is a massive achievement.
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Oct 2018
ll that needs to happen is one storm, and whoopsiedaise, how many hard to replace carthaginian citizens are dead now?
This is true, but, as far as I remember, there is no recorded event in which a Carthaginian fleet was destroyed at sea. In contrast, the Romans lost three fleets this way during the First Punic War (255, 253, 249). I get what you're saying, but Carthaginian pilots seem to have understood the recognition and evasion of storms in a way that the Romans did not. In the 249 incident, the Carthaginian admiral Carthalo noted that the storm was coming and pinned the Roman fleet against the coast until the storm came, retreating at the last minute so that the Roman fleet would be smashed against the rocks. So the risk of storms doesn't seem to have been a major issue for the Carthaginians.
Oct 2018
Another thing worth noting: we should not overstate the extent to which Carthaginians were a mercantile or coastal people. Certainly, they were those things to a significant degree. Their pre-Barcid hegemony in large part relied on the control of the Spain-Levant trade route and parts of the Tyrrhenian trade route. To control those routes, they needed warships, mercantile ships, widespread ports and high-security harbours (especially those in Carthage and Lilybaeum). However, the Carthaginians were also renowned agriculturalists. They had conquered the Libyans of the fertile Bagradas Valley and Cape Bon, and had taken Numidian towns as well (e.g. Sicca, Hekatompylus). The Bagradas Valley was also known as Little Mesopotamia, and the agricultural treatises of Mago the Agriculturalist and Himilco the Agriculturalist outlived Carthage. Mago is cited in Roman texts as a highly important authority. The grain production of the Bagradas would eventually play a major role (along with Egypt) in keeping Rome fed. They had also conquered the interior of Sardinia, and of course, as noted above, the Carthaginian Empire by the time of the Second Punic War had ceased to be a maritime affair with the advent of Barcid Spain.
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Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
I'd rank Carthage as the most formidable opponent the Romans faced in their entire history. Yes, Carthage lost all three of the Punic Wars....but the first two were very closely run and among the most protracted conflicts Rome ever fought. Casualty figures for ancient wars are difficult to pin down with any degree of accuracy, but it is probable that the Romans sustained more casualties than Carthage in both the First and Second Punic Wars.

No Macedonian successor kingdom or Greek city ever managed to mount a similar level of resistance against the Romans. Most of Rome's wars against the Greeks, in contrast, were comparatively swift and one-sided affairs.

Carthage also faced Rome when it was in the ascendant, unlike say for example the Sasanian Empire or the Goths, who faced an empire in decline.

Had Carthage won the Punic Wars it very likely would not have resembled the Roman Republic at the close of the Third Punic War. Hannibal's aim during the Second Punic War for instance was not a conquest of Italy, but to dismantle Roman hegemony over other city-states on the peninsula. Had Hannibal triumphed Capua likely emerges as the most powerful city-state in Italy and an ally of Carthage.


Ad Honorem
Oct 2013
I would say no.

Carthage never had the national characteristic and glorification of aggression and total war as the Romans did to painstakingly forge and maintain an empire like Rome.

Carthage was a give-up people. Rome was a victory or death people.
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