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Carthage: Rome's Worst Enemy

By Edited Sep 6, 2016 0 0


The city of Carthage housed a republic that would engage in a life or death struggle with the Roman Republic. These two ancient superpowers met in a series of wars called the Punic Wars. Rome was victorious and went on to rule the Western World for over a thousand years. Carthage was destroyed, but her legacy lived on because of the challenge she posed to Rome. There were many factors that allowed Carthage to challenge the Roman Republic.

Carthage was located on the tip of Africa in what is modern Libya. Phoenician traders built Carthage as a colonial trading post in the western Mediterranean. Carthaginian trading ships landed in ports all across the Mediterranean, and even as far away from Carthage as Britain. These ships traded goods, and taxes on those goods allowed Carthage to grow rich.

Carthage used her wealth to build a large navy to defend her trade fleets, and they assembled a mighty army of mercenaries to destroy any who would engage them on land. Carthage had well-trained rowers, and by the outbreak of the first Punic War Carthage had at least 130 active ships.  On the ground Carthage provided very few of its own soldiers.

Carthaginian infantry fought as a heavy infantry phalanx. This meant that they used long spears and heavy armor, with no shield or side arm. Carthaginian infantry were a minority in the army. This was because Carthage was a single city and unable to safely place its manpower in the field.

Map of the Mediterranean World at the outbreak of the First Punic War(115324)

Carthaginian Allies

Carthage relied on mercenary forces to supplement its armed forces. Chief among the mercenaries serving Carthage were the Numidians, Spaniards, and Libyans. As well as the African and Spanish forces Carthage was supported by Balearic slingers, Gallic warriors, and mercenaries from Greece.

Numidia was a kingdom located around modern Morocco. Numidian horsemen were some of the best horsemen of their time. They were light skirmishers armed with javelins, spears and short swords. They relied upon their speed and agility rather than armor to survive combat. Carthage helped to solve Numidia's succession and this helped to secure Numidian allies for Carthaginian wars.

Libyan spearmen were considered the core of the Carthaginian army. They were heavy infantry with broad shields and spears. Libyan spearmen came from all across Tunisia, which encompassed a larger area than it does today.

Spain served as the last major recruitment center for the Carthaginians. At the outbreak of the first Punic War Carthage only had minor outposts in Spain, but by the Second Punic War Spanish tribesmen composed more than a quarter of the Carthaginian army. Spanish troops were paid and hostages were taken from the chiefs of the Spanish tribes to ensure cooperation. Spain also provided Carthage with large deposits of iron.

Balearic slingers were extremely famous for their time because they were the greatest slingers in the Western Mediterranean. They carried three different types of slings into battle, each for different ranges. A Balearic slinger could easily hit a single target at 900 feet and penetrate armor.

Celtic warriors from Gaul flocked to the Carthaginian war banner. The Gauls were ancient enemies of the Romans, and they had lost considerable territory to Rome after they were defeated in Cisalpine Gaul. When Hannibal marched on Rome he brought almost 50000 Gauls with him. Gallic warriors were armed with axes or swords and large shields. Gallic warriors preferred to fight naked, or at least stripped to the waist.

Finally Carthage was able to hire soldiers from Greece. Phillip of Macedon even sent 4000 Macedonian heavy phalangites to fight for Hannibal during the Third Punic War.


These formidable alliances allowed Carthage to field a massive army even though they did not have many of their own soldiers.



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