On February 5, 146 BCE, the Roman Republic finally triumphed over its nemesis, Carthage, after over a century of fighting.
The victory and subsequent destruction of the city of Carthage marked the end of the Punic Wars and represented Rome’s replacement of Carthage as the dominant power of the Western Mediterranean, a position it would hold for the next several centuries.
The Punic Wars began as Rome expanded West toward what is now Spain, East into Greece and South to Sicily, which brought it into conflict with Carthage.
Though Rome won both the First and Second Punic Wars, Carthage at times came close to victory.
During the Second Punic War, the Carthaginian general Hannibal famously led his army, including three dozen elephants, across the Alps and into the Italian peninsula, terrorizing the countryside and coming close to sacking Rome.
By 149 BCE, however, Rome had in many ways subjugated Carthage.
Victory in the Second War had allowed Rome to impose a costly indemnity on its rival, and Carthage had to seek the Roman senate’s permission to wage war.
Even after the indemnity was paid, Rome was wary of Carthage’s continued existence. One senator, Cato the Elder, reportedly ended all of his speeches for several years, regardless of topic, with “Also, I believe that Carthage must be destroyed.”
Whereas the previous wars had spanned decades and multiple theaters, the Third Punic War was a relatively straightforward invasion of North Africa by Roman forces.
Carthage acceded to a number of Roman demands in an effort to stave off destruction, but refused when the consuls ordered that the Carthaginians move their entire city further inland. Though Rome suffered several defeats before finally besieging Carthage, it quickly blockaded and overtook the port, leading to starvation and panic in the city.
When the city finally fell, its population of 50,000— already a shadow of what it had been thanks to the siege—was sold into slavery, a practice that was both barbaric and standard for the era.
Historians have found no evidence that Rome “salted the earth” so that no crops could grow around Carthage; in fact, the lands were given to the local farmers and new Roman settlers after the city’s destruction.
Combined with the simultaneous victories and Greece and pacification of Hispania, the end of the Third Punic War left Rome the dominant military, naval, economic and political power of the Western Mediterranean.
Between 146 BCE and the sack of Rome by the Vandals in 476 CE, Rome would use its regional wealth and power to establish one of the largest and most powerful empires of all time, eventually stretching from the British Isles to the Near East. North Africa being an important part of this empire, a new Roman city was established on the site of Carthage roughly a hundred years after the original city’s destruction.