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Factors leading to outbreak of Rome’s war with Carthage

The conflict between Rome and Carthage was instigated by political, social, economic and cultural differences. Evidence shows that Carthage was doing better politically and economically than Rome. Motivated by the desire to expand the territories and enter the hall of fame, Rome started plotting on how to destroy Carthage, which had become an economic hub in North Africa by 3rd B.C. Rome showed an insatiable hunger to conquer Carthage and establish itself as the major empire of the century.[1] Economically, Carthage engaged in trade with Africans and Arabs, thus increasing the influence of Carthagians in the region. From the cultural perspective, Rome accused Carthage of sacrificing children to the gods of Baal in return for favor and prosperity.[2] Rome viewed children sacrifices as moral decadence which was supposed to be wiped out, and this could be achieved by destroying Carthage. Therefore, the conflict between Rome and Carthage, which resulted to the destruction of Carthage was instigated by the political, economic, social and cultural differences.

Richard Miles, in his book, “Carthage Must Be Destroyed”, argues that Rome destroyed Carthage, because of Carthage’s foreign relations with the inhabitants of the region.  The foreign relations between Carthage and the inhabitants of the region threatened Rome’s ambitions to conquer foreign lands.[3] Miles states that there existed antiquity and hatred between Carthage and Rome, which resulted from cultural differences, propaganda and the fear of Rome to coexist with Carthage, perceived as equally powerful to Rome.  Therefore, Miles presents the conflict between Rome and Carthage as historical and puts Rome on the wrong side. According to Miles, Rome invaded and destroyed Carthage for wrong reasons; mainly cultural and economic factors. Miles states that Carthage worshipped the gods of Baal and they could make children sacrifices to the gods. This angered Rome, and set out a course to destroy Carthage. However, Miles argues that cultural differences was not the main factor, the main factor was Carthage’s economic prosperity which threatened the insatiable hunger of Rome to conquer distant lands.  Furthermore, Carthagians travelled as far as the present-day Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria exchanging goods for gold. The trade between Carthage and other peoples could have threatened Rome’s desire to conquer foreign lands.

Miles offers evidence to his view that destruction of Carthage was instigated by cultural differences, propaganda and Rome’s desire to conquer distant lands.  Carthage offered child sacrifices to avert calamity, such as favor during war. Miles states the accusations of children sacrifices cannot be rejected or “merely brushed aside as anti-Punic slander.” (72).[4] This means that the children sacrifice to the gods of Baal was not the main reason why Rome plotted to destroy Carthage, but there were other factors.[5] The propaganda that was propagated in Rome was that Carthage was making children sacrifices so that they (Carthage) could win wars, especially when fighting Rome.  For economic factors, Miles provides evidence that Carthage was advancing in technological development, thus making Rome jealous. Miles writes, “Carthage was the pacesetter in naval technological innovation.” (177).[6] For instance, Carthage used elephants in warfare and no one could match their strength and agility to fight.  Furthermore, Carthage enhanced trade with indigenous populations.  Miles writes, there was a “middle ground on which Phoenician, Greek, and indigenous populations interacted and cooperated.” (43). Consequently, the relationship between Carthage and indigenous population brought about economic development and power of Carthage. Miles states, “The foreign relations stands in stark contrast to power politics” (95). This means that Rome felt threatened that Carthage will rise to power and control the North Africa region. Furthermore, Miles argues that the conflict between Rome and Carthage was instigated by the cultural differences and propaganda that Carthage was plotting to destroy Rome. 

Miles presents an effective argument about the motivation behind the destruction of Carthage. The strength of Miles’ argument lies in the effective use of the three rhetorical appeals, which include; ethos, pathos and logos[7]. For instance, when explaining how the propaganda that Carthage was plotting to destroy Rome, Miles refers to Livy, the ancient Roman historian who said that Hannibal, the Carthage general, had vowed to destroy Rome when he was a little boy. Miles uses pathos to appeal to the audience’s emotions. For instance, the statement that the destruction of Rome resulted from the “antiquity and intensity of hatred that historically existed between Carthage and Rome.” (367). The statement invokes resentful emotions towards the Romans, who instigated a conflict in relation to cultural differences. Furthermore, Miles states that Carthage offered a “middle ground on which Phoenician, Greek, and indigenous populations interacted and cooperated.” (43). The statement invokes love towards the Carthagians, who encouraged inclusivity in trade.  Also, Miles uses logos, which is the appeal to reason to strengthen his argument. For instance, for instance, Miles argues that Rome did not destroy Carthage because of Carthage’s ritual of sacrificing children only, but because of the fear Carthage’s dominance in the region.  For those who provide archeological evidence that there were children sacrifice in Carthage and that the destruction of Carthage was warranted, Miles agrees that indeed there were sacrifices, but as symbol of civic pride and preservation. Miles means that Carthage’s culture of child sacrifices did not warrant the destruction.

Miles argues that the destruction of Carthage resulted from cultural differences, which were amplified by propaganda and Rome’s fear of the increasing power of Carthage in North Africa. Miles gives evidence of the technological prowess of Carthage and trading between Carthage and indigenous populations. According to Carthage, technological advancement and peaceful co-existence of Carthage and the indigenous population instigated Rome to destroy Carthage.  In my opinion, I think Miles is right about the cultural differences, propaganda and Rome’s desire to conquer distant lands as major factors leading to the outbreak of Rome’s war with Carthage. Also, I think Rome feared Carthage’s rise to power in North Africa. This is because by 3rd B.C Rome was just rising to power and displayed an insatiable hunger for conquest. Since Rome had planned to conquer North Africa region, the rise of Carthage to power in the region was a threat. Therefore, Rome looked for a justifiable reason to destroy Carthage. Rome found the reason in Carthage’s cultural practice of sacrificing children to the gods of Baal. Rome defeated Carthage in war, killed men, women and children in Carthage city and sold about 50,000 people to slavery. If the ritual of sacrificing children was the motivating factor, Rome could have forced Carthage to end the ritual, because Carthage was on its knees after the defeat. However, the fact that Rome destroyed everything in Carthage showed the Romans’ fear of Carthage’s rise to power.

Bibliography

Miles, Richard. “Carthage must be destroyed the rise and fall of an ancient Mediterranean civilization.” London: Penguin. 2010

Purcell, Nicholas. “The Non-Polis and the Game of Mirrors: Rome and Carthage in Ancient and Modern Comparison.” Classical Philology 112, no. 3 (July 2017): 332–49. 

Varpio, Lara. “Using Rhetorical Appeals to Credibility, Logic, and Emotions to Increase Your Persuasiveness.” Perspectives on Medical Education 7, no. 3 (June 2018): 207–10. doi:10.1007/s40037-018-0420-2.

Quinn, Josephine Crawley. “Translating Empire from Carthage to Rome.” Classical Philology 112, no. 3 (July 2017): 312–31.


[1] By 3rd B.C, Rome was rising to power and still had insatiable hunger to conquer. The Romans believed that they could conquer the world and control everything. However, the presence of Carthage in North Africa was a threat to the Romans.

[2] Ibid, 72.

[3] Ibid, 93.

[4] Ibid, 72

[5] According to Nicholus Purcell, Carthage offered children sacrifices to the gods of Baal in exchange of war favors. Carthagians believed that when they offer children sacrifices to the gods of Baal, they could avert danger. However, the Romans believed that children sacrifices were offered so that Carthage could destroy Rome.

[6] Miles, Richard. “Carthage must be destroyed the rise and fall of an ancient Mediterranean civilization.”

[7] According to Lara Varpion on, “Using Rhetorical Appeals to Credibility, Logic and Emotions to Increase Your Persuasiveness” ethos refers to appeal to the credibility of the speaker. Pathos refers to appeal to emotions of the audience and logos refer to appeal to reason.

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