The First Punic war was over, but Carthage’s troubles has only just begun. A destitute Carthage was left to face with the problems in the aftermath of the war, while Rome continues to prosper.
Losing the First Punic War was a huge blow to Carthage. As we’ve discussed previously, the indemnity that she had to pay to Rome was huge, and the city emerged from the war stripped of overseas territories, and much poorer than before.
She had not fought the war by herself, however. Under employment by Carthage were numerous mercenaries, those that had been paid when Carthage was still wealthy. Now, however, Carthage was deprived of the spoils of war and her original wealth. The mercenaries could not be paid.
The result was a full-scale mercenary revolt in which Polybius described as a “truceless war”, for the cruelty used was boundless and the two sides stopped at nothing but the total annihilation of the other. The mercenaries stirred up the towns in North Africa under Carthage’s hegemony to rebel against the Phoenician city, while Carthage, who had capitulated to the rebels’ demands earlier when the revolt was not so big, went to war, appointing generals that had fought in Sicily to fight their own former troops.
In the end, Hamilcar Barca, the greatest strategist of the First Punic War, saved the day for Carthage. The victory was bittersweet for Carthage, however, as during that time Rome had taken the chance to seize Carthage’s territories in Corsica and Sardinia. A Carthaginian attempt to quell a rebellion on those two islands led the Romans to accuse Carthage of plotting to take military action against Rome, and thus another war was declared. Carthage, already weakened by so many wars, capitulated instantly and was forced to pay another large indemnity.
It was a distressing time for the Carthaginians. Tragedy after tragedy had been wrecked upon them, and now Carthage had to try to regain her former prosperity. To this end, Hamilcar resolved that Carthage must once again expand, but this time into new places. Sights were set on the edge of the western Mediterranean: Spain, an unconquered country but known to be plentiful with silver mines and mercenaries for hire.
Legend has it that before Hamilcar embarked on Spain, his young son Hannibal Barca came up to him and pleaded that his father allow him to go with him to Spain. Hamilcar, hearing this, took Hannibal down to a sacrificial chamber and held his son over the fire, making him declare:
“I swear so soon as age will permit…I will use fire and steel to arrest the destiny of Rome.”
Carthage would indeed, eventually, under the leadership of Hannibal, once again try to use fire and steel to arrest the destiny of Rome.
Next week, we’ll look at the rise of Hannibal Barca and the siege of Saguntum, which would spark the Second Punic War.