Greek and Roman historians did not exaggerate when they defined the first two Punic Wars (there were three in total) as the most important in the history of the Ancient World. In the military confrontation between the two strongest powers of the Western Mediterranean, the fate of not only Rome and Carthage, but also the future of European civilization was decided: whether it should be based on the Greek-Latin culture or the culture of the Semitic East.
Carthage ("New City") was founded by settlers from the Phoenician city of Tire on the fertile land of North Africa on the banks of a large and convenient harbor. The Phoenicians, which in Greek means “catchers of purple”, or, as the Romans called them, the Puns, were famous among the ancient peoples of the Mediterranean as the most courageous and skillful seafarers and merchants. Extremely favorable conditions for the development of agriculture and maritime trade laid the foundation for the power and wealth of Carthage. K Sh in. BC. he became the most powerful power in the Western Mediterranean, subjugating to his power not only the North African tribes, but also the Phoenician colonies in Africa, on the Iberian Peninsula, on the northwestern coast of Sicily and nearby islands.
Carthage was considered the richest city in the world. All maritime trade between the West and East of the Mediterranean went through its harbor. There were hundreds of ships carrying goods from all over the world. Built up with high-rise buildings, during its heyday the city had up to 700 thousand inhabitants. According to its political structure, Carthage was an oligarchic republic. All power belonged to a small circle of aristocratic families, from which a council of elders - the senate - and a council of one hundred and four were elected. The Senate had the highest legislative power, and the council of one hundred and four was the highest controlling body; all magistracies were subordinate to him. Executive power was exercised by the Suffets, whose main duty was to lead the army and navy. They were elected for a term of one year. There was also a popular assembly in Carthage, but it did not play a big role in governing the state. It was usually convened in those cases when serious disagreements arose within the Carthaginian government.
Serious competition for the Carthaginians was only the Greek colonies in Sicily and Southern Italy, but, first in alliance with the Etruscans, and then with the Romans, Carthage managed to significantly limit the maritime trade of the Greeks (see the article "Etruria and the Etruscans"). From the end of the 5th century BC. for a hundred years there was an uninterrupted struggle between Carthage and the Greeks of Sicily for possession of the island. The stronghold of the Greeks in this struggle was the largest Greek city of Sicily - Syracuse. Four times the Carthaginians captured almost the entire island, but they could not take the city. In turn, the Syracusans besieged their enemies in their fortresses on the northwestern coast of the island and in Carthage itself. In the SH BC. Carthage owned most of Sicily, and the Syracusan king Hieron II tried to live in peace with the Puns, realizing, however, that Carthage would not calm down until it captured the entire island.
By this time, a third force had appeared on the political arena of the Mediterranean - Rome, watching with avid interest what was happening. Rome, subjugated by the 70s. Ih c. BC. the territory of present-day Italy, felt already strong enough to measure his strength with the great Carthage, who looked down on Rome. The frugality and simplicity of the manners of the Roman nobility aroused ridicule among the Puns who were in Rome. With a thin smile they said: the Roman senators are so friendly with each other that in all houses they use the same silver cutlery. The Carthaginian ambassadors, warning the Romans against interfering in Sicilian affairs, confidently declared that without the permission of the Punes they would not even be able to wash their hands in the sea.
Indeed, neither the Italian Greeks subordinate to Rome, nor the Romans themselves had either such high-speed five-deck ships - penter, which were built by the Carthaginian shipbuilders, or naval commanders equal to the Punas. True, in clashes on land, their forces turned out to be equal. Carthage had a well-trained mercenary army recruited from the warlike neighboring tribes, a magnificent Numidian cavalry, war elephants. But this army was unreliable. Mercenaries only served as long as they were paid. The slightest delay in the payment of money could turn the army into an enemy and put the state on the brink of death. The Roman militia, on the other hand, consisted of citizens for whom the interests of their city were their own. They themselves decided whether or not to be a war, and fought to the last with bitterness and firmness.
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