Carthage -- Those Other Guys: Few people in the Western world are unaware that Hannibal got elephants, a few Carthaginians, and lots of Spanish and Gallic mercenaries across the Alps and rampaged for a while through Italy, striking terror into the hearts of ancient Romans. But who were these people? Where did they come from? How many elephants got through the Alps? Were they as bad as the Romans said? Where did they finally go? Did the Romans really spread salt on all the Carthaginian farmland? The answers to these and other burning questions are on the Internet (see links below) but here is a quick rundown.

Carthage started out as a trading colony of the Phoenicians, folks who had a big shipping empire at the eastern end of the Mediterranean and who also claimed they invented the alphabet. By 500 BC there were Phoenicians trading posts all along the northern coast of Africa, through Gibraltar, up the Atlantic coast of Spain, and all the way to England. Phoenicia eventually was laid waste by the Persians, and Carthage and the other trading posts became orphan colonies. Centrally located Carthage quickly dominated the other former colonies and spread into inland and Mediterranean coastal Spain and the Mediterranean Islands, becoming the dominant local naval power in the process. Rome, meanwhile, was being founded and eventually became master of the Italian peninsula. When the two empires started to impinge on each other, sparks were sure to fly. The main bones of contention were initially Sicily and the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Historians differ on which side was the most treacherous and who started the decades-long conflict, but the outcome was clear -- Rome won all three Punic (i.e., Phoenician) Wars, and by about 145 BC Carthage disappeared as a military and commercial power (which was a good thing for Rome, because it soon had to deal with the Macedonians, onetime allies of Carthage.) The Romans acquired North Africa, and the need for a professional Roman army was established (and that led inexorably to the end of the Republic).

Internet Links:

The Punic Wars:


Cannae, Rome's worst ever battle day, Hannibal's best

Cato and the end of Carthage


1. According to some historians, only one elephant, named Abullah Bassan, actually made it through the Alps. The others supposedly froze or fell and became steaks and chops. Hannibal reportedly was able to ferry about two dozen more across from Spain.

2. The Carthaginians were as bad as the Romans said -- lots of baby burning to eliminate bad karma, etc. -- and they deserved to be destroyed.

  • 3 There is a salt layer about one meter down in low-lying fields around modern Carthage in Tunisia. Some modern Tunisian archeologists believe the Romans, either during or after the 3rd Punic war, broke the dikes that the kept salty Mediterranean waters from flooding fields near the city. Without those fields, the city of Carthage would be very hungry.