Rome vs Carthage .
21 May 2009
Why did Rome win ?
Carthage was stronger .
The discussion will focus mainly on strategy , with reference to tactics where necessary .
Why did they fight in the first place ?
Carthage was a trading network . The Romans traded as well , but both were adept at a modus vivendi .
The flies in the ointment were the Greek city-states (Massilia) and those in Cicily especially . They were the pimples on the butt of the larger Greek civilization in Greece , Anatolia , Middle East , Egypt and parts further East . These were becoming under pressure from Roman Armies as internal factions appealed to the Romans for help .
The Strategic Casus-belli :
Roman Incorporation .
Remember "Roman woman shall not cook or grind corn." from previous posts .
Romans conquered and stayed . Taxes stayed .
The Greeks did not like this , neither did the Carthaginians (suitably primed by the Greeks)
At the time of the First Punic War , the focus of wealth was in the Middle East .
The idea was to let these two troublesome newcomers bleed each other over trivial spoils .
The Long-term Strategic Split .
The result of this short-term maneuvering was that Roman and Carthaginian attention was focused on the Mediterranean .
Ever wondered why the Roman-Graeco civilization did not encompass the old territories conquered by Alexander in the Middle-East ? This is the watershed . This had major consequences down to the present .
The Mediterranean focus .
The Strategy :
Who controls the Mediterranean , controls the trade and the allocation of resources of the close hinterlands .
Resources include troops . The controller of the Mediterranean is inside the decision-loop of any land-power on it's shores .
This has been true for the last 8 000 years .
The Roman surprise .
Neither side initially showed any enthusiasm for this little cooked-up war , which gave the Roman enthusiasts of matters military a chance to trot their stuff .
They redesigned the entire Roman navy and ships , including tactics to counter ramming .
A comprehensive package .
When things got serious , this was implemented on a large scale .
Briefly , the problem with any naval encounter is that battle only happens by mutual consent .
The weaker side can always escape .
Unless one side can be pinned . It can be pinned if it has to defend or attack a particular point .
Like a city or port .
But the naval force sent to this port is open to attack . So it has to be like fortress .
Ditto for supplies .
The Romans redesigned ships , marines and navy tactics so that ships using the Carthaginian ramming tactics was the equivalent of a barbarian assault on a fortified Roman castra .
They could , and did , lose if the formation was scattered by a storm . But they won more than they lost .
If the Carthaginian's did not oppose the Roman fleet , then it would be a land battle . Meat to the Romans .
If they did oppose it at sea ,
The New Roman fleet had a series of interlocked cruisers and battleships with heavy ballistae and other heavy projectile weapons . Every ship also had a large component of Marines , with Special Weapons and Tactics specific for boarding and grappling .
It is a Fleet opposing individual action . An Army against warriors .
The Carthaginian Response .
Instead of initiating a naval arms race to regain control of the Mediterranean , the Carthaginians tried to turn themselves into an Army . Hamilcar , Hasdrubal and Hannibal launched an invasion of Italy through Spain . This was doomed from the start . The interior lines of communication (the Med) was pre-empted by the Romans . They simply cut lines of communication (ie supplies and reinforcements) by landings troops from the sea in Spain and bled Hannibal to death .
An interesting aside : the name "Barcelona" derives from Barca , the family name of Hannibal .
Could Carthage have won ?
Yes . If they stuck to ships .
They were far stronger and could call on deeper resources .
But they would have to have a counter to the New Model Roman Navy .
This had a weak point , namely that it was specifically designed against individual ramming attacks (or maybe 3-4 ships in concert) . But still ramming and coming into close contact . Going back to the battle of Salamis .
It was vulnerable to counter-fleet actions , as well as strategic actions like attacks on Ostia .
Or simply swarming attacks using Fleet organizations .
The Carthaginians simply did not understand strategy as well as the Romans , and got eradicated .
Did any survive ?
Of course . Women and children of the elite were evacuated to Phoenician ports .
Tyre , Egypt , etc .
Lusitania (Portugal) was a favourite spot . Also anti-Roman for 200 years afterwards . Still separatist from Spain .
Britain (Liverpool) was another refugee center . Which is why it attracted the attention of Caesar to formulate the policy of Druid eradication . And Carthaginians couldn't play football .
The Roman Response .
"Carthaginem delenda est" .
As a matter of policy , they tracked the survivors as an object lesson in not to f**k with the Romans .
The Greek polis's that initiated the action were treated quite harshly , with the exception of Massillia , which was too important.
The Long Term Effect .
The Roman commanders never forgot the lesson of pinning tactics by using strategy .
Caesar used it extensively in Gaul .
See also http://andreswhy.blogspot.com "Rome vs China"
The Byzantine Empire used it a bit too much .
One of the power-bases that enabled the LowLands in Western Europe to escape the effects of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire . Venice used it .
Notice how Roman commanders switched from land to naval to amphibious operations without raising an eyebrow . This flexibility dates back to the Punic wars .
Even Caesar as a youth could command a multi-disciplinary armed task force to zap his pirate captors .
Pompey used it to make piracy very unattractive , by pinning the sellers of illegal goods (fences) .
I always found it improbable , that he could bring piracy in the Med to a slow-down for 200 years by military action .
He did , but not by military action . He pinned the fences , which were mostly decuriones (equivalent of present day council members) . This worked for about 200 years , until decuriones became declasse . Not bad .
The same is true today in the Red sea an Sumatran Straights . If it spreads again to the Med , interesting times !
A good scout always uses a pin .
A string is optional .