Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rome vs Carthage .

Rome vs Carthage .

Andre Willers

21 May 2009


Why did Rome win ?

Carthage was stronger .

Discussion :

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 "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 .

Pirates .

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 .

Andre .

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