Ancient Carthage was a great seafaring empire and the first genuine enemy of Rome. They would fight three wars (Punic wars) and Carthage (especially in the 2nd Punic war) would bring Rome to the brink of destruction.
Carthage was founded in 813bc by the Phoenician queen Dido in modern day Tunisia. Based on trade and military might she became the richest city in the Mediterranean Sea and it was this expansion that brought her in conflict with Rome.
When Carthage took the island of Sicily the Romans took action and the First Punic war began.
The First Punic War (264-241 BCE) was mainly fought at sea. After an initial struggle with military tactics, Rome won a series of victories and finally defeated Carthage in 241 BCE. Carthage was forced to cede Sicily to Rome and pay a heavy war indemnity.
Rome occupied the Carthaginian colonies of Sardinia and Corsica, there was nothing the Carthaginians could do about it. They tried to make the best of their situation by conquering and expanding holdings in Spain but again went to war with Rome when the Carthaginian general Hannibal attacked the city of Saguntum, an ally of Rome.
The Second Punic War (218-202 BCE) was fought largely in northern Italy as Hannibal invaded Italy from Spain by marching his forces over the Alps. Hannibal won every engagement against the Romans in Italy. In 216 BCE he won his greatest victory at the Battle of Cannae but, lacking sufficient troops and supplies, could not build on his successes. He was defeated by the Roman general Scipio Africanus at the Battle of Zama, in North Africa, in 202 BCE and Carthage again sued for peace.
Even though Carthage after the 2nd Punic war was no longer a threat to Rome, the Romans were wary of her regaining her imperial power. When Carthage repaid the huge war indemnity to Rome within 50 years, the Romans feared her rise so much so that the Roman Senator Cato the Elder ended all of his speeches, no matter what the subject, with the phrase, “Further, I think that Carthage should be destroyed.”
A 3rd Punic war broke out in 149bc and this was to spell the end for this once proud empire. The Roman general Scipio Aemilianus besieged Carthage for three years until it fell. After sacking the city, the Romans burned it to the ground, leaving not one stone on top of another. A modern myth has grown up that the Romans forces then sowed the ruins with salt so nothing would ever grow there again.
Out of the ashes
Utica now became the capital of Rome’s African provinces and Carthage lay in ruin until 122 BCE when Gaius Sepronius Gracchus, the Roman tribune, founded a small colony there. Memory of the Punic wars still being too fresh, however, the colony failed.
Julius Caesar proposed and planned the re-building of Carthage and, five years after his death, Carthage rose again. Power now shifted from Utica back to Carthage and it remained an important Roman colony until the fall of the empire.
Carthage still lies in ruin in modern day Tunisia and remains an important tourist attraction and archaeological site. The outline of the great harbor can still be seen as well as the ruins of the homes and palaces from the time when the city of Carthage ruled the Mediterranean.