The siege of Carthage was the main event in the third Roman war. It went on from 149 B.C. to the spring of 146 B.C. According to Wikipedia the Carthaginians would have had about 410 000 citizens and 90 000 defenders.

How did the Carthaginians keep their population alive? It wasn't like everyone in the city was doing nothing either, as

The city managed to produce 300 swords, 500 spears, 140 shields and 1,000 projectiles for catapults every single day

according to Appian of Alexandria.

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As the image above shows most of the peninsula would have been occupied by the Romans, so more then a little farming seems impossible.

So my question is twofold:

1) How did the Carthaginians manage to procure enough food to keep most of their population alive and working for three years and

2) How did they manage to get enough drinking water? (I know they had large cisterns to store water, but can that really have been enough for the whole population, Especially with large amounts of refugees from the countryside?)

1 Answer 1


Note item (6) - New Harbour Entrance on your map. This entrance was constructed in 147 B.C. (the third year of the siege) simultaneous with item (7) - Scipio's Mole blocking the original entrance. During the siege the Carthaginians were able to continue trading overseas, albeit with limited success because of Rome's influence.

The Siege was prosecuted incompetently for the first two years. Only with the election as Consul of Scipio Aemilianus for 147 B.C. were the Romans finally successful in prosecuting the siege. Scipio arranged to construct the eponymous Mole and finally restored morale to the Roman troops enabling them to breach the walls and begin the house-to-house elimination of the garrison and conquest of the city.

Also, as shown here modern Tunis averages 45 cm of rainfall annually, and is very near the site of Carthage. This is roughly what both Aruba and Bonaire receive annually and seems adequate to refresh cisterns for quite some time if provision exists for capturing it as is done on those two islands.

  • Thanks! Is it possible North-Africa was less dry back then, since Africa was famed for it's high yields?
    – Jeroen K
    Mar 15, 2014 at 8:19
  • Not sure about actual climate, but Africa was the food bowl of the empire in those times, producing massive amounts of grain. The Sahara desert, for example, came to be with over farming by the Romans. Africa would still have a lot of nice, rich land, but for the turmoil that continuously hinders any progress.
    – Duncan
    Mar 15, 2014 at 21:02
  • 7
    @Duncan: Yes, the climate was a bit wetter. No, the Romans did not create the Sahara with over-farming; that is a grade-school myth. The Sahara has been a desert with roughly its current extent for 6,000 to 7,000 years old, over twice as long as the city of Rome has existed. The Romans did level the Apennine forests to build ships for the Carthaginians to use for target practice though. ;-) Mar 15, 2014 at 22:37

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