Carthage fell to the might of Rome, I think it was, three times in total. They were completely defeated and accepted some pretty horrible terms of surrender. And yet they maintained their self sovereignty until they were utterly destroyed at the end of the third Punic wars. In most other cases I know of, Rome absorbed the nations they conquered. They become provinces and citizens of Rome.

Particularly the second and third time Rome defeated them they had serious fears of Carthage raising again, so stationing a permanent Roman presence would seem logical.

So why was it that the city of Carthage was not converted into a Roman city, at the end of the first or second Punic wars, or as an alternative to the destruction that happened at the end of the third Punic war?

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    What are you talking about? Carthage and its territory became the province Africa Proconsularis, with, at least in some eras, Carthage as its capital.
    – user8399
    Aug 17, 2015 at 1:17
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    Wasn't that after the city and its population was completely destroyed? Like sure Africa become a province of Rome (and with it "Carthage"), but that was after every last citizen of Carthage was either killed or enslaved.
    – Jonathon
    Aug 17, 2015 at 1:25
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    It is not like Carthage was waging war on Rome while it was a part of a Roman province. Rome did not start the third Punic wars, to destroy a city it already owned.
    – Jonathon
    Aug 17, 2015 at 1:29
  • What do you mean by "Roman City state"? There is a difference with being an independent city state and a province
    – Notaras
    Aug 17, 2015 at 2:48
  • It WAS a province of Rome. read Wikipedia "Cartage".
    – Alex
    Aug 17, 2015 at 3:07

3 Answers 3


First of all, Carthage did not fall in the First or Second Punic Wars. The Carthaginians were defeated twice, and compelled to surrender to particularly harsh terms the second time, but the City of Carthage itself was not conquered. Keep in mind that Carthage was not some run of the mill city-state, but rather the capital of a far flung maritime empire.

First Punic War

It took years of intense fighting for the Romans to merely capture Sicily. After 23 years of warfare Rome was exhausted; it had lost numerous men, and the ship building push exhausted Roman finances. A conquest of the Carthaginian heartlands in Africa was simply not a realistic possibility under such circumstances. Even if Rome could marshal the resources for such an invasion, the public would have been in no mood to stomach the idea.

Rome was thoroughly exhausted, and the moderate terms of the peace prove that Lutatius and the senate were well aware of this unpleasant fact. It had been difficult enough to build and man a strong new fleet, though in spite of Italian war- weariness Lutatius and the senate had succeeded in wringing this last effort out of an exhausted Italy; but, if they had only hinted at the possibility of invading Africa, they might have set off a revolt.

Thiel, Johannes Hendrik. A History of Roman Sea-Power before the Second Punic War. North-Holland Publishing Company, 1954.

Second Punic War

Carthage was most certainly unlikely to survive determined Roman siege after the decisive Battle of Zama. Conversely, however, a complete Roman conquest could not have been effected without this siege, which would have been a lengthy and costly affair. Remember that decades later, Carthage held out for three years against a much stronger Rome in a third war.

At this point however, the Roman state was exhausted. Unlike the first war, this time Roman financial resources were depleted barely a quarter into the fighting.

By the end of 214 Roman resources were exhausted and no money was available to pay necessary expenses ... the third instalment [of repayments for the special levy of 210], due in 200, could not be paid and ager publicus was given in lieu. Little progress seems to have been made also with the repayment of orindary tributa; one tributum was repaid in 196, but 25 1/2 tributa remained to be repaid with the booty brought bak by Cn. Manlius Vulso in 187.

- Crawford, Michael H. Roman Republican Coinage. Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Furthermore, Roman victory had been achieved at a high demographic cost. The late Peter Brunt for instance estimated that Roman citizenry losses amounted to 50,000 from 218 to 215, and 75,000 from 214 to 203. This represents a severe demographic shock - the Roman census of 234 registered just 270,000 citizens. The 204 census near the conclusion of the war had fallen to 214,000. Factoring in natural manpower increases, one scholar has even calculated the total losses to be 170,000.

[N]o fewer than 170,000 adult male citizens may have been killed or otherwise lost between 218 BC and 203 BC ... The 'net' loss of manpower resulting from the Second Punic War may therefore have been of the order of 120,000 men.

- De Ligt, Luuk. Peasants, Citizens and Soldiers: Studies in the Demographic History of Roman Italy 225 BC-AD 100. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Thus, after years of bloody fighting, it is easy to see why the Romans accepted the Carthaginian surrender instead. The severe terms of peace provided Rome with a huge, sorely needed annual indemnity, and practically eliminated Carthage as a military threat. There was no need to physically sack the city, when it was willing to disarm and furnish Rome with its wealth.

Soon after the war ended, Carthage even helped Rome's military adventures:

Just one year after the end of the war, therefore, the Carthaginians were able to supply 400,000 bushels of corn to Rome and to the Roman army in Macedonia. This was followed in 191 by the offer of a gift to Rome of 500,000 bushels of wheat and 500,000 bushels of barley for its war with Antiochus. Twenty years after that a further 1 million bushels of corn and 500,000 bushels of barley were sent for Roman forces fighting in Macedonia.

- Miles, Richard. Carthage must be destroyed: The rise and fall of an ancient civilization. Penguin, 2011.

Third Punic War

Contrary the question's premise, it was in fact nothing out of the ordinary for Romans to raze a city and enslave its inhabitants. In the year 146 alone, the same cruelty was inflicted upon another venerable city, Corinth. Like Carthage, the Greek city was sacked and its inhabitants either slaughtered in the ensuing massacre or sold into slavery.

In fact, Rome had great incentive to sack the wealthy city. The city's economic resurgence was a chief cause in Roman unease in the first place, and its success made it also an enticing opportunity for immense profits from plunder.

The sacking of two of the richest port cities in the ancient Mediterranean was, for one thing, a hugely profitable business. Both cities were brutally stripped of their wealth, and their works of art were shipped back to Rome ... slave auctions and the seizure of a large swath of previous Carthaginian territory, which now became public land owned by the Roman state, unequivocally contributed to a massive infusion of wealth into both public and private Roman coffers.

- Miles, Richard. Carthage must be destroyed: The rise and fall of an ancient civilization. Penguin, 2011.

Ultimately, Rome had no need for yet another client. As Rome's greatest enemy, the complete and utter destruction of Carthage was not only profitable, but also a symbolic gesture on the part of Rome.

In a sense, the Roman did absorb the Carthaginian people. Apart from the numerous enslaved Carthaginians now part of Roman society (even if at the lowest rung), virtually all Punic settlements were brought under Roman rule. The Punic community was not eradicated in North Africa, and indeed the descendants of Carthage eventually prospered as traders in the Roman system.

One of them, Septimius Severus, even became imperator in the second century.

  • 3
    Great answer. So you are basically saying that at the end of the first two Punic Wars, Carthage never would of accepted any type of "surrender your sovereignty to Rome" terms. I had heard that the terms given at the siege of Carthage to be designed to be rejected, should I take from that that they were far above just giving up their sovereignty?
    – Jonathon
    Aug 17, 2015 at 15:23
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    @JonathonWisnoski Well, they did. Carthage was obliged to demilitarise and surrender control over its own foreign policy (no wars without Rome's blessings), but their city would remain, and they would continue to live under their laws, with a reasonably sized hinterland. The Third Punic War, which led to the siege, was started by entirely unreasonable Roman demands for the city to be razed and relocated elsewhere; accepting that would have meant the end to Carthage.
    – Semaphore
    Aug 17, 2015 at 15:36
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    @user2448131 Corn here refers to generic cereal grains, not maize.
    – Semaphore
    Feb 24, 2017 at 8:29

Well, in actuality, Carthage did become a Roman city during the immediate aftermath of the Third Punic War around 146 BC/BCE.

In fact, if you bring up photos of Carthage, you will actually see a 2000 plus year old Roman city-(and a very well preserved Roman city) literally built on the scattered ruins of Carthage. When traveling via the Mediterranean en route to Tunisia, (on a clear day), one might be able to catch a fairly good view of the Roman colonial city in the Epicenter of North Africa. Those who travel to Tunisia from various lands, typically visit the old city of Carthage, though they are actually viewing a Roman city built on an older city. (Carthage is approximately 10 miles from Tunis, the Capital of Tunisia).

If one wants to see an authentic Carthaginian city within Tunisia proper, the archaeological site of Utica, (which was the original Capital of the Carthaginian empire), is probably the best preserved and oldest of all the few historically unconquered Carthaginian sites within Tunisia.

The Romans not only built a city over historic Carthage, they actually expanded their rule and architecture into much of Tunisia proper. Archaeological sites, such as Dougga, Sousse and El Djem, are testimonies to the ancient Roman imperial and architectural legacy. El Djem, for example, has one of the best preserved Roman Coliseums in the world.

Of course the Arab and Muslim legacy has been central to Tunisian national for 1000 plus years; however, centuries before the arrival of Islam into Tunisia, Rome left an earlier and historically lengthy legacy in Tunisia.......in particular, its capture and conquest of Carthage.


Cato is to blame for the misconception Carthage was utterly destroyed, never to be seen again. The reality is it became, after a period of adjustment an important roman city.

Cato had a catchcry "Carthāgō dēlenda est ("Carthage must be destroyed") or ""Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam." - "Furthermore, I think that Carthage must be destroyed" with which he finished just about every speech in the Senate regardless of the topic. He was shocked and stunned with the wealth and military prowess he saw when he visited Carthage circa 153BC. Keep in mind that when referring to Carthage it was not just the city but the empire/state. While much of his works were lost there are ample reports by contemporaries. Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, The Life of Cato the Elder 26-27.

While the city was certainly brutally attacked as a lesson to others due to it's geography it reasonably quickly rebuilt itself as the roman city of Colonia Julia Carthago and it is claimed it was the equal of Alexandria. It was apparently the second largest roman city. http://www.archivodelafrontera.com/galeatus/xiii-cartago-iii-qart-hadasht-colonia-iulia-karthago-tunez/

When describing it's renewal as reasonably quickly this is in terms of the epoch. It was forbidden to settle on the site for 25 years and it really didn't rise again until Augustus made it the Nth African admin center in 28 BCE. Details of it's activities during the 170 years from the battle of Zama (202BC) are scarce however it's reasonable to assume due to it superb harbour it existed as a Roman gateway to the Nth African farm lands.

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