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Punic Wars

Hannibal marches his army, including 37 elephants, across the Alps and into northern Italy By 264 BC, the rapidly growing Roman Republic controlled most of Italy. The Romans started to look further afield, and fought Carthage, a rival city on the coast of North Africa, to win control of the lands around the Mediterranean Sea. Battles between the Romans and Carthaginians were bloody and bitter—both had well-trained armies. The wars between Rome and Carthage were called the Punic Wars, after Punicus (Poenicus), the Roman word for Carthaginians, who were descended from the Phoenicians of the eastern Mediterranean.


Map showing Rome and Carthage at the start of the Second Punic War
Model of a Roman trireme, or warship, used against Carthage in the Punic Wars

First Punic War

The first war between Rome and Carthage broke out in 264 BC over the island of Sicily, which lay directly between Italy and Carthage. Much of the fighting took place at sea, and at first a victory for Carthage looked certain. Then the Romans built a massive fleet, which finally defeated Carthage in 241 BC. But that was not the end of the story. The Roman navy takes on the Carthaginians at the Battle of Mylae in 260 BC. The corvus, a spiked grappling hook fitted to the...Read More >>The Roman navy takes on the Carthaginians at the Battle of Mylae in 260 BC. The corvus, a spiked grappling hook fitted to the front of the Roman ships, could be stabbed into the deck of an enemy ship, allowing the legionaries to board them.
 

Hannibal became such a figure of fear to the Romans that, ever since, mothers warned their children when they were naughty: "Hannibal ad portas!" (Hannibal is at the gates).

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