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Causes of the Second Punic War Essay

The Second Punic war “was the greatest and most dangerous one Rome was compelled to fight on their way to the conquest of the Mediterranean. ” With 17 years of battle causing heavy casualties to be suffered on both sides, the Second Punic War has proven to be an important time period in the Roman and Carthaginian empires. For Rome, the end of the war meant “the defection of most Southern Italy” (Kagan 232, 1995) and many economic problems. For Carthage this meant the end of their rise to power, and the realization that the idea of Mediterranean control being based in Africa rather than Europe was no longer a possibility (Kagan 233, 1995).

Both empires had a lot at stake upon entering the war, but as will be discussed, many historians believe that eventual conflict was inevitable. Past grievances and battles pitted the Romans and Carthaginians against one another ultimately leading to the Second Punic War and the resulting downfall of Carthage. The ancient sources written by Livy, Polybius Dio Cassius and Appian place a great deal of blame on Hannibal in starting the Second Punic War. Though some of the authors justify his actions to an extent, Hannibal’s invasion of Saguntum is pinpointed as the immediate cause of the Second Punic War.

Dio Cassius and Appian find little sympathy in the motives behind Hannibal’s actions. As discussed by each of the writers, Hannibal’s father, after the loss of Sicily, harbored extreme hatred toward the Romans and instilled these feelings into Hannibal from a very young age. All four authors mention an oath taken by Hannibal at age nine in which he vowed revenge against the Romans for their unjust actions. Livy writes that this oath “bound Hannibal to prove himself, as soon as he could, an enemy to the Roman people” (Kagan 93-94, 1975).

Sure enough, upon ascending to power, “as if Italy had been decreed to him as his province, and the war with Rome committed to him,” (Kagan 95, 1975) Hannibal marched toward Saguntum with the knowledge that this would get a rise out of the Romans. Ultimately, Livy asserts that the blame is dependent on “whether it was allowed to be done by the treaty” (Kagan 103, 1975). Polybius outlines three clear causes of the Second Punic war. First, as other ancient authors, Polybius points to Hannibal’s oath and longstanding grudge against the Romans.

However, he continues to explain the reasons for Hannibal’s rage, the First Punic War, which Polybius calls “the most important cause of the subsequent war” (Kagan106, 1975). At the close of the mercenary war, Carthage did all it could to avoid conflict with Rome, eventually costing them Sardinia and large indemnities that were to paid to the Romans both immediately and over time. This unequal treaty on the part of the Romans is the leading factor in Carthage’s hatred toward Rome. Thirdly, Polybius credits the Carthaginian successes in Ibera as the third leading cause of the Second Punic war.

Having secured a great deal of territory and further motivated by victories, Carthage felt that they were strong and powerful enough to take on Rome. It is for this reason that Hannibal chose to attack Saguntum at this time to elicit a response from the great empire. Upon being confronted by the Romans, Hannibal does not concede the real underlying causes for his attack, but insists instead that it is retaliation for the Carthaginian leaders put to death by Roman arbitrators in Saguntum. Polybius makes an interesting point that this failure to disclose his true motives may have caused more blame to fall on Hannibal’s shoulders.

Polybius writes, “he had not said a word of the real cause, but alleged the fictitious one of the matter of Saguntum; and so go the credit of beginning the war” (Kagan 107, 1975) This assertion is important to consider in analyzing the ancient sources, as many contain a pro-Roman bias. Polybius recognizes that the immediate action that brought the war was that of Hannibal, but also that “we must acknowledge that the Carthaginians had good reason for undertaking the Hannibalian war. ” (Kagan 109, 1975).

In his essay “The Case for Rome,” Frank argues that “the nations came to blows because the Barcid family were able to keep alive the bitter feelings aroused by former defeats” (Kagan 118, 1975). As with Polybius, Frank discusses the true nature of the attack versus the excuse for battle Hannibal was stating. Throughout the exchange of embassies and the lead-up to the Roman and Carthaginian battles, Hannibal never wavered from his assertion that Carthage was seeking revenge for those officials who had been executed in Saguntum.

Frank continues on to state his opinion that the war between the two empires was not inevitable, but rather a matter of Hannibal and the Carthaginians wanting to restore their pride. In comparing Frank to other modern authors, he is much less sensitive to the wrongdoings on the part of Rome. Frank faults Hannibal for the beginning of the war, justifying the alliance with Saguntum and accusing Hannibal of starting a war based on illegitimate grudges. In his essay, Frank claims that “an unwelcome war had been thrust” (Kagan 119, 1975) upon Rome.

In analyzing the other modern sources, it is evident that Frank’s view is the uncommon one and that Rome was in fact an instigator in the Second Punic war. While Hallward acknowledges the anger of Carthage as a factor in Hannibal’s actions, he is also quite hard on the Romans for their unjust actions following the First Punic War. “In 237 B. C. , the Romans, with no shadow of right, had forced Carthage to surrender Sardinia and to pay an additional indemnity of 1200 talents” (Kagan 120, 1975).

Hallward acknowledges that it was outside the moral and legal realm of Rome to seize Sardinia and force the payment of such steep indemnities. He continues to discuss the limitations imposed on Carthage with the Ebro treaty. As Rome grew more concerned with Carthage’s advancements in Spain, they took advantage of the times to impose the treaty and restrict Carthage from advancing past the Ebro River. An important aspect of the Ebro treaty is the implications that came with it. This treaty implies that Rome would not hinder Carthaginian expansion up to the River.

Though dates are unclear, had the alliance with Saguntum already existed, it was an “implied obligation on Rome not to use the town [Saguntum] as an instrument to hinder Carthaginian expansion within the sphere recognized as open to her” (Kagan 120, 1975). Rome failed to stay out of Carthage’s way and became a bother and a hindrance in their quest for expansion. In Saguntum, Rome “intervened to bring into power, not without bloodshed, a party hostile to Carthage and to promote friction with the neighboring tribe of the Torboletae, who were subjects of the Carthaginians” (Kagan 120, 1975).

Not only was this alliance against unjust in that it was against the spirit of the treaty, but it was also spiteful on Rome’s part. In the eight months in which Saguntum and Carthage were battling, Rome was hesitant to send support. Saguntum was “unimportant and distant, and the material interests of Rome were protected in the Ebro treaty” (Kagan 121, 1975). However, in spite of having so little to gain, Rome pursued an alliance with this nation to hinder Carthage and impose themselves in the Carthaginian realm.

All of these actions on Rome’s part were harsh reminders of the unfair treatment Carthage had received since the First Punic war. Though past grudges played a key role, Rome’s continued hostilities and instigatory actions gave good cause for the hateful feelings to continue, and ultimately led Carthage, under Hannibal’s command, to seizing Saguntum as a way of bringing forth a response from Rome. Throughout his essay, Scullard asserts that Hannibal and Carthage were within their legal and moral right in seizing Saguntum.

Scullard bases this conclusion on his analysis of the treaties that existed between Rome and Carthage at that time. He first addresses the treaty made with Lutatius in 241. He states that Carthage was within their rights because “Rome’s alliance with Saguntum was later than the treaty of Lutatius, so that the town was not included in the list of Rome’s allies whom the Carthaginians had promised to respect” (Kagan 123, 1975) In regards to the Treaty of Ebro, he points to the simple geographical fact that Saguntum was located 100 miles south of the Ebro River, well in the domain which Carthage had been promised.

Also in regards to this treaty, Scullard mentions a similar point to Hallward in that Saguntum “could not in equity be used by the Romans as a handle to check Punic expansion in the south” (Kagan 124, 1975). Scullard also addresses Hannibal’s hatred of Rome which is discussed in so many other sources. Scullard asserts that though there is evidence and cause for the hatred, Hamilcar moved into Spain with “the intention of re-establishing his country’s lost empire,” not seeking revenge.

Based on the treaties which had been made, and the unjust actions of Rome, Scullard states “Rome had no legal ground to restrain Hannibal from attacking Saguntum, he was within his legal rights and was no treaty breaker” (Kagan 124, 1975). As with the other modern writers, Errington acknowledges the anger of Hannibal but does not point to these emotions as the cause for war. Instead, Errington recognizes the wrong doing of Rome in the events leading up to the Second Punic war.

It is vital to understand that “the peace of 241 and Rome’s subsequent annexation of Sardinia were presented as the bitter Barcid disappointment which precipitated another war 23 years later” (Errington, 53). It is crucial to understand the reasoning behind Hannibal’s anger, rather than condemn him as a tempered, vengeful leader. Errington continues to write about the “unwarranted interference with Carthage’s friends in Saguntum. ” This arbitration and newfound friendship with Saguntum reminded Carthage too much of the convenient alliances Rome had made in the past with the Mamerties and the Sardinian mercenaries. Errington 55-56).

In concluding, he addresses the “Roman traditions” regarding the Punic war, which firmly blamed Hannibal for the beginning of the war. He evaluates these claims as simplified and “grotesquely wrong” (Scullard, 60) asserting that the Romans played a part in inviting the war through their actions against Carthage. In Kagan’s chapter on the Second War, he gives an in depth background which allows the reader to fully grasp and understand the circumstances which led to the actions and emotions of both empires. The peacetime between the two wars was crucial in leading up to the second Punic war.

During this time, Romans involved themselves in a war in Sardinia at the request of the mercenaries. This involvement against Carthage “was a clear violation of the treaty of 241 and without any respectable pretext” (Kagan 253). The Romans knowingly and blatantly broke the treaty which had been formed between the two nations. Once involved, Rome took advantage of their situation and demanded Sardinia and massive indemnities from Carthage. The Carthaginians were forced to reluctantly accept, but they resented that their treaty had been violated and that they taken advantage of.

This resolution “reflected the relationship of power between Rome and Carthage at a time when Carthage was unnaturally weak” (Kagan 255). As the empire gained it’s power back through Spain, they became more confident in their abilities to match up against Rome, and Rome became more nervous regarding their ability to do so. Kagan discusses the alliance made between Saguntum and Rome and concludes that either way, Rome was in the wrong. Had the alliance occurred beforehand, it should have been included in the treaty, but had it been afterward, then it was a direct violation of the Ebro treaty.

Either way, Rome was in the wrong to try to prevent Carthage from taking Saguntum, a city of little importance or value to the Roman empire. Kagan, like other authors, addresses the Roman tradition of blaming Hannibal’s oath and anger. Kagan argues “the rejection of the wrath and the oath leads to a diminution in the responsibility of Carthage. It is possible to see its behavior as entirely reactive and defensive” (Kagan 270, 1995). In Hannibal’s quest to restore the empire which had been taken fro him, Carthage pushed through Spain in the territory they were permitted. In this view, Hannibal’s attack on Saguntum broke no treaty and was justified by any fair understanding of the Ebro treaty” (Kagan 270, 1995). Each of the authors offered a similar story, but the bias and blame was placed differently in each piece. The ancient writers seem to fall into the trap of the “Roman traditions,” faulting Hannibal heavily for the vengeance he felt toward Rome throughout his life. However, as we move to the more modern authors, it is apparent that Carthage’s actions were simply a consequence and reply to those of Rome.

Hannibal was within his rights of both treaties when he attacked Saguntum, and it was not the right of Rome to become involved. Carthage had been undermined by Rome on several occasions, and they were right to stand up against Rome in the eyes of further injustice. While the immediate blame for the Second Punic war may fall on Hannibal and his invasion of Saguntum based on Roman hatred, it is important to realize that the underlying causes of the war were in fact instigated by Rome and their policies in the preceding decades.

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