Thursday, April 11, 2024

Guest Post: Scipio Nasica averts Third Punic War

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History proposed by Eric Oppen.

April 10, 153 BC -

An embassy to Carthage led by Roman statesmen Scipio Nasica negotiated terms of co-existence that averted the outbreak of a Third Punic War. An opponent of further conflict, he had seen for himself the rich opportunity in her growing economy and strength.

In many ways, it was an unexpectedly positive outcome for both rival powers. The mission might well have reached a very different conclusion had Marcus Porcius Cato not drowned during the sea journey. Cato was a veteran of the Punic Wars and contributed to the decisive and important victory of Sena at the Battle of the Metaurus, where Hasdrubal was slain. He had consistently encouraged the Romans to attack Carthage, famously ending every speech in the Forum with "Carthago delenda est" ["Carthage must be destroyed"]. His role in the embassy was likely to prevent any kind of accommodation with the opposing peace faction led by Scipio. Some historians wonder whether Cato's death had been a maritime accident at all, since the outcome was a resilient win for Scipio's perspective.

Institutionally, Carthage's Senate had a powerful caucus that was half-hearted in the pursuit of their wars. The truth was, she was greatly weakened by the Second Punic War and no longer able to threaten Sicily or Sardinia. Her politicians knew that the Roman Republic would continue to expand across the Mediterranean world and an accommodation was necessary to avoid destruction. The cost of their survival would be annexation and slow Romanization offset by the granting of preferential trading privileges.

This long-term peace settlement enabled the economically prosperous commercial city-state to persist in its current form, albeit as a vassal state of Rome. Ultimately, the emergence of a Roman province of Carthage would greatly strengthen the projection of power in North Africa and also in Spain. Long-term benefits would also be seen elsewhere. With Carthaginian naval expertise, Roman trade routes encouraged conquest down the west coast of Africa, establishing ports to trade with, then dominate, the rich gold fields of Ghana. Roman victories in Europe would lead to expansion into Gaul, Germania, Britannia, and then the Balkans. This was before an Eternal Peace was formed with the Persians very much in the collaborative spirit of long-dead Scipio.

Whereas Cato was opposed to the spread of Hellenic culture, Scipio realized that the expansion of the Roman Republic could be boosted by absorbing civilizations such as Greece and Carthage without threatening to destroy the rugged simplicity of the conventional Roman type. In truth, there would be some cultural exchange from annexing Carthage that would make for a different Rome, with Baal Hammon included among the pantheon as a form of Jupiter as well as the issue of child sacrifice. Like their Phoenician ancestors, the Carthaginians offered their children to "pass through the flames" in offering to the fertility gods like Baal for abundant crops. Roman propaganda during the Punic Wars denounced the practice, but a form of it evolved into Roman religion as a method to test the worthiness of children that might otherwise undergo the commonplace Roman practice of exposure.

Author Note:

In reality, the Third Punic War systematically destroyed the city and killed its inhabitants; only on the last day did they take prisoners, 50,000 of them, who were sold into slavery. The conquered Carthaginian territories became the Roman province of Africa, with Utica as its capital. It was a century before the site of Carthage was rebuilt as a Roman city.

Provine's Addendum:

Part of the Pax Aeterna (or so the generations-long treaty with the Parthian Empire was called; Roman armies adventured as far as the Baltic Sea and the Congo River aboard ships in the navy, improved by Carthaginian seamanship) was to maintain a series of buffer states to absorb friction between the two superpowers. Pompey the Great had conquered Syria and Judea in the Third Mithridatic War along with Pontus after Mithridates VI allied with the declining Armenian Empire, which looked to become a client state. Though many in the Senate called to expand ever eastward, a far-thinking faction determined to make the peace with Parthia by ensuring Armenia, Osroene at the headwaters of the Euphrates, and the restored independent kingdom of Judea remained independent. Both sides kept ambassadors at each court, but tradition forbade intrigue beyond trade and favoritism.

Client states along the Silk Road meant another set of middlemen for trade, driving up prices for Romans at home. Gradually the sea route to India through the Red Sea expanded, driven largely by descendants of Carthaginians. Soon Hindu gods would find influence in the Roman pantheon as well.

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