The first point that we should dismiss when entering into this conflict is that of simplification. To think of it as «the typical conflict of Land versus Sea» would result in a distorted image of what we can reconstruct of the conflicts experienced between the two city-states in a context of the creation of an imperial space that pursued the hegemony of centrality and the western Mediterranean.
So we must observe that both peoples created and put into play several strategies and a series of transformations as a result of the times and the accumulated experience.
In this regard, there are a number of objective elements that from our present-day viewpoint we can perceive as elements on which to pivot in order to launch a war and make a profit. But we cannot ignore the vision of Thucydides, spread through Hellenism and its culture.
For Thucydides we can define a whole series of key ideas that govern international politics:
- Honor, or what would be called hyper-nationalism nowadays.
The First Punic War was a war for Sicily. The Romans, once the challenge posed by the invasion of Pyrrhus of Epirus had been chased away and they had consolidated their positions in the south of the peninsula, perceived the strength of the Carthaginian trade and power implanted in Sicily, an island closer than Sardinia. And also Sicily is the island whose balance of power between Hellenes and Punics enabled a power game in which Rome could play, and reach a casus belli that would allow it to dominate the great island that, together with the rest of the system of small islands, is the base on which to control the passage between the two basins of the Mediterranean and between Europe and Africa. A place where the Greeks settled there had reached a hegemonic position that revolved around Syracuse, which dominated the east of the island, and which exercised the Hieron dominion. While the rest of Sicily had the hegemony of the Carthaginians and their system of domination, which started from their strongholds in the west of the island.
In his masterly study The Influence of Sea Power upon History, based on lectures given at the U.S. Naval War College, Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan argued that in the modern era no state can claim the title of great power unless it has the ability to dominate the seas or at least its own coasts. Moreover, whoever is able to control most of the maritime trade routes is invariably destined to become the first of the great powers. In the power equation, a geographical position that allows naval forces to be concentrated and, when necessary, dispersed, is of crucial importance. On its borders, the maritime state must also possess an adequate coastline, dotted with «numerous deep harbors,» with ready access to the open sea and with «a population commensurate with the extent of the coast to be defended.» Although Mahan argued that maritime power is essential, it is geography that determines which country is endowed with it.
However, these advantageous natural characteristics alone do not provide the necessary tools for wave mastery. The nation must also be endowed with a special character. It must appreciate the value of activities at sea, if not be immersed in them. It must be commercially aggressive, rationally profit-oriented to recognize the stakes of maritime exchanges, attainable with persistence and hard work. Its citizenry must participate in the Navy even in peacetime, acquiring the skills and experience to build a large reserve to mobilize in the event of conflict and to contribute in any case to the vibrant maritime enterprise through taxation or other forms of collective sacrifice. The government, too, must be endowed with adequate institutions and officials prepared and able to recognize and leverage the position and attributes of the state.
The need for this national character is evident in defining a country’s potential for success in space. All cosmos-oriented states have sought to capitalize on the popular fascination with space exploration. Science and engineering must foster appropriate training. Commercial entities in the sector must be supported by public policies that reward initiative, innovation, and the ability to take risks to take advantage of the vast resources offered by this dimension. A Space Force (the only legal use of national violence in the cosmos), supported by a civil guard and reserve, must be prepared to protect trade routes, to ensure reasonable compliance with international standards and national directives, and to defend the sensitive infrastructures on which global prosperity has come to depend so heavily.
Mahan considered the sea as a «vast commons, over which men may pass in all directions, but from which certain well-laid paths arise for reasons of control». The geography of the land forces trade to be channeled through certain natural corridors. And trade must be organized efficiently, in order to be protected. According to the American strategist, the state that was able to control these corridors would obtain enormous benefits, generating enough wealth to dominate other states both militarily and politically.
According to Mahan, one of the factors of maritime power in the 19th century was the ability to move goods and capital efficiently. According to the American strategist, Britain succeeded in becoming the world’s leading power precisely because it was able to take advantage of a protected geographical location to project its influence along European trade routes. To this end, it equipped itself with a state-of-the-art fleet capable of controlling the most important choke points and thus dominating the vital arteries of an increasingly interdependent world economy.
The Strait of Sicily has been caught up in the winds of geopolitical competition that have long swept all quadrants of the Mediterranean Sea.
In this inverted maritime funnel, with its head in the Maltese archipelago and the choke point located between Mazara del Vallo in Sicily and the Cape Bon peninsula in Tunisia, regional players and outside powers are now also (and increasingly) openly competing for primacy and to extend their influence over adjacent lands. From the Libyan sands to the Tunisian massifs, not forgetting the North African giants of Algeria and Egypt, wobbly on land but united by the same desire to achieve a historic maritime turn. In the middle is Italy, with its proverbial earthly introversion in which so far it has also found itself reversed; indeed, we shall see if with the Franco-German failure of the European Union Italy continues to pursue a strategy towards the maritime dimension as was hinted at, albeit wrongly, with the Conte executive, and in which Italy strives to understand the meaning of the strategic games that surround it.
Of the twelve choke points in the Mediterranean according to Mahan, the following are in this immediate area:
- The Strait of Bonifacio is a strait in the Tyrrhenian Sea (Mediterranean) that separates the islands of Corsica (France) to the north and Sardinia (Italy) to the south. It is navigable by ocean routes linking the ports of southern Spain and the Gulf of Lion with the Strait of Messina. It is also used by the tuna migration, which makes it particularly important for tuna fishing.
- The Strait of Sicily
- The Strait of Messina
- Malta Channel
- The Strait of Otranto
Sicily, in fact, is more than just an interesting granary for its food production capacity. The Mediterranean Sea, in the double image of «sea in the middle of the earth» and «intermediary sea», is the main stage of ancient, modern, contemporary history… and of that which we are now beginning to trace for the future. In this context, Sicily has played a leading role that the great powers will now try to control and launch with a Mediterranean that has become a centerpiece of global dominance and hegemony, as it was at this time, on two fundamental pillars: trade and maritime routes.
Mercantile traffic in the Mediterranean area began to expand thanks to the commercial activities of the Phoenician (10th-10th centuries BC) and Greek (8th-6th centuries BC) civilizations. In that historical period, in Sicily, natural base of a flourishing maritime trade, emerged the emporia, precursors of port logistics, which in ancient times were wholesale trade centers, mostly located on the coast, with the function of market for the collection and distribution of goods in the surrounding regions, and all associated with a sanctuary.
The mercantile expansionism of ancient Greece led to the inevitable confrontation with the Phoenicians, which resulted in the defeats of the three Sicilian campaigns (480, 410 and 315 BC). At the time we are studying here, the Romans, convinced of the logistical importance of the Mediterranean island, victoriously confronted the Carthaginians in the three Punic Wars (241, 202 and 146 BC). Sicily was at the center of the conflict between the two Mediterranean powers. Its congenital centrality as a Mediterranean commercial and military platform thus dates back to ancient history. But, in the same way that Rome understood, it is fundamental when it comes to linking trade between Africa and Europe, between East and West, to count on the central triad of Corsica, Sicily and Malta, although each of these islands has a series of specific elements, to which the Strait of Gibraltar must be added for the Western Mediterranean, if we focus on the scenarios of domination in the Punic Wars.
The dispute for the eastern hegemony of the island by the Mamertines, Italic mercenaries in the service of Hieron who ended up occupying Messina by force and supplanting the lives of its inhabitants, whom they beheaded, forced Hieron to defeat them decisively in the Battle of Longanus (269 BC), at which point the Mamertines have to seek a balance towards Hieron. The first option is Carthage, but Rome, which is on the other side of the strait, is also considered. In the end, they opted for Rome, which had non-aggression agreements with Carthage, in addition to the intervention in an area of Punic influence such as Sicily.
The way in which Rome decided to break with both commitments and the understanding with Carthage, which was a key element in the Roman victory over Pyrrhus of Epirus, is due to the social structure in an unstoppable rise of the nobilitas of Rome, who constitute the Roman ruling class, immersed in a process of expansion of resources and new alliances by which they are controlling the Italian peninsula, who develop with the binomial of definitive victories of Samnites in the Apennines and Pyrrhus of Epirus.
To this would be added the incorporation of landowning families throughout the third century BC, particularly Campanians who allied with each other, so that the offer of the Mamertines offered an interesting projection of power that began to exert pressure on the Roman power structures in an alliance of interests and class between Romans and Campanians of the elite. These would clash with the interests of the commercial aristocracy of Carthage, accustomed for centuries to consider the space marked by the Tyrrhenian Sea as an area of clear Carthaginian influence.
According to Polybius (I, 10), we understand that for the Romans, faced with contradictions such as acting with the Mamertines of Messina in a radically opposite way and without continuity, as they had done with Regius, on the other side of the Strait of Messina, they decide to solve them because:
«(…) the Carthaginians had many parts of Hispania under their command in Africa and were also the owners of all the islands of the Sardo and Tyrrhenian Sea, they feared that if they also took over Sicily, they would have very powerful neighbors who would encircle Italy on all sides».
Polybius concludes that:
«Nor did the Senate dare to grant the aid requested (by the Mamertines),» and that «it was the assembly of the people on the proposal of the consuls that, in expectation of the spoils that the war might provide, decided to render the aid requested.»
From these points it can be concluded that fear and interest are the predominant factors for this conflict that began in Sicily, developed at sea, and whose peace and its consequences not only meant for Carthage to lose Sicily, but also Sardinia, since the Romans took advantage of the weakness of Carthage with the revolts of mercenaries to exceed the limits set by the peace treaty, and demonstrates what Polybius mentioned, that what they wanted was to see the islands surrounding Italy free from the power of the Carthaginians.
It is at this point that Rome takes a first step in its geostrategic conception and geopolitical vision, which will be consolidated and affirmed with the outcome of the Second Punic War, as Rome will gradually stop looking inland and start looking to the sea and then beyond the sea. This idea will be examined in more detail below.
The Context of the Punic Wars. The Events of the First Punic War
The first conflict between Romans and Carthaginians will begin in 264 BC and will involve the dispute of the maritime domain by the Romans to the Carthaginians, as the first phase of what we have mentioned above.
The conflict broke out when a military contingent under the command of Hannon assumed the Carthaginian presence in front of the fortress of Messina, with the excuse of responding to the call of the Mamertines, or «Sons of Mars» and thus avoiding the capture of the city by Hieron of Syracuse, who was besieging the city.
Meanwhile, Rome does respond to the request of the Mamertines, as the Carthaginians interpret the deliberations between whom to call, Carthaginians or Romans, as an invitation to take control of Messina directly or indirectly from Syracuse. Rome proceeds with two legions, and sends an advance party that appears by surprise in the city. Faced with such a deployment of troops that could arrive from Rome, the Carthaginians chose to withdraw, and the Syracusans maintained the siege of Messina. So the direct assault on the city has failed for Carthage, because the failure of the Mamertines to open the gates of Messina, the Syracusan effort and the Roman advance party that shows that Rome considers heeding the Mamertine request are elements that Hannon values. If Rome is to deploy the rest of the two legions it has to be by a landing, so Carthage positions a fleet in the strait, and resumes the attempts to get Messina. But the consul Appius Claudius Caudex landed by surprise on the eastern coast of Sicily. Faced with this situation, the Syracusans withdrew, and Hieron understood that Rome was going to initiate a firm bid for control of the island, as did the Carthaginians, so he declared himself neutral.
The conflict will live a long phase of stagnation in the positions, since Rome controls the whole island, with the neutrality of Hieron in the eastern zone and the Carthaginians become strong in the most western end of Sicily, where they are in conditions to defend themselves up to where it is necessary. This takes the war to the maritime environment, since Rome understands that if it dominates the sea it balances Carthage in its environment and the victory in this front will end up deciding the war. To this end, the Romans managed to build a fleet of impressive dimensions to oppose Carthage and thus control the coasts of the two central islands with a Carthaginian presence: Sardinia and Sicily.
The new Roman strategy also involves preparing a huge army and organizing an invasion of the hinterland of Carthage to challenge the same city in its own land. We are in the year 256 BC when the consul Marcus Atilius Regulus gathers 330 ships and, after skirting the waters of the Adriatic, sets the bows of the ships towards Africa. A Carthaginian fleet intercepts the fleet near Cape Ecnomus (south of Sicily), and Rome convincingly defeats the Carthaginian sea power. The Roman idea of taking combat from land to sea, where Roman discipline and order can be imposed, is executed through the «corvus», or «crow». A device consisting of a gangway with elements that allow the Roman ship to be moored to the Carthaginian ship in such a way that the Carthaginian ship is trapped, and at that moment, through the gangway, the Roman legionaries boarded the Carthaginian ship to fight as if it were on land.
After this victory, the way to Carthage is open to Regulus, who disembarks without the slightest obstacle, and begins the systematic plundering of the very rich Carthaginian agricultural hinterland, thus complicating the supply and one of the elements of Carthaginian trade. Regulus defeats the Carthaginian army at the Battle of Addis and Carthage has to request the beginning of peace negotiations. Nevertheless, Regulus makes an exhibition of the Roman mentality. Rome was accustomed to fighting and being obliged to defeat its enemies with forcefulness, since not doing so implied a series of risks for Rome, this circumstance made Regulus transfer this mentality to a much more powerful rival, richer and with the capacity to generate resources, and accustomed to victory, such as Carthage.
This first situation is fundamental for what will happen with Hannibal. Carthage, desirous of making peace, considers that the conditions of Regulus are impossible to accept, and perhaps another battle implies more modest claims for the Romans, in accordance with the tradition established among the Hellenistic kingdoms. In the face of equality of relative power, relative conflicts and relative peace. But Rome does not think so, and Carthage wishes to make it think so. So they raise a powerful mercenary army and entrust the entire military command to a Spartan named Jannippe, a very experienced military leader. He accepts the command, but demands to reorganize the formations of Carthage, adapting them to the tactical requirements that are imposed to face an enemy that fights as Rome does. After a severe training and making sure that the orders were executed in an optimal way.
Once the discipline and the tactical preparation is optimal in the opinion of Jantipo is faced in the plain of the river Bagradas (255 BC) defeating without palliatives to Regulus by means of a load of the hundred trained elephants that Carthage had to its disposition destroying the Roman formations and facilitating the attack of the rest of units. Regulus falls prisoner of the Carthaginians, and Jantipus will cut communications between the remnants of Regulus’ army and the supply bases. These actions return the supremacy to Carthage both in the maritime and terrestrial environment as far as the North African coast is concerned.
Rome did not hesitate to respond by preparing another large fleet that goes to look for the survivors to return them to their homes. It is interesting to see how, once again, the Romans break the blockade and embark their men, but a great storm practically destroys the bulk of the fleet. Nevertheless, the balance in the sea fight between the traditionally consolidated Carthaginian sea power and Rome is generally in favor of the Romans, with the notable exception of the battle that occurs near the port of Drapano in 249 BC, when the consul Publius Claudius Pulcher will lose to the Carthaginian admiral Aderbal, after the consul Claudius Pulcher refused to observe a bad religious omen about engaging in combat at that time, losing more than a hundred ships and thousands of men.
The war will enter its final phase from 243 BC, when Rome will make another effort to prepare a new fleet to launch, that is their hope, against the Carthaginians. And here we can already appreciate another interesting aspect in the Romans: the public coffers were already almost more than empty, and the assistance of the citizens with more resources is requested, who agree to pay the expenses of practically 300 new ships. The consul Gaius Lutatius Catullus put himself at the head of this new army and sailed to the western tip of Sicily with the intention of cutting off supplies to the troops of Carthage, who were successfully resisting all Roman attempts to expel them from the island, which they already controlled except for that point and the neutrality of Syracuse.
To develop the plan, the Roman fleet occupies the Aegates islands and initiates the control over that maritime domain. Carthage has to face Rome by force, otherwise those troops, commanded by the brilliant Hamilcar Barca, threaten to resist, and even, with someone so capable, to achieve some successes. In March 241 the definitive battle breaks out, which ends with a clear victory at sea for the Romans, and forces Hamilcar Barca, undefeated, to take command of his troops to retreat. The war lasted practically 23 years.
Sicily is in the hands of the Romans, who are hegemonic, not only in the peninsula, but also in Sicily, with its fertile lands and its central position. The Roman demographic superiority, the network of partners and allies that support it with resources of all kinds when facing a fearsome enemy, its ability to adapt, its intelligence in learning from its enemies, the decision of the social body to win and its absolute determination to win with the conditions set for Rome and its benefit, make the Carthaginians lose Sicily, representing a considerable moral and economic-commercial blow. On the contrary, Carthage will not count on that acceptance and perception of benefits shared in some way with the Carthaginian hinterland.
The consul Quintus Lutatius Catullus will exercise the representation of the Senate and the people of Rome to negotiate peace. In Polybius (III, 27) we have a copy of the clauses that Carthage had to accept: the evacuation of Sicily and the islands between Italy and Sicily, delimitation of zones to raise public buildings and to recruit mercenaries, the Carthaginians will pay in 10 years 2,200 talents and at the moment of closing the agreement, 1,000 additional ones. The Carthaginians will return the Roman prisoners without payment in ransom, and will get rid of most of the fleet.
What happened next will be the next part that will lead up to the conflict of the Second Punic War.
The Second Punic War. The Construction of the Definitive Hegemonic Conditions for Expansion
The Carthaginian defeat in such a long conflict as the First Punic War paved the way for the next conflict with Rome.
At the beginning of the conflict, Rome’s strategy was aggressive and aimed at controlling all the islands surrounding Italy, which it had not yet done, particularly the islands where Carthage had an agricultural and commercial base, the fundamental islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
By the peace treaty, it is clear that Sicily and the islands between Sicily and Italy were of Roman dominion, but not Sardinia or Corsica. The events that took place in Carthage allowed the Romans to fulfill all the points of their strategy.
The defeat meant that a great confrontation broke out in Carthage over internal politics and the process of strategic redefinition of the Carthaginians. Two groups ended up absorbing all the opinions, and both groups polarized and confronted each other, blaming each other for the defeat against Rome.
In this context, Hamilcar Barca and the Carthaginian troops arrive in the city, including mercenaries, who are discharged. They have remained for more than two decades loyal to Carthage, they have fought very effectively in the case of the troops placed under the command of Hamilcar, to whom they have obeyed in everything… but previously, the demographic deficiencies that were compensated in the military field with the services of the mercenaries. What they demand is the normal thing after the fidelity demonstrated, the full payment of the pay, because they need to feel compensated for the privations and efforts made. At that moment the negotiators were hesitant to satisfy what was owed and their behavior was close to meanness, so that the relations between Carthage and these mercenaries began to become increasingly tense.
All the resources demanded and the conditions imposed on Carthage strengthen Rome and its oligarchs, they acquire the wealth of Sicily… and at the end of the events that we will see briefly below, they also add the control of Sardinia and Corsica. The tributes and natural wealth of the new acquisitions imply the administrative organization of Sicily placing a quaestor that is in Lilibea. From 238 BC Corsica and Sardinia also came under the control of Rome, for which it delegated praetors to act as governors and thus strengthen Roman dominion in the region.
From this moment on, Rome is already a new great power with hegemonic capacity for the central Mediterranean and can begin to plan its projection towards its neighborhood, with more resources, more surpluses, more tribute, years of peace ahead and a good part of the old Carthaginian trade now under its control. The Hellenistic monarchies, heirs of Alexander the Great’s empire, which had a strategic neighborhood in the Mediterranean, began diplomatic relations with the Romans, whom they perceived as a western power with an ever-increasing capacity to influence and to be taken into account for the future, and that it will project itself by breaking for the first time its traditional geostrategic thinking by crossing the Adriatic, with the Roman arms waging two wars, the first between 229 and 228 BC, which broke out due to the attack on the Roman trade routes across the Adriatic by the Illyrian tribes that obeyed Queen Teuta, whose power was on the rise, as well as piracy.
The intervention of Rome implied the Roman control over the Greek cities of Epidamnos (later the Roman Dyrrachium or Δυρράχιον, the modern Durrës, Albania), Corfu and Pharos, where Rome established a protectorate; and where Demetrius of Pharos ascended to the throne of Illyria as a competitor of Queen Teuta, who after 9 years of understanding perceived a window of opportunity to expand his dominions and sphere of power taking advantage of the conflict that Rome had with the Celts of Cisalpine Gaul. This fact encouraged him to build 90 ships and defy the treaty he had established with Rome by reaching further south of Lissus (today’s Lezhë, northwest of Albania), which led to the declaration of the Second Illyrian War, between 220 and 219 BC and left Demetrius of Pharos defeated and sheltered in the court of King Philip V of Macedon, who encouraged the Macedonian king to oppose Rome in the context of the Second Punic War.
The Conflict in Carthage and the Definition of the Strategy to Follow
A dispute arises, that surely was latent, for the hegemony in the North African city, what had Carthage’s overseas policy brought? What if, instead of maintaining this policy, it was convenient to extend throughout North Africa, expanding the agricultural base to the detriment of the power of merchants and artisans?
From the 5th century BC Carthage ceased to pay tribute to the Numidians and Libyans and began a territorial expansion at the same time that the activity beyond the seas brought a growing power: the colonies of Ibiza, Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, Malta and those established in Iberia or Hispania turned the Mediterranean into a place of Carthaginian expansion. To all this, the needs of supplies and food have repercussions in a territorial expansion, affirming itself in great zones of the present Tunisia, whose bases are the fertile lands of the valley of the river Bagradas and, above all, the peninsula of Cape Hermes; and, it is there where the Carthaginian expansion becomes stronger. Gradually new lands belonging to Carthage’s sphere of power were incorporated to satisfy the Libyan populations that now became dependent on Carthage. In the 5th century BC, the army became a factor of power that connected with both arms of political power concentration: the merchants (conquest of parts of Sicily) and in North Africa, with the aforementioned expansion.
The confrontation with disputed positions in the centrality of the Mediterranean leads Carthage to war with two powers that plan to wrest that position from Carthage, such as Syracuse and Rome. In fact, both powers will carry out the same strategic action: to take the war to Carthage to its hinterland, as Agathocles, Marcus Atilius Regulus, Publius Cornelius Scipio, who would be called by his success «Africanus», and Publius Cornelius Scipio Emilianus (called Africanus Minor and Numantineus). The first one did it with two expeditions against Carthage, where there was an expedition for the territory around Carthage, it is possible to think if with the idea of establishing colonies and commerce, according to Diodorus Siculus XIX-XX; the other three correspond to each one of the three Punic wars. In all cases, at war against Carthage.
This fact supposes a sensation of unusual danger for the Carthaginians, accustomed to be victorious and to take the initiative and the war in the north of Africa against Numidians and Libyans, until taking what they wished and reaching the pacts that were convenient for the Carthaginians. The deployment of capable, effective and well-led armies caused considerable panic among the Carthaginians, who were also afraid that, as Agathocles had done, they would devastate their territory, seize cities and make agreements with allies who betrayed them, eager to throw off the yoke imposed by the Carthaginians, unlike the Romans, who could count on the solidarity and shared interests of groups that were fundamental. The way in which Carthage dominates the territory is aggressive, non-inclusive, punitive and based on the threat of a military garrison.
In the midst of the First Punic War Hannon conducted a campaign that took him to the edge of the Sahara at Teveste, expanding Carthaginian dominance to an extent not seen before. Such a campaign was aimed at cleaning up finances in order to maintain the war effort after years against Rome in Sicily. In addition to this, such a point is not enough, so that the Libyan peasants subject to Carthage are demanded half of their harvest as tribute. This event is fundamental, because while Hannon represents the agricultural base of wealth and power, another general leaves simultaneously in the opposite direction, towards Sicily, to maintain the war in the island, he is Hamilcar Barca, and represents the other side of the Carthaginian oligarchic power: the commerce. This event took place in 247 BC, and this is precisely the year in which Hannibal Barca was born.
Having defined the background (and contenders) in this struggle to define the hegemony of Carthage in defeat, the events that would lead to the definition of the foreign policy of the Carthaginians took place. The lack of payment of the mercenaries, as already mentioned, provokes the rebellion of those who had fought with bravery, efficiency and loyalty in exchange for a pay that now they were spared. With the difference that now they are not far from Carthage, rather the opposite, and this provokes a wave of solidarity from many tribes who see the opportunity to do business and the result is an uprising in arms of those mercenaries.
It could well be that perhaps Hannon saw the opportunity to delegitimize Hamilcar Barca, «those mercenaries of yours have rebelled». Of course, for that he had to «save» the Homeland. For that reason, Hamilcar Barca takes charge of the situation and trains his troops to be able to face the circumstances. At the beginning he has about 10,000 men. His army arrives at the mouth of the Bagradas, in the heart of the Carthaginian hinterland, one of its great pockets of wealth. The rebels are led by a Libyan named Maton and a Campanian (Italic, in the region of present-day Naples) named Spendios. With this, Hamilcar moves his enemy away from Carthage, and they reorganize and convince Libyans and Numidians so that some of them join them, and begin to harass Hamilcar, who finds it necessary to start a retreat towards the interior of the country and move them away from Carthage, as well as from Utica and Hippo, which are being besieged by Maton.
Hamilcar is ambushed and trapped in a ravine surrounded by mountains called Khanger-el-Hajhadj. At that moment, a Numidian prince named Naravas betrays the rebels and goes over to Hamilcar, forging an alliance with him, which will include marriage to Hannibal’s older sister, Hamilcar’s daughter.
Faced with such a situation, Hamilcar changes his strategy, offering conciliation and forgiveness, and frees some prisoners as a sign of good will, in such a situation the leaders feel abandoned and respond by torturing and murdering the Carthaginian hostages. A situation similar to the burning of ships that Agathocles did in his day when he disembarked in Africa: there is no turning back, there is only one way, fight to the end.
With such events Hannon adds his forces to those of Amilcar, who until now operated separately, but the cooperation fails in the political rivalry that confronts both and in determining before Carthage which of the two would be the conjurer of such a danger for Carthage. With the renewed Celes, Utica and Hippo fall into the hands of the mercenaries and advance to encircle Carthage. But the Carthaginians break the siege with firmness, and Hamilcar Barca is launched in pursuit, however, the mercenaries achieve a victory before the city of Tunis, and are already three years of war with the mercenaries to return to the starting point. Carthage mobilizes all its resources and forces Hamilcar and Hannon to operate together and finally bring the war to a favorable conclusion for Carthage in 238 BC.
It will be in this context that Rome takes control of Sardinia and Corsica, breaking the conditions of the treaty, and making it impossible for Carthage to undertake a declaration of war, which Rome knows it can make and win over Carthage. The large islands surrounding Italy are all Roman.
The Definition of a New Geopolitical Projection for Carthage
The first possible option is to concentrate efforts on expanding the power of Carthage throughout North Africa, renouncing a new projection beyond the sea. This is the proposal of the landed party, and therefore of Hannon. But to carry out this policy means unleashing a war of revenge against Libyans and Numidians, and exposing the city to new torments, not to mention Utica and Hippo. The model of the Egypt of the Ptolemies, a model based on an exploitation of the riches of a vast and fertile country, with commercial nodes, but based on the concentration of the vast majority of the land in North Africa is the model offered by Hannon to Carthage.
To this, Hamilcar offers a new dimension of the traditional commercial hegemony, which brings together both merchants and artisans. To this must be added the 2,200 talents demanded by Rome and 1,200 talents to be added, which the Romans took in addition from Sardinia. To this must be added raw materials previously provided by Sicily and Sardinia and that would allow, as had happened, to launch a commercial empire.
The objective is the Iberian Peninsula, because there are abundant key resources such as iron, silver, tin, lead, as well as a demographic power that Carthage lacks in the form of mercenaries to balance the Numidians and Libyans, now in tension with them and that it is convenient to relax the policy. Another argument in favor of Hamilcar, since he has married his daughter to a prominent Numidian. Against Hannon weighs the bad management of what happened with the mercenaries, since he provoked with his attitude the uprising, the proximity of the war scene, what happened with members of the Numidian and Libyan tribes that could stir up both and count on the shadow of Rome, that had already demonstrated its capacity to take advantage of the circumstances against Carthage. Artisans and merchants oppose Hannon, who only counts as a mass in favor of the landowners.
Hamilcar has proved to be undefeated when he has given a battle, he put the Romans in check in Sicily and if he had had time, perhaps he would have changed the situation, broad layers of the population and nobody escapes that it was his leadership of the troops, when finally Hannon wanted to collaborate with him forced by the circumstances, which led to the victory.
Hamilcar defeats Hannon, and the former is granted the supreme command of Libya as a new political-administrative task in order to obtain all the necessary competences and powers to launch his expedition to Hispania. Why Hispania? In addition to the reasons given above, the peninsula is already an area well known to Carthaginian sailors and traders, moreover since the 5th century BC. Carthage has an increasingly intense trade with several ports of the Iberian Peninsula, in addition to Phoenician settlements, as we must remember that the Carthaginians are a colony of the Phoenicians of Tyre, in addition to good relations with Turdetans and Iberians.
It will be from his position endowed with the supreme command of Libya as Hamilcar will prepare a whole series of diplomatic actions with the Phoenicians and with the native peoples of the peninsula that have a strategic value at the time of carrying out his geopolitical projection. To this is added an interesting fact, at least to gain time, the Iberian peninsula is, for the moment, out of the immediate action of direct control of Rome, which as we have already seen will put its attention on the Adriatic and the Celtic tribes of Cisalpine Gaul, in the Po valley.
From this moment on, with Carthage exhausted by wars, losses and their complex consequences, everything is left in the hands of the Barcids. It will be they who with their success will save Carthage, or with their failure will sink it, possibly hopelessly. Just as the Magonids were the aristocratic family to whose success Carthage was entrusted in the expansion towards Sardinia and Sicily in the previous centuries, now the Barcids will be the ones to delimit the Hispanic future of Carthage.
In his early teens Hannibal Barca is aware of what happened with the mercenaries and how his father and Hannon had acted. From all this Hannibal, and the Barcids, concludes that war must never come to North Africa in a conflict against Rome, and he will also learn that, due to the lack of demographic power, Carthage is dependent on mercenaries, and that these should be treated very well under his command, the chain of command always being very clear. He would have to inspire unprecedented loyalty in a troop that is not fighting of its own free will, nor in defense of its homeland, its family or its lands, but only for money.
With the fleet limited by the peace treaty favorable to Rome, Hamilcar follows the course of the North African coast until reaching the Strait of Gibraltar, where a Carthaginian flotilla provides them with supplies and organizes a » chain «, to save the 14 kilometers that separate Africa from the Iberian Peninsula at this point. Hannibal is 10 years old, and is in the entourage with his brothers Hasdrubal and Mago.