The Third Punic War and Carthago Delenda Est

Rome's triumph over Sicily during the Punic Wars.

José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

By the end of the Second Punic War (the war where Hannibal and his elephants crossed the Alps), Roma (Rome) so hated Carthage that she wanted to destroy the north African urban center. The story is told that when the Romans finally got to take revenge, after they won the Third Punic War, they salted the fields so the Carthaginians could no longer live there. This is an example of urbicide. 

Carthago Delenda Est!

By 201 BCE, the end of the Second Punic War, Carthage no longer had its empire, but it was still a shrewd trading nation. By the middle of the second century, Carthage was thriving and it was hurting the trade of those Romans who had investments in North Africa.

Marcus Cato, a respected Roman senator, began to clamor "Carthago delenda est!" "Carthage must be destroyed!"

Carthage Breaks the Peace Treaty

Meanwhile, African tribes neighboring Carthage knew that according to the peace treaty between Carthage and Rome that had concluded the Second Punic War, if Carthage overstepped the line drawn in the sand, Rome would interpret the move as an act of aggression. This offered daring African neighbors some impunity. These neighbors took advantage of this reason to feel secure and made hasty raids into the Carthaginian territory, knowing their victims couldn't pursue them.

Eventually, Carthage became fed up. In 149 B.C., Carthage got back into armor and went after the Numidians.

Rome declared war on the grounds that Carthage had broken the treaty.

Although Carthage didn't stand a chance, the war was drawn out for three years. Eventually, a descendant of Scipio Africanus, Scipio Aemilianus, defeated the starved citizens of the besieged city of Carthage. After killing or enslaving all the inhabitants by selling them, the Romans razed (possibly salting the land) and burned the city. No one was allowed to live there. Carthage had been destroyed: Cato's chant had been carried out.

Primary Sources on the Third Punic War

  • Polybius 2.1, 13, 36; 3.6-15, 17, 20-35, 39-56; 4.37.
  • Livy 21. 1-21.
  • Dio Cassius 12.48, 13.
  • Diodorus Siculus 24.1-16.
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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "The Third Punic War and Carthago Delenda Est." ThoughtCo, Sep. 20, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, September 20). The Third Punic War and Carthago Delenda Est. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The Third Punic War and Carthago Delenda Est." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).