By the beginning of the First Punic War, the city of Carthage was exactly 550 years old. Rome at that time was 489 years old, the age of these states did not differ much. In many ways they were very similar, these two most powerful slave-holding powers of antiquity. Their capitals were huge megalopolises, in which the lion’s share of economic power and a significant part of the country’s population were concentrated. The political system of both powers was considered republican, real power was in the hands of several hundred of the richest families of the patricians of Rome and the oligarchs of Carthage.
Laws in both Rome and Carthage were passed by the Senate. Even the number of senators was the same – 300 people. And the struggle between them went over one region – the western part of the Mediterranean Sea. The religions of Rome and Carthage were also similar, the pantheon consisted of the main god (Jupiter and Baal, respectively), his wife, the god-patron of the city and other smaller deities. Temples in both capitals were located on the highest hill in the city. However, there were very significant differences between Carthage and Rome.
You need to start with the history of the founding of two cities. Rome was originally a village where tramps, robbers, runaway slaves flocked. He became a state thanks to the reforms of Numa Pompilia, a native of the Sabine tribe. Rome survived the period of kings and only after the overthrow of Tarquinius the Proud became a republic. Unlike him, Carthage originally arose as a Phoenician colony, all the laws and customs in it were and remained Phoenician. The political structure of this policy did not change over time, as did the composition of the population. Unlike Rome, where immigrants from different Italian tribes gathered (Latins, Sabines, Etruscans, etc.), mostly the descendants of the Phoenicians lived in Carthage.
In addition, there were significant differences in geographical location. Carthage emerged as a major trading port on the northern coast of Africa. Its neighbors were local tribes, much inferior to Phenicia in terms of development, economic and military power, political culture, etc. But Rome was originally surrounded by much larger and more powerful neighbors, such as the Etruscan Twelve-Point or the Latin Union. He had to constantly fight in order to survive. Rome was a military state, its main support – the army, the famous Roman legions. Carthage is a trading republic, the basis of its power was the fleet, which controlled shipping in this region.
The center of Rome’s life was the Forum and the Field of Mars. In Carthage, the city harbor was most important. More precisely, two harbors: commercial and military. Moreover, the navy was secondary, it only protected the shipping of merchants from Carthage and, if necessary, eliminated competitors. The interests of the financial oligarchy were served by the Carthaginian army, consisting mainly of mercenaries. This made it possible, if necessary, to quickly increase its number by recruiting the required number of mercenaries. In peacetime, the extra were fired. It was convenient, the authorities did not have to decide on the employment of former soldiers who were sent back to their home countries.
But in Rome, in the legions of which only Roman citizens served, this problem arose constantly. According to Roman law, veterans relied on land allotted from public land. But this land had to be taken somewhere. The easiest way is to win back from your neighbors. Therefore, Rome had a powerful incentive for continuous expansion. In addition, the basis of the Roman economy was not trade, but agriculture, with the greatest benefit brought by large latifundia with a huge staff of slaves. They also had to be taken somewhere, and at low prices. Which was also the reason for the conquests, during which the Romans enslaved the population of entire cities.
Already the first clashes between Rome and Carthage revealed a fundamental difference in the goals and methods of warfare. Carthage sought only profit. He was ready to make peace if the cost of continuing hostilities exceeded the potential profit from victory. But Rome needed not only military booty, but also territory. Carthage, which had about three hundred colonies along all the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, did not cling to the land. No luck in one place – you have to transfer business activity to another, as the Carthaginians reasoned. Rome stubbornly sought to completely destroy the rival, and 120 years after the start of the First Punic War achieved this.