What happened to the Carthaginians after the fall of Carthage?

What happened to the Carthaginians after the fall of Carthage?

In 146 BC the huge coastal metropolis of Carthage was taken by storm and completely destroyed by the Roman army. Most of the townspeople died, the survivors fell into slavery. After the city had nothing to rob, the Romans withdrew their troops from it and set fire to what was left of Carthage. The fires lasted another 17 days, the ashes were covered with salt (so that no plants would grow in this place) and ritually cursed by the Roman Senate. The territory of the former empire became the Roman province of Africa with the capital in Uttica – a city that immediately went over to their side after the Romans landed.

The curse of the place where Carthage once stood was considered eternal. However, already in 123 BC a plebiscite in Rome adopted the “law of Rubria”, named after its initiator, the tribune of the people of Guy Rubri Varron. According to this law, it was planned to build on the site of the former Carthage the capital of the new Roman colony, which was named Junonia. And the surrounding lands empty from the time of the war are to be given to the arable lands of Roman colonists. But since this law was put forward as part of the land reforms of Guy Gracchus, in the subsequent political struggle it was repealed as a populist one.

Guy Julius Caesar came to the idea of ​​building something on the site of Carthage in 46 BC, but did not manage to do anything, because he was soon killed by the conspirators. Only in 29 BC his successor, Octavian, founded the city here, named after Caesar “Colonia Julia Carthago” (Carthaginian colony Julius). The top of the Birsa hill, where the center of Carthage was once located, was torn down; the whole city was rebuilt according to a purely Roman project. In the city, whose population soon reached 300 thousand people, a circus for 60 thousand spectators was built, theaters, baths, an aqueduct – all the benefits of Roman civilization. The city was inhabited, of course, by the citizens of Rome.

What happened to the other Carthaginians, because not all of them lived in the capital? Some of the Carthaginians lived in other cities, some in the colonies that Carthage had on many islands of the Mediterranean Sea, in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Finally, since Carthage had a huge merchant fleet, many were at sea during the destruction of the capital, transporting goods. What happened to them? It should be noted that Carthage was founded by the Phoenicians, its very name means “New City” in Phoenician. The Phoenicians lived not only in Carthage, Punic (Phoenician) speech could be heard in almost any city on the Mediterranean coast.

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In principle, the former citizens of the Carthage empire, after the death of the capital, had several possible ways. Live in one of the former colonies of Carthage, now becoming part of either the Roman Empire or other states. Settle in another metropolis of antiquity, for example, cosmopolitan Alexandria in Egypt, where many of their compatriots lived. And finally, go pirates. It was after the fall of Carthage that piracy in the Mediterranean took on an unprecedented scale. The vacuum of sea power partly affected, since the Carthaginian fleet disappeared, and the Roman after the victory over Carthage became unnecessary and fell into decay. But the former Carthaginians, who did not reconcile themselves to defeat and continued to fight on their personal ships at sea with the hated Rome, also played their role.

The Romans could cope with the rampant piracy only in 67 BC, thanks to Pompey, who waged a real war against them and ultimately destroyed all the main pirate bases. But the Carthaginian merchants who settled in different cities on the sea coast (mainly in Africa) continued to trade and flourished for several centuries. Even half a millennium after the fall of Carthage, conversations in the Punic language could be heard not only in the territory of present-day Tunisia, where this great city once stood, but also along the entire southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as in the coastal cities of Spain, the Middle East, and even Rome itself too. Former Carthaginians, although outwardly assimilated, did not forget about their roots and retained the trading fraternity, which controlled a significant part of Mediterranean maritime trade.

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What happened to the inhabitants of Carthage after the victory of the Romans?

In 146 BC. the largest state of antiquity fell, which once subjugated half of the Mediterranean lands. Fearing the revival of Carthage, the Romans burned the city, tore down its buildings, walked with a plow to the place where it stood, and sprinkled the earth with salt. What happened to the 700 thousand inhabitants who inhabited the Phoenician capital?

A bit of Phoenician history

Carthage was founded in the 9th century BC. Phoenician colonists (Phenicia is an ancient state that existed from the XIII century BC on the territory of modern Lebanon). In the VIII century BC. Phenicia fell under the onslaught of the Assyrian army, and the former colony gained independence.

Gathering around itself other orphaned colonies, Carthage turned into a new powerful state, declaring itself the entire coast of North Africa, southern Spain, the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia and most of Sicily.

The favorable geographical position contributed to the rapid development of trade and navigation, which became the key to the prosperity of Carthage. The greatness of the city is evidenced by the fact that by the 3rd century BC. its population reached 700 thousand inhabitants.

Until the middle of the 3rd century BC. Carthage had no rivals until another strong state emerged in the Mediterranean – the Roman Republic. Having conquered other Italic tribes and subjugating all of Italy, Rome came into conflict with Carthage for the redistribution of spheres of influence.

The rivalry between the two powers resulted in three Punic Wars. As a result of the first conflict in 264 – 241 BC, Carthage lost Sicily and endured the rebellion of its own army. Second Punic War 218 – 201 BC took away from the Phoenicians all territories besides Africa and, in fact, turned Carthage into a dependent state. The third war was aimed at the destruction of the Phoenician city, since it continued to trade, thus taking away part of the profits from Rome and, posing a danger to it in the future.

The reason was the war between Carthage and the Numidian king Massinissa, who, by the way, was the first to attack the Phoenician lands.

Antique city

In 149 BC. the Roman army arrived at Carthage. Consul Lucius Censorinus acted cunningly. Threatening war, he demanded that the Carthaginians pay tribute. The Phoenicians did it. Then the consul ordered the surrender of all weapons. The requirement was met. The last order was the voluntary destruction of Carthage and the resettlement of the inhabitants deep into Africa so that they would never trade again. The Carthaginians could not agree to this.

The siege lasted 2 years. In 147 BC. the command of the Roman army was taken over by Scipio Emilian. He built an outer wall around the city, blocked the Carthaginian port and, after months of blockade that destroyed a significant part of the defenders, led a decisive assault.

The intensity of the battle was incredibly dramatic. Street battles lasted 6 days. Every Carthaginian house turned into a fortress, and even women and children took up arms.

At the end of the week, the surviving Carthaginians took refuge in the city citadel of Birce. The Romans failed to capture it, then they took it under siege. After a while, the priests of Eshmun begged Scipio to give life to the remnants of the townspeople. Having received consent, about 50 thousand inhabitants left the fortification. In exchange for life, they were enslaved.

The resistance was continued by a little more than a thousand Carthaginians – the commander of the defense Hasdrubal Boetarch, his patriots with their families and 900 Roman defectors who did not hope for leniency. Not wanting to die of hunger, they locked themselves in the temple of Eshmun and set it on fire. However, at the last moment Hasdrubal could not resist. After running out of the burning temple, the commander prayed to save the life of his wife and children. Seeing this, Hasdrubal’s wife called her husband a coward. The woman threw her children into the fire and followed them herself. Distraught with grief, Hasdrubal pierced himself with a sword. So the last defenders of Carthage perished.

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More than 600,000 Carthaginians died during three years of siege and street fighting. Only 50 thousand residents survived, losing their freedom.

Despite the efforts of the Senate, a Roman colony named after Julius Caesar was built on the ruins of Carthage 100 years later. In 439, this colony was captured by the Vandal tribes. A hundred years later, the colony was recaptured by the Byzantines, and in 698 by the Arabs, who put an end to the existence of the centuries-old city.

Pinch of irony

Let me add a pinch of irony to this good story:

Who took by storm and sacked Rome in 455? Vandals. And where did the vandals come to Italy? From the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa, whose capital was Carthage (the one re-founded by Julius Caesar).

So, ironically, after 600 years, Rome and Carthage changed places.

Delegation from Rome or what is Roman envy

In 153 BC. half a century has passed since the end of the Second Punic War. The deadline for the payment of the annual contribution of 200 talents ended, which at that time was a huge amount. The Romans sent a delegation to the capital of the once defeated enemy to assess the situation on the spot. The Romans, of course, knew that Carthage had recovered since then, especially economically (it was still forbidden to have a strong navy). But they couldn’t even imagine how effectively the Punyans were using the respite given to them.


The richest city opened to the eyes of the Roman delegation. The Romans already felt the pressure of the Carthaginians on their markets (the Carthaginian guilds were the first to master the mass production of consumer goods and actively traded them throughout the Mediterranean Sea), but only now they realized that it was simply pointless to compete with the Punyans in industry and trade. Rome was losing economic competition. The Roman patricians, in particular the head of the delegation of Marcus Portius Cato, were not at all happy with this prospect.


Mark Porcius Cato, II century. BC. Immediately upon his return to Rome, Cato began a propaganda campaign. He was constantly reminded of the Carthaginian threat to Roman business. It was not just about large traders. Carthaginian goods were sold cheaper than those made by Roman craftsmen, so Cato was immediately supported by the artisans of Rome. And also all the Romans who were involved in the sea trade. The shipyards of Carthage, having lost the ability to build warships, switched to the mass production of merchant ships. Whichever coast the Roman sailors appeared on, there was already a Carthaginian merchant ready to outbid their prices. It was impossible to kill or rob an impudent competitor, because Rome and Carthage had a peace treaty, and the Romans honored the law.

Publius Cornelius Scipio in the computer game “Total War: Arena”.

Publius Cornelius Scipio in the computer game “Total War: Arena”. Cato ended each of his speeches in the Senate with the phrase: “Carthage must be destroyed!” Three years later, his appeal was heard. Rome gathered a huge army and fleet, which was supposed to transport troops to Africa. In the winter of 149 BC. 80 thousand Roman soldiers, led by the talented young commander Publius Cornelius Scipio Emilian, landed in Utica. The population of this small North African city did not like their powerful neighbor very much, so they gladly helped the Romans.

Roman legion in Africa. Painting by a contemporary artist.

Roman legion in Africa. Painting by a contemporary artist. An ultimatum was presented to Carthage. The official representative of Rome, the consul Lucius Marcius Censorinus, demanded that all weapons be surrendered and the 300 most noble citizens of Carthage be handed over as hostages. Why exactly so many? Carthage was ruled by the so-called “council of three hundred”, which consisted of representatives of the richest and most influential families. In fact, the Romans demanded that the entire government be handed over to them. Frightened by the Roman power, which Carthage could not resist (the regular army of Carthage, together with the city guards, numbered only about 30 thousand soldiers at that time), the townspeople agreed to all Roman conditions.

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The storming of the walls of Carthage by the Romans. Painting by a contemporary artist.

The storming of the walls of Carthage by the Romans. Painting by a contemporary artist. After that, the Romans put forward new requirements: all townspeople were ordered to leave their homes and settle in any other place, but no closer than 10 miles from the sea coast. The Carthaginians thereby lost the opportunity to conduct maritime trade. The city of Carthage itself was to be destroyed. Of course, the inhabitants of Carthage refused. The Romans immediately launched an assault, which was repulsed. The long siege began. The Romans eventually captured Carthage, whose population was starving and could no longer offer organized resistance.

The last battle on the rooftops of Carthage. Painting by a contemporary artist.

The last battle on the rooftops of Carthage. Painting by a contemporary artist. From 50 to 55 thousand townspeople, mainly old people, women and children, were taken prisoner. They were enslaved and sent to Rome. Carthage was set on fire and burned for 17 days, after which a symbolic furrow was drawn on the ashes and sprinkled with salt, as a sign that the city would never be reborn. What happened to the rest of the townspeople? After all, before the Roman invasion, about 700 thousand people lived in this ancient metropolis.

Ruins of Carthage in our time.

Ruins of Carthage in our time. Approximately 120 thousand inhabitants of Carthage took part in the defense of their native city. Some of them fought outside the city walls, alarming the Romans with raids from the desert. Very few survived, who managed to escape and hide in the surrounding villages. Many of the rest of the population died of hunger, perished during the assault and during the fires.
Punic merchant ship. Contemporary illustration.

Punic merchant ship. Contemporary illustration. Rome could not provide a complete blockade of Carthage from the sea, the sailors delivered food to the townspeople until the last months of the siege. Of course, they did not refuse to take those who wanted to be saved from the doomed capital. Punic settlements were located on all shores of the Mediterranean Sea, so the refugees had a place to settle down. The sailors also took their families from Carthage. Therefore, despite the destruction of Carthage, the Punic language could be heard for many centuries in the markets of a variety of coastal cities, including Roman ones.

Market of ancient Rome. Painting by a contemporary artist.

Market of ancient Rome. Painting by a contemporary artist. The Romans did not at all seek to kill all the Carthaginians without exception. They did not touch those who lived outside Carthage at all. Many former prisoners eventually assimilated in Rome itself. The cunning ones made an agreement with the owners, became freedmen and did what the Punyans did best – trade, sharing profits with their Roman patrons.

Reconstruction of the appearance of the Carthaginian navigator. Museum of the city of Tars, Turkey

Reconstruction of the appearance of the Carthaginian navigator. Museum of the city of Tars, Turkey. To summarize, we can say that Carthage’s industry was completely destroyed, as was the city itself, but the Punic maritime trade network survived, merging with the Roman Mediterranean trade.

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