The Romans fought three major wars against the Phoenicians of Carthage, during a 120 year period. Carthage was an oligarchy located in northern Africa. It was the center of a giant Mediterranean trading network that had existed for hundreds of years prior to the establishment of the Roman Empire. The wars became known as the Punic Wars. This was because the Romans called the Cathaginians Punici, which was their word for Phoenician.
The first Punic War lasted from 264-241 B.C. At this time, the Roman Senate was prepared to spend whatever it took to beat the Carthaginians. People in Rome didn't like the fact that the Phoenician religion practiced child sacrifice. The losses were staggering. The Romans lost more than 250,000 men in the war. They also lost over 500 ships. As a result, they gained control of Sicily. By the end of the 3rd century, the Romans controlled over 120,000 square miles.
Probably the greatest Carthaginian general to emerge from the First Punic War was Hamilacar Barca. Hamilacar was never defeated by the Romans. For a long time, Hamilcar had realized that there would be a second Punic War. He decided to prepare for it by strengthening his army and expanding the empire into southern Spain. Hamilacar died in 228 B.C.,and his son-in-law, Hasdrubal took over. Hasdrubal started where Hamilacar left off. He continued to expand the empire into Spain. Hasdrubal ruled 7 years before he was assassinated in 221 B.C. Now it was the the son of Hamilacar Barca's turn to rule the Carthaginians. His name was Hannibal.
At the outbreak of the Second Punic War, Hannibal assembled an army of 90,000 men for a march from Spain to Italy. Forty elephants carried their supplies. It was an amazing sight to see. After a short time, Hannibal decided to take his men through the snow covered mountains called the Alps. It was a miserable journey. He lost thousands of his men in the bitter cold, and only 1 elephant lived. By the time they entered northern Italy only 1 in 3 of his men were alive. Exhausted, Hannibal and his men finally arrived on the battlefield where they defeated an enormous Roman army of 26,000 men. Then in Cannae, Hannibal would again defeat the Romans. Only this time they killed over 30,000 men. No Roman army was able to stop Hannibal. For the next 15 years his army ravaged Italy. The Romans developed the only tactic that worked. They began attacking Hannibal's supply lines. Sometimes this meant relentless attacks.
Finally, a great Roman general emerged. His name was Scipio, and he was only 32 years old. Scripio did not want to meet Hannibal in Italy. Instead, he and his men sailed to North Africa to attack Carthage. The two sides met at a place called Zama about 100 miles southwest of Carthage. On October 19, 202 B.C., Hannibal started the battle with an elephant charge. Then, to his surprise, just as the elephants bore down on the Romans for the kill, the Roman's blasted their trumpets as loud as they could. As a result, the elephants turned around and ran straight back into Hannibal's army leaving it in shambles. The Romans had won the Second Punic War. Finally, during the 3rd Punic War, the Romans destroyed the city of Carthage once and for all. They sold all of the inhabitants into slavery.
Hannibal leads his elephants across the Rhone River