Punic military forces

Punic military forces

The military forces of the Punic people are all military forces from the State of Carthage in North Africa and troops of Punic ethnicity after the destruction of Carthage in the Third Punic War. The "polis" Carthage had subdued a large region in the Maghreb, roughly resembling modern Tunisia, and controlled the coasts of Tripolitania and today's Morocco with bases along the rest of the Maghreb's shore. The remaining Numidian tribal kingdoms of the Maghreb felt Carthage's influence during its heyday. However, with Roman support after the Second Punic War a short-lived united Numidian kingdom was established, taking over Carthage's former influence in the Maghreb with Punic know-how continuing to play an important role until the Roman conquest. [Punic religion and culture ended in Christian times, not after the fall of Carthage. ] Overseas the Punic people's conquests and political influence covered most of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Iberian peninsula [Further cities with the name 'Carthage' were in Sardinia and Iberia.] . Most records about Carthage's military are from conflicts in these regions. Contrary to the usual mode of warfare in Africa there was a stronger reliance on foreign mercenary forces for the land warfare while the fleet was manned with Africans. [Africans are natives from Punic Africa in this context no matter what ethnic group.] From the Sicilian Wars and the Punic Wars the records about these troops are almost exclusively from their respective enemies. However, we do know that in the Pyrrhic War Carthage's navy helped their Roman allies.

Carthaginian military tradition

According to the historian A. Heuss:

"The central problem concerning Carthaginian political institutions is their relation to military aspects." ("Das zentrale Problem des karthagischen Staatslebens ist sein Verhältnis zum Militärwesen.") [Ameling, Walter "Karthago: Studien zu Militär, Staat und Gesellschaft" p. 7, quoting A. Heuss "Die Gestaltung des römischen und karthagischen Staates bis zum Pyrrhuskrieg" in: RuK, p. 114]

Carthage was founded by nobles from the Phoenician city of Tyre and from Cyprus. From the start it was a complete and independent city on a spot with favorable access to important resources such as clay and sea salt. Carthage in North Africa then became the cradle and center of the Punic state which spread across the Mediterranean. Carthage's military traditions showed its Phoenician roots and reflected native Libyan and Greek influences.

It has traditionally been argued that Carthage was a peaceful city of merchants or a brutal colonial power and both theories were rather dependent upon modern perceptions. [ Ameling, 2] Almost all approaches towards Carthage have in common the fact that they do not look at Carthaginian policy-making as such, but rather its structure in a fundamental contrast to that of Rome. [Ameling, 3] However, the "polis" Carthage was over the course of several centuries the dominant power in the Western Mediterranean and could establish its "symmachy" over large territories which were also deeply influenced by the Punic culture. It played a very important role in the urbanization of Northern Africa, where the Punic language was to persist until the 5th century AD. [Ameling, 2f]

The idea that mercantile business and warlike spirit are contradictory dates to the Age of Enlightenment [Ameling, 7] and is generally not shared by ancient sources such as Vergil, who writes in "Aeneid" 1,444f. on Carthage: for this reason shall the people be glorius in war and acquire food esily for centuries ("sic nam fore bello / egregiam et facilem victu per saecula gentem"). Livy already points out that Carthage did house a body of professional soldiers until sometime after the Second Punic War. Other sources can be interpreted to refer to a high degree of military professionalism in the small Punic population whose constitution Aristotle groups along with those of Sparta and Crete. So there is an ongoing debate among historians about the extent of Carthage's military spirit. [Ameling, 7] It should be pointed out that the sources on the Punic forces are rare and not easily accessible because they are almost exclusively written by their opponents in war. [Ameling, Walter "Karthago: Studien zu Militär, Staat und Gesellschaft" ISBN 3-406-37490-5] . An inscription discovered in Carthage seems to confirm the doubts raised by the lack of sources concerning members of the nobility in the trading business. The translation (which is, like all translations from the Punic, disputed in details) only mentions in the existing parts merchants among the people with little money, while owners of producing facilities are mentioned among those with more money. [http://www.cartage.org.lb/en/themes/GeogHist/histories/Oldcivilization/phoenicia/origin/puniclit/inscriptions.html] Similar doubts were raised earlier because our only source on a Punic in the trading business is the play "Poenulus" and the Carthaginian presented there is a rather humble merchant.An important part of the Punic culture seems to have consisted in their devotion to the gods, and their well-known units, called "Sacred Bands" by our Greek sourcesSpecify|date=July 2007, are regarded as the elite troops of their time. These consisted of infantry troops and cavalry units. The latter were formed by young nobles of the city devoting their life to military training.Fact|date=July 2007

Mercenaries in the forces of Carthage

Ancient authors such as Polybius tend to stress the reliance of Carthage on foreign mercenaries. [Polybius, Book 6, 52. [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0234&query=head%3D%23524 On The Perseus Project]

The former (the Romans - editor's note) bestow their whole attention upon this department (upon military service on land - editor's note): whereas the Carthaginians wholly neglect their infantry, though they do take some slight interest in the cavalry. The reason of this is that they employ foreign mercenaries, the Romans native and citizen levies. It is in this point that the latter polity is preferable to the former. They have their hopes of freedom ever resting on the courage of mercenary troops: the Romans on the valour of their own citizens and the aid of their allies.
] However, the term 'mercenary' is in fact a little misleading and does not fully represent the unique Carthaginian arrangement that equally recruited subjects of Punic-ruled areas and foreigners.Fact|date=July 2007 These units were mostly deployed in the expeditionary armies overseas, while in Africa Punic militias formed the backbone of the troops.Fact|date=July 2007

Units were generally segregated by ethnicity which was also a criterion for the respective specialisation. While within a unit communication in the native tongue was possible, between the units Greek and Punic helped to establish communication. According to Polybius this enabled the insurgents during the Mercenary War, which is also the only recorded large mutiny of Carthage's troops, to communicate with each other on higher levels.

The reported causes for this conflict were that following the First Punic War against Rome, payment of the mercenaries was delayed for over a year. When finally arrangements for payment were made the mistrust between the mercenaries and their employer helped to kindle the war. The native African Lybians, the largest contingent of the 'mercenaries', objected to being paid last while their comrades had been shipped home. Fear had spread that this might be a trap of the Carthaginians to exterminate them without payment and save their silver, after having crippled their army of the specialized supportive arms units. The conditions for the payment were rejected, although their former commander, Gisco, had provided them with his own person and 500 other nobles as hostages to reassure them of Carthage's sincere and honest intentions. The mercenaries and supporting native insurgents began attacking Carthaginian targets and urging the Lybian natives to rise. According to our sources the war was conducted in a particularly brutal fashion and ended, after three years, with the total destruction of the mercenary and insurgent forces.

It would be difficult to say precisely what a typical make-up of Carthage's armies would be, but in the Punic wars, they are reported to have included Iberians, Celtic people(Gauls and Celtiberians), Balearic slingers, Italians (e.g.Ligures), native Sicilian tribesmen, Black Africans, Numidians, Lybians and Lybophoenicians (also called Africans), Greeks, and naturally Punics from Carthage and its external settlements.

Formation and structure

The Greek sources referred to the commander of Punic forces as strategos or boetarch. The former could at the same time also be a military governor and is known to have had the authority to sign treaties. In areas of conflict we find often dual command and not all of these strategoi seem to be concerned with governing provinces. It seems that Carthage's nobles could afford and were legally allowed to sustain their own armies. Furthermore we tend to find evidence that many individuals from the leading families of Carthage served in the military forces.

Notably the hired units were deployed with their own command structure. As Carthage sent out specific recruiters who bargained contracts with each soldier/corps of soldiers it is possible that these also served as officers responsible for the integration of their units into the army. Polybius noted for the mercenary war that the mercenaries were told to ask their commanding officers for payment, what frustrated them to such an extend that they elected new ones. In the army payment was done per unit with subordinates responsible for the further distribution.

We have no written records of Carthage's military activities from the Punics, only from Greek and Roman writers and these are limited to a few wars.

The Libyans supplied both heavy and light infantry and formed the most disciplined units of the army. The heavy infantry fought in close formation, armed with long spears and round shields, wearing helmets and linen cuirasses. The light Libyan infantry carried javelins and a small shield, same as Iberian light infantry. The Iberian infantry wore purple bordered white tunics and leather headgear. The Heavy infantry fought in a dense phalanx, armed with heavy throwing spears, long body shields and short thrusting swords. [Goldsworthy, Adrian, "The fall of Carthage", p 32 ISBN 0-253-33546-9] Campanian, Sardinian and Gallic infantry fought in their native gear, [Makroe, Glenn E., "Phoenicians", p 84-86 ISBN 0-520-22614-3] but often were equipped by Carthage.Polybius seems to suggest that Hannibal's heavy Libyan infantry was equipped with the sarissa (pike), thus forming a Macedonian style phalanx. Although this account is disputed by many experts and Polybius himself is not clear in his descriptions of the great general's battles, he mentions Hannibal when he makes his famed comparison between the Roman maniple and the Macedonian phalanx. [Polybius, "Historiai", 18.28-32]

The Libyans, Carthaginian citizens and the Libyo-Phoenicians provided disciplined, well trained cavalry equipped with thrusting spears and round shields. Numidia provided superb light cavalry, highly skilled in skirmishing tactics, armed with bundles of javelins, a small round shield and riding without bridle or saddle. Iberians and Gauls also provided cavalry, which relied on the all out charge. The Libyans provided the bulk of the heavy, four horse war chariots for Carthage, used before the Second Punic War. [Warry, John, "Warfare in the Classical Age", p 98-99 ISBN 1-56619-436-6] Allied cities of the Punic hegemony contributed contingents for the army as well. Carthaginian officer corps held overall command of the army, although many units may have fought under their chieftains.

Elephants were also used at a great extent from the Carthaginian military within and without Africa. They were used in Iberia, in Gaul and of course in Italy. These beasts were of the smaller north African stock and should not be confused with either the African elephants of today or the Indian elephants used by the Seleucids.Fact|date=September 2008

* Iberian Peninsula War
* First Sicilian War
* Second Sicilian War
* Third Sicilian War
* Pyrrhic War - in alliance with the Roman Republic
* First Punic War
* Mercenary War
* Second Punic War
* Third Punic War - Carthage, the center of the Punic power, was destroyed as a result of the war.
* Numidian War Punics and bearers of Punic names among the Roman enemies [cite web |url=http://www.livius.org/ap-ark/appian/appian_numidia.html
title=The Numidian War §1 and §5
work=History of Rome: The Numidian War

Naval forces

The navy of Carthage was the city's primary security, and it was the preeminent force patrolling the Mediterranean in Carthage's golden age. This was due to its central location, control of the pathway between Sicily and Tunisia, through which all ships must travel in order to cross the Mediterranean, and the skill with which its ships were designed and built.Fact|date=April 2007

Originally based on Tyrian designs with two or three levels of rowers that were perfected by generations of Phoenician seamanshipFact|date=April 2007, it also included quadriremes and quinquiremes, warships with four and five ranks of rowers on no more than 3 levels (see galleys). These latter ships were much larger than their predecessors. Archaeological investigations confirm the presence of ship-sheds on the island in the circular harbour reported by ancient sources.

A large part of the sailors on the fleet were recruited from the lower class citizenry, the navy offering a profession and financial security. This helped to contribute to the city's political stability, since the unemployed, debt ridden poor in other cities were frequently inclined to support revolutionary leaders in the hope of improving their own lot. [Adrian Goldsworthy - The Fall of Carthage]

Polybius wrote in the sixth book of his History that the Carthaginians were, "more exercised in maritime affairs than any other people." [Polybius, History Book 6] Their navy included some 300 to 350 warships that continuously patrolled the expanse of the Mediterranean. But the Carthaginian hegemony was never so great. The Romans, unable to defeat them through conventional maritime tactics, were forcedFact|date=April 2007 to simply board the ships and fight in hand to hand combat.



*Ameling, Walter, "Karthago: Studien zu Militär, Staat und Gesellschaft", C. H. Beck - Munich, 1993 ISBN 3406374905
*Luce, T.J. (tr.), "Livy: The Rise of Rome: Books One to Five", OUP - Oxford and New York, 1998 ISBN 0192822969
*Lancel, Serge, "Carthage: A History", Blackwell - Oxford, 1997 ISBN 1557864683
*Grant, Michael, "The History of Rome", Weidenfield and Nicholson - London, 1993 ISBN 0297817108
*Liddell Hart, B.H, "Scipio Africanus: greater than Napoleon", Da Capo - New York, 1994 ISBN 0306805839
*Matyszak, P, "The Enemies of Rome: from Hannibal to Attila the Hun", Thames & Hudson - London, 2004 ISBN 050025124X
*Goldsworthy, A, "The Punic Wars", Cassell & Co - London, 2000 ISBN 0304352845

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