The Historical Context


Briefly describe the growth of the Roman Republic to 264bc

a. Tarquinius Superbus overthrown, 509bc

Initially, Rome was ruled by king but, when the seventh king Tarquin the Proud disregarded the Senate and his son raped a Roman noblewoman, he was deposed by a revolution led by two senators, Brutus and Collatinus; in the war that followed, Horatio held the bridge.

b. Legendary Wars, 5th century bc

The Romans defeated or subjugated the tribes of central Italy - notably the Volscii, the Veii and the Sabines; few facts are known about this period, only legends.

c. Gallic invasion, 390-387bc

Celtic tribes invaded from Gaul; they conquered the north of Italy (Cisalpine Gaul) and sacked Rome.

d. Samnite Wars, 343-282bc

The Romans conquered central Italy and established their rule over the tribes and cities there.

e. Pyrrhic War, 280-275bc

The south of Italy was ruled by Greek trading colonies; after a series of 'pyrrhic' victories, the Greek commander Pyrrhus withdrew from Italy.



Briefly describe the growth of the Carthaginian Empire to 264bc 

a. Carthage established, 814bc

Carthage was establised as a Phoenician trading colony, allegedly by Queen Dido; over the next two centuries it established control over the local Libyan and Numidian tribes.

b. Sardinia and Spain, 580-540bc

The Carthaginians took control of Sardinia after the Battle of Alalia (c. 540bc) and after the fall of Tyre in 580bc gradually took control of Phoenician trading colonies such as Gades (Cadiz) and other towns in Spain.

c. Himlico and Hanno, 450-420bc

Himlico sailed as far as Britain and Hanno explored the coast of Africa (450-420bc)

d. Sicily

War broke out with the Greeks over Sicily in 580bc; the Carthaginians were defeated in the battle of Himera (480bc), were invaded by a Greek force in 310-307bc, and were restricted to the Epikrateia (area of 'predominance') in the west of Sicily; the area remained a source of conflict.

e. Treaties with Rome

The Etruscans were Carthage's allies against the Greeks, and - when they were defeated by the Romans - Carthage sought alliances with Rome (509 and 348 bc); Roman traders were excluded from Sardinia, Libya, and this confirmed Carthaginian control over trade in the Western Mediterranean.



Briefly describe the government of Rome in the 3rd century bc  

a. Assembly of the Centuries

There were a number of popular assemblies; the most important was the Assembly of the Centuries', which elected the Consuls, vetted laws, declared war and served as the court of appeal; Roman citizens were protected by provocatio (a kind of habeas corpus) and could appeal against any government official to the Tribunes.

b. The Senate

A body of aristocrats appointed by the Consuls (i.e. not elected) which controlled finance,administration and foreign policy; it gave 'advice' to the magistrates which had to be followed.

c. Magistrates

A range of magistrates administered the government (praetors who administered the laws, censors who conducted a census, aediles who ran the day-to-day government of the city, and Tribunes who protected the constitution and he rights of individuals); they were appointed in twos, so that one restrained the other.

d. The Consuls

The highest-ranking magistrates, elected for one year, who were head of the government; they chaired the Senate and the Assembly of the Centuries, and acted as generals of the army.

e. Dictators

In a crisis, a dictator would be appointed for a term of 6 months with absolute power; the Senate would not meet.



Briefly describe the government of the Carthaginian Empire in the 3rd century bc 

a. The Assembly of Citizens

Like Rome, Carthage was a Republic, with power theoretically in the hands of 'the Assembly' - the all-male meeting of citizens which had the 'sovereign decision' over laws; Aristotle thought the system too democratic, because decisions were taken to the Assembly whenever the suffetes and Mighty Ones could not come to a unanimous decision (Polybius too said that the citizens had more power than in Rome) ... but events show that it still rubber-stamped the decisions of the city's leaders.

b. The 'Mighty Ones'

An elected body of 300, equivalent to the Roman Senate, which controlled the Treasury and foreign policy. It was dominated by the noble families, and there seems to have been a 'peace party' led by Hanno the Great) and a war party (led by the Barcids).

c. The Tribunal of the 104

A kind of 'Supreme Court' of magistrates which guarded the constitution, acted as judges in lawsuits and monitored the generals (unsuccessful generals were crucified).

d. The Pentarchies

According to Aristotle, Boards-of-Five were set up 'which control many important matters'; Aristotle praises the way these were chosen on merit, but criticised the way they came only from the leading families.

e. The Suffetes

Two 'judges' elected annually by the Assembly, who ran the day-to-day government and officials (equivalent to the Roman 'consuls', though Polybius and Aristotle refer to them as 'kings').



Briefly describe the armed forces of Rome in the 3rd century bc 

a. A Citizen Army

Drawn from Rome and the allied Italian states.

b. Legions

In 218 a Legion consisted of 4200 Roman infantry and 300 Roman cavalry, with perhaps 8000 extra Alied troops; a Consul would command two legions, so a Roman Army was usually about 25,000 men. By 212bc, however, there were 25 Legions in the field, and the Roman army at Cannae was 80,000 strong.

c. Hastati, principes and triarii

Roman infantry fought in thee lines - hastati (the youngest soldiers) in the front, then the principes (most experienced heavy infantry), and the triarii (veterans) behind, plus light armed velites would open the attack, and the equites (cavalry) would occupy the wings of the army; this formation proved very successful against a rush of Gaulish tribesmen.

d. Maniples

The army was organised into maniples of 140 men; this gave it a flexibility which allowed it to defeat a Greek phalanx; however, complex manoeuvres were unusual in the Roman army, which stressed instead discipline and fighting to the death.

e. Roman weapons

A Roman Legionary fought with a rectangular scutum (shield), a short two-edged sword, with javelins or spears; they wore helmets and a breast-plate.



Briefly describe the armed forces of the Carthaginian Empire in the 3rd century bc  

a. A professional army

Unlike the Roman Army, Carthaginian generals were professional and full-time, drawn from a 'Sacred Band' of about 2500 full-time soldiers.

b. Smaller Numbers

Hannibal left 11,000 troops in Spain, allowed others to return home at the Rhone, and lost many soldiers in the Alps; he only had 12,000 troops when he arrived in Italy (and just one elephant). Although he made up numbers from Gaulish and Italian recruits, he was not reinforced from Carthage, so he had to look after his armies in a way the Romans did not.

c. The Army

After the 'Truceless War' (a revolt of mercenaries, 241-237bc), the Carthaginians did not use mercenaries - their army consisted mainly of 'African' (= Libyphoenician) and Spanish levies, with units of Gauls and Italians who joined after Cannae; in additions to the Carthaginian cavalry, there were units of Numidian and Gaulish cavalry.

d. Tactics

ThHannibal seems to have had a very flexible approach to tactics, which he developed for the situation - there was therefore no set form of battle; his success came from his highly-skilled cavalry, and hos ability to develop surprise tactics on the spot.

e. Carthaginian weapons

At first, Hannibal's army was very diverse - Carthaginians with a round shield and spear, Spaniards with white tunics and short swords, Gauls naked from the waist-up, Balearic islanders with slingshots, and elephants; as the war went on and Hannibal equipped his army from the spoils of war, his men used Roman weapons and armour. They also had catapults and ballistae siege weapons.



Explain why conflict arose between Rome and Carthage in the 3rd century bc  

a. Two growing empires

The Treaty of 348 bc excluded Roman traders from Sardinia, Libya, and confirmed Carthaginian control over trade in the Western Mediterranean, so it was inevitable that, as Rome's power grew, she would challenge this Carthaginian domination; historians have suggested that the victory over Pyrrhus gave the Romans the confidence to do so.

b. Jacques Heurgon's theory

In 1969, French Latinist Jacques Heurgon suggested that Rome needed to keep expanding to produce the food and money survive - 'it was dragged ever onwards by the mechanism of its conquests'.

c. Sicily

Having driven the Greeks from southern Italy, it was natural that the Romans should wish to drive the Carthaginians from Sicily; when war broke out in Sicily in 264bc between the city of Syracuse and the the Mamertines, mercenaries who had taken over the city of Messina, the Romans went to the aid of the Mamertines, whilst the Carthaginians supported Syracuse. The gave Rome her opportunity and causus belli.

d. The Atilii

The capture of southern Italy from the Greeks helped the southern Atilius family and their clients to come to power in Rome Atilii held the Consulship seven times 267-245) - it was southern Italy most threatened by the Carthaginian presence in Sicily.

e. Pottery

About this time, archaeology shows, exports of Roman pottery to Africa began to grow - Roman would have wanted to take advantage of this trade at Carthage's expense and the Treaty of 348bc got in the way.



Briefly describe the First Punic War, 264-241bc 

a. The Mamertines and Syracuse, 264bc

When war broke out in Sicily in 264bc between the city of Syracuse and the the Mamertines, mercenaries who had taken over the city of Messina, the Romans went to the aid of the Mamertines, whilst the Carthaginians supported Syracuse.

b. Battle of Agrigentum, 262bc

After the Romans defeated General Hanno and his army of mercenaries at Agrigentum, the Carthaginians resolved not to fight the Romans on land, but protected their cities using their navy.

c. Roman naval victories, 260-256bc

Polybius describes how the Romans built a navy and invented 'the corvus' (raven) boarding platform; they defeated the Carthaginian navy at Mylae; cut off from help by sea, the Carthaginian cities became besieged 'islands of influence'.

d. Roman invasion of Africa, 256-255bc

A Roman Army led by Regulus defeated the Carthaginian navy at Cape Ecnomus and invaded Africa; although he was eventually defeated at the Battle of Tunis by Xanthippus, a Greek mercenary general, the Roman fleet was able to evacuate the Roman army.

e. Hamilcar Barca, 247-241bc

In 249bc, at the battle of Drepana, the Carthaginian Navy won back control of the seas; the Carthaginians sent Hamilcar Barca to Sicily, who held back the Romans with guerrilla tactics, but when the Roman naval victory at the Aegates Islands (241bc) he was cut off from his supplies, and had to negotiate a truce and abandon Sicily - whereupon the Carthaginians sued for peace (agreeing to cede Sicily and pay a war indemnity of 66 tons of silver).



Explain why the Romans won the First Punic War 

a. Military superiority

Especially at the beginning of the war; although the Carthaginian army improved under Xanthippus and Hamilcar Barca, it was always smaller (fighting overseas) and inferior to the trained Roman forces.

b. The Roman Navy

Especially with the invention of the corvus; the resulting Roman naval blockade isolated the Carthaginian cities and armies from help.

c. Rome's resources

Rome just 'kept going' - 'So the Romans and Carthaginians, worn out by their exertions owing to the continual fighting, at length began to be despairing, their strength paralysed and their resources exhausted by protracted taxation and expense. But, in spite of all, the Romans, as if fighting for their lives [raised a third navy].' TWO fleets were lost to storms, and in all some 700 ships were lost, Polybius, who called the war 'the bloodiest in history' estimated that 400,000 men died, mostly Romans.

d. Carthage's maritime empire

Carthage's wealth was based on TRADE, so the war and the cost of the navy was ruining her the longer it went on; by contrast, Rome was an expansionist military machine which relied on conquest to pay for itself.

e. Hanno the Great

Hanno was leader of the peace party in Carthaginian politics; coming to power in 244bc he disbanded the navy (leading to the defeat at the Aegates Islands and Hamilcar's defeat).



Explain the significance of the First Punic War  

a. The Roman Empire

Sicily was Rome's first conquests beyind the Italian mainland (i.e. as Polybius said, it was the start of her overseas empire, and thereby of that desire to expand to conquer the world).  David Taylor has pointed out that the conceit of 'protecting an ally' - which the Romans had used as the pretext for war in 264bc (the Mamertines) - was used again as the pretext for the Second Punic War (Saguntum) ... and essentially gave the Romans a carte blanche to interfere in any state in any part of the world they wanted.

b. The Roman Navy

Before the First Punic War, Rome had been a land-based state with a powerful army; the war had convinced the Romans that they needed a navy ... and Rome thereafter was a maritime power as well - which was always going to create a further clash with Carthage, as Rome expanded outwards (contrary to the 348bc Treaty) into the western Mediterranean.

c. Carthage was weakened

Carthage was hugely weakened by the war and its aftermath.  The Carthaginians lost Sicily (which had supplied them with grain).  They had to pay a war indemnity of 66 tons of silver.  They were then rocked by the mutiny of the mercenaries (the Truceless War) and a slave revolt, during which the Romans annexed Sardinia.

d. Carthaginian conquest of Spain, 237-220bc

Defeated in Sicily, the Carthaginians (led by Hamilcar) decided to abandon the central Mediterranean and they built up instead colonies in north Africa and in Spain; this policy, ultimately, led to the Second Punic War because Rome feared a powerful land-empire in Spain as much as it did a Carthaginian foothold in Sicily - hence the Ebro Treaty of 226bc and the clash over Saguntum.

e. Hamilcar Barca

Even if the story of Hamilcar making his son at the age of 9 swear never to be a friend to Rome is not true, it is clear that he communicated to him a lifelong hatred of Rome and a desire for revenge; that this feeling was general amongst the people of Carthage is shown in that Hamilcar was able to build up a 'war party' in Carthage ... which was why, when the Roman delegates offered 'peace or war' in 218bc, the Assembly supported Hannibal and chose war








The following web pages will help you complete the task:

This document contains the relevant sections of the set
OCR Textbook.

Dexter Hoyos's introduction to Livy: Hannibal's War Books21-30 is difficult, but helpful ... and corrects your textbook in some respects



  1.  Use the notes above to write answers to the questions on the Context worksheet.

 2.  Read the following passages from Polybius, and write answers to the questions which follow:

Polybius, book 6, Chapter 51
The constitution of Carthage seems to me to have been originally well contrived as regards its most distinctive points. For there were kings, and the house of Elders was an aristocratical force, and the people were supreme in matters proper to them, the entire frame of the state much resembling that of Rome and Sparta. But at the time when they entered on the Hannibalic War, the Carthaginian constitution had degenerated, and that of Rome was better...  Consequently the multitude at Carthage had already acquired the chief voice in deliberations; while at Rome the senate still retained this; and hence, as in one case the masses deliberated and in the other the most eminent men, the Roman decisions on public affairs were superior.

What does this passage tell us about the Carthaginian government?  [4]

In your opinion, how reliable is Polybius’s account of the Carthaginian government?
You must refer both to this passage, and to your knowledge of Polybius as a writer. [5]


Polybius, book 1, Chapter 64
The progress of the Romans was not due to chance and was not involuntary, as some among the Greeks choose to think, but that by schooling themselves in such vast and perilous enterprises it was perfectly natural that they not only gained the courage to aim at universal dominion, but executed their purpose… As regards, however, the war of which we are speaking, one will find its purpose and prosecution on the part of the two states equally characterized on both sides by enterprise, by lofty spirit, and above all by ambition for supremacy. In individual courage indeed the Romans were far superior on the whole, but the general to whom the palm must be given both for daring and for genius is Hamilcar called Barcas, the actual father of that Hannibal who afterwards made war on the Romans.

Explain why Rome won the First Punic War.  [4]