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Carthage: The Lost Mediterranean Civilisation

Little remains of the great North African empire that was Rome's most formidable enemy, because, as Richard Miles explains, only its complete annihilation could satisfy its younger rival.

Thermes of Antoninus Pius, CarthageIn the spring of 146 BC the North African city-state of Carthage finally fell. After three years of embarrassing setbacks, the Roman army under its new and relatively inexperienced commander, Scipio Aemilianus, had managed to break through the Carthaginian defences and establish an all-important bridgehead at Carthage’s circular war harbour, an engineering masterpiece with capacity for at least 170 ships and ramps to drag the craft to and from the water’s edge.

The Roman forces were in a position to launch a final assault on the Byrsa, the citadel of Carthage and the religious and administrative heart of the city. The legionaries were, however, forced to fight every step of the way on the narrow streets that led up the hill as desperate defenders rained missiles down on them. Despite this stiff resistance, it was now a question of when rather than if Carthage would fall.

The Carthaginians who had sought refuge in the tall houses that flanked the city’s streets were flushed out by fire and the sword. The Greek historian Appian, whose writings are the main surviving source for this episode, wrote of how Scipio employed squads of soldiers to drag burnt and mutilated corpses off the streets so that the progress of his legionaries was impeded no further.

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