It was Tacitus, who a century after Carthage’s downfall would famously quote British chieftain Calgacus in his Histories when the British leader reflected upon what a “Roman peace” looks like. Calgacus, who had likely never been to that north African nation, declared that, “They [Romans] plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace ”
Indeed, “Pax Romana” was almost always at the razor sharp end of a gladius. In Carthage Must Be Destroyed, Miles uses new documentary evidence and scholarly research to reassess what brought down the western Mediterranean rival and earned it a place of fear and hatred in Rome’s history almost greater than the barbarians or eastern hordes that would occupy such a prolific place in the nightmares of the Roman elite.
Miles works to dispel the age-old story since antiquity that the conflict was a to-the-death match between the bastion of civilization (Rome) and the miserable, terror inducing, villains of Africa (Carthage). Instead of relying on this tired and boring narrative, Miles seeks to understand what brought these two great nations to arms and why their fervor to destroy the other was as brutal as it was, even for the ancient world.
Miles studious review of the warring nations shows a keen historical perspective. The conflict was not simply just a fight for dominion of trade or command of precious mining facilities, (though of course those are benchmarks upon how conflicts are inherently judged). War between Rome and Carthage was also a cultural war. Many now living read the words “culture war” and imagines it to be two sides of a political spectrum arguing over a divergent path of political decision making. With Carthage and Rome, the culture war was a battle between two roads that had run on opposite and parallel sides for generations and had now met head-on. Both made grandiose claims of city-state lineage. For example, Hannibal, (the great general who would later terrorize the Italian countryside) listed as one of his greatest aims to restoring the Herculean legend back to its ‘proper’ place—in Carthage. By contrast, the Roman model of manhood and citizenship demanded a defense of this ancient legacy. Therefore even on the interpersonal level the war reflected the depth of the conflict in the minds of soldiers and citizens.
Understanding local mythology and legend can often be an aid to understanding and explaining the baseline fears or goals of a civilization. However, placing too much importance on mythical narratives has the danger of subtracting from the economic element, which in many ways governs society and how we speak about it.
War between Rome and Carthage took many levels and inspired a burning hatred on both sides. It cannot be forgotten though that states often (with exception of course) take up arms against another state because it serves to benefit the economies of the aggressor. The theory goes that by taking away resources from another you are making your own power greater. Assumptions can be dangerous, but it is likely safe to act that though the Romans and Carthaginians were living in antiquity, there were still rational state actors in play. Rome would go on to fight many enemies in all corners of the ancient Mediterranean, but none were as keenly rational about their economy as Carthage. Religious zealots were eventually put down, and barbarians could for a time be played off against one another before having to take up arms again and reduce their numbers. Carthage however, was different. They understood the political games and were almost as clever as Rome was. Perhaps that it was that cunning ability to match Rome’s counter that earned Carthage its place as Rome’s most celebrated enemy.
Miles’ narrative accurately constructs the ancient world in ways many writers try to and often fail at. His story gets bogged down near the middle with its overloaded lineage of the Hercules myth, but recovers well when cultural themes are used as part of the explanation and not the thesis itself.
Recommended for those new to ancient history. 3/5