Friday, September 18, 2009

The Punic Wars

(I got nothin'. No peace and quiet, so no spinning or knitting getting done. I may lose my mind soon, but in the mean time, enjoy.)


The Punic Wars have been described as the World Wars of the ancient world, and I've gotta say, it's a pretty apt comparison. The wars - really a long era of hostility with brief moments of peace - were economically motivated for the most part, between Rome and Carthage (known as Punicus or Punicii by the Romans) for control of the Mediterranean. This meant territory for the Romans and trade for the Carthaginians.

This has relevance to textile geeks. I swear. If you don't believe me, scroll down to the bottom.

The wars went on from 264 to 146 BCE; almost a hundred years worth of death and destruction and fighting. And all of you know more about this than you realize, because the wars spawned to really famous historical figures. Most of them during the Second Punic War, in the middle of the conflict.

Remember Hannibal crossing the Alps? (Historians debate that, by the way. And most agree only one elephant made it all the way to Italy.) We all get some vague idea of a crazy man taking elephants over the Alps, but most of us are foggy on the details. (At least I was; I had crappy ancient history teachers.) Here's a map:

What Hannibal was doing, was stickin' it to Rome. He left New Carthage (in modern Spain) in 218 BCE, headed for Rome. Obviously he took the short-but-brutal route, kicking ass all along the way. (You can see the dates of the battles on the map.) He caught the Romans with their togas down, laid waste to big portions of Italy for years, and drove the Roman consuls insane. He wiped out at least one entire Roman army (Battle of Cannae, 216 BCE), and actually triggered the reorganization of the Roman government. Eventually he had to leave his army and fall back to Carthage because while he could make an unholy mess of the Italian peninsula, he didn't have the manpower to actually hold a position. So back he went to Carthage in 203 BCE. (For those not counting, that's FIFTEEN YEARS of ravaging the Roman countryside.)

After that, the Romans were pretty pissed, went to Carthage (Battle of Zama), and wiped out the Carthaginian army. Then they made a treaty that was up there with the Germans at the end of WW1 for brutality, and called it the end of the Second Punic War. (More about Hannibal at Badass of the Week.)

Also during the Second Punic War (which one doesn't really matter, I see it as one big clusterfuck, myself), there was another guy you might have heard of, stickin' it to the Romans.

Archimedes.

All those crazy weapons you hear about him making? The boat hook? The mirrors of doom? He was doing all that to defend against the Romans.

See the little red dot? That's Syracuse. It's on the island of Sicily, and was originally a Carthaginian colony/trading post. Once the Punic Wars hit, well, the Romans weren't gonna put up with a colony of the enemy that close to their shores, and repeatedly attacked Syracuse. During the First Punic War, Syracuse became the property of the Romans. They weren't too happy about that, and declared themselves an independent Kingdom soon after. Rome was too busy fighting with Carthage, at first, to do much about it. Syracuse was sympathetic to Carthage (at least some of the people were), and Rome was still paranoid about having an uncontrolled state right on their doorstep, so in 214 BCE, they laid siege to Syracuse. Again. (Which is kind of interesting, where they found the manpower, because at the time they were also fighting Hannibal and his elephants.) It was a stalemate and a huge clusterfuck, until in 212 BCE, the Roman general, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, found out there was gonna be a citywide party to honor Artemis. He timed an invasion for that night, and Syracuse fell to the Romans.

Marcellus was so impressed with Syracuse's defenses, he'd put the word out that the inventor was to be spared at all cost. A Roman soldier killed him anyway. From what I know of Archimedes, I'll bet he tried to knife the Romans.

So, the Punic Wars. Huge fight for dominance of the Med that never gets mentioned much in history class any more. We hear about the legendary figures, but we never know quite how they fit into the big picture unless we look it up.

How is this relevant to textile geeks? Well. Carthage was the 'modern' name of an older network of trading outposts and colonies. They were originally called the Phoenicians. All this warfare with Rome? It was paid for with murex dye.

8 comments:

Roz said...

You are why I love the innertubes. History and textiles.

Allison said...

Too true, Roz. Thanks, Julie. I don't even need the posts to be textile relevant. I think you could make a post on drying paint interesting. Don't know how, but you'd do it.

Mary said...

hey, you were way ahead of me. I was expecting puns. sad...

Roxie said...

My ancient history is SO shakey! Looks like I should get out my old Western Civ Texts and freshen up a bit. Thanks for the inspiration!

Alwen said...

When I read about the Archimedes Palimpsest, all I could think of was - this brilliant guy with no internet to find his mathematical peers.

TinkingBell said...

See? Never leave without learning something - knew about the Punic Wars and Hannibal - not about Archimedes and Syracuse - I bet he tried to knife the Romans too!

Amy Lane said...

A hundred years of fighting, funded by textiles... VERY cool! (Of course, the Civil War was a textile war too...)

Nalamienea said...

I listen to a podcast called Hardcore History by Dan Carlin (can be downloaded for free from iTunes) that did an AWESOME 3 part series about the Punic wars. Just a history/ politics buff who does a ton of research and then tells the stories of histories that we should all know but don't get taught. They're great for long car trips and stuff! You should check them out. :) He's on number 23 or something, so he's talked about a lot more than just this Punic war stuff - from ancient history up to WW2. :)