Formation of the Third Punic War
After fifty years of peace, in 149 BCE, Rome sent a fleet to attack Carthage. Several reasons were behind this decision. Carthage had just finished paying the 50 years instalments of the 10,000 silver talents indemnity imposed after the Second Punic War in 201 BCE. The Roman Senator, Cato, had recently visited Carthage and was impressed by its prosperity and by the military potential of the city. He had concluded that Carthage remained a threat to Rome and so after every speech he made in the Roman senate he had said ‘In my opinion Carthage must be destroyed’.
At this time, tensions between the Carthaginians and the neighbouring Kingdom of Numidia had recently erupted into war. In the treaty made with Carthage in 201 BCE the Romans had forbidden the Carthaginians to wage any more wars without their permission. The Numidian Kingdom, led by Massinissa, was an ally of Rome and it territorial disputes between him and the Carthaginians, Rome had always ruled in his favour. So when the Carthaginian army marched to protect its borders from his attack, they had broken this treaty.
To make matters worse, Massinissa defeated their army and called on Rome for help. When the Roman invasion force approached, Carthage had sent ambassadors to try to appease the Romans. They were told that to avoid war they had to ‘satisfy the Roman people’, but they did not know what this meant. So the Roman commander, the consul Censorinus, first asked for 300 children from the most important families to be hostages. After these were in his power, he demanded that the Carthaginians give up all of their military equipment, weapons and siege engines. The Carthaginians disarmed. Then Censorinus told them that they must leave their city and settle inland. The Carthaginians were shocked and distraught at the thought of abandoning their harbours, homes, shrines and ancestors.
Finally, they refused and prepared to defend their massive city walls. They threw everything into making new weapons and armour. The siege of Carthage began.