The Roman weakening of Carthage by means of siege warfare

TriCollege Digital Repository

Title: The Roman weakening of Carthage by means of siege warfare
Author: Sieteski, Sara Lynn
Type: Thesis
Issue Date: 2011
Abstract: Plutarch writes in his biography of Pyrrhus that after the Battle of Beneventum, the former ruler of Sicily looked upon the land and spoke the following words, “ὦ φίλοι, Καρχηδονίοις καὶ Ῥωμαίοις παλαίστραν” (“My friends, what a wrestling ground for Carthaginians and Romans we are leaving behind us!”). Pyrrhus afterward retreated to Epirus in Greece, where, working with massively depleted resources, he waged war with Macedonia. He never returned to face the likes of Carthage or Rome again. Plutarch adds the following statement to close out the chapter: καὶ τοῦτο μέν, ὥσπερ εἰκάσθη, μετ᾽ οὐ πολὺν χρόνον ἐγένετο (And this conjecture of his was soon afterwards confirmed). Pyrrhus even to this day is remembered with mixed sentiment, honored for his fervor and intensity in war, but criticized for his lack of sagacity in gross deployment of resources in his efforts to achieve victory. Plutarch, however, solidifies Pyrrhus' place in history as making one of the greatest prophetic statements about a series of battles which would occupy the next century. Rome and Carthage would engage in a series of conflicts that would last nearly one hundred and twenty years with some of the most memorable fighting taking place during the Second Punic War (218201 BCE). Hannibal Barca would prove himself to be one of the most formidable opponents Rome had faced in her five hundred year history. Concerning the first two Punic Wars and Hannibal's success as a general, much of his credit comes as a result of the famous pitched battles of Trebia, Lake Trasimine, and most notably Cannae, and rightfully so. Not only was Hannibal able to establish his power as a general, far superior to his father Hamilcar Barca, but he did such massive damage to Roman forces that they would not see a level of destruction to such a degree again until the Battle of Carrhae against the Parthians in 53 BCE. He justified each battle with the phrase, “πολεμήσων οὐκ Ἰταλιώταις, ἀλλὰ Ῥωμαίοις ὑπὲρ τῆς Ἰταλιωτῶν ἐλευθερίας” (“he had not come to fight against Italians, but in behalf of Italians against Rome”).3 Erskine proposes a very convincing argument as to how Hannibal utilized this phrase to mimic Hellenistic propaganda used by the Greek kings from Polyperchon to Philip V, although he was never able to rally the same degree of support from the Italian allies (Hannibal and the Freedom of the Italians, 59). However, by the time Hannibal decided to march on Rome, his mission appeared to be much more than a defense of the Italian peoples. Hannibal was declaring an assertion of his own power ... Both Polybius and Livy make it clear that when Hannibal decided to sack Saguntum, he did not have the full backing of Carthage. His subsequent attempts to solicit further resources are also very clear, both from home and from Phillip V, who had pledged to support him and provoke the First Macedonian War. Hannibal's inability to obtain reinforcements and supplies was clearly detrimental to his cause. The Roman army marginally occupied their own city, and was scattered in multiple locations across the continent opposing both Carthaginian and Macedonian forces. Hannibal could have laid siege to the city with minimal opposition. So why did he not choose to do so? I propose to suggest that there were a number of contributing factors. First, Rome was growing in its ability to raise an effective siege while Carthage was experiencing a steady decline. I will juxtapose the history of siege warfare on each side from approximately the 5th C onward to show this inverse relationship. Second, I will demonstrate that despite the fact that Hannibal may have been one of the most brilliant generals in pitched battle, he was woefully inexperienced in the art of the siege. Finally, I will show how Carthaginian reluctance to support Hannibal's efforts using this particular type of stratagem opened the door for the Romans to show just how they could effectively maintain a siege while Hannibal could not.
Subject: Rome
Subject: Siege warfare
Subject: Carthage (Extinct city)
Permanent URL:

Files in this item

Files Description Size Format
Sieteski.S.L.Thesis.pdf Sieteski.S.L.Thesis 592.0Kb PDF
Sieteski.S.L.Release.pdf 57.50Kb PDF


Sieteski, Sara Lynn. "The Roman weakening of Carthage by means of siege warfare". 2011. Available electronically from

This item appears in the following Collection(s)


Advanced Search


My Account