Destruction of Carthage
While Rome was thus little by little extending its powers in the East, the Carthaginians were slowly recovering from the Second Punic War, which had proved so disastrous for them. The Romans, in the mean while, felt no great anxiety about Carthage, because their ally, Masinissa, was still king of Numidia, and was expected to keep the senate informed of all that was happening in Africa.
But after the peace had lasted about fifty years, and Carthage had got over her losses, and again amassed much wealth, some of the Romans felt quite sure that the time would come when the contest would be renewed. Others, however, kept saying that Carthage should be entirely crushed before she managed to get strength enough to fight.
One man in Rome was so much in favor of this latter plan that he spoke of it on every opportunity. This was Cato, the censor, a stern and proud old man, who ended every one of the speeches which he made before the senate, by saying: "Carthage must be destroyed!"
He repeated these words so often and so persistently that by and by the Romans began to think as he did; and they were not at all sorry when the King of Numidia broke the peace and began what is known in history as the Third Punic War.
The Carthaginians, worsted in the first encounter, were very anxious to secure peace. Indeed, they were so anxious that they once gave up all their arms at the request of Rome. But after making them give up nearly all they owned, the Romans finally ordered them to leave their beautiful city so that it could be destroyed, and this they refused to do.
As peace was not possible, the Carthaginians then made up their minds to fight bravely, and to sell their liberty only with their lives. Their arms having been taken away from them, all the metal in town was collected for new weapons. Such was the love of the people for their city that the inhabitants gave all their silver and gold for its defense, to make the walls stronger.
Not content with giving up their jewelry, the Carthaginian women cut off their long hair to make ropes and bowstrings, and went out with their oldest children to work at the fortifications, which were to be strengthened to resist the coming attack. Every child old enough to walk, fired by the example of all around him, managed to carry a stone or sod to help in the work of defense.
The siege began, and, under the conduct of Hasdrubal, their general, the Carthaginians held out so bravely that at the end of five years Carthage was still free. The Romans, under various commanders, vainly tried to surprise the city, but it was only when Scipio Æmilianus broke down the harbor wall that his army managed to enter Carthage.
The Romans were so angry at the long resistance of their enemies that they slew many of the men, made all the women captives, pillaged the town, and then set fire to it. Next the mighty walls were razed, and Carthage, the proud city which had rivaled Rome for more than a hundred years, was entirely destroyed.
Thus ended the third and last Punic War, and the heroic defense of the city which the Romans had always feared, and which they would not allow to stand lest it should some day become powerful enough to rule them.
That same year, after secretly encouraging all the Greek cities to quarrel among themselves, the Romans went over to Greece, and soon made themselves masters of the whole country. They destroyed Corinth in the same way as Carthage, and bore away from it countless treasures of art, which they were yet too ignorant to appreciate.
Not long afterwards, a third town shared the terrible fate of Carthage and Corinth. This was Numantia, in Spain, whose walls were successfully defended against the Romans until supplies failed and many of the inhabitants had starved to death. Too weak to fight any longer, the remainder saw their town leveled with the ground, and were then sold into slavery.