Monday, 11 March 2013

Punic Wars and Porridge (Part 5 of 6)

Although reduced to rations of grain, Rome was on the rise once again.  New armies quickly replaced those lost at the battles of Trebia, Trasimene, and Cannae, and were used to see to any Italians who did decide to join the Carthaginians.  To feed his army, Hannibal, cut off from supplies, had to start raiding the farms of the very same people he hoped would join his fight against Rome.  Things were not looking good for the Carthaginian general.

Now able to keep Hannibal in check in Italy, the Romans could commit more resources to their armies in Spain.  These armies had been neglected whilst things were looking bleak in Italy, but now they were ready for action.  Led by Scipio Africanus, the Roman forces quickly captured the centres of Carthaginian power in Spain.  By 206 B.C. Carthage had been pushed out of Spain and back to Africa.  Scipio followed, and in 203 B.C., after 15 years of fighting in Italy, Hannibal was recalled to defend his homeland.

The decisive Battle of Zama in 202 B.C. saw Carthage defeated.  Italy, Spain, and North Africa - all were now Roman.  Besides losing all its territory, Carthage was once more forced to pay several hundred tonnes of silver to Rome.  Carthage's navy, once its pride and joy, was reduced to a mere ten ships - enough to fight off pirates, but no more.  As for Hannibal, his best days were behind him.  In 183/182 B.C., after two decades of leading armies for foreign kings, he took his own life.

Carthago delenda est

A weakened Carthage was not enough - at least not for Cato the Elder. "Carthage must be destroyed" was Cato's call. (1)  No matter how weak they were, Carthage had the potential to rise again, and the potential to threaten Rome once more.  It is said that to illustrate this point, Cato, whilst addressing the senate, shook some fresh figs from the folds of his toga.  These figs were plump and fresh, and could be found just three days sail from Rome.  These were Carthaginian figs, and if they could reach Rome in three days, then why not an army?

The pretext for war came when Carthage raised an army to fend off attacks from its Numidian neighbours.  Rome, not wanting to be seen as the aggressor, made a series of demands so outlandish that Carthage had no choice but to refuse; they went so far as to demand that the Carthaginians demolish their city and rebuild it elsewhere.  With their refusal, Rome's armies arrived in Africa and laid siege to the city.  So wholesale was the destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C. that it is said that Scipio Aemilianus, the Roman commander, "looked upon the city... in the last throes of its complete destruction... and wept for his enemies." (2)  Rome did not bury the city in salt, as we are so often told; what they did do was sell its population into slavery, and burn it to the ground.  Although he did not live to see it happen, Cato got his wish - Carthage was destroyed.


Before the Punic Wars Rome's reach had not extended much beyond mainland Italy, but after, Rome emerged as the dominant power in the Mediterranean, with overseas territories in Greece, Spain, and North Africa.  What is the significance of all this for Pass the Garum?  Well, this expansion brought Rome into contact with new luxuries which undoubtedly shaped the course of Roman wining and dining.

I started this series with a porridge recipe reflecting the wealth of Carthage, master of trade in the Mediterranean.  The second recipe is a taste the hardships experienced during the Second Punic War, as both sides struggled to find the food they needed to go on; it was a simple recipe, symbolising hard times.  My final recipe reflects Roman victory, and the changes that brought with it.


1) Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder, 27
2) Polybius, 38.22

1 comment:

  1. Apparently the Roman bath was originally the Carthaginian bath -- and is now the Turkish bath.