The Punic Wars - Subjugation of Foreign Nations - Administration of the Provinces

Masters of Italy, it was not long before the Romans found themselves in collision with the nations surrounding the great basin of the Mediterranean; and as the last 125 years of the existence of the Roman state had been spent in the gradual conquest of the Italic nations, so the next 130 years (Y. R. 490-620, or B.C. 264-434) were spent in a series of conquests, by which various foreign countries were reduced to the condition of mere provinces of Italy. This series of conquests may be designated generally by the title of 'the Punic Wars, and the Wars with the Greek States.' A bare enumeration of them, with a statement of their results, is all that our limits will allow.

The first foreign people with which the Romans came into collision were the Carthaginians - a people of Phoenician lineage, who, settling in that part of Africa now called Tunis, and building a city there, about a century before Rome was founded, had in the interval become a great commercial nation, with ships sailing to all parts of the Mediterranean, and with colonies along the coasts of Algiers, in Sardinia and Corsica, and even in Spain. They had recently gained a footing in Sicily, and now shared it with the Greeks of Syracuse; and it was on this rich island as a battle field that the Romans first came into conflict with the merchant-people of Africa. Invited over by the Mamertines, a robber-people who inhabited the north-eastern corner of the island, the Roman soldiers fought the armies of mercenaries hired by the Carthaginians. The war thus begun, the 'First Punic War,' as it is called, lasted twenty-three years (Y. R. 490-513, or B.C. 264-241). During it the Romans first learned to build ships of war, and to fight naval battles; and they were soon able to defeat the Carthaginians on their own element. On land they were sure of victory against mere mercenaries, collected, as these were, from all nations, and commanded by Carthaginian generals of ordinary capacity. In 249 B.C., however, the Carthaginians sent over the great Hamilcar Barca to command their forces in Sicily; and his efforts checked the Romans, who, meanwhile, had invaded Africa, and been repulsed. A victory or two, however, gained by the Romans over other generals than Hamilcar, disposed the Carthaginians for peace, who accordingly agreed (B.C. 241) to evacuate Sicily, and to pay the victors a large sum of money. The Romans then made themselves masters of Sicily; and shortly afterwards they found a pretext for wresting Corsica and Sardinia from the Carthaginians. For twenty-two years after these conquests (B.C. 241-119) the Romans were engaged in wars with the Cisalpine Gauls and other nations in the north of Italy, the effect of which was to extend their dominion to the foot of the Alps. Beyond the Alps, also, Illyria, a country skirting the east coast of the Adriatic, was at this time annexed to the dominions of the Commonwealth.