An animated display showing the territory controlled by Rome and Carthage during the period of the Punic Wars and the territorial changes during them
The First Punic War broke out on the island of Sicily in 264 BC. It was regarded as "the longest and most severely contested war in history" by the Ancient Greek historian Polybius. The fighting, which consisted predominantly of naval warfare, largely took place on the waters of the Mediterranean surrounding Sicily. The conflict began because Rome's imperial ambitions had been interfering with Carthage's ownership claims of the island of Sicily. Carthage was the dominant power of the western Mediterranean at the time, and had an extensive maritime empire; meanwhile, Rome was a rapidly expanding state that had a powerful army but a weak navy. The conflict lasted for 23 years and caused substantial materiel and human losses on both sides; the Carthaginians were ultimately defeated by the Romans in 241 BC. By the terms of the peace treaty, Carthage paid large war reparations to Rome and Sicily fell to Roman control—thus becoming the first Roman province. The action of taking control of Sicily had further entrenched Rome's position as a superpower in the Mediterranean and the world as a whole. The end of the war also sparked a significant, but unsuccessful, mutiny and rebellion within the Carthaginian Empire referred to as the Mercenary War.
The Second Punic War began in 218 BC and witnessed Hannibal's crossing of the Alps and invasion of mainland Italy. This expedition enjoyed considerable early success, notably in the large victories of the Trebia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae in 217 and 216 BC. There was also extensive fighting in Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal); on Sicily; on Sardinia; and in North Africa. The successful Roman invasion of the Carthaginian homeland in Africa in 204 BC led to Hannibal's recall from Italy. He was defeated by Scipio Africanus in the Battle of Zama in 202 BC and Carthage sued for peace. A treaty was agreed in 201 BC which stripped Carthage of its overseas territories, and some of its African ones; imposed a large indemnity, to be paid over 50 years; severely restricted the size of its armed forces; and prohibited Carthage from waging war without Rome's express permission. Carthage therefore became a secondary power within Rome's sphere of influence.
Rome contrived a justification to declare war on Carthage again in 149 BC, starting the Third Punic War. This conflict was fought entirely on Carthage's territories in what is now Tunisia and largely centred around the Siege of Carthage. In 146 BC the Romans stormed the city of Carthage, sacked it, slaughtered most of its population and completely demolished it. The previously Carthaginian territories were taken over as the Roman province of Africa. The ruins of the city lie 16 kilometres (10 mi) east of modern Tunis on the North African coast.