The diplomatic history between Rome and Carthage up to the time of Hannibal

The first treaty between Rome and Carthage dates from the consulship of Lucius Junius Brutus and Marcus Horatius, the first Consuls after the expulsion of the kings, and the founders of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. This is twenty-eight (509-506 BC) years before the crossing of Xerxes to Greece. I give below as accurate a rendering as I can of this treaty, but the ancient Roman language differs so much from the modern that it can only be partially made out, and that after much application, by the most intelligent men.


The treaty is more or less as follows:

There is to be friendship between the Romans and their allies and the Carthaginians and their allies on these terms: The Romans and their allies not to sail with long ships beyond the Fair Promontory unless forced by storm or by enemies: it is forbidden to anyone carried beyond it by force to buy or carry away anything beyond what is required for the repair of his ship or for sacrifice, and he must depart within five days. Men coming to trade may conclude no business except in the presence of a herald or town-clerk, and the price of whatever is sold in the presence of such shall be secured to the vendor by the state, if the sale take place in Libya or Sardinia. If any Roman come to the Carthaginian province in Sicily, he shall enjoy equal rights with others. The Carthaginians shall do no wrong to the peoples of Ardea, Antium, Laurentium, Circeii, Terracina, or any other city of the Latins who are subject to Rome. Touching those Latins who are not subjects, they shall keep their hands off their cities, and if they take any city shall deliver it up to the Romans undamaged. They shall build no fort in the Latin territory. If they enter the land in arms, they shall not pass a night therein“.
The ‘Fair Promontory’ is that lying in front of Carthage to the North. The Carthaginians forbid the Romans absolutely to sail south of this on its western side in long ships, the reason being, I think, that they did not wish them to become acquainted either with the district round Byssatis or that near the lesser Syrtis, which they call Emporia, owing to their great fertility. If anyone, carried there by a storm or driven by his enemies, requires anything for the purpose of sacrificing to the gods or of repairing his ships, he may have this, but nothing beyond it, and those who touch there must leave within five days. To Carthage itself and all parts of Libya on this side of the Fair Promontory, to Sardinia and the Carthaginian province of Sicily the Romans may come for trading purposes, and the Carthaginian state engages to secure payment of their just debts. The phrasing of this treaty shows that they consider Sardinia and Libya as their own, whereas they distinctly express themselves otherwise about Sicily, mentioning only in the treaty those parts of it which are under Carthaginian rule. Similarly, the Romans include in the treaty Latium
alone, making no mention of the rest of Italy as it was not then subject to their authority.

At a later date they made another treaty (circa 306 BC), in which the Carthaginians include Tyre and Utica, and mention, in addition to the Fair Promontory, Mastia and Tarseum as points beyond which the Romans may not either make marauding expeditions, or trade, or found cities This treaty is more or less as follows:

There is to be friendship on the following conditions between the Romans and their allies and the Carthaginians, Tyrians, and the people of Utica and their respective allies. The Romans shall not maraud or trade or found a city on the farther side of Fair Promontory, Mastia, and Tarseum. If the Carthaginians capture any city in Latium not subject to Rome, they shall keep the valuables and the men, but give up the city. If any Carthaginians take captive any of a people with whom the Romans have a treaty of peace, but who are not subject to Rome, they shall not bring them into Roman harbours, but if one be brought in and a Roman lay hold of him, he shall be set free. The Romans shall not do likewise. If a Roman gets water or provisions from any place over which the Carthaginians rule, he shall not use these provisions to wrong any member of a people with whom the Carthaginians have peace and friendship. The Carthaginians shall not do likewise. If either do so, the aggrieved person shall not take private vengeance, and if he do, his wrongdoing shall be public. No Roman shall trade or found a city in Sardinia and Libya nor remain in a Sardinian or Libyan post longer than is required for taking in provisions or repairing his ship. If he be driven there by stress of weather, he shall depart within five days. In the Carthaginian province of Sicily and at Carthage he may do and sell anything that is permitted to a citizen. A Carthaginian in Rome may do likewise“.

Again in this treaty they lay particular stress on Libya and Sardinia, asserting them to be their own private property and closing all landing-places to the Romans, but of Sicily they distinctly speak contrariwise, mentioning the part of it subject to them. Similarly, the Romans in referring to Latium forbid the Carthaginians to wrong the people of Ardea, Antium, Circeii, and Terracina, the cities that stand on the coast of that Latin territory with which the treaty is concerned.

A further and final treaty with Carthage was made by the Romans at the time of Pyrrhus’ invasion before the Carthaginians had begun the war for Sicily. In this (279 BC) they maintain all the previous agreements and add the following:

If they make an alliance with Pyrrhus, both shall make it an express condition that they may go to the help of each other in whichever country is attacked. No matter which require help, the Carthaginians are to provide the ships for transport and hostilities, but each country shall provide the pay for its own men. The Carthaginians, if necessary, shall come to the help of the Romans by sea too, but no one shall compel the crews to land against their will“.

The oaths they had to swear were as follows. In the case of the first treaty the Carthaginians swore by their ancestral gods and the Romans, following an old custom, by Jupiter Lapis, and in the case of this latter treaty by Mars and Quirinus. The oath by Jupiter Lapis is as follows. The man who is swearing to the treaty takes in his hand a stone, and when he has sworn in the name of the state, he says:

If I abide by this my oath may all good be mine, but if I do otherwise in thought or act, let all other men dwell safe in their own countries under their own laws and in possession of their own substance, temples, and tombs, and may I alone be cast forth, even as this stone“,

and so saying he throws the stone from his hand.

The treaties being such, and preserved as they are on bronze tablets beside the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in the treasury of the Quaestors.

At the close of the war for Sicily, then (241 BC), they made another treaty, the clauses of which run as follows:

The Carthaginians are to evacuate the whole of Sicily and all the islands between Italy and Sicily. The allies of both parties are to be secure from attack by the other. Neither party is entitled to impose any contribution to construct public buildings, or to enrol soldiers, in the dominions of the other, nor to form alliances with the allies of the other. The Carthaginians are to pay twenty two hundred talents within ten years, and a sum of a thousand talents at once. The Carthaginians are to give up to the Romans all prisoners free of ransom“.

Later, at the end of the Libyan War (288 BC), after the Romans had actually passed a decree declaring war on Carthage, they added the following clause, as I stated above:

The Carthaginians are to evacuate Sardinia and pay a further sum of twelve hundred talents“.

The very last of this series of agreements is that made with Hasdrubal in Spain (228 BC), that

The Carthaginians are not to cross the Ebro in arms“.

(Source: Polybius, The Histories, Vol.II, Book III, Loeb Classical Library)


Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus

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