The city of Carthage in North Africa (modern-day Tunisia) was the capital of the Carthaginian empire that controlled parts of the Mediterranean from the seventh century b.c.e. until it was destroyed in 146 b.c.e.
Tradition has the city founded by Queen Dido, from Tyre, a Phoenician city in modern-day Lebanon. According to that legend, after Troy was sacked by the Greeks, Prince Aeneas fled by sea and was shipwrecked there.
Queen Dido fell in love with him, but his destiny was to found Rome. Roman historians give different dates for the founding of Carthage. Timaeus gives c. 814 b.c.e., but Apion states 751 b.c.e. The earliest known tombs date from 725–700 b.c.e.
Carthage was founded for trade, which created great wealth and helped it to dominate parts of North Africa and the central and eastern Mediterranean. Metals from North Africa were traded for wine, cloth, and pottery. By the sixth century b.c.e. it was ruled by an aristocratic oligarchy through a senate.
Carthaginian trade in Sicily and Italy led to clashes with the Greeks and the Etruscans. Carthage occupied the island of Ibiza off the Mediterranean coast of Iberia in 591 b.c.e, and in the 540s b.c.e. it conquered Sardinia.
The city lay on a peninsula in the gulf of Tunis. The Greek historian Appian recorded that it had three rows of walls each 45 feet tall and 30 feet wide, with barracks for 24,000 men and stables for 4,000 horses and 300 elephants.
Carthage had two great harbors between the peninsula and the mainland. Large iron chains could be raised at the mouth of the harbor as protection from attacks. Vessels came from all parts of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coasts of Africa, Spain, France and Britain.
They had trade in Tyrian royal purple dye, Tyrian royal blue dye, and dyed fabrics, tin for bronze, silver, gold, lumber, wine, cloth, pottery, carpets, jewelry, lamps, and other goods. Beyond this harbor was the military harbor. The entrance was narrow with a tall watchtower overlooking the harbors and sea. The Greek writer Appian reported that 220 ships could be accommodated.
The First Punic War broke out with Rome over disputes in Sicily regarding control of the city of Messana (modern, Messina, Sicily) in 265 b.c.e. The Romans sent a force to Africa.
At the Battle of Tunes (Tunis) in 255 b.c.e., near the city of Carthage, the Carthaginians, with Greek mercenaries, destroyed the Roman army. The defeat of Rome left Carthage safe. Carthage was forced to leave Sicily after its navy was defeated in 241 b.c.e.
Romans captured the island of Sardinia in 238 b.c.e. Carthage then focused on Iberian Peninsula territory. There the Carthaginians built the city of New Carthage (present-day Cartagena). From there Commander Hamilcar Barca and his son Hannibal launched an attack on Rome in the Second Punic War in 219 b.c.e.
Roman commander Scipio landed in North Africa in 204 b.c.e. Hannibal’s army of 18,000 men left Italy for Carthage and raised a large army. He met the Romans and Numidians near Carthage at Zama in 202 b.c.e. Hannibal was defeated.
The Romans forced the city to hand over all its warships and elephants and pay a massive indemnity to Rome. In 146 b.c.e. Roman forces leveled Carthage and then plowed the fields with salt so that no one could grow food there and rebuild. Later, Rome built Colonia Julia Carthago, the capital of Roman Africa.