Ancient History & Civilisation


Now that Rome was emerging as an important regional power, the Carthaginians were clearly anxious to maintain and indeed strengthen diplomatic relations between the two city states. Thus in 351 BC a Carthaginian embassy was sent to Rome in order to present a massive gold crown weighing 11 kilograms as congratulations for victory against the Samnites. So proud were the Romans of this recognition of their growing stature by the most powerful state in the western Mediterranean that it was decided to place the crown in their most important temple, that of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill.8

This was followed in 348 by a fresh treaty between the two cities, the terms of which were a more detailed and expanded version of the first (with Spain now added to the zones of Carthaginian influence). Carthage had plenty of reasons for maintaining friendly relations with Rome. The terms of the treaty afforded both Roman and Carthaginian merchants the same rights and privileges as citizens in each other’s city, and there is reason to believe that there was a significant Punic mercantile presence in Rome and in the wider area of Latium.9 Certainly the placing of copies of this and the previous treaty in the Treasury of the Aediles–senatorial officials whose roles included the supervision of Rome’s commercial markets–adds to the picture of a thriving trading relationship between the two states that would have probably involved fish products, salt, Sardinian fleeces and African garlic, as well as almonds and pomegranates.10

There are also several other intriguing clues that point to a Carthaginian presence in Rome. Varro, a Roman writer of the first century AD, mentions an area of Rome called Vicus Africus on the Esquiline Hill, which he said had got its name from resident hostages of the Punic wars.11 However, recent research has shown that this ‘African quarter’ must have dated to well before that period.12

Further clues to a Carthaginian presence in Rome exist in the description of a strange monument called the Columna Lactaria, the Milkers’ Column, at Rome’s vegetable market, the Forum Holitorum: this may have actually been a sacred betyl originally worshipped by the Punic inhabitants of the district.13 Varro described the Forum Holitorum as ‘the old Macellum where vegetables were the provender’, assuming that macellum was a Greek word.14 However, it is in fact a Semitic word for a market that was much used in the Punic world. Indeed, the word macellum can be linked to several towns in Latium, suggesting that they also possessed Punic commercial enclaves.15 Moreover, there is strong evidence for a Punic presence elsewhere in the region at the town of Ardea, where a votive deposit containing Punic pottery and two Punic inscriptions has been found in the locality of the temple of Hercules.16

Carthage also had major mercantile links with Bruttium (modern Calabria) in the toe of Italy. Recent archaeological research into the provenance of transport amphorae found in Carthage has shown that in the fourth century BC Bruttium was a greater source of goods and materials even than Sardinia.17 Carthage had certainly developed strong links with the region, and had even sent troops to help the people of the town of Hipponium refound their city after they had been displaced by Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse.18 To the north, the region of Campania also had close links with Carthage, with a considerable number of mercenaries from the region fighting in the Carthaginian armies in Sicily.19 The new treaty was recognition of Rome’s growing influence in the Tyrrhenian region and also of Carthage’s interests on the peninsula.

The terms of the new treaty made allowance for Carthage to intervene again in Italy if it needed to. If the Carthaginians captured any Latin cities, they were to hand them over to the Romans while keeping any property or captives (although if any of the latter were brought to Rome they would be set free). North Africa (excepting the city of Carthage itself) and Sardinia would remain strictly out of bounds to Roman merchants, but the treaty terms seem to suggest that trade on Sicily was allowed. Militarily, the Carthaginians probably saw Rome as an important regional ally to counter the influence of Syracuse, and Rome may have seen Syracuse as a potential threat. Both Dionysius and Agathocles had displayed ambitions to extend their authority into Italy, and indeed the Romans had recently beaten off an unwelcome visit by a Sicilian Greek fleet.20

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