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Thread: Alternative history: What if the Carthaginians had defeated the Romans?

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    Alternative history: What if the Carthaginians had defeated the Romans?

    As you probably know, the Romans and the Carthaginians fought several wars in Antiquity, that ended with Rome winning, and eventually destroying Carthage.

    But what would have happened if the Carthaginians had won over the Romans? Very speculative, but I can guess a little.

    First of, from what I understand, the Carthaginians were not much into conquering lots of territories to create a large empire. Rome was a militaristic society where it made economic and political sense to expand and conquer, whereas the Carthaginians were mostly into trade. The Carthaginians had trade links to lots of close and distant peoples. They didn't even have much of a standing army, instead relying a lot on mercenaries in times of need, paid for by their vast trade income. I can see the Carthaginians conquering Iberia and Sicily, where they had colonies and interests, but maybe not much beyond that. Conquered territory meant having to pay for more mercenaries.

    In this scenario, Gaul and the British Islands would have remained Celtic. Overall it seems we would have a Europe that was more heterogeneous than what happened after the Roman conquests.

    As the Carthaginians were into trade and sea travel, perhaps they would have "discovered" the Americas much earlier than 1000 CE or 1492 CE. History could have taken lots of different turns, I guess. If so, as the Carthaginians were not much into great military conquests, I guess they would have founded a few trading cities in the Americas, but otherwise not conquering the continents.

    I realize that I make it sound as if a Carthaginian victory over Rome would have given history a nicer turnout than it took. Which maybe it would?

    I know this is all very speculative, but I think some interpolations can be done based on what we know about the ancient Carthaginians.

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    Super Moderator Bronzeage's Avatar
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    Rome was a land power with rich natural resources. Carthage was a sea power which occupied a sea coast on the edge of a desert.

    From Rome's point of view, Carthage was a threat to their lines of communication through the Mediterranean Sea. This was the start of the troubles. The conflict is a lesson in warfare which has been repeated many times since. Smart strategy and daring tactics are not enough to overcome a determined enemy with more resources.

    During the century of the Punic Wars, the Italian Peninsula enjoyed good weather which resulted in surplus wheat crops and a population boom. Carthage had ships and sailors, Rome had food and soldiers. It's easy to assign motives in hindsight, but as Rome looked for constructive uses for their burgeoning population of military age men, it was easy to see whoever was across the border as a threat. Once that territory was neutralized, there was someone else across the next border. It was the Roman way.

    Carthage was a trading empire, not a territorial one. If they had managed to defeat Rome in the end, their fleets may well have gone farther, found more places to buy and sell, and in effect made the Mediterranean world a little smaller. What would they do with Rome, once they had it?

    Perhaps the Greeks would have dominated the Italian Peninsula. Rome's expansion after the defeat of Carthage was the doom of the Alexandrian States, from Greece around to Egypt. It's possible the Greeks would have taken Rome's place in European expansion.

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    Super Moderator Mediancat's Avatar
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    Poul Anderson wrote a science fiction story (part of his Time Police series): Delenda Est. Because someone meddles with the timeline, Carthage ends up destroying Rome in 210 BC. It was actually one of my first exposures to alternate history -- most of the rest of the series avoids it.

    Rob

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    Carthage came within a hair’s breath of defeating Rome in the second Punic War. Obviously a lot of history would be different. But I think the European tribes would’ve ultimately swept south, perhaps several hundred years before they did. And ultimately the Arabs would’ve still swept up North Africa and Carthage. What’s really interesting is that Christianity would never have arisen to unify Europe. Maybe something else like Mithraism would’ve taken its place. Without Roman history as a back drop to the 1600 years after its fall, Europe might look very different today. Perhaps still very much tribal with petty kingdoms dotting the landscape.

    SLD

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    Veteran Member Sarpedon's Avatar
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    I don't necessarily agree that Christianity (or something like it) couldn't have arisen. With no Rome, the Greek successor states would probably have stuck around, and the fact is that the sectarian Israelites were bound to self destruct in any event, the only real question as to which of more powerful neighboring civilization would deliver the coup de grace.

    The trend of combining religious figures that would eventually result in Christianity was already well developed in the Greco/Persian/Egyptian world.

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    The Arabs swept much of the Middle East due to Islam. Without Christianity, I don't really see how Islam could have arisen.

    As for Europe, I think it was Jared Diamond that called it the continent that is really hard to unify. And the Roman Empire wasn't really a European empire, it was a Mediterranean empire. Post-Western Roman Europe really was various tribes that were scattered, that eventually developed into the modern countries of Europe. I think that would have been true even without the Roman Empire, though they would not inherit the Latin alphabet from the Romans in this scenario.

    Perhaps they would have borrowed the alphabet in use by the Carthaginians? Even in lack of conquest, I can very well think that Carthage could have become a major influence for the surrounding tribes and cities, like ancient China deeply influenced Korea and Japan, without conquering them.

    I think the inheritance of Hellenic culture and thought could have spread with Carthage as well as with the Romans. The Carthaginians were quite into Hellenism.

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