Third Punic War > Carthago Delenda Est

Carthago Delenda Est

Punic Wars - Punic Wars Decoration

Cato the Elder (234–149 BC), the most persistent advocate in the Senate for the total destruction of Carthage, and most famously associated with repeated use, in or out of its proper context, of the phrase Delenda est Carthago.

"Carthago delenda est" is a Latin phrase meaning "Carthage must be destroyed." This phrase is famously attributed to the Roman statesman Cato the Elder (Marcus Porcius Cato), who repeatedly used it in his speeches to the Roman Senate in the years leading up to the Third Punic War (149-146 BCE). Here’s a detailed description of the phrase, its origin, context, and significance:

Origin and Context

Cato the Elder was a Roman senator and a staunch advocate for the destruction of Carthage. He was known for his conservative values, oratory skills, and unyielding stance on various issues, including the perceived threat posed by Carthage. The Second Punic War (218-201 BCE) had ended with a Roman victory, but Carthage, though significantly weakened, remained a prosperous city-state. Many Romans, including Cato, viewed Carthage’s recovery and growing wealth with suspicion and concern. In the years following the Second Punic War, Cato became increasingly vocal about the threat he believed Carthage still posed to Rome. He saw the destruction of Carthage as essential to ensuring Rome's security and dominance.

According to historical accounts, Cato ended many of his speeches, regardless of the topic, with the phrase "Carthago delenda est." This was a rhetorical device aimed at keeping the issue at the forefront of Roman political discourse. In one of his most famous symbolic gestures, Cato reportedly showed the Senate fresh figs from Carthage, demonstrating the city's prosperity and potential threat. He then reiterated his call for Carthage’s destruction.

Cato’s relentless advocacy significantly influenced Roman public opinion and policy. His campaign contributed to the growing sentiment among Roman leaders that Carthage needed to be eliminated once and for all. The phrase "Carthago delenda est" encapsulated the hawkish attitude that eventually led to the declaration of the Third Punic War. The war was initiated by Rome in 149 BCE, culminating in the siege and destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE.

Outcome and Legacy

The Third Punic War ended with the complete destruction of Carthage. The city was razed, its population was enslaved or killed, and its territory became a Roman province. "Carthago delenda est" has since become a symbol of relentless political will and determination. It is often cited in discussions of preemptive military action and the use of decisive force to eliminate perceived threats.

The phrase and the subsequent destruction of Carthage underscored Rome’s determination to secure its dominance in the Mediterranean. The elimination of Carthage removed a major rival and allowed Rome to expand its influence. The phrase remains one of the most famous quotations from Roman history, illustrating the power of rhetoric in shaping political and military decisions.

"Carthago delenda est" is a powerful example of how persistent advocacy and political rhetoric can drive a nation toward war and reshape history. Cato the Elder's unyielding call for the destruction of Carthage played a crucial role in Rome's decision to initiate the Third Punic War, leading to the eventual eradication of one of its greatest rivals and cementing Rome's place as the dominant power in the ancient world.

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