Key Point: Glory is built on horror.
“Augustus found Rome brick and left it marble” is an expression pegged to the first of the Roman emperors. And indeed Rome flourished around the time of Christ, erecting magnificent arches and columns, palaces and public buildings, temples and baths, coliseums and aqueducts. The world had never seen such a place.
Rome was a winner. It was the rest of the Mediterranean world that paid the price. The minerals of Spain and the farms of Sicily and North Africa produced the wealth that found its way into the grand architecture of the Italian city.
Conquest Always the Goal
Mainly, what is recalled of Rome is this contribution of astonishing construction, along with its administration of a vast empire. Less remembered is how it got there: Brutally.
To rise to the level of masters of the Mediterranean the Romans wielded their legions with astonishing ruthlessness. Conquest was the goal, and never mind the means. By about 150 bc, Rome had twice humbled Carthage in the first two Punic Wars.
Carthage was then attacked by Masinissa of nearby Numidia and, disobeying the treaty that ended the Second Punic War, Carthage warred back. Rome, troubled by the economic rebound of its rival during the peace following the Second Punic War in 202 bc, and lustful of North African fields to be tilled by new slaves, declared war on Carthage.
Ships, Arms, and 300 Children
By this time Rome controlled Spain, Sicily, Sardinia, and the sea lanes, which gave it the upper hand in any contest. Blocked from the interior by Masinissa and from the sea by Roman fleets, Carthage understood this, too. So when Rome promised Carthage that if it sent 300 children of its noblest families to Rome as hostages, the African city’s freedom would be assured, Carthage complied, to the great lamentation of its first families.