This paper explores Carthaginian strategies for mobilizing military manpower during the First and Second Punic Wars. Ancient and modern commentators have usually viewed Roman manpower superiority as a decisive factor behind the Roman victory, yet Carthaginian manpower resources were substantial. Between 218-214 BC, Carthage had more men under arms than Rome. Carthaginian manpower peaked at approximately 170,000 men in 215 BC, a magnitude similar to the peak Roman mobilization of the war. Between 205-202 BC, Carthage suffered enormous casualties--perhaps 100,000 dead or captured, a magnitude of loss similar to what Rome endured between 218-216. Like Rome, Carthage still continued to fight.
Most of these soldiers were either subject peoples, subaltern allies or mercenaries. Polybius emphasized Carthage’s limited deployment of citizen contingents, and levels this fact as a criticism of the city’s moral fiber. It is doubtful that Carthage ever deployed more than 10,000 citizen-soldiers between 480 and 202 BC, and usually no more than a few thousand. This paper argues that the size of the Carthaginian citizen population (at least those capable of providing military manpower) was probably quite small. Indeed, there is reason to suspect that Carthage’s population was similar to that of a large Classical Greek polis like Athens, Sparta, or Thebes, which were each capable of mobilizing 3,000-9,000 citizen troops.
While the Carthaginians eschewed the Roman solution of an expanded citizen body, they nonetheless developed strategies that allowed them to effectively maintain military deployments similar to Rome. During the First Punic War, Carthage had largely relied upon mercenary hires, especially Iberians, Gauls and Italians. The predominantly mercenary force failed to produce a victorious outcome. Furthermore, the mercenary mutiny at the end of the war nearly annihilated the city itself in the so-called “Truceless War” from 241-238 BC. Advancing a new imperial strategy, Hamilcar Barca set out in 236 BC to acquire a new territorial empire in Spain, which would be primarily exploited for conscripts. With the apogee of Carthaginian imperialism under Hannibal, territorial expansion mapped closely onto the previous patterns of mercenary recruitment in the First Punic War, as the Barcid empire at its peak controlled Spain, Gaul and much of Southern Italy.
Carthage and the Mediterranean