Carthago Nova


published on 22 February 2013
Theatre, Carthago Nova (Rafael)

Along the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula lies the ancient city of Carthago Nova (New Carthage, modern day Cartagena in Spain). Originally named Martia, the area was captured in 228 BCE by Hasdrubal Barca (brother of Hannibal and second son of Hamilicar Barca) during the Carthaginian conquest of Spain. However, it would remain under their rule for only seventeen years. In the later stages of the Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome (210-209 BCE), the Roman general Scipio Africanus captured the city complete with its plentiful stores and supplies, making it an imperial stronghold. The abundant natural resources: silver, lead, and iron ore, as well as its excellent harbour made it a strategic as well as a major economic acquisition.

The Roman conquest of the city brought about an unexpected advantage - Scipios’s humanitarian efforts towards both prisoners as well as hostages portrayed Rome as liberators not conquerors. He would later defeat Hannibal at the Battle of Zama, ending the war and all but destroying Carthage’s empire along the Mediterranean Sea.

Recent excavations of the area have shown the city to have been a very prosperous and typically Roman city with an amphitheatre, patriotic homes and even Roman walls. After a visit to the city in 133 BCE historian Polybius wrote about it in The Histories, considering it to be a true capital - spectacular temples, luxurious palaces, massive walls and a busy harbour.

The city was made a colonia by Julius Caesar in 42 BCE, and later renamed Colonia Victrix Iulia Nova Carthago by Emperor Augustus. It also played an important part in the downfall of Emperor Nero. In the Year of the Four Emperors (69 CE) Governor-general Galba of Spain was in Carthago Nova at a council of justice when he heard of the uprising in Gaul.  Shortly afterwards, he was asked to “aid in rescuing humanity from Nero.” He left Spain with an army, intent on overthrowing Nero; however, Nero committed suicide before he arrived. Galba was named the new emperor, only to be assassinated a few months later at the urging of the future emperor Otho.

Later, Carthago Nova was renamed Carthaginesis and made the provincial capital of Hispania under Emperor Diocletian and, in 550 CE, despite having been conquered by the Visigoths (425 – 551 CE), Byzantine emperor Justinian made it the capital of Spania. After the Byzantines, the city came under Muslim control.


  • Bagnall R.S. et al. Encyclopedia of Ancient History. Wiley-Blackwell, London, 2012.
  • Simon Hornblower,ed. Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Suetonius. The Twelve Caesars.
  • William Langer, ed. Encyclopedia of World History.

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