THE INEVITABLE WAR
225-216 BC.: Conspicuous State, Rome; Conspicuous Rival, Carthage.
THE SECOND PUNIC WAR ( 218-201 B.C.) between Rome and Carthage was the decisive factor in determining whether Rome would confine its borders to Italy and the surrounding islands or extend farther. Although this determination took a few years, the ultimate decision was to expand. The Romans justified the war to themselves as necessary on the grounds that Hannibal had broken the Ebro Treaty and was expanding against Roman interests.
Ancient writers regarded the war as the most significant in the history of Rome, and few modern historians will dispute this verdict. With victory, Rome became the leading power of the ancient Mediterranean world, and it remained the central political unit in Western history until the Empire was split and the medieval period had begun. Romans remembered and discussed the war as long as the Empire existed; it was a traumatic experience from which Italy never quite recovered. Captured towns were sacked and the inhabitants sold into slavery; refugees fled from the area into Greece and elsewhere to escape the results of the war. In the country districts the small farmers were compelled to serve in the armies, and while they were gone their fields were laid waste either by the foraging of the conquerors or by the rear guard of retreating armies determined to diminish the food supplies of their opponents. In the process of repopulating the south after the war, large estates were established and the small farm disappeared. The growth of these estates (latifundia) had important implications in