Carthage was governed first as a monarchy until the Fourth Century BCE, then later by an oligarchic republic, headed by a ruling council called the Hundred and Four. The two chief officials elected from this body were the Shophets who ruled for a term of one year, much the same as the Consuls of Rome. The earlier kings of Carthage may have been known by the title of Malik, which appears in a number of related Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Arabic to mean 'king'.
Carthage's polytheistic religion was run by an organized, hereditary caste of priests and priestesses, who from their temple-complexes, ran a number of business enterprises and farming estates. The Punic word for priests was 'Kehin', a cognate of the etymologically related Hebrew word 'Kohan'.
Carthage's armies and navy were commanded by a general called the 'Rab-Mahanet' (chief of the army) who was often a member ofthe Hundred and Four Council.
Carthage collided with the Roman Republic over control of Sicily, sparking three great wars between Rome and Carthage known as the Punic Wars, from the Latin word for Phoenician: Punici. The Roman Republic, despite terrible losses in the first two wars, emerged victorious from all three wars, whittling Carthage down over the course of a century to its immediate environs in northern Tunisia. Ultimately finding even its continued existence a threat, Rome destroyed the city of Carthage at the end of the brief Third Punic War in 146 B.C.
Carthage was founded as a trading colony of Tyre. It is possible that this condition of its founding contained the seed of its ultimate destruction, since Carthage and its sister and daughter cities never developed the agricultural and population base of the Roman Republic, permitting the Roman Republic to survive repeated defeats yet always field yet another army, finally grinding Carthage down to defeat. The Punic civilization of Carthage never quite developed anything similar to the concept of Romanitas, the inclusive sense of Roman citzenship. Apart from those whom were descended through the paternal line from colonists of Tyre, Carthage tended not to extend the privileges of citzenship to its subject peoples most of the time. Although, historians have identified what they call "Sidonian Rights" ('S' Sidon in Punic), which existed in the form of treaties with both Punic and non-Punic subject and allied states of Carthage, which allowed for reciprocol rights between the inhabitants of different city-states and colonies throughout the Carthaginian Empire. The people of Carthage, who were descended from colonists from Tyre, were guaranteed legal rights in Tyre and other colonies of Tyre, for example. Even the neighbouring city of Utica, Carthage's oldest ally, was a privileged city-state and considered an equal partner in the empire, rather than a subject. In its early days, though, this focus on trade led to the rapid expansion of Carthaginian wealth and influence in the region. Carthage, like the Phoenician city-states to the east, traded finished goods from the east to the less developed tribes to the west. Carthage used its gains from trade to make up for its demographic shortcomings, hiring mercenary armies to protect its interests throughout the western Mediterranean. Carthage's own urban population, during its highpoint numbered about 700,000 people, though most of those were of foreign Libyan or Greek origin, with much fewer citizens. The only branch of Carthage's military to overwhelmingly hire native sons of Carthage, was its powerful warfleet.
Carthage's commercial expansion in the western Mediterranean was first challenged by the Greek city states of Sicily and southern Italy, leading Carthage into a series of wars centred upon Sicily known as the Greek-Punic Wars, which endured from 600 to 265 B.C., almost without intermission. Carthage ultimately prevailed, but the course of the wars drew the Roman Republic into southern Italy as well, leading to a conflict of interests which escalated to war.
The First Punic War was sparked over Sicily, as the Roman Republic saw Carthage's imminent domination of Sicily as likely to lead Carthage into intervention in the Greek colonies of southern Italy recently conquered by Rome. When one of the last independent city-states in Sicily appealed to Rome for aid, Rome declared war on Carthage. The Roman Republic was initially handicapped by its lack of naval experience, but developed a specialised boarding technology, known as the corvus, or crow, which allowed large numbers of Roman soldiers to cross from a Roman ship to a Carthaginian ship. The Roman fleet steadily ground down the Carthaginian fleet until Carthage was forced to seek terms: without a navy, the Carthaginian trade empire would swiftly be lost. Carthage agreed to evacuate Sicily and to pay an indemnity.
After defeat, Carthage redoubled its efforts at commercial development under the leadership of the Barca family, expanding its territory in Iberia by military campaigns and alliances with the Celtic tribes. Silver mines established in Iberia allowed Carthage to pay the war indemnity imposed by Rome, and the Barca family to plot revenge. Hannibal Barca, the son of Hamilcar Barca who had commanded Carthaginian armies in Sicily during the First Punic War, organized a system of alliances with Celtic tribes, such as the Boii, the Insubres and the Gaesatae, in northern Italy--Cisalpine Gaul, as the Romans called it--and the Greek city-states of southern Italy and Sicily, who had second thoughts about Roman domination. In 218, Hannibal attacked the Roman-protected colony of Saguntum in northern Spain and provoked a declaration of war by Rome. Seizing the initiative, Hannibal led his army from Iberia to the Rhone, and outmanoeuvred a Roman army sent to intercept him by heading north towards the mountains of the Alps rather than proceeding along the coast as expected. Leading his army including some 30 elephants over the Alpine passes, Hannibal descended into northern Italy, into the lands held by the Gallic tribes he had been courting. In a series of historic campaigns, Hannibal defeated Roman army after army, culminating in the Battle of Cannae in 215 B.C., in which Hannibal accomplished the double-envelopment of a Roman army twice the size of his own and smashed it, allowing less than 10,000 of the 60-80,000 estimated Roman soldiers to escape. The Greek city-states in southern Italy and Sicily rose against Rome and opened their gates to Hannibal. Rome, though, refused to capitulate. Indomitably, Rome instead recruited yet another army and settled on a campaign of delay and harassment, concentrating instead on disrupting Hannibal's communication with and reinforcement from Iberia and eliminating his allies one by one. Conquering first Sicily, then Iberia, then eliminating Carthage's Numidian allies in north Africa, Rome finally launched an invasion of north Africa while Hannibal's army still camped in Italy. Carthage recalled its champion to save itself, and Hannibal was forced to abandon his army in Italy to take command of a fresh levy for the defense of Carthage. The decisive Battle of Zama in 202 B.C. ended in complete victory for Rome, and Carthage was forced to capitulate yet again. This time, the price was much higher: Rome demanded the cession of all Carthaginian territory beyond the immediate surroundings of Carthage in modern northern Tunisia, and a 50-year war indemnity.
Having badly weakened Carthage, Rome immediately began to fear revenge. Crippled by an even heavier war indemnity, Carthage could not immediately recover, but after fifty years Carthage was released from the terms of its treaty. The Roman senator Cato the Elder concluded every speech he gave in the Senate, on whatever topic, as the end of the indemnity approached: "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem delendam esse:" "I am also of the opinion that Carthage must be destroyed." Subjected by continued attacks from Rome's client state of Numidia, Carthage finally struck back, waging an unsuccessful war against Numidia. Rome held that Carthage was obliged in perpetuity not to make war without consulting Rome, and declared war. The Third Punic War resulted, but amounted only to the Roman siege and destruction of the city of Carthage itself. Carthage was taken in 146 B.C., after a three-year siege and systematically burned, the inhabitants of the city being killed or sold into slavery. Roman dominion of the western Mediterranean was now complete.