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Lessons from history: the end of the Third Punic War (1985)

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The Third Punic War between Rome and Carthage started in 149 BC and ended on this very day, February 5th – but that is, rather bizarrely, 5th February 1985. The Romans took Carthage in 146 BC, but caught up in the general hubbub of razing a city to the ground and sowing its fields with salt, and quite understandably forgot the proceedings for an official end to the war. 

This detail passed the world by until the 1960s, when some historian – presumably with too much time on their hands – picked up on it. Eventually, then, the mayors of Rome and Carthage got involved (Ugo Vetere and Chedly Klibi, also leader of the Arab League at the time) and arranged to sign a treaty, 2,134 years after war began, in the Tunisian president’s villa looking out over the Mediterranean.

This wasn’t just a big act of self-indulgence and neoclassical onanism: Vetere and Klibi declared that they wanted to symbolically “reinforce the relations of friendship and cooperation between the two cities,” so the Mediterranean could remain “a haven of peace and well-being”, a meeting point “not only for the nations of the region but for the whole world.” 

It might seem like a flippant gesture and clichéd sentiment, but the context of the Punic Wars is anything but trite: Rome and Carthage fought bitterly for political and economic dominance over the Mediterranean, each side desperately selling the story that the other had to be wiped out. As pressures mount on Europe and fear is weaponised more and more, it’s essential we avoid the traps of worrying only about ourselves and dehumanising the rest. A bit of flippancy or the humour of a silly gesture are oddly effective antidotes to both.

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