Stormlord – “Mare Nostrum”

Rome’s domination of the ancient Mediterranean was by no means inevitable. Between 264 and 146 BCE, the Romans fought three long and bloody wars with their most formidable rival, the Phoenician superpower of Carthage, a city-state in North Africa. The First Punic War (called Punic after the Latin word for ‘Phoenician’) was a slugfest waged largely at sea over control of Sicily that forced the Romans to become sailors in order to win. In the Second, the Romans suffered massive defeats at the hands of Hannibal’s invading armies and superior tactics, only to recoup their losses and outlast him until they could bring the fight to Africa, where Scipio Africanus delivered Hannibal a decisive defeat. Both these wars ended in Roman victory due to Rome’s ability to draw from seemingly infinite Italian manpower and a refusal to surrender, while Carthage eventually exhausted its abilities to maintain the mercenary armies that their erstwhile economic superiority had been able to fund. Rome was now the unchallenged master of the western Mediterranean, which after its conquest of the east it would call “Mare Nostrum,” Latin for “Our Sea.”

By 201, Carthage had been stripped of its empire and naval capabilities, but nevertheless permitted to exist while Rome turned its attention eastward to Greece and beyond. Yet the memory of Hannibal and the mortal threat that Carthage had posed died hard, and some Roman such as Cato the Elder believed that Carthage may one day rise once again to challenge Rome’s power. The only solution, he thought, was that “Carthage must be destroyed” (Carthago delenda est). Finally, in the 140’s BCE, the Romans found their excuse to do just that. Claiming to defend an African ally that Carthage had interfered with, they declared a war of conquest and laid siege to Carthage. Eventually, they sent another Scipio, referred to as Scipio Aemilianus or Scipio the Younger, to finish the job. The city was stormed, sacked, and razed to the ground. The population was sold into slavery. It’s likely apocryphal that the fields were sewn with salt so that crops might no longer grow.

The Italian blackened power metal band Stormlord open their 2008 album Mare Nostrum with this eponymous track. Putting on the death-masks of their ancestors, the band presents themselves as Romans setting sail for Carthage at the beginning of the Third Punic War, determined to ensure that no rival can ever lay another claim to “Our Sea.”

Across the sea they live, plotting against us all
A constant shade laid over our empire
A rusty nail into the eternal city’s crown
Now it’s time to wield the deadly iron and to sail on

A thousand ships, the Roman pride,
By Scipio’s hand they’re led to war

Rise, rise, let Carthago pay
Sail, sail, across the sea
Rise, rise, let Carthago fall
Fight, fight, ’till the end

The Cato’s words burn in the heart of every man
The salt must be spread on the ruins, nothing will remain

Oh mighty lord of shadows, Hades, we’re calling you
Come witness our triumph
Carthago delenda est

Neither gods must dare Roma,
On your knees or die

And once again the eagle hammered on these wasted land
Will show the power of Roman soldier’s steel

Rise, rise, let Carthago pay
Sail, sail, across the sea
Rise, rise, let Carthago fall
Fight, fight, ’till the end

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