Carthage had become the centre of a maritime empire stretching along the coast of southern Spain and North Africa and including the western part of Sicily by the 3rd century BC. Carthage's major enemies were the Greek cities of Sicily and southern Italy.
Rome called for the help of Italian mercenaries at Messina to help with the Sicilian quarrel in 264 BC against the Carthaginians. The Romans had to build their own fleet to counter the powerful Carthaginian navy. They were successful against the Carthaginians on land at Agrigentum (262 BC), at sea off Mylae (260 BC), and Ecnomus (256 BC). But their attempt of invasion of Africa was a disaster, their fleet was destroyed at Drepana in 249 BC. It took eight more years of war for the Romans to have a final victory in a sea battle off the Aegates islands.
The victory in the First Punic War gave the Romans control of Sicily, but it did not deter the Carthaginians from launching a second war. The leader of the Carthaginian forces was Hannibal, which marched his army from southern Spain across the Alps into northern Italy thus defeating the Roman armies sent against him. Hannibal was not able to capture Rome itself. Despite the fact that at the height of his success, much of southern Italy had defected to him, he was unable to break the Romans' hold on the peninsula. In 203 BC he was forced to return to Africa to defend Carthage itself against Roman counter-attack.
His defeat by the Roman general Scipio at Zama in 202 BC brought the Second Punic War to an end and confirmed Rome's standing as the regional superpower.