To the west of Greece there are two distinct cultures - the sea-faring people of Carthage; and the rising power of Rome. It is inevitable these two powers will soon clash.
Carthage is a Phoenician colony made up of political exiles from Tyre. The Greeks and the Phoenicians have fought wars on and off for centuries and the current war is between Syracuse and Carthage over control of Sicily.
Carthage is a young city, founded a few hundred years ago by Queen Dido. She was the Queen of Tyre, the Phoenician capital which lay on a small island just of the coast off the Levant. Deposed by her own brother, Dido fled the Tyre with hundreds of supporters. Landing in North Africa she faced a local king keen to force her back into the sea. She pleaded with him to allow her people to settle, and he agreed that she could have as much land as she could cover with the skin of a single cow. Dido took the skin and cut in into thin strips, laying them in a huge circle big enough to build a city. Unable to break his word, the king allowed her people to settle and the rise of Carthage began.
Soon the city came to dominate the other Phoenician colonies in the region, then took over nearby African kingdoms by force. When the old mother city Tyre fell to the Persians a century ago it left Carthage as the centre of the Phoenician world. It controls much of north Africa, the Balearic Islands and half of Sicily, and has colonies along the east coast of Hispania. Out of this melting pot, a distinctive, carthaginian culture has arisen.
Carthage is larger than any city in Greece with only Athens coming close. It is centred around a massive harbour through which flows most of the trade in the western Mediterranean. In the middle of the harbour is a wonder of architecture, the Admiralty of Carthage, raised on piles driven into the harbour floor.
The navy is the pride of the city. It protects their trade and carries armies, with their much-feared elephants, to war. Carthaginian sailors are amongst the best in the world and they alone sail to far northern islands beyond the Gauls to buy tin and gold. The navy is so central to their culture and survival that the men and women of its crews must be native, freeborn Carthaginians.
Carthage has a large pantheon of gods but by far the most powerful are the couple Ba'al Hammon and Tanit. Ba'al Hammon is the god of the sun and Tanit is the goddess of the moon, war and mothers. The third most powerful god is Dido herself. She died defending her people from invaders and is worshipped as the city's patron. This lifted her to godhood.
Like the Greek gods, the carthaginian gods are active and the central three take on champions. The gods have always done this but they are focused too much on expanding their culture through colonisation. They did not pay enough attention to their home city of Tyre and lost it to the Zoroastrian Persians. Champions of Tanit are active in Sicily and whilst she focuses on the war there, Ba'al Hammon sends his champions to found new colonies elsewhere. Dido obsessively protects Carthage itself and her champions are forbidden to roam far from its wall and port.
Rome is the most powerful of the many cities in Italy and named after Romulus who founded the City. Romulus and his brother Remus were the sons of mortal queen and Ares. By a twist of fate the new born infants were thrown in the River Tiber and nursed by a she-wolf until a peasant couple found the babies. When they were grown men Ares revealed their true heritage and commanded them to found a new city in his honour.
Romulus gained the honour of naming the city by murdering Remus in an argument over where the city should be placed. This tendency towards directness seems to have become a trait of the city itself, probably due to the influence of Ares. When Romulus wanted to obtain slaves for his people he simply invited local tribesfolk into the city for a feast and then imprisoned them.
The city is a republic ruled by a pair of Consuls who are elected every year, not by the people but by a Senate of the richest and oldest families. Rome has taken control of much of the Italian peninsula by assimilating the peoples around it as much as by military conquest. Their culture is Etruscan, like the rest of Italy, but they also have a fascination with Greek ways, modelling most of their art, dress and architecture on Greek designs.
Roman society has rigidly-defined classes and people are expected to know their place. The three classes are the lowly but free plebeians, the equites who make up the civil service, and the aristocratic patricians. The patricians control the senate and consuls are elected from their number. The plebeians are the most numerous by far, so civic politics in Rome is a power struggle between the two groups. Unrepresented in Roman politics are the huge number of slaves in the city.
Rome itself sprawls over a hill on the bank of the River Tiber, a large and sophisticated modern city. Their architecture and engineering are impressive but imitations of Greek designs. The Senate and the Forum, where the rulers and people debate current affairs, are the heart of the physical city and centre of it politics.
Roman military power is confined to the land and was based on Greek military thinking, but they have adopted a sword-based style. They fight in three ranks dictated by the Roman class system. The youngest and poorest go to the front and the oldest and richest towards the rear. Light troops with slings and bows give the Roman armies a modicum of reach but they rely on the ranks of swordsmen to break the enemy. Roman horsemen are rare and used for scouting and as messengers.
Religion in Rome is defined by the circumstances of its founding and the hidden role of Ares. Whilst founded by brothers who were unknowingly champions of Ares, he did this in the guise of the Etruscan war god Mars. This masked his identity and prevent raising Athena's suspicions. As such, the Etruscan gods worshipped in Rome can be identified with the Greek gods. This affinity becomes ever closer as Rome further adopts Greek ways. Many mortals believe the Greek and Etruscan gods are the same deities.