"pertaining to or characteristic of Carthage or Carthaginians," 1530s, from Latin Punicus, earlier Poenicus "Carthaginian," originally "Phoenician" (adj.), Carthage having been founded as a Phoenician colony, from Poenus (n.), from Greek Phoinix "Phoenician" (see Phoenician). As a noun, "the (Semitic) language of Carthage," by 1670s.
Carthaginians were proverbial among the Romans as treacherous and perfidious. The Punic Wars were three wars between the Romans and the Carthaginians fought between 264 and 146 B.C.E. resulting in the overthrow of Carthage and its annexation to Rome. Related: Punical (early 15c.).