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28 min
First Punic War
264 BCE - 241 BCE

First Punic War

Words: Something Something

COVER ART: Richard Hook



The First Punic War was the first of three wars fought between Rome and Carthage, the two main powers of the western Mediterranean in the early 3rd century BC. For 23 years, in the longest continuous conflict and greatest naval war of antiquity, the two powers struggled for supremacy. The war was fought primarily on the Mediterranean island of Sicily and its surrounding waters, and also in North Africa. After immense losses on both sides, the Carthaginians were defeated.






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Prologue
Mamertines


CHAPTER   1

Prologue

289 BCE Jan 1

Sicily, Italy



The Roman Republic had been aggressively expanding in the southern Italian mainland for a century before the First Punic War. It had conquered peninsular Italy south of the River Arno by 272 BC when the Greek cities of southern Italy (Magna Graecia) submitted at the conclusion of the Pyrrhic War. During this period Carthage, with its capital in what is now Tunisia, had come to dominate southern Spain, much of the coastal regions of North Africa, the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, and the western half of Sicily, in a military and commercial empire. Beginning in 480 BC Carthage had fought a series of inconclusive wars against the Greek city states of Sicily, led by Syracuse. By 264 BC Carthage and Rome were the preeminent powers in the western Mediterranean. The two states had several times asserted their mutual friendship via formal alliances: in 509 BC, 348 BC and around 279 BC. Relationships were good, with strong commercial links. During the Pyrrhic War of 280–275 BC, against a king of Epirus who alternately fought Rome in Italy and Carthage on Sicily, Carthage provided materiel to the Romans and on at least one occasion used its navy to ferry a Roman force.


In 289 BC a group of Italian mercenaries known as Mamertines, previously hired by Syracuse, occupied the city of Messana (modern Messina) on the north-eastern tip of Sicily. Hard-pressed by Syracuse, the Mamertines appealed to both Rome and Carthage for assistance in 265 BC. The Carthaginians acted first, pressing Hiero II, king of Syracuse, into taking no further action and convincing the Mamertines to accept a Carthaginian garrison. According to Polybius, a considerable debate then took place in Rome as to whether to accept the Mamertines' appeal for assistance. As the Carthaginians had already garrisoned Messana acceptance could easily lead to war with Carthage. The Romans had not previously displayed any interest in Sicily and did not wish to come to the aid of soldiers who had unjustly stolen a city from its rightful owners. However, many of them saw strategic and monetary advantages in gaining a foothold in Sicily. The deadlocked Roman Senate, possibly at the instigation of Appius Claudius Caudex, put the matter before the popular assembly in 264 BC. Caudex encouraged a vote for action and held out the prospect of plentiful booty; the popular assembly decided to accept the Mamertines' request. Caudex was appointed commander of a military expedition with orders to cross to Sicily and place a Roman garrison in Messana.


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War begins


CHAPTER   2

War begins

264 BCE Jan 1

Sicily, Italy



The war began with the Romans landing on Sicily in 264 BC. Despite the Carthaginian naval advantage, the Roman crossing of the Strait of Messina was ineffectively opposed. Two legions commanded by Caudex marched to Messana, where the Mamertines had expelled the Carthaginian garrison commanded by Hanno (no relation to Hanno the Great) and were besieged by both the Carthaginians and the Syracusans. The sources are unclear as to why, but first the Syracusans, and then the Carthaginians withdrew from the siege. The Romans marched south and in turn besieged Syracuse, but they had neither a strong enough force nor the secure supply lines to prosecute a successful siege, and soon withdrew. The Carthaginians' experience over the previous two centuries of warfare on Sicily was that decisive action was impossible; military efforts petered out after heavy losses and huge expense. The Carthaginian leaders expected that this war would run a similar course. Meanwhile, their overwhelming maritime superiority would allow the war to be kept at a distance, and even for them to continue to prosper. This would allow them to recruit and pay an army that would operate in the open against the Romans, while their strongly fortified cities could be supplied by sea and provide a defensive base from which to operate.


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Battle of Messana


CHAPTER   3

Battle of Messana

264 BCE Jan 2

Messina, Metropolitan City of



The Battle of Messana in 264 BC was the first military clash between the Roman Republic and Carthage. It marked the start of the First Punic War. In that period, and after the recent successes in southern Italy, Sicily became of increasing strategic importance to Rome.


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Syracuse defects
| ©Angus McBride


CHAPTER   4

Syracuse defects

263 BCE Jan 1

Syracuse, Province of Syracuse



It was the long-standing Roman procedure to appoint two men each year, known as consuls, to each lead an army. In 263 BC both were sent to Sicily with a force of 40,000. Syracuse was again besieged, and with no Carthaginian assistance anticipated, Syracuse rapidly made peace with the Romans: it became a Roman ally, paid an indemnity of 100 talents of silver and, perhaps most importantly, agreed to help supply the Roman army in Sicily.


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Battle of Agrigentum


CHAPTER   5

Battle of Agrigentum

262 BCE Jan 1

Agrigento, AG, Italy



The Battle of Agrigentum (Sicily, 262 BC) was the first pitched battle of the First Punic War and the first large-scale military confrontation between Carthage and the Roman Republic. The battle was fought after a long siege which started in 262 BC and resulted both in a Roman victory and the beginning of Roman control of Sicily.


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Siege of Agrigento
| ©EthicallyChallenged


CHAPTER   6

Siege of Agrigento

262 BCE Jan 1

Agrigento, AG, Italy



Following the defection of Syracuse, several small Carthaginian dependencies switched to the Romans. Akragas, a port city halfway along the south coast of Sicily, was chosen by the Carthaginians as their strategic centre. The Romans marched on it in 262 BC and besieged it. The Romans had an inadequate supply system, partly because the Carthaginian naval supremacy prevented them from shipping supplies by sea, and they were not in any case accustomed to feeding an army as large as 40,000 men. At harvest time most of the army was dispersed over a wide area to harvest the crops and to forage. The Carthaginians, commanded by Hannibal Gisco, sortied in force, taking the Romans by surprise and penetrating their camp; the Romans rallied and routed the Carthaginians; after this experience both sides were more guarded.


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Rome builds a fleet


CHAPTER   7

Rome builds a fleet

261 BCE Jan 1

Ostia, Metropolitan City of Ro



The war in Sicily reached a stalemate, as the Carthaginians focused on defending their well-fortified towns and cities; these were mostly on the coast and so could be supplied and reinforced without the Romans being able to use their superior army to interdict. The focus of the war shifted to the sea, where the Romans had little experience; on the few occasions they had previously felt the need for a naval presence they had usually relied on small squadrons provided by their Latin or Greek allies.


According to Polybius, the Romans seized a shipwrecked Carthaginian quinquereme, and used it as a blueprint for their own ships. The new fleets were commanded by the annually elected Roman magistrates, but naval expertise was provided by the lower officers, who continued to be provided by the socii, mostly Greeks. This practice was continued until well into the Empire, something also attested by the direct adoption of numerous Greek naval terms. As novice shipwrights, the Romans built copies that were heavier than the Carthaginian vessels, and so slower and less manoeuvrable.


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Carthage recruits an army


CHAPTER   8

Carthage recruits an army

261 BCE Apr 1

Tunis, Tunisia



Meanwhile, Carthage had recruited an army, which assembled in Africa and was shipped to Sicily. It was composed of 50,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry and 60 elephants, and was commanded by Hanno, son of Hannibal; it was partly made up of Ligurians, Celts and Iberians. Five months after the siege began, Hanno marched to Akragas's relief. When he arrived, he merely camped on high ground, engaged in desultory skirmishing and trained his army. Two months later, in spring 261 BC, he attacked. The Carthaginians were defeated with heavy losses at the Battle of Akragas. The Romans, under both consuls – Lucius Postumius Megellus and Quintus Mamilius Vitulus – pursued, capturing the Carthaginians' elephants and baggage train. That night the Carthaginian garrison escaped while the Romans were distracted. The next day the Romans seized the city and its inhabitants, selling 25,000 of them into slavery.


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Battle of the Lipari Islands
Battle of the Lipari Islands | ©Angus McBride


CHAPTER   9

Battle of the Lipari Islands

260 BCE Jan 1

Lipari, Metropolitan City of M



The Battle of the Lipari Islands or Battle of Lipara was a naval encounter fought in 260 BC during the First Punic War. A squadron of 20 Carthaginian ships commanded by Boödes surprised 17 Roman ships under the senior consul for the year Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio in Lipara Harbour. The inexperienced Romans made a poor showing, with all 17 of their ships captured, along with their commander. The Romans had recently built a fleet in order to contest the Carthaginians' maritime control of the western Mediterranean and Scipio had impetuously ventured to the Liparas with the advance squadron.


The battle was little more than a skirmish, but is notable as the first naval encounter of the Punic Wars and the first time Roman warships had engaged in battle. Scipio was ransomed after the battle and known thereafter as Asina (Latin for "female donkey").


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Battle of Mylae


CHAPTER   10

Battle of Mylae

260 BCE Jan 1

Milazzo, Metropolitan City of



The Battle of Mylae took place in 260 BC during the First Punic War and was the first real naval battle between Carthage and the Roman Republic. This battle was key in the Roman victory of Mylae (present-day Milazzo) as well as Sicily itself. It also marked Rome's first naval triumph and also the first use of the corvus in battle.


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After Akragas


CHAPTER   11

After Akragas

259 BCE Jan 1

Sicily, Italy



After this success for the Romans, the war became fragmented for several years, with minor successes for each side, but no clear focus. In part this was because the Romans diverted many of their resources to an ultimately fruitless campaign against Corsica and Sardinia, and then into the equally fruitless expedition to Africa.


After taking Akragas the Romans advanced westward to besiege Mytistraton for seven months, without success. In 259 BC they advanced toward Thermae on the north coast. After a quarrel, the Roman troops and their allies set up separate camps. Hamilcar took advantage of this to launch a counter-attack, taking one of the contingents by surprise as it was breaking camp and killing 4,000–6,000. Hamilcar went on to seize Enna, in central Sicily, and Camarina, in the south east, dangerously close to Syracuse. Hamilcar seemed close to overrunning the whole of Sicily. The following year the Romans retook Enna and finally captured Mytistraton. They then moved on Panormus (modern Palermo), but had to withdraw, although they did capture Hippana. In 258 BC they recaptured Camarina after a lengthy siege. For the next few years petty raiding, skirmishing and the occasional defection of a smaller town from one side to the other continued on Sicily.


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Battle of Sulci
Battle of Sulci


CHAPTER   12

Battle of Sulci

258 BCE Jan 1

Sant'Antioco, South Sardinia,



The Battle of Sulci was a naval battle fought in 258 BC between the Roman and Carthaginian navies on the coast near the town of Sulci, Sardinia. It was a Roman victory, obtained by consul Gaius Sulpicius Paterculus. The Carthaginian fleet was largely sunk, and the rest of the ships were abandoned on land. The Carthaginian commander Hannibal Gisco was crucified or stoned to death by his mutinying army.The Romans were subsequently defeated by a certain Hanno in Sardinia, and the Roman attempt to capture the island failed. The loss of ships prevented the Carthaginians from mounting major operations from Sardinia against the Romans.


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Battle of Tyndaris
Battle of Tyndaris


CHAPTER   13

Battle of Tyndaris

257 BCE Jan 1

Tindari, Metropolitan City of



The Battle of Tyndaris was a naval battle of the First Punic War that took place off Tyndaris (modern Tindari) in 257 BC. Tyndaris was a Sicilian town founded as a Greek colony in 396 BC located on the high ground overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea in the Gulf of Patti. Hiero II, the tyrant of Syracuse, allowed Tyndaris to become a base for the Carthaginians. The battle took place in the waters between Tyndaris and the Aeolian Islands, with Gaius Atilius Regulus in command of the Roman fleet. Subsequently, the town fell to Rome.


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Invasion of Africa


CHAPTER   14

Invasion of Africa

256 BCE Jan 1

Tunis, Tunisia



Largely because of the Romans' invention of the corvus, a device that enabled them to grapple and board enemy vessels more easily, the Carthaginians were defeated in large naval battles at Mylae (260 BC) and Sulci (257 BC). Encouraged by these and frustrated at the continuing stalemate in Sicily, the Romans changed their focus to a sea-based strategy and developed a plan to invade the Carthaginian heartland in North Africa and threaten Carthage (close to Tunis). Both sides were determined to establish naval supremacy and invested large amounts of money and manpower in maintaining and increasing the size of their navies.


The Roman fleet of 330 warships plus an unknown number of transport ships sailed from Ostia, the port of Rome, in early 256 BC, commanded by the consuls for the year, Marcus Atilius Regulus and Lucius Manlius Vulso Longus. They embarked approximately 26,000 picked legionaries from the Roman forces on Sicily. They planned to cross to Africa and invade what is now Tunisia.


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Battle of Cape Ecnomus | ©Invicta


CHAPTER   15

Battle of Cape Ecnomus

256 BCE Jan 1

Licata, AG, Italy



The Battle of Cape Ecnomus or Eknomos was a naval battle, fought off southern Sicily, in 256 BC, between the fleets of Carthage and the Roman Republic, during the First Punic War (264–241 BC). The Carthaginian fleet was commanded by Hanno and Hamilcar; the Roman fleet jointly by the consuls for the year, Marcus Atilius Regulus and Lucius Manlius Vulso Longus. It resulted in a clear victory for the Romans. The Roman fleet of 330 warships plus an unknown number of transports had sailed from Ostia, the port of Rome, and had embarked approximately 26,000 picked legionaries shortly before the battle. They planned to cross to Africa and invade the Carthaginian homeland, in what is now Tunisia. The Carthaginians were aware of the Romans' intentions and mustered all available warships, 350, off the south coast of Sicily to intercept them.


With a combined total of about 680 warships carrying up to 290,000 crew and marines, the battle was possibly the largest naval battle in history by the number of combatants involved. When the fleets met, the Carthaginians took the initiative and the battle devolved into three separate conflicts, where the Carthaginians hoped that their superior ship-handling skills would win the day. After a prolonged and confusing day of fighting, the Carthaginians were decisively defeated, losing 30 ships sunk and 64 captured to Roman losses of 24 ships sunk.


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Siege of Aspis


CHAPTER   16

Siege of Aspis

255 BCE Feb 1

Kelibia, Tunisia



The siege of Aspis or Clupea was fought in 255 BC between Carthage and the Roman Republic. It was the first fighting on African land during the First Punic War.


The Romans moved to besiege Aspis by building a trench and palisade to defend their ships. Carthage was not yet prepared to fight on land and the city fell after the garrison made a short resistance. By taking Clupea, the Romans controlled the area of land opposite to Carthage and secured their rear in order to scour the enemy before them. The Romans forced Aspis to surrender, and having left in their place a proper garrison, they sent some messengers to Rome to inform them of their success and to receive instructions on the next measures to be pursued. They then decamped with all their forces, and marched through the country to plunder it.


After defeating the Carthaginians, the Romans dispatched most of their fleet back to Rome except for a number of 15,000 infantry and 500 cavalry. The rest of the army, under the command of Marcus Atilius Regulus, remained in North Africa. Advancing inland and plundering the territory along the way, they stopped at the city of Adys. The resulting siege of Adys gave the Carthaginians time to gather an army, only to have that army defeated at the Battle of Adys.


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Regulus advances towards Carthage


CHAPTER   17

Regulus advances towards Carthage

255 BCE Feb 1

Oudna، Tunisia



The battle of Adys was fought between a Carthaginian army jointly commanded by Bostar, Hamilcar and Hasdrubal and a Roman army led by Marcus Atilius Regulus. Earlier in the year, the new Roman navy established naval superiority and used this advantage to invade the Carthaginian homeland, which roughly aligned with modern Tunisia in North Africa. After landing on the Cape Bon Peninsula and conducting a successful campaign, the fleet returned to Sicily, leaving Regulus with 15,500 men to hold the lodgement in Africa over the winter.


Instead of holding his position, Regulus advanced towards the Carthaginian capital, Carthage. The Carthaginian army established itself on a rocky hill near Adys (modern Uthina) where Regulus was besieging the town. Regulus had his forces execute a night march to launch twin dawn assaults on the Carthaginians' fortified hilltop camp. One part of this force was repulsed and pursued down the hill. The other part then charged the pursuing Carthaginians in the rear and routed them in turn. At this the Carthaginians remaining in the camp panicked and fled. The Romans advanced to and captured Tunis, only 16 kilometres (10 mi) from Carthage.


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Carthage sues for peace


CHAPTER   18

Carthage sues for peace

255 BCE Mar 1

Tunis, Tunisia



The Romans followed up and captured Tunis, only 16 km (10 mi) from Carthage. From Tunis the Romans raided and devastated the immediate area around Carthage. In despair, the Carthaginians sued for peace but Regulus offered such harsh terms that the Carthaginians decided to fight on. Charge of the training of their army was given to the Spartan mercenary commander Xanthippus.


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Roman reversal: Battle of Tunis
Battle of the Bagradas River


CHAPTER   19

Roman reversal: Battle of Tunis

255 BCE Apr 1

Oued Medjerda, Tunisia



In the spring of 255 BC, Xanthippus led an army strong in cavalry and elephants against the Romans' infantry-based force. The Romans had no effective answer to the elephants. Their outnumbered cavalry were chased from the field and the Carthaginian cavalry then surrounded most of the Romans and wiped them out; 500 survived and were captured, including Regulus. A force of 2,000 Romans avoided being surrounded and retreated to Aspis. The war continued for another 14 years, mostly on Sicily or in nearby waters, before ending with a Roman victory; the terms offered to Carthage were more generous than those proposed by Regulus.



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Rome withdrawal: Battle of Cape Hermaeum


CHAPTER   20

Rome withdrawal: Battle of Cape Hermaeum

255 BCE Oct 1

Cape Bon, Tunisia



Later in 255 BC the Romans sent a fleet of 350 quinqueremes and more than 300 transports to evacuate their survivors, who were under siege in Aspis. Both consuls for the year, Servius Fulvius Paetinus Nobilior and Marcus Aemilius Paullus, accompanied the fleet. They captured the island of Cossyra en route.


The Carthaginians attempted to oppose the evacuation with 200 quinqueremes. They intercepted the Romans off Cape Hermaeum (the modern Cape Bon or Ras ed-Dar), a little to the north of Aspis. The 40 Roman ships which had been left to support Regulus's force over the winter sortied from Aspis to join the fight. Few details of the battle have survived. The Carthaginians were concerned they would be encircled by the larger Roman fleet and so sailed close to the coast. However, the Carthaginian ships were outmanoeuvred and pinned against the coast, where many were boarded via the corvus and captured, or forced to beach. The Carthaginians were defeated and 114 of their ships were captured, together with their crews, and 16 sunk. What, if any, the Roman losses were is not known; most modern historians assume there were none. The historian Marc DeSantis suggests that a lack of soldiers serving as marines on the Carthaginian ships, compared with the Romans', may have been a factor in their defeat and in the large number of vessels captured.


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Storm wrecks Roman fleet
| ©Luke Berliner


CHAPTER   21

Storm wrecks Roman fleet

255 BCE Dec 1

Mediterranean Sea



The Roman fleet was devastated by a storm while returning to Italy, with 384 ships sunk from their total of 464 and 100,000 men lost, the majority non-Roman Latin allies. It is possible that the presence of the corvus made the Roman ships unusually unseaworthy; there is no record of them being used after this disaster.


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Carthaginians capture Akragas


CHAPTER   22

Carthaginians capture Akragas

254 BCE Jan 1

Agrigento, AG, Italy



In 254 BC the Carthaginians attacked and captured Akragas, but not believing they could hold the city, they burned it, razed its walls and left.


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Romans in Africa again


CHAPTER   23

Romans in Africa again

253 BCE Jan 1

Tunis, Tunisia



In 253 BC the Romans changed their focus to Africa again and carried out several raids. They lost another 150 ships, from a fleet of 220, to a storm while returning from raiding the North African coast east of Carthage. They rebuilt again.


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Roman victory in Panormus


CHAPTER   24

Roman victory in Panormus

251 BCE Jun 1

Palermo, PA, Italy



In late summer 251 BC the Carthaginian commander Hasdrubal – who had faced Regulus in Africa – hearing that one consul had left Sicily for the winter with half of the Roman army, advanced on Panormus and devastated the countryside. The Roman army, which had been dispersed to gather the harvest, withdrew into Panormus. Hasdrubal boldly advanced most of his army, including the elephants, towards the city walls. The Roman commander Lucius Caecilius Metellus sent out skirmishers to harass the Carthaginians, keeping them constantly supplied with javelins from the stocks within the city. The ground was covered with earthworks constructed during the Roman siege, making it difficult for the elephants to advance. Peppered with missiles and unable to retaliate, the elephants fled through the Carthaginian infantry behind them. Metallus had opportunistically moved a large force to the Carthaginian's left flank, and they charged into their disordered opponents. The Carthaginians fled; Metellus captured ten elephants but did not permit a pursuit. Contemporary accounts do not report either side's losses, and modern historians consider later claims of 20,000–30,000 Carthaginian casualties improbable.


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Siege of Lilybaeum


CHAPTER   25

Siege of Lilybaeum

250 BCE Jan 1 - 244 BCE

Marsala, Free municipal consor



The siege of Lilybaeum lasted for nine years, from 250 to 241 BC, as the Roman army laid siege to the Carthaginian-held Sicilian city of Lilybaeum (modern Marsala) during the First Punic War. Rome and Carthage had been at war since 264 BC, fighting mostly on the island of Sicily or in the waters around it, and the Romans were slowly pushing the Carthaginians back. By 250 BC, the Carthaginians held only the cities of Lilybaeum and Drepana; these were well-fortified and situated on the west coast, where they could be supplied and reinforced by sea without the Romans being able to use their superior army to interfere.


In mid-250 BC the Romans besieged Lilybaeum with more than 100,000 men but an attempt to storm Lilybaeum failed and the siege became a stalemate. The Romans then attempted to destroy the Carthaginian fleet but the Roman fleet was destroyed in the naval Battles of Drepana and Phintias; the Carthaginians continued to supply the city from the sea. Nine years later, in 242 BC, the Romans built a new fleet and cut off Carthaginian shipments. The Carthaginians reconstituted their fleet and dispatched it to Sicily loaded with supplies. The Romans met it not far from Lilybaeum and at the Battle of the Aegates in 241 BC the Romans defeated the Carthaginian fleet. The Carthaginians sued for peace and the war ended after 23 years with a Roman victory. The Carthaginians still held Lilybaeum but by the terms of the Treaty of Lutatius, Carthage had to withdraw its forces from Sicily and evacuated the city the same year.


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Battle of Panormus


CHAPTER   26

Battle of Panormus

250 BCE Jan 1

Palermo, PA, Italy



The Battle of Panormus was fought in Sicily in 250 BC during the First Punic War between a Roman army led by Lucius Caecilius Metellus and a Carthaginian force led by Hasdrubal, son of Hanno. The Roman force of two legions defending the city of Panormus defeated the much larger Carthaginian army of 30,000 men and between 60 and 142 war elephants.


The war had commenced in 264 BC with Carthage in control of much of Sicily, where most of the fighting took place. In 256–255 BC the Romans attempted to strike at the city of Carthage in North Africa, but suffered a heavy defeat by a Carthaginian army strong in cavalry and elephants. When the focus of the war returned to Sicily, the Romans captured the large and important city of Panormus in 254 BC. Thereafter they avoided battle for fear of the war elephants which the Carthaginians had shipped to Sicily. In late summer 250 BC Hasdrubal led out his army to devastate the crops of the cities of Rome's allies. The Romans withdrew to Panormus and Hasdrubal pressed on to the city walls.


Once he arrived in Panormus, Metellus turned to fight, countering the elephants with a hail of javelins from earthworks dug near the walls. Under this missile fire the elephants panicked and fled through the Carthaginian infantry. The Roman heavy infantry then charged the Carthaginian left flank, which broke, along with the rest of the Carthaginians. The elephants were captured and later slaughtered in the Circus Maximus. This was the last significant land battle of the war, which ended nine years later in a Roman victory.


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Siege of Drepana


CHAPTER   27

Siege of Drepana

249 BCE Jan 1 - 241 BCE

Trapani, Free municipal consor



The siege of Drepana took place from about 249 to 241 BC during the First Punic War. Drepana (today's Trapani) and Lilybaeum (today's Marsala) were two Carthaginian naval strongholds at the western end of Sicily that came under prolonged Roman attack. During the beginning of the siege, the naval victory of the Carthaginians over the Roman Republic at the Battle of Drepana destroyed the Roman naval blockade and allowed the Carthaginians to provide support for the two besieged ports via the sea. The access by land to Drepana was limited by the presence of Mount Eryx. So land access to Drepana was contested by both armies with the Romans eventually prevailing. In 241 BC, the Romans under Gaius Lutatius Catulus had rebuilt their fleet and intensified their siege of Drepana forcing the Carthaginians to send a fleet to support the town. The fleet from Carthage was intercepted and destroyed by the newly built Roman fleet during the Battle of the Aegates Islands, effectively ending the First Punic War.


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Battle of Drepana
Battle of Drepana | ©Radu Oltean


CHAPTER   28

Battle of Drepana

249 BCE Jan 1

Trapani, Italy



The naval Battle of Drepana (or Drepanum) took place in 249 BC during the First Punic War near Drepana (modern Trapani) in western Sicily, between a Carthaginian fleet under Adherbal and a Roman fleet commanded by Publius Claudius Pulcher.


Pulcher was blockading the Carthaginian stronghold of Lilybaeum (modern Marsala) when he decided to attack their fleet, which was in the harbour of the nearby city of Drepana. The Roman fleet sailed by night to carry out a surprise attack but became scattered in the dark. Adherbal was able to lead his fleet out to sea before it was trapped in harbour; having gained sea room in which to manoeuvre he then counter-attacked. The Romans were pinned against the shore, and after a day of fighting were heavily defeated by the more manoeuvrable Carthaginian ships with their better-trained crews. It was Carthage's greatest naval victory of the war; they turned to the maritime offensive after Drepana and all but swept the Romans from the sea. It was seven years before Rome again attempted to field a substantial fleet, while Carthage put most of its ships into reserve to save money and free up manpower.


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Battle of Phintias


CHAPTER   29

Battle of Phintias

249 BCE Jul 1

Licata, AG, Italy



The naval Battle of Phintias took place in 249 BC during the First Punic War near modern Licata, southern Sicily between the fleets of Carthage under Carthalo and the Roman Republic under Lucius Junius Pullus. The Carthaginian fleet had intercepted the Roman Fleet off Phintias, and had forced it to seek shelter. Carthalo, who heeded the warning of his pilots about impending storms, retired to the east to avoid the coming weather. The Roman fleet did not take any precautions and subsequently was destroyed with the loss of all but two ships. The Carthaginians exploited their victory by raiding the coasts of Roman Italy until 243 BC. The Romans did not mount a major naval effort until 242 BC.


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Romans besieges Lilybaeum


CHAPTER   30

Romans besieges Lilybaeum

249 BCE Aug 1

Marsala, Free municipal consor



Encouraged by their victory at Panormus, the Romans moved against the main Carthaginian base on Sicily, Lilybaeum, in 249 BC. A large army commanded by the year's consuls Publius Claudius Pulcher and Lucius Junius Pullus besieged the city. They had rebuilt their fleet, and 200 ships blockaded the harbour. Early in the blockade, 50 Carthaginian quinqueremes gathered off the Aegates Islands, which lie 15–40 km (9–25 mi) to the west of Sicily. Once there was a strong west wind, they sailed into Lilybaeum before the Romans could react and unloaded reinforcements and a large quantity of supplies. They evaded the Romans by leaving at night, evacuating the Carthaginian cavalry. The Romans sealed off the landward approach to Lilybaeum with earth and timber camps and walls. They made repeated attempts to block the harbour entrance with a heavy timber boom, but due to the prevailing sea conditions they were unsuccessful. The Carthaginian garrison was kept supplied by blockade runners, light and manoeuvrable quinqueremes with highly trained crews and experienced pilots.


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War taking its toll


CHAPTER   31

War taking its toll

248 BCE Jan 1

Marsala, Free municipal consor



By 248 BC the Carthaginians held only two cities on Sicily: Lilybaeum and Drepana; these were well-fortified and situated on the west coast, where they could be supplied and reinforced without the Romans being able to use their superior army to interfere.


After more than 20 years of war, both states were financially and demographically exhausted. Evidence of Carthage's financial situation includes their request for a 2,000 talent loan from Ptolemaic Egypt, which was refused. Rome was also close to bankruptcy and the number of adult male citizens, who provided the manpower for the navy and the legions, had declined by 17 percent since the start of the war. Goldsworthy describes Roman manpower losses as "appalling".


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Hamilcar barca takes charge
Hamilcar Barca


CHAPTER   32

Hamilcar barca takes charge

247 BCE Jan 1 - 244 BCE

Reggio Calabria, Metropolitan



Hamilcar, upon taking command in the summer of 247 BC, punished the rebellious mercenaries (who had revolted because of overdue payments) by murdering some of them at night and drowning the rest at sea, and dismissing many to different part of northern Africa. With a reduced army and fleet, Hamilcar commenced his operations. Romans had divided their forces, Consul L. Caelius Metellus was near Lilybaeum, while Numerius Fabius Buteo was besieging Drepanum at that time. Hamilcar probably fought an inconclusive battle at Drepanum, but there is cause to doubt this.


Hamilcar next raided Locri in Bruttium and the area around Brindisi in 247 BC, and on his return he seized a strong position on Mount Ercte (Monte Pellegrino, just north of Palermo or Mt. Castellacio, 7 miles north-west of Palermo), and not only maintained himself against all attacks, but carried on with his seaborne raids ranging from Catana in Sicily to far as Cumae in central Italy. He also set about improving the spirit of the army, and succeeded in creating a highly disciplined and versatile force. While Hamilcar won no large-scale battle or recaptured any cities lost to the Romans, he waged a relentless campaign against the enemy, and caused a constant drain on Roman resources. However, if Hamilcar had hoped to recapture Panormus, he failed in his strategy. Roman forces led by the consuls Marcus Otacilius Crassus and Marcaus Fabius Licinus achieved little against Hamilcar in 246 BC, and the consuls of 245 BC, Marcus Fabius Bueto and Atilius Bulbus, fared no better.


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Hamilcar Barca captures Eryx
| ©Angus McBride


CHAPTER   33

Hamilcar Barca captures Eryx

244 BCE Jan 1 - 241 BCE

Eryx, Free municipal consortiu



In 244 BC, Hamilcar transferred his army at night by sea to a similar position on the slopes of Mt. Eryx (Monte San Giuliano), from which he was able to lend support to the besieged garrison in the neighbouring town of Drepanum (Trapani). Hamilcar seized the town of Eryx, captured by the Romans in 249 BC, after destroying the Roman garrison, and positioned his army between the Roman forces stationed at the summit and their camp at the base of the mountain. Hamilcar removed the population to Drepana. Hamilcar continued his activities unhindered from his position for another two years, being supplied by road from Drepana, although Carthaginian ships had been withdrawn from Sicily by this time and no naval raids were launched. During one of the raids, when troops under a subordinate commander named Bodostor engaged in plunder against the orders of Hamilcar and suffered severe casualties when the Romans caught up to them, Hamilcar requested a truce to bury his dead. Roman consul Fundanius (243/2 BC) arrogantly replied that Hamilcar should request a truce to save his living and denied the request. Hamilcar managed to inflict severe casualties on the Romans soon after, and when the Roman consul requested a truce to bury his dead, Hamilcar replied that his quarrel was with the living only and the dead had already settled their dues, and granted the truce.


The actions of Hamilcar, and his immunity to defeat, plus the stalemate at the siege of Lilybaeum caused the Romans to start building a fleet in 243 BC to seek a decision at sea. However, the constant skirmishing without ultimate victory may have caused the morale of some of Hamilcar's troops to crack and 1,000 Celtic mercenaries tried to betray the Punic camp to the Romans, which was foiled. Hamilcar had to promise considerable rewards to keep the morale of his army up, which was to produce near fatal problems for Carthage later on.


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Rome builds a new fleet


CHAPTER   34

Rome builds a new fleet

243 BCE Jan 1

Ostia, Metropolitan City of Ro



In late 243 BC, realizing they would not capture Drepana and Lilybaeum unless they could extend their blockade to the sea, the Senate decided to build a new fleet. With the state's coffers exhausted, the Senate approached Rome's wealthiest citizens for loans to finance the construction of one ship each, repayable from the reparations to be imposed on Carthage once the war was won. The result was a fleet of approximately 200 quinqueremes, built, equipped, and crewed without government expense. The Romans modelled the ships of their new fleet on a captured blockade runner with especially good qualities. By now, the Romans were experienced at shipbuilding, and with a proven vessel as a model produced high-quality quinqueremes. Importantly, the corvus was abandoned, which improved the ships' speed and handling but forced a change in tactics on the Romans; they would need to be superior sailors, rather than superior soldiers, to beat the Carthaginians.


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War ends: Battle of the Aegates
Battle of the Aegates


CHAPTER   35

War ends: Battle of the Aegates

241 BCE Mar 10

Aegadian Islands, Italy



The Battle of the Aegates was a naval battle fought on 10 March 241 BC between the fleets of Carthage and Rome during the First Punic War. It took place among the Aegates Islands, off the western coast of the island of Sicily. The Carthaginians were commanded by Hanno, and the Romans were under the overall authority of Gaius Lutatius Catulus, but Quintus Valerius Falto commanded during the battle. It was the final and deciding battle of the 23-year-long First Punic War.


The Roman army had been blockading the Carthaginians in their last strongholds on the west coast of Sicily for several years. Almost bankrupt, the Romans borrowed money to build a naval fleet, which they used to extend the blockade to the sea. The Carthaginians assembled a larger fleet which they intended to use to run supplies into Sicily. It would then embark much of the Carthaginian army stationed there as marines. It was intercepted by the Roman fleet and in a hard-fought battle, the better-trained Romans defeated the undermanned and ill-trained Carthaginian fleet, which was further handicapped by being laden with supplies and having not yet embarked its full complement of marines.


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War ends


CHAPTER   36

War ends

241 BCE Jun 1

Tunis, Tunisia



After achieving this decisive victory, the Romans continued their land operations in Sicily against Lilybaeum and Drepana. The Carthaginian Senate was reluctant to allocate the resources necessary to have another fleet built and manned. Instead, it ordered Hamilcar to negotiate a peace treaty with the Romans, which he left up to his subordinate Gisco. The Treaty of Lutatius was signed and brought the First Punic War to its end: Carthage evacuated Sicily, handed over all prisoners taken during the war, and paid an indemnity of 3,200 talents over ten years.


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CHAPTER   37

Epilogue

240 BCE Jan 1

Carthage, Tunisia



The war lasted 23 years, the longest war in Romano-Greek history and the greatest naval war of the ancient world. In its aftermath Carthage attempted to avoid paying in full the foreign troops who had fought its war. Eventually they rebelled and were joined by many disgruntled local groups. They were put down with great difficulty and considerable savagery. In 237 BC Carthage prepared an expedition to recover the island of Sardinia, which had been lost to the rebels. Cynically, the Romans stated they considered this an act of war. Their peace terms were the ceding of Sardinia and Corsica and the payment of an additional 1,200-talent indemnity. Weakened by 30 years of war, Carthage agreed rather than enter into a conflict with Rome again; the additional payment and the renunciation of Sardinia and Corsica were added to the treaty as a codicil. These actions by Rome fuelled resentment in Carthage, which was not reconciled to Rome's perception of its situation, and are considered contributory factors in the outbreak of the Second Punic War.


The leading role of Hamilcar Barca in the defeat of the mutinous foreign troops and African rebels greatly enhanced the prestige and power of the Barcid family. In 237 BC Hamilcar led many of his veterans on an expedition to expand Carthaginian holdings in southern Iberia (modern Spain). Over the following 20 years this was to become a semi-autonomous Barcid fiefdom and the source of much of the silver used to pay the large indemnity owed to Rome.


For Rome, the end of the First Punic War marked the start of its expansion beyond the Italian Peninsula. Sicily became the first Roman province as Sicilia, governed by a former praetor. Sicily would become important to Rome as a source of grain.ardinia and Corsica, combined, also became a Roman province and a source of grain, under a praetor, although a strong military presence was required for at least the next seven years, as the Romans struggled to suppress the local inhabitants. Syracuse was granted nominal independence and ally status for the lifetime of Hiero II. Henceforth Rome was the leading military power in the western Mediterranean, and increasingly the Mediterranean region as a whole. The Romans had built more than 1,000 galleys during the war, and this experience of building, manning, training, supplying and maintaining such numbers of ships laid the foundation for Rome's maritime dominance for 600 years. The question of which state was to control the western Mediterranean remained open, and when Carthage besieged the Roman-protected town of Saguntum in eastern Iberia in 218 BC it ignited the Second Punic War with Rome.


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