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The First Punic War

Багерман А.Я.

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The Punic Wars are a series of wars (there were three in total), with interruptions, between Ancient Rome (Roman Republic) and Carthage (a former colony of Phoenicia in North Africa, which later became an independent state). Rome won, capturing the entire Western Mediterranean and destroying Carthage.

The First Punic War — the first war between Rome and Carthage, which lasted 23 years and ended with the victory of the Roman Republic.

Punns or Punians (Latin punicus) is the Latin name of the Phoenicians who lived in North Africa, primarily the inhabitants of Carthage (a former Phoenician colony). They were also so called because they sold shellfish, which was processed to produce a purple color.

Map of military campaigns of the 1st Punic War

Alignment of forces before the war

For a long time, Rome and Carthage were allied, but after the conquest of Italy by Rome, their interests came into conflict and, finally, Rome's attempt to establish itself in Sicily led to war. Sicily was a thriving island, but it was also a key strategic point, so it was important for Rome to capture it.

The reason for the Roman invasion was given by the mercenaries of the king of Syracuse Agathocles-the Mamertines, expelled after his death from Syracuse, who in 282 BC conquered the north-eastern part of the island. The new king, Hiero II, pushed them back after a hard war, and at the battle of Mila, Syracuse's army — 10,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry-inflicted a decisive defeat on 8,000 Mamertines. Finding themselves in a desperate situation, part of the Mamertines decided to call on the Romans, the other-the Carthaginians. In Rome, the Senate debated this decision in the National Assembly, which decided to accept the Mamertines as allies of the Romans. As a result, the Mamertine community became part of the Roman empire, which under Roman law automatically obliged Rome to protect the Mamertines from all their enemies.

This decision contradicted the treaty of 306 BC, according to which Rome could not have possessions in Sicily, and Carthage - in Italy. But the Romans argued in their defense that Carthage was the first to break the treaty in the final phase of the war with Pyrrhus, when the Punic fleet entered the harbor of Tarentum.

At the beginning of this war, Rome had an experienced and strong army that had fought against King Pyrrhus (280-275 BC), but at that time the Roman navy was still weak. The Romans had to strengthen their fleet already during the war. The size of the Carthaginian army was smaller, but the Carthaginians, on the contrary, had a powerful fleet with experienced sailors and naval commanders.

Reasons The First Punic War on the part of Carthage - the retention of Sicily and the containment of Rome's policy of conquest in the Mediterranean. From Rome: capture of Sicily and expansion of its territories and commercial influence in the Mediterranean.

Armies: Rome did not have a navy at the beginning of the wars, but later they created it from scratch. A national army of Roman citizens – the legions and their allies. Carthage had war elephants, a strong navy, and a mercenary army at its disposal.

Carthaginian generals in the 1st Punic War: Hanno; Hamilcar Barca (father of Hannibal and his brothers); Gierion (tyrant of Syracuse, later defected to Rome); Boudes (naval commander of Carthage); Hasdrubal (son of Hanno); Bostar.

Roman generals in the 1st Punic War: Appius Cladvius Caudicus; Manius Valerius Maximus Corvinus Messala; Lucius Postumius Megelus; Gaius Marcus Duilius; Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Asina; Marcus Atilius Regulus; Lucius Cornelius Scipio; Publius Claudius Pulcher; Gaius Lutatius Catulus.

Roman soldiers of the Punic Wars era. Hastatus or the principle, triarius, commands. Reconstruction of A. McBride

Course of the war

The reason for the outbreak of war was the intervention of Carthage in the struggle of the Mamertines in Messana against the Syracusan tyrant Hiero II. The Romans, who had also subjugated the entire Appennine Peninsula, also wanted to seize the island of Sicily adjacent to it. Here the commercial interests of Rome and Carthage collided, fearing the expansion of Carthage's influence and territories directly next to Rome, Rome began military operations in Sicily.

In 264 BC, Rome captured Messana. After that, Rome formed an alliance against Carthage, with Syracuse (a Greek colony on the eastern shore of Sicily) in 263 BC. In 262 BC, the Romans took Agrigentum. After that, realizing that Carthage was a naval power and only a decisive victory at sea over the Carthaginian fleet would allow the conquest of Sicily, Rome began to build a military fleet. Until then, Rome had relied only on its land armies – the legions.

In 260 BC, Rome defeated Carthage in the naval battle of Milah. The Romans were commanded by the consul Gaius Duilius. In 260 BC, the Romans were able to win another naval victory at Cape Eknom. After that, the ground forces under the leadership of M. Regullus landed near Klupei in Africa.in 256 BC. On land, the Romans were initially lucky, but then in the Battle of Carthage (now Tunis) in 255, the Roman expeditionary force was defeated. From 254 BC, the main military operations unfolded in the western part of Sicily.

In 251, the Romans captured Panormus, but attempts to take Lilybaeum (besieged in 250 BC) and Drepanum failed. These cities were captured by the Romans only in 242 BC.

Under these circumstances, Carthage sent a new commander of its troops in Sicily – Hamilcar Barca. He managed to inflict several defeats on the Romans, but the defeat of the Carthaginian fleet at the Battle of the Aegates Islands in 241 BC decided the outcome of the war in Rome's favor.

In 241 BC, a peace was concluded, under the terms of which Carthage gave up in favor of Rome the part of Sicily that belonged to it and the islands lying between Italy and Sicily, as well as the return of Roman prisoners without ransom and the payment of a monetary contribution of 3,200 talents of silver for 10 years. Sicily became a Roman province.

Reconstruction of Carthage at the beginning of the Punic Wars

Last Battles of the war

Fighting again unfolded in Sicily-the Punians recaptured Acragantus and equipped a new fleet of 200 ships. The Romans also built a fleet of 220 ships. After that, taking advantage of their numerical superiority, the Romans began to push the Carthaginians hard in Sicily, recapturing Acragantus and conquering Panormus (now Palermo). The Romans again tried to move the war to Africa, but the Carthaginian fleet ran the Roman fleet aground, where a storm destroyed 150 ships, and after such losses, the Senate left only a 60-ship fleet to defend the coast.

In 251 BC, the Battle of Panormus took place. The Consul Caecilius provoked the enemy to battle. Initially, he pretended to be unsure of himself. He held the troops in Panorm and made a huge ditch in front of his camp. According to Polybius, the lightly armed Romans disturbed the enemy until Hasdrubal lined up the entire army (30 thousand soldiers and 130 elephants). The Romans then retreated to the wall and moat. In addition, Caecilius deliberately placed few defenders on the walls to give the Carthaginians confidence. The Carthaginians approached the city. The Romans fired at the elephants, and when they attacked, they took cover behind the moat. Here the elephants came under heavy fire from the wall and from behind the moat. Caecilius stood outside the gate against the Carthaginian left flank and constantly sent reinforcements to his troops outside the city. Blacksmiths regularly brought out new throwing weapons and placed them outside at the base of the wall. The elephants fled and broke the ranks of the Carthaginian army. Fresh Roman forces came out of the city, hit the flank and achieved a complete victory. The attack was launched from all the gates of the city, the Carthaginians were surrounded, many tried to swim to the ships and drowned. The Romans offered freedom to those captives who caught the runaway elephants. The Numidian prisoners agreed to do this. 120 elephants were captured. As a result of this battle, the Carthaginians lost 20 thousand people.

Encouraged by their success, the following year the Romans attempted to capture the Carthaginian fortress of Lilybaeum (now the city of Marsala). A fleet of 200 ships and a 40,000-strong Roman army unsuccessfully besieged it for a long time, but never succeeded.

In 249 BC, the Battle of Drepana (now the city of Trapani) took place. Consul Claudius had 120-210 ships. The Romans entered the harbor, hoping to surprise the enemy, but this was not successful. The Carthaginian admiral Atarbalus managed to put mercenaries on ships and slipped out of the harbor, following the southern side of the city, located on the cape. He passed through the strait between Drepansky Cape and the rocky islets and rounded the islands from the west. Part of the Roman fleet was in the bay, others were on the way. When trying to get out of the harbor into the sea, there was confusion. Only a part of the Roman ships managed to line up facing west and with their backs to the shore. The Carthaginians, pressing the enemy to the shore, began to attack. Atharbalus led the right flank, which was opposed by Claudius. The maneuverability of the ships and the skill of the Carthaginian rowers allowed Atarbalus to impose his tactics on the Romans. The Carthaginians bypassed and rammed enemy ships, ran them aground, and if the Romans tried to board them, quickly retreated to sea. Claudius with 30 ships of the left flank managed to break through along the coast to the south, from 93 to 137 Roman ships were captured by the Carthaginians, although the crews of the stranded ships fled, 8-20 thousand people died, 20-50 thousand were captured.

Soon, the remnants of the Roman fleet were destroyed in a new battle by the Carthaginian fleet and a storm, with Rome's losses amounting to 150 ships.

The period 248-242 BC is characterized by an extreme depletion of the forces of both sides, but the initiative gradually began to pass to Rome. In Sicily, Hamilcar became the new commander-in-chief of Carthage, replacing the previous commander-in-chief of Cartalon. During this period, Hamilcar managed to repel Roman attacks on Lilybaeum and Drepani, launch a counterattack in the Panormus area, and make several daring raids deep into Sicily and southern Italy. For his rapid actions, he received the nickname " Barca "(in Phoenician"Lightning"). These successes allowed the Punians to gain hope of winning the war, but in the future, the fighting was sluggish, which almost did not solve anything.

In 242 BC, a new fleet was built in Rome at the private expense of citizens — 200 penter. But these ships were lighter than the usual Roman quinquirems. The Romans were preparing for a decisive battle over the sea. They weren't going to rely on boarding tactics alone anymore. Sailors and rowers trained daily. At the same time, the situation of the Carthaginians in Sicily became threatening due to the lack of provisions in Lilybeia and Drepani, so it was decided to equip a flotilla to help the citizens and the Sicilian army of Hamilcar Barca. Hanno was put in charge of the fleet. The preparation of the Carthaginian flotilla was not focused on a naval battle with the Romans, so a significant part of the ships consisted of merchant transport ships that were not intended for naval combat. In addition, the Carthaginians, because of the lack of trained rowers, put untrained people on the oars.

In 241 BC, the Battle of the Aegates Islands took place between these fleets. The Punic fleet of 250 ships could not resist the Romans and was defeated-the losses were 50 ships sunk and 70 captured, the Romans lost 30 ships sunk and 50 damaged. Carthage was filled with a desire to avenge this defeat, but it simply did not have the means to continue the war. In addition, after the defeat, the fate of the army of Hamilcar Barca and the cities of Lilybay and Drepana hung in the balance due to the lack of pay for mercenaries and the acute shortage of food.

The First Punic War


The Carthaginian Government granted Hamilcar Barca extraordinary powers to conduct peace negotiations. They were completed on fairly good terms for Carthage (the People's assembly in Rome initially refused to ratify them). Under the terms of the peace Treaty of Carthage:

Rome's victory was made possible by superior resources — during the war, ship losses were 700 and 500 (for Rome and Carthage, respectively).

By the end of the war, the Roman army, consisting of militias, had become experienced and sufficiently professional, while the Carthaginian mercenary army often showed its inadequacy due to the lack of generalship skills of most Carthaginian generals and their inability to command a multilingual army, as well as due to the unreliability of mercenaries, which for the most part consisted of the Carthaginian army (in particular, mercenaries were prone to mutiny or desertion due to the slightest delay in pay). Finally, Rome showed its willingness to go to the end and not stop at any sacrifice for the sake of victory. The reserves of Carthage, which relied on mercenary armies, were exhausted faster. Carthaginian citizens were less likely to make material sacrifices than the Romans. The inability to support large armies made it impossible to use boarding combat at sea on a large scale — this would lead to the exposure of the land front. The fleet used ramming tactics, which required great skill of the crews.

In the interval between the 1st and 2nd Punic wars, the Romans managed to capture the islands of Sardinia and Corsica from Carthage, taking advantage of the fact that Carthage was waging a war with its rebellious mercenaries (240-238 BC). After its completion, Carthage tried to regain Sardinia and Corsica, but Rome threatened war, unprepared for a new war, Carthage chose to pay the Romans another 1,200 talents, in addition to 3,200 talents of indemnity.

Carthage managed to recoup the loss of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica by establishing a number of colonies in Spain. Thus, Hamelcar and Hasdrubal were able to subordinate the south and east of Spain to the power of Carthage. The wealth of Spain (silver mines) helped make up for Carthage's monetary losses due to the First Punic War and the war with mercenaries. One of the major centers of Carthage in Spain was the city of New Carthage (today it is the city of Cartagena in Spain). Rome drew attention to the strengthening of Carthage in Spain and made an alliance with the Greek cities of Saguntum (today the city of Sagunto in Spain) and Emporia in Spain, and also demanded that the Carthaginians do not cross the Ebro River (a river in the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula).

Related topics

Roman Republic, Second Punic War, The Third Punic War, Puny People


Ancient authors:

1. Polybius. Universal History.

2. Titus Livy. Roman history from the founding of the city

3. Appian of Alexandria. Roman history

4. Plutarch. Comparative biographies

Contemporary authors:

1. Revyako K. K. Punic wars. Minsk: Universitetskoe Publ., 1988, 272 p. (in Russian)

2. Rodionov E. Punicheskie voyny [Punic Wars]. St. Petersburg: SPBU Publishing House, 2005. (Res militaris)

3. Bagnall, Nigel. The Punic Wars: Rome, Carthage and the Struggle for the Mediterranean. — London : Pimlico, 1999

4. Punic Politics, Economy, and Alliances, 218–201 // A Companion to the Punic Wars (неопр.) / Hoyos, Dexter. — Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011 г.

5. Shifman I. I. Carthage. Saint Petersburg: Saint Petersburg University Press. 2006

6. Delbrueck H. The history of military art in the framework of political history. — Translated from German-Vol. 1 "The Ancient world". - Moscow, 1936.

7. Eliseev M. B. The Second Punic War. - Moscow: Veche, 2018. - 480 p.: ill. - Series "Antique world".

8. Mashkin N. A. The last century of Punic Carthage / / VDI. - 1949. - No. 2.

9. Herbert William Park. Greek mercenaries. Dogs of War of ancient Greece / Translated from English by L. A. Igorevsky. - Moscow: ZAO "Tsentrpoligraf", 2013. - 288 p.

10. Warmington B.-H. Carthage. — L., 1960.

11. Mayak I. L. Sotsial'no-politicheskaya borba italiyskikh obshchestvov v period Gannibalovoy voyny [Socio-political struggle of Italian communities during the Hannibal War].

12. Shifman I. S. Vozrozhdenie karfagenskoi derzhavy [The Emergence of the Carthaginian Power].

13. Elnitsky L. A. The emergence and development of slavery in Rome in the VIII-III centuries BC-Moscow, 1964.