Make Roma Great Again
ru | en

History of the Republican Fleet of ancient Rome

Шлаканёв В.В.

Attention! The text below was auto-translated from Russian. You can switch the site language to Russian to see the text in its original language or wait until it is fully translated.

The First Punic War. Birth of the Navy

The Roman Republic, which was formed after the expulsion of King Tarquinius the Proud, at an early stage waged a lot of wars with its neighbors, conquering all the Italian tribes in about two centuries. In many wars, Carthage was an ally of the young Roman republic. However, after the defeat of King Pyrrhus , the allies parted ways. The Roman Republic attempted to establish itself in Sicily, a thriving island that was a Carthaginian sphere of influence, and this led to the creation of the Roman Empire.The First Punic War (264-241 BC).

Unlike in the previous wars waged by the republic, the key to victory in the war with the Punians was the actions of the fleet. He performed tasks to supply the army on the islands, and also covered the coast from a possible landing of enemy troops. However, the Republican fleet was in its infancy and weak, and the Romans were defeated in open battle with the Carthaginians.

In 260 BC, the Romans were lucky: taking the captured Carthaginian Pentera as a model, the Romans were able to turn the tide of the war at sea. The first victory of the Roman fleet occurred at the Battle of Milah in the same year 260 BC. Hannibal Gisco, a Carthaginian naval commander, sailed with his fleet of 130 ships to raid the Italian coast. A fleet of about 120 ships under the command of Gaius Duilius sailed out of Messana to meet him. On the ships of his fleet were installed "Crows "(Latin corvus – - boarding ladders. During the battle, about 30 enemy ships were captured, including the flagship hepter, and 14 ships were sunk. The Roman navy lost only 11 ships. It was the Romans ' use of marines and boarding tactics, as well as the negligence of the Carthaginian naval commander, that allowed the Romans to turn the tide of the war at sea. And Gaius Duilius became the first naval commander in the history of the republic to win. On this occasion, he was honored withTriumph.

Image of a trireme
Rowers on Trajan's column, early 2nd century AD
Image of a trireme

In 256 BC, the Senate authorized the landing of an army in North Africa. The amphibious operation involved 4 legions, which were to be delivered by four fleet squadrons. During the amphibious assault, the Roman fleet of Consuls Marcus Atilius Regulus and Lucius Manlius Vulson Long was attacked by a superior Carthaginian force under the command of naval commander Hamilcar Barca. During the intense battle, the Carthaginian fleet, having lost 30 ships destroyed and 64 ships captured, was defeated and retreated. The landing in North Africa took place.

As a result of the war, the fleet of the Roman Republic became a formidable force that was able to challenge the Carthaginian domination of the sea. The role of the navy in that war was enormous, as huge land armies had to be moved and supplied. In addition, the fleet forces were engaged in the defense of the Italian coast from Carthaginian sea raids.

Illyrian Wars

In 229-228 BC and in 219-218 BC, the Roman Republic fought Illyrian tribes. The wars were caused by Illyrian pirates who plundered Roman merchant ships, thereby hindering Rome's increased maritime trade in the region. The Roman Republic's naval power grew after the first Punic War, so the Senate declared war on the Illyrians. In the eastern waters of the Adriatic Sea, a large fleet force consisting of about 200 warships appeared. Not far from the large Greek port city of Apollonia, the fleet landed troops. The results of the campaigns were the gradual entry of Illyrian lands into the republic, as well as the destruction of piracy in the Adriatic Sea.

The Second Punic War. The beginning of Roman naval rule

In 218 BC, the war began Second Punic War (218-201 BC)The main actions of this war took place on land, but the Roman fleet played a significant role in the course of the fighting. After the first Punic War, Roman naval supremacy was unchallenged, and the Roman navy outnumbered that of Carthage. The Roman navy was assigned the task of defending the Italian coast and territorial waters of the republic, as well as conducting amphibious operations in North Africa and Spain. For example, Titus Livy mentions the Propraetor Titus Otacilius Crassus, who commanded a patrol squadron and was responsible for the defense of the Italian coast. The constant patrolling of the sea borders and the presence of a strong Roman fleet as such, according to the historian A. A. Hlevov, forced the Carthaginian commander Hannibal to transfer his army to Italy by land, while the transfer of the army by sea would have been much faster.

In 214 BC, the Macedonian king Philip V begins a war against Rome on the side of the Carthaginians. He attacks Roman possessions in Illyricum, but receives a strong rebuff from the Navy of the Roman Republic, as a result of which his fleet is blocked in its own harbor.

Map of the Second Punic War

In 210 BC, Publius Scipio conducted an amphibious operation near the city of Tarracon, Spain. The operation involved at least 60 warships, as well as an entire legion. This victory was his commanding debut, and also once again confirmed the special importance of the military fleet during combat operations. Scipio's army triumphantly passed through Tarracon and Saguntum, besieged the fortress of New Carthage (Cartagena), and fought its way to Hades, a city in southern Spain.

Scipio's campaign and the capture of the Spanish coast made it possible to begin the process of annexing all of Spain to the Roman republic. The main role in ensuring the supply of the active army fell on the fleet. Amphibious operations of this nature would not have been possible without total Roman domination of the Mediterranean, which helped ensure the uninterrupted supply of the army stationed at the front in Spain.

6 years later, in 204 BC, an even larger amphibious operation was carried out by the fleet forces. On the land of North Africa, near the city of Utica, not far from Carthage, an army was landed under the command of the same Publius Scipio. At the Battle of Zama in 202 BC, Scipio had 20,000 infantry who were transferred by sea. The Roman victory at the Battle of Zama ended the Second Punic War. And not the last role in this victory was played by the Roman fleet, which was engaged in supplying the African army. Just as "theater begins with a hanger," so the victory of the army in battle begins with the well-organized work of the rear services.

Finally, the confrontation with Carthage at sea will end in the spring of 146 BC. e. It was then that what Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder wanted so much happened – Roman soldiers destroyed Carthage. During the Third Punic War of 148-146 BC, a Roman army of 80,000 men crossed into Africa and landed in the city of Utica. The army and navy were commanded by the prefect of the Fleet, Lucius Marcius Censorinus. The main merit of the fleet in the successful siege of Carthage is that the huge number of soldiers needed for the siege was transferred by sea.

The Syrian War of 192-188 BC

The Syrian War, or the war against the Seleucid kingdom, began after Antiochus III Seleucid, King of Syria, began to expand his sphere of influence. His troops captured some Greek cities. In addition, Antiochus wanted to take away the Palestinian possessions of the Ptolemaic dynasty, long-time allies of the republic. These contradictions, as well as the presence of an "anti-Roman party" under the Syrian tsar, eventually instilled a desire for war.

The war had begun well enough for Antiochus. But already in 191 BC, his land army was defeated at Thermopylae, and the Syrian fleet was sunk between Ionia and Chios. In 190 BC, the Roman fleet inflicted another defeat on the Syrians. At the mouth of the Eurymedon River (modern Turkey, near Antalya), Lucius Aemilius Regillius defeated one of the squadrons of the Syrian fleet. Another Syrian squadron, which remained operational, was broken up in the Gulf of Mali, near the island of Mionnesos, Greece. In the naval battles against the Syrians, ships sent from the island of Rhodes, whose inhabitants were allies of Rome, played a significant role. Having achieved naval supremacy, the Romans landed their army on the peninsula of Asia Minor. The Battle of Magnesia soon followed, ending the war with a Roman victory.

The Navy has once again proved its importance. After defeating the Syrians as opponents at sea, the fleet forces landed on enemy territory. As a result of the battle, Antiochus was forced to end the war by liberating the Greek territories.

Caesar's landing in Britain

Much later than the events described above, in 55 and 54 BC, Gaius Julius Caesar attempted to land in Britain and conquer it. These events were described by Caesar in Notes on the Gallic War, book IV. To land in Britain, Caesar had to solve a very difficult logistical problem. It was necessary to quickly transport the legions across the strait. Guy Volusen was sent to explore the coast in order to determine the location of the future landing on the ship. After five days of sailing, he returned with the data.

The troops set out on August 23. For the first landing, Caesar used about 100 ships, which were located in different ports. Due to bad weather conditions, as well as poor coordination of the fleet, the landing in 55 BC ended unsuccessfully. According to Caesar, the ships arrived at their destination at different times. For example, the cavalry was very late. In addition, the situation was aggravated by bad weather conditions, a storm and strong tides, which seriously damaged many ships of the fleet. As a result, the land army, which did not take large supplies of equipment and food, was forced to evacuate the island. The fleet was battered by the elements, so it could not provide regular supplies to the army. It should be said that the landing was carried out with a battle on an unequipped beach. During the landing, Roman ships could not get close to the shore, so the soldiers jumped into the water.

During the second landing, in 54 BC, Caesar tried to take into account past mistakes. The landing, according to Caesar, involved about 800 ships with combat protection. The design of the ships was borrowed from the Veneti, a people of navigators who lived on the northern coast of modern France. In addition, the number of infantry and cavalry was increased (5 legions and 2,000 horsemen). After choosing the right weather, Caesar's army began to land.

Illustration of Caesar's landing in Britain

Caesar's second landing was more successful than the first. His troops defeated local armies and tribal alliances in several battles. The legions began to advance into the interior of Britain. An important role in the success of the second expedition was played by the fleet, through which communication with the mainland was carried out. However, this time, too, there were some accidents. Due to strong tides and storms, several dozen ships were seriously damaged. However, other ships were sent from the mainland to replace the damaged ones.

As a result of the second expedition, despite the fact that the Roman troops returned to the mainland, some tribes of the Britons became allies of Rome or began to pay tribute. Of course, the military transport fleet played a very important role in the success of this campaign. This is especially evident when comparing the expeditions of '55 and' 54. The failure of the first expedition directly depended on the safety of the fleet. It was the navy that supplied the army on the island. And when the fleet was saved during the second expedition, military operations on land ended successfully. As for Britain, it will be conquered already in the era of the Empire under the Emperor Claudius.

Related topics

Composition of the ancient Roman Navy, Dismissal from the Navy, Trireme, The First Punic War, Second Punic War