What happened during the First Punic War?
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The First Punic War

The First Punic War was fought to establish control over the strategic islands of Corsica and Sicily (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica).

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The First Punic War
Storia in rete

In 289 B.C., while Rome was overthrowing Italy, Carthage extended its empire over part of northern Africa, over Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, and two-thirds of Sicily, and covered the Mediterranean with its merchant vessels. Carthage had made conquests, no, like Rome, for the pride of command, but for the profits of victory.

It exploits harshly the vanquished, so that these, remain his enemies, while Rome, knows how to make of his subjects faithful allies and instruments of new victories. "Carthage was both a political and trade rival" (Cronin 21). Carthage carefully dismantled their cities, lest they become points of support for a revolt; but these open cities are no longer a bulwark for themselves. Finally, the Carthaginians use mercenary soldiers, believing that one can with money buy courage, loyalty and dedication. "Rome entered the war without a single battleship while Carthage had no fewer than 120" (Cronin 22).

They do not see that their mercenaries fighting for a foreign cause will fight softly, will demand a lot and will compromise all wars by their indiscipline. On the death of Agathocles of Syracuse, a large part of his mercenaries are unemployed. These mercenaries or Mamertins come from Mammertum in Bruttium (Calabria). They seize then Messina, massacre a part of the inhabitants and take control of the city. The First Punic War was fought to establish control over the strategic islands of Corsica and Sicily (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica).

At the beginning of the third century, two independent Greek colonies oppose the Strait of Messina: Messina (present-day Messina) in Sicily and Rhegium at the tip of the Italian boot. Since the 5th century B.C., Syracuse fought against Carthage in a long conflict or neither of the two belligerents could take over the other. In 315 B.C., Tyran Agathocles of Syracuse starts a new war against Carthage.

In 309 B.C, he landed in Africa, seized Tynes the white and ravage the surrounding countryside. He won several important battles against the Punic troops, rallied cities subject to Carthage in his camp and took the opportunity to descend to the south. In 307 B.C., he is defeated and must go back to Sicily.

This defeat allows Carthage to assert its presence in the western part of Sicily. Shortly after, the Romans intervene on the Greek cities of the south coast of Italy, with Rhegium, with Thurii and face Tarente which requests in 280 B.C., the military aid of Pyrrhus. His intervention in Italy then in Sicily puts him in conflict with the Romans then the Carthaginians. The latter agree by treaty in 279 B.C. against their common opponent. This treaty excludes any separate peace with Pyrrhus, and provides for assistance from the Carthaginian fleet, however none of these clauses will be respected.

On leaving Sicily, Pyrrhus exclaimed: "What a beautiful battlefield we are leaving to the Romans and Carthaginians!"Neither Rome nor Carthage can in fact abandon to a rival power this great island situated in the center of the Mediterranean, which touches Italy and from which Africa can be seen. After his departure, the powers resume their positions: The Carthaginians recover west of Sicily, the Romans seize Taranto in 272 B.C. then Rhegium in 270 B.C. This capture of Rhegium deprives the Mamertini of Messina of their ally.

In 269 B.C., Hieron II, the new Syracusan tyrant (Syracuse) manages to defeat them and take part of their territory. The Mamertins appeal to Carthage and Rome. The Carthaginians who are in nearby Lipari intervene immediately and install a garrison in Messina, forcing Hieron to give up submitting this city.

Rome hesitates to intervene. This delay is put to good use by the Carthaginian general Hannon the Great, son of Annibal Barca: he lands with an army in Sicily, strengthens the Carthaginian positions and agrees with Hieron of Syracuse against Messina who managed to get rid of his Carthaginian garrison. Rome ends up sending in 264 B.C. Appius Claudius Caudex consul to Rhegium, from where he manages to land in Messina.

The military escalation reached its fatal point: Hannon and Hieron besieged Messina, Appius Claudius enjoined them to raise the siege. Hieron refuses, replying that he is exercising just reprisals against the aggression of the Mamertins. The war was declared. After some successes on the ground against the Carthaginians and the surrender of several cities, the Romans impose on Hieron of Syracuse a truce of 15 years, and return to him his prisoners for ransom. Syracuse retains its territory, and leaves the Carthaginians alone in front of the Romans.

Despite this setback, Carthage began to regroup troops in Agrigento, but the Romans led by Appius Claudius and Marcus Valerius Messalla take the cities of Segesta and Agrigento in 261 B.C. after a seat of 7 months. The city is ransacked and the population reduced to slavery.

In order to catch up with the Carthaginian navy, Rome is revitalizing its navy. In 260 B.C., in two months the wood is cut, shaped and the Romans launch on the seas 140 ships of wars, built on the model of a captured Carthaginian ship. The military genius of the Romans made them find a way to defeat the Carthaginians on their own element: they invented a war machine the raven, a sort of footbridge of fangs or a bridge which, falling on the galley enemy, seized with crampons of iron, holds it motionless and delivers passage to the soldiers. Henceforth it is no longer, so to speak; that a land battle where the legionnaire finds all its advantages.

The Roman troops are led by the consul Gaius Duilius who commands the infantry and Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio (the uncle of African Scipio), the Navy. Unfortunately, Scipion is captured with 17 ships near the island of Lipari. At the same time, off Mylae on the northern coast of Sicily, 125 Carthaginian boats confront the Roman fleet commanded by Duilius. The Carthaginians are defeated and lose 45 boats. It is the first naval victory of Rome.

This naval victory will have a great impact. Rome will be very proud of it and will reward as much as she can for her general by unusual honors. In addition to the ordinary triumph, he will be given the right to be sent home at night by candlelight and the sound of flutes; moreover, a column will be erected in his honor at the Forum, bearing his name and victory engraved.

This success was almost offset by a setback. A Roman army was enveloped in Sicily in a parade. It could only be made from this bad step if one occupied a hill that covered the road. A legionary tribune, Marcus Calpurnius Flamma, offered himself to settle there. It was walking to certain death, because all the effort of the enemy was going to concentrate against this post. He found, however, three hundred brave men to die with him.

The Carthaginians were only so sure of this handful of brave men, that the Roman army, saved by this sacrifice, had left the defile. They took revenge on them: all perished. However, the Romans, returning the next day to the hill, found there Calpurnius Flamma still living under a heap of corpses. He received a crown of grass from the consul, says Pliny, "the most noble reward;" for this simple crown meant that he to whom it was given had saved the lives of Roman citizens. In order to catch up with the Carthaginian navy, Rome is revitalizing its navy. In 260 B.C., in two months the wood is cut, shaped and the Romans launch on the seas 140 ships of wars, built on the model of a captured Carthaginian ship.

The military genius of the Romans made them find a way to defeat the Carthaginians on their own element: they invented a war machine the raven, a sort of footbridge of fangs or a bridge which, falling on the galley enemy, seized with crampons of iron, holds it motionless and delivers passage to the soldiers. Henceforth it is no longer, so to speak; that a land battle where the legionnaire finds all its advantages.

The Roman troops are led by the consul Gaius Duilius who commands the infantry and Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio (the uncle of African Scipio), the Navy. Unfortunately, Scipion is captured with 17 ships near the island of Lipari. At the same time, off Mylae on the northern coast of Sicily, 125 Carthaginian boats confront the Roman fleet commanded by Duilius. The Carthaginians are defeated and lose 45 boats. It is the first naval victory of Rome. This naval victory will have a great impact. Rome will be very proud of it and will reward as much as she can for her general by unusual honors. In addition to the ordinary triumph, he will be given the right to be sent home at night by candlelight and the sound of flutes; moreover, a column will be erected in his honor at the Forum, bearing his name and victory engraved.

This success was almost offset by a setback. A Roman army was enveloped in Sicily in a parade. It could only be made from this bad step if one occupied a hill that covered the road. A legionary tribune, Marcus Calpurnius Flamma, offered himself to settle there. It was walking to certain death, because all the effort of the enemy was going to concentrate against this post. He found, however, three hundred brave men to die with him. The Carthaginians were only so sure of this handful of brave men, that the Roman army, saved by this sacrifice, had left the defile.

They took revenge on them: all perished. However, the Romans, returning the next day to the hill, found there Calpurnius Flamma still living under a heap of corpses. He received a crown of grass from the consul, says Pliny, "the most noble reward;" for this simple crown meant that he to whom it was given had saved the lives of Roman citizens.

With his success at Cape Ecnome, Marcus Atilius Regulus tries to repeat the strategy of Agathocles of Syracuse landing with 15,000 men near Carthage in Africa to divert the Punic troops of Sicily. Regulus meets a Punic army in Adys and easily wins. Carthage wants to negotiate with Regulus.

The terms of surrender issued by Regulus are so restrictive that the Punic finally decide to fight whatever the cost! A group of Greek mercenaries under the command of Spartan commander Xanthippe arrives in Carthage. Xanthippe took command of the Carthaginian army (12000 men, 4000 horsemen and 100 elephants). In a short time, he changed the face of affairs, tired Regulus by a crowd of small fights. At the battle of Utica, the Roman troops are cut in pieces, 500 Romans are captured including the consul himself.

Meanwhile, the Roman fleet under the command of Marcus Aemilius Paullus runs aground near the Sicilian coast of Camarina.The loss of this army, the destruction by storms of several Roman fleets forced Rome to renounce Africa and postpone the war in Sicily, where hostilities languished for several years.

Carthage sends Regulus to Rome to ask for peace in his name (250 B.C.) subject to his word of honor to return to Carthage if his mission fails. This general had nobly supported his captivity. When he arrived near Rome, he did not want to enter the city. "I am no longer a citizen," he said; and, as he was also charged with proposing the exchange of prisoners, instead of pleading a cause which was his, he dissuaded the senators from accepting it.

They wanted to pity him on himself: "My days are numbered," he answered, "they gave me a slow poison;"and he left, notwithstanding the entreaties of his friends and the prayers of the whole senate, in spite of the tears of his wife Marcia and his children. He had given his word. True to his oath, he returns to Carthage where he is tortured before being put to death.At the end of the year 252 B.C., Carthage, after having mulled a revolt in Africa sends a new army in Sicily under the command of Hasdrubal.

The Carthaginians decide to attack the Roman army commanded by Consul Lucius Caecilius Metellus near the city of Panormus. The Romans rout Hasdrubal's army, capture his fighting elephants and send them to the circuses in Rome. Hasdrubal is recalled to Carthage to be executed. This defeat ends the land campaigns of Carthage in Sicily. There are no longer in Sicily, in the Carthaginians, but Drepane and Lilybee.

The war is concentrated around these two cities. In 249 B.C., the Appius consul Claudius Pulcher wants to surprise a Carthaginian fleet in the port of Drépane. But omens are sinister: the sacred chickens refuse to eat! "They do not want to eat,"said the consul, "well, let them drink!" and he has them thrown into the sea. The Romans are defeated in advance by this impiety, which makes the soldiers fear the anger of the gods, and that Claudius cannot repair by clever maneuvers. The attack is a disaster, 93 Roman ships are captured, only 30 ships manage to escape. A few days after this defeat, another large Roman fleet commanded by Consul Iunius Pullus carrying new reinforcements for the siege of Lilybaeum was wiped out in a storm.

In 247 B.C., Carthage sends to Sicily a great general, Hamilcar Barca, the father of Annibal (Hannibal). Cantoned in Eryx, in an impregnable post, he held for six years the Romans in check. The war could have lasted so long, for Rome had renounced the sea, the storms having destroyed more than seven hundred galleys. Roman patriotism will give the senate a new fleet. All the citizens took their treasure money to waste.

One gave arms, the other slaves to serve as rowers; still others gave ships. Rome will have another fleet of 200 ships with its 60,000 sailors. The consul Lutatius Catulus orders them. He surprised, near the Egate Islands, a Carthaginian fleet (March 10, 241 B.C.). The battle is short and at the first shock, Carthage loses 50 ships, 70 ships and 10,000 prisoners are captured. This victory makes the Romans masters of the sea.

Carthage resigns itself to put an end to this ruinous war. Rome, master of the sea, Sicily is no longer tenable for Carthage with its empty treasure. Peace is signed under the following conditions: Carthage will not attack Hieron of Syracuse, ally of Rome; it will abandon Sicily and the neighboring islands, render all the prisoners without ransom, and pay in ten years three thousand and two hundred euochic talents. In 241 B.C., Carthaginian Sicily is reduced to Roman province and the first Punic war was over. "The battle for Sicily resumed in 254 but was largely stalemated until 241, when a fleet of 200 warships gave the Romans undisputed control of the sea-lanes and assured the collapse of the Punic stronghold in Sicily" ((The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica). Both cities after 20 years of conflict are bloodless and impoverished. Hamilcar Barca agrees to leave Sicily and the Lipari Islands.

On the other hand, he obtained the recognition of the entire Carthaginian territory. Both cities undertake not to make war and not to raise soldiers. "The surprise of the war was that the Romans, who knew nothing of seamanship before it, won six of the seven naval battles" (Cronin 24). Romans captives will have to be returned without ransom and a contribution of 3200 talents over 10 years is imposed on the vanquished. Carthage undertakes not to make war in Syracuse. Apart from the territory of Syracuse, allied with Rome, all Sicily will become the first Roman province.

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