The First Punic War and the Beginning of Roman Expansion Overseas
General Background to the conflict (on Carthage as a city and as hegemonial power, see
notes from previous lecture)
Rome between Pyrrhus and the 1st Punic War (275-264). Implications
- The story of Elissa, Pygmalion and the Byrsa (cowhide=citadel), a setting that
places the foundation of the city in about 814 (the traditional date).
- Character of the wars: The wars were long, wars of exhaustion. The numbers
involved were by ancient standards enormous: both sides supported armies of 50,000 men and
fleets of 70,000.
- Decisive for direction of western history.
The beginning of the 1st Punic War
- Rome appeared ready for an extended period of assimilation?
- New commitments in southern Italy brought her into conflict with Carthage and Macedonia.
Roman policy emerges:
Roman obligations to the Greek cities of southern Italy and the Mamertines.
- Since 288 Messana had been in the hands of the Mamertines, Campanian mercenaries who
were little more than gangsters, similar to a group the Romans had expelled from Rhegium a
few years earlier.
- In 264, Hiero, the tyrant of Syracuse, besieges the city, hoping to remove the gang from
a strategically important location. The Mamertines ask the Carthaginians for aide and
- The issue, like that of the Capuans and the Neapolitans earlier, was whether the Romans
were willing to undertake these new and indefinite obligations and to do so in support of
a clearly disreputable gang of bandits; to do the opposite of what they had just done in
- Considerations: why should the Romans involve themselves in Sicily?
- obligations to their new subject allies, the Greek cities of southern Italy whose
prosperity depended on trade with Sicily
- the perceived danger to Italy if a strong power like Carthage dominated the straits
between Sicily and Italy
- the dangers of entering a larger war
- the character of the Mamertines
- The debate in the Senate was indecisive, but the assembly votes to declare war in the
assembly and send an army to Sicily. The motives?
The course of the war.
Factors in Roman success
- prevent the development of a strong state on the fringe of her self-defined sphere of
- always ally with the weaker power against a stronger one and do so without due
consideration of the morality of the competing claims.
Questions to ponder:
- Carthage underestimated the resources and will power of her enemy and failed to take
advantage of her opportunities.
- How would you reconstruct the Rome's involvement outside Italy? What factors influenced
- How to explain Rome's success?
The Major Events of the First Punic War
||Roman advance unit forces
Carthaginians to withdraw, but the latter establishes an (unnatural) allies with Hieron
and both attack the city
||Valerius attacks Syracuse. On
seeing the hopelessness of the takes, he secures an alliance with Hieron.
||Carthage sends mercenary army to
Agrigentum, but Romans successfully march to and destroy the city. Carthage no longer
willing to meet Romans in the field; Romans realize that the war has widened significantly
and to win it they must drive Carthage out of Sicily. To do so, they must have sea power.
The Carthaginian strategy: hold impregnable defensive points, control the sea, allow Rome
to exhaust itself. Fortune will eventually secure victory.
||The battle of Mylae: Romans use corvus
and boarding bridges to convert a sea battle into a land battle. Carthage reduced to three
strong points all in the extreme west of Sicily, but continues her war strategy. The
||Battle of Ecnomus. Despite
Hannibalic tactics, Rome breaks through and lands an army in Africa. Regulus moves to
within a day's march of Carthage and incites indigenous population to revolt.
||Xanthippus, a Greek mercenary,
trains a new Punic militia and defeats Regulus. Latter sent to Rome to seek terms, urges
Romans continue the struggle and then himself returns (as he had promised) to Carthage
where he is executed in a frightful way. His wife tortures Carthaginians in an equally
||to the end of the war...Barcids
active on Mr Eryx as guerrillas
Claudius Pulcher loses a sea battle and Rome all her navy.
||Hamilcar Barca arrives in Sicily.
Leads a very effective defense of Carthaginian interests.
||By special effort and taxation,
Rome rebuilds a fleet; Carthage had been too cheap and loses at Aegates Islands. The next
year, the last Carthaginian fortresses surrender.