The First Punic War and the Beginning of Roman Expansion Overseas

  1. General Background to the conflict (on Carthage as a city and as hegemonial power, see notes from previous lecture)
    1. 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).
    2. 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.
    3. Decisive for direction of western history.
  2. Rome between Pyrrhus and the 1st Punic War (275-264).  Implications
    1. Rome appeared ready for an extended period of assimilation?
    2. New commitments in southern Italy brought her into conflict with Carthage and Macedonia.
  3. The beginning of the 1st Punic War
    1. Sicily, Roman obligations to the Greek cities of southern Italy and the Mamertines.
      1. 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.
      2. 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 receive it
      3. 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 Rhegium.
    2. Considerations: why should the Romans involve themselves in Sicily?
      1. obligations to their new subject allies, the Greek cities of southern Italy whose prosperity depended on trade with Sicily
      2. the perceived danger to Italy if a strong power like Carthage dominated the straits between Sicily and Italy
      3. the dangers of entering a larger war
      4. the character of the Mamertines
    3. 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?
  4. Roman policy emerges:
    1. prevent the development of a strong state on the fringe of her self-defined sphere of influence
    2. always ally with the weaker power against a stronger one and do so without due consideration of the morality of the competing claims.
  5. The course of the war. 
  6. Factors in Roman success
      1. Adaptability.
      2. Manpower.
      3. Carthage underestimated the resources and will power of her enemy and failed to take advantage of her opportunities.
  7. Questions to ponder:
    1. How would you reconstruct the Rome's involvement outside Italy? What factors influenced her decision?
    2. How to explain Rome's success?

The Major Events of the First Punic War

264 Roman advance unit forces Carthaginians to withdraw, but the latter establishes an (unnatural) allies with Hieron and both attack the city
263 Valerius attacks Syracuse. On seeing the hopelessness of the takes, he secures an alliance with Hieron.
262 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.
260 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 rostra
256 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.
255 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 barbaric way.
255 to the end of the war...Barcids active on Mr Eryx as guerrillas
249 Drepana. Claudius Pulcher loses a sea battle and Rome all her navy.
247 Hamilcar Barca arrives in Sicily. Leads a very effective defense of Carthaginian interests.
242 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.