The First Punic War
Written by Peter Fitzgerald
History of War - Ancient Wars
In the few hundred years before the birth of Christ there were three major conflicts between the Roman Empire and that of Ancient Carthage. These three wars were called the Punic Wars, today you are going to find out about the first of these which happens to be called the First Punic War.
The First Punic War happened between the years of 264 BC to 241 BC, thus the war raged for 23 years.
The Build up to the First Punic War
In the third century BC the Romans had annihilated all powers in its way to take full control of the Italian peninsula, something that initially did not bother the Carthage regime.
Carthage was the major naval superpower of the time and although their main base was found where present day Tunisia is but its power stretched over northern Africa states, the Balearic Islands, Sardinia, Corsica, southern parts of Spain and half of Sicily.
Carthage started to get uncomfortable with the movement of the Romans when the Romans moved into Sicily and the powers of Carthage and Rome confronted one another at Messana.
The First Punic War Starts
The Romans landed their force at Messana and found there was no defence for them to fight against. This meant that the Romans were able to take control unopposed.
What the Romans did not know was that Carthage had built a large army in North Africa made up of mercenaries and had sent it to Sicily to defend the island and protect the Carthage lands.
While the war started in 264 the first true battle of the war did not occur until 261, this was the Battle of Agrigentum.
Prior to the Battle of Agrigentum the Romans besieged the city of Agrigentum in 262 BC but the city managed to hold its own for a few months until the Carthage Army could bring men to support. When these men arrived they obliterated the Roman supply chain thus changing the tide as the Romans became the besieged, this started the Battle of Agrigentum.
At the Battle of Agrigentum the Romans managed to claim a big victory against the Carthage Army, but in the process the Carthage forces in the city managed to escape. In total the Carthage army lost 3,000 men to the Romans 1200 and the Romans were able to take control of Agrigentum.
After this first success and with Carthage being such a big Naval power the Romans realised they needed to build a fleet of their own. This was a new move into unchartered territory for the Romans as they had never had a Navy before.
While understanding that they didn’t have the same kind of sea faring abilities as Carthage the Romans added a new invention on their ships called the Corvus. The Corvus was a bridge that could be lowered onto ships that were alongside the Roman ship. The idea behind this was that the Romans were able to use their land forces to storm opposing ships and beat them in hand to hand combat.
In 260 the next battle occurred, this was the Battle of Mylae. At the Battle of Mylae 130 Carthage shops faced 103 Roman ships but the Romans were quick and able to take control of 30 Carthage ships very quickly using their Corvus. The Carthage ships were forced to try and outflank the Roman ships so as not to get caught by the Corvus but they failed and in total the Romans took control of 50 Carthage ships winning the battle with only 11 of their own ships lost.
After the Battle of Mylae the Romans started marching their troops across Sicily to support the Roman held besieged city of Macella, the Roman Navy also moved round Sicily in support but at Thermae the Carthage Navy beat the Roman Navy and started their counter attack taking Enna and continuing south.
In 258 BC the Romans defeated the Carthage army and retook Enna. By 256 BC the Romans decided to take the battle to Carthage and thus built a massive fleet and sailed to North Africa. In North Africa the Romans demolished a fleet of 350 Carthage ships at the Battle of Cape Ecnomus.
The Roman forces landed in North Africa and won victory at the Battle of Adys before losing badly at the Battle of Tunis where the Roman General Regulus was captured and much of the Roman Army was cut off thus rendering it obsolete.
The Romans built a fleet of 140 ships and renewed their battle in Sicily in 252 BC while also attacking North Africa again to no avail. Here the Romans decided to concentrate their efforts on Sicily and went on the offensive winning big battles and taking most of Sicily.
While the land was won the seas were lost however as the Roman fleet was annihilated by Carthage in the battle of Drepana in 249 BC.
By 244 BC a new leader took power in Carthage, a leader who deemed the war over and reduced the size of the Carthage Navy. Rome saw this and started rebuilding their own Navy which became stronger than Carthage and gave Rome power of the seas.
In March 241 the last battle of the war took place, this battle was a Naval affair and happened to be called the Battle of the Aegates Islands. In the battle the Romans soundly beat the Carthage Navy and although Carthage had a little success in land battles in Sicily they signed a peace treaty and showed defeat.