State of Sicily
For upwards of a century the feud between the Carthaginians and the rulers of Syracuse had devastated the fair island of Sicily. On both sides the contest was carried on with the weapons of political proselytism, for, while Carthage kept up communications with the aristocratic-republican opposition in Syracuse, the Syracusan dynasts maintained relations with the national party in the Greek cities that had become tributary to Carthage. On both sides armies of mercenaries were employed to fight their battles—by Timoleon and Agathocles, as well as by the Phoenician generals. And as like means were employed on both sides, so the conflict had been waged on both with a disregard of honour and a perfidy unexampled in the history of the west. The Syracusans were the weaker party. In the peace of 440 Carthage had still limited her claims to the third of the island to the west of Heraclea Minoa and Himera, and had expressly recognized the hegemony of the Syracusans over all the cities to the eastward. The expulsion of Pyrrhus from Sicily and Italy (479) left by far the larger half of the island, and especially the important Agrigentum, in the hands of Carthage; the Syracusans retained nothing but Tauromenium and the south-east of the island.
In the second great city on the east coast, Messana, a band of foreign soldiers had established themselves and held the city, independent alike of Syracusans and Carthaginians. These new rulers of Messana were Campanian mercenaries. The dissolute habits that had become prevalent among the Sabellians settled in and around Capua,(1) had made Campania in the fourth and fifth centuries—what Aetolia, Crete, and Laconia were afterwards—the universal recruiting field for princes and cities in search of mercenaries. The semi-culture that had been called into existence there by the Campanian Greeks, the barbaric luxury of life in Capua and the other Campanian cities, the political impotence to which the hegemony of Rome condemned them, while yet its rule was not so stern as wholly to withdraw from them the right of self-disposal—all tended to drive the youth of Campania in troops to the standards of the recruiting officers. As a matter of course, this wanton and unscrupulous selling of themselves here, as everywhere, brought in its train estrangement from their native land, habits of violence and military disorder, and indifference to the breach of their allegiance. These Campanians could see no reason why a band of mercenaries should not seize on their own behalf any city entrusted to their guardianship, provided only they were in a position to hold it—the Samnites had established their dominion in Capua itself, and the Lucanians in a succession of Greek cities, after a fashion not much more honourable.
Nowhere was the state of political relations more inviting for such enterprises than in Sicily. Already the Campanian captains who came to Sicily during the Peloponnesian war had insinuated themselves in this way into Entella and Aetna. Somewhere about the year 470 a Campanian band, which had previously served under Agathocles and after his death (465) took up the trade of freebooters on their own account, established themselves in Messana, the second city of Greek Sicily, and the chief seat of the anti-Syracusan party in that portion of the island which was still in the power of the Greeks. The citizens were slain or expelled, their wives and children and houses were distributed among the soldiers, and the new masters of the city, the Mamertines or "men of Mars," as they called themselves, soon became the third power in the island, the north-eastern portion of which they reduced to subjection in the times of confusion that succeeded the death of Agathocles. The Carthaginians were no unwilling spectators of these events, which established in the immediate vicinity of the Syracusans a new and powerful adversary instead of a cognate and ordinarily allied or dependent city. With Carthaginian aid the Mamertines maintained themselves against Pyrrhus, and the untimely departure of the king restored to them all their power.
Hiero of Syracuse
War between the Syracusans and the Mammertines
It is not becoming in the historian either to excuse the perfidious crime by which the Mamertines seized their power, or to forget that the God of history does not necessarily punish the sins of the fathers to the fourth generation. He who feels it his vocation to judge the sins of others may condemn the human agents; for Sicily it might be a blessing that a warlike power, and one belonging to the island, thus began to be formed in it—a power which was already able to bring eight thousand men into the field, and which was gradually putting itself in a position to take up at the proper time and on its own resources that struggle against the foreigners, to the maintenance of which the Hellenes, becoming more and more unaccustomed to arms notwithstanding their perpetual wars, were no longer equal.
In the first instance, however, things took another turn. A young Syracusan officer, who by his descent from the family of Gelo and his intimate relations of kindred with king Pyrrhus as well as by the distinction with which he had fought in the campaigns of the latter, had attracted the notice of his fellow-citizens as well as of the Syracusan soldiery—Hiero, son of Hierocles—was called by military election to command the army, which was at variance with the citizens (479-480). By his prudent administration, the nobility of his character, and the moderation of his views, he rapidly gained the hearts of the citizens of Syracuse—who had been accustomed to the most scandalous lawlessness in their despots—and of the Sicilian Greeks in general. He rid himself—in a perfidious manner, it is true—of the insubordinate army of mercenaries, revived the citizen- militia, and endeavoured, at first with the title of general, afterwards with that of king, to re-establish the deeply sunken Hellenic power by means of his civic troops and of fresh and more manageable recruits. With the Carthaginians, who in concert with the Greeks had driven king Pyrrhus from the island, there was at that time peace. The immediate foes of the Syracusans were the Mamertines. They were the kinsmen of those hated mercenaries whom the Syracusans had recently extirpated; they had murdered their own Greek hosts; they had curtailed the Syracusan territory; they had oppressed and plundered a number of smaller Greek towns. In league with the Romans who just about this time were sending their legions against the Campanians in Rhegium, the allies, kinsmen, and confederates in crime of the Mamertines,(2) Hiero turned his arms against Messana. By a great victory, after which Hiero was proclaimed king of the Siceliots (484), he succeeded in shutting up the Mamertines within their city, and after the siege had lasted some years, they found themselves reduced to extremity and unable to hold the city longer against Hiero on their own resources. It is evident that a surrender on stipulated conditions was impossible, and that the axe of the executioner, which had fallen upon the Campanians of Rhegium at Rome, as certainly awaited those of Messana at Syracuse. Their only means of safety lay in delivering up the city either to the Carthaginians or to the Romans, both of whom could not but be so strongly set upon acquiring that important place as to overlook all other scruples. Whether it would be more advantageous to surrender it to the masters of Africa or to the masters of Italy, was doubtful; after long hesitation the majority of the Campanian burgesses at length resolved to offer the possession of their sea-commanding fortress to the Romans.
The Mammertines Received into the Italian Confederacy
It was a moment of the deepest significance in the history of the world, when the envoys of the Mamertines appeared in the Roman senate. No one indeed could then anticipate all that was to depend on the crossing of that narrow arm of the sea; but that the decision, however it should go, would involve consequences far other and more important than had attached to any decree hitherto passed by the senate, must have been manifest to every one of the deliberating fathers of the city. Strictly upright men might indeed ask how it was possible to deliberate at all, and how any one could even think of suggesting that the Romans should not only break their alliance with Hiero, but should, just after the Campanians of Rhegium had been punished by them with righteous severity, admit the no less guilty Sicilian accomplices to the alliance and friendship of the state, and thereby rescue them from the punishment which they deserved. Such an outrage on propriety would not only afford their adversaries matter for declamation, but must seriously offend all men of moral feeling. But even the statesman, with whom political morality was no mere phrase, might ask in reply, how Roman burgesses, who had broken their military oath and treacherously murdered the allies of Rome, could be placed on a level with foreigners who had committed an outrage on foreigners, where no one had constituted the Romans judges of the one or avengers of the other? Had the question been only whether the Syracusans or Mamertines should rule in Messana, Rome might certainly have acquiesced in the rule of either. Rome was striving for the possession of Italy, as Carthage for that of Sicily; the designs of the two powers scarcely then went further. But that very circumstance formed a reason why each desired to have and retain on its frontier an intermediate power—the Carthaginians for instance reckoning in this way on Tarentum, the Romans on Syracuse and Messana—and why, if that course was impossible, each preferred to see these adjacent places given over to itself rather than to the other great power. As Carthage had made an attempt in Italy, when Rhegium and Tarentum were about to be occupied by the Romans, to acquire these cities for itself, and had only been prevented from doing so by accident, so in Sicily an opportunity now offered itself for Rome to bring the city of Messana into its symmachy; should the Romans reject it, it was not to be expected that the city would remain independent or would become Syracusan; they would themselves throw it into the arms of the Phoenicians. Were they justified in allowing an opportunity to escape, such as certainly would never recur, of making themselves masters of the natural tete de pont between Italy and Sicily, and of securing it by means of a brave garrison on which they could, for good reasons, rely? Were they justified in abandoning Messana, and thereby surrendering the command of the last free passage between the eastern and western seas, and sacrificing the commercial liberty of Italy? It is true that other objections might be urged to the occupation of Messana besides mere scruples of feeling and of honourable policy. That it could not but lead to a war with Carthage, was the least of these; serious as was such a war, Rome might not fear it. But there was the more important objection that by crossing the sea the Romans would depart from the purely Italian and purely continental policy which they had hitherto pursued; they would abandon the system by which their ancestors had founded the greatness of Rome, to enter upon another system the results of which no one could foretell. It was one of those moments when calculation ceases, and when faith in men's own and in their country's destiny alone gives them courage to grasp the hand which beckons to them out of the darkness of the future, and to follow it no one knows whither. Long and seriously the senate deliberated on the proposal of the consuls to lead the legions to the help of the Mamertines; it came to no decisive resolution. But the burgesses, to whom the matter was referred, were animated by a lively sense of the greatness of the power which their own energy had established. The conquest of Italy encouraged the Romans, as that of Greece encouraged the Macedonians and that of Silesia the Prussians, to enter upon a new political career. A formal pretext for supporting the Mamertines was found in the protectorate which Rome claimed the right to exercise over all Italians. The transmarine Italians were received into the Italian confederacy;(3) and on the proposal of the consuls the citizens resolved to send them aid (489).
Variance between Rome and Carthage
Carthaginians in Messana
Messana Seized by the Romans
War between the Romans and the Carthaginians and the Syracusans
Much depended on the way in which the two Sicilian powers, immediately affected by this intervention of the Romans in the affairs of the island, and both hitherto nominally in alliance with Rome, would regard her interference. Hiero had sufficient reason to treat the summons, by which the Romans required him to desist from hostilities against their new confederates in Messana, precisely in the same way as the Samnites and Lucanians in similar circumstances had received the occupation of Capua and Thurii, and to answer the Romans by a declaration of war. If, however, he remained unsupported, such a war would be folly; and it might be expected from his prudent and moderate policy that he would acquiesce in what was inevitable, if Carthage should be disposed for peace. This seemed not impossible. A Roman embassy was now (489) sent to Carthage, seven years after the attempt of the Phoenician fleet to gain possession of Tarentum, to demand explanations as to these incidents.(4) Grievances not unfounded, but half-forgotten, once more emerged—it seemed not superfluous amidst other warlike preparations to replenish the diplomatic armoury with reasons for war, and for the coming manifesto to reserve to themselves, as was the custom of the Romans, the character of the party aggrieved. This much at least might with entire justice be affirmed, that the respective enterprises on Tarentum and Messana stood upon exactly the same footing in point of design and of pretext, and that it was simply the accident of success that made the difference. Carthage avoided an open rupture. The ambassadors carried back to Rome the disavowal of the Carthaginian admiral who had made the attempt on Tarentum, along with the requisite false oaths: the counter-complaints, which of course were not wanting on the part of Carthage, were studiously moderate, and abstained from characterizing the meditated invasion of Sicily as a ground for war. Such, however, it was; for Carthage regarded the affairs of Sicily —just as Rome regarded those of Italy—as internal matters in which an independent power could allow no interference, and was determined to act accordingly. But Phoenician policy followed a gentler course than that of threatening open war. When the preparations of Rome for sending help to the Mamertines were at length so far advanced that the fleet formed of the war-vessels of Naples, Tarentum, Velia, and Locri, and the vanguard of the Roman land army under the military tribune Gaius Claudius, had appeared at Rhegium (in the spring of 490), unexpected news arrived from Messana that the Carthaginians, having come to an understanding with the anti-Roman party there, had as a neutral power arranged a peace between Hiero and the Mamertines; that the siege had in consequence been raised; and that a Carthaginian fleet lay in the harbour of Messana, and a Carthaginian garrison in the citadel, both under the command of admiral Hanno. The Mamertine citizens, now controlled by Carthaginian influence, informed the Roman commanders, with due thanks to the federal help so speedily accorded to them, that they were glad that they no longer needed it. The adroit and daring officer who commanded the Roman vanguard nevertheless set sail with his troops. But the Carthaginians warned the Roman vessels to retire, and even made some of them prizes; these, however, the Carthaginian admiral, remembering his strict orders to give no pretext for the outbreak of hostilities, sent back to his good friends on the other side of the straits. It almost seemed as if the Romans had compromised themselves as uselessly before Messana, as the Carthaginians before Tarentum. But Claudius did not allow himself to be deterred, and on a second attempt he succeeded in landing. Scarcely had he arrived when he called a meeting of the citizens; and, at his wish, the Carthaginian admiral also appeared at the meeting, still imagining that he should be able to avoid an open breach. But the Romans seized his person in the assembly itself; and Hanno and the Phoenician garrison in the citadel, weak and destitute of a leader, were pusillanimous enough, the former to give to his troops the command to withdraw, the latter to comply with the orders of their captive general and to evacuate the city along with him. Thus the tete de pont of the island fell into the hands of the Romans. The Carthaginian authorities, justly indignant at the folly and weakness of their general, caused him to be executed, and declared war against the Romans. Above all it was their aim to recover the lost place. A strong Carthaginian fleet, led by Hanno, son of Hannibal, appeared off Messana; while the fleet blockaded the straits, the Carthaginian army landing from it began the siege on the north side. Hiero, who had only waited for the Carthaginian attack to begin the war with Rome, again brought up his army, which he had hardly withdrawn, against Messana, and undertook the attack on the south side of the city.
Peace with Hiero
But meanwhile the Roman consul Appius Claudius Caudex had appeared at Rhegium with the main body of his army, and succeeded in crossing on a dark night in spite of the Carthaginian fleet. Audacity and fortune were on the side of the Romans; the allies, not prepared for an attack by the whole Roman army and consequently not united, were beaten in detail by the Roman legions issuing from the city; and thus the siege was raised. The Roman army kept the field during the summer, and even made an attempt on Syracuse; but, when that had failed and the siege of Echetla (on the confines of the territories of Syracuse and Carthage) had to be abandoned with loss, the Roman army returned to Messana, and thence, leaving a strong garrison behind them, to Italy. The results obtained in this first campaign of the Romans out of Italy may not quite have corresponded to the expectations at home, for the consul had no triumph; nevertheless, the energy which the Romans displayed in Sicily could not fail to make a great impression on the Sicilian Greeks. In the following year both consuls and an army twice as large entered the island unopposed. One of them, Marcus Valerius Maximus, afterwards called from this campaign the "hero of Messana" (-Messalla-), achieved a brilliant victory over the allied Carthaginians and Syracusans. After this battle the Phoenician army no longer ventured to keep the field against the Romans; Alaesa, Centuripa, and the smaller Greek towns generally fell to the victors, and Hiero himself abandoned the Carthaginian side and made peace and alliance with the Romans (491). He pursued a judicious policy in joining the Romans as soon as it appeared that their interference in Sicily was in earnest, and while there was still time to purchase peace without cessions and sacrifices. The intermediate states in Sicily, Syracuse and Messana, which were unable to follow out a policy of their own and had only the choice between Roman and Carthaginian hegemony, could not but at any rate prefer the former; because the Romans had very probably not as yet formed the design of conquering the island for themselves, but sought merely to prevent its being acquired by Carthage, and at all events Rome might be expected to substitute a more tolerable treatment and a due protection of commercial freedom for the tyrannizing and monopolizing system that Carthage pursued. Henceforth Hiero continued to be the most important, the steadiest, and the most esteemed ally of the Romans in the island.
Capture of Agrigentum
The Romans had thus gained their immediate object. By their double alliance with Messana and Syracuse, and the firm hold which they had on the whole east coast, they secured the means of landing on the island and of maintaining—which hitherto had been a very difficult matter—their armies there; and the war, which had previously been doubtful and hazardous, lost in a great measure its character of risk. Accordingly, no greater exertions were made for it than for the wars in Samnium and Etruria; the two legions which were sent over to the island for the next year (492) sufficed, in concert with the Sicilian Greeks, to drive the Carthaginians everywhere into their fortresses. The commander-in-chief of the Carthaginians, Hannibal son of Gisgo, threw himself with the flower of his troops into Agrigentum, to defend to the last that most important of the Carthaginian inland cities. Unable to storm a city so strong, the Romans blockaded it with entrenched lines and a double camp; the besieged, who numbered 50,000 soon suffered from want of provisions. To raise the siege the Carthaginian admiral Hanno landed at Heraclea, and cut off in turn the supplies from the Roman besieging force. On both sides the distress was great. At length a battle was resolved on, to put an end to the state of embarrassment and uncertainty. In this battle the Numidian cavalry showed itself just as superior to the Roman horse as the Roman infantry was superior to the Phoenician foot; the infantry decided the victory, but the losses even of the Romans were very considerable. The result of the successful struggle was somewhat marred by the circumstance that, after the battle, during the confusion and fatigue of the conquerors, the beleaguered army succeeded in escaping from the city and in reaching the fleet. The victory was nevertheless of importance; Agrigentum fell into the hands of the Romans, and thus the whole island was in their power, with the exception of the maritime fortresses, in which the Carthaginian general Hamilcar, Hanno's successor in command, entrenched himself to the teeth, and was not to be driven out either by force or by famine. The war was thenceforth continued only by sallies of the Carthaginians from the Sicilian fortresses and their descents on the Italian coasts.
Beginning of the Maritime War
The Romans Build a Fleet
In fact, the Romans now for the first time felt the real difficulties of the war. If, as we are told, the Carthaginian diplomatists before the outbreak of hostilities warned the Romans not to push the matter to a breach, because against their will no Roman could even wash his hands in the sea, the threat was well founded. The Carthaginian fleet ruled the sea without a rival, and not only kept the coast towns of Sicily in due obedience and provided them with all necessaries, but also threatened a descent upon Italy, for which reason it was necessary in 492 to retain a consular army there. No invasion on a large scale occurred; but smaller Carthaginian detachments landed on the Italian coasts and levied contributions on the allies of Rome, and what was worst of all, completely paralyzed the commerce of Rome and her allies. The continuance of such a course for even a short time would suffice entirely to ruin Caere, Ostia, Neapolis, Tarentum, and Syracuse, while the Carthaginians easily consoled themselves for the loss of the tribute of Sicily with the contributions which they levied and the rich prizes of their privateering. The Romans now learned, what Dionysius, Agathocles, and Pyrrhus had learned before, that it was as difficult to conquer the Carthaginians as it was easy to beat them in the field. They saw that everything depended on procuring a fleet, and resolved to form one of twenty triremes and a hundred quinqueremes. The execution, however, of this energetic resolution was not easy. The representation originating in the schools of the rhetoricians, which would have us believe that the Romans then for the first time dipped their oars in water, is no doubt a childish tale; the mercantile marine of Italy must at this time have been very extensive, and there was no want even of Italian vessels of war. But these were war-barks and triremes, such as had been in use in earlier times; quinqueremes, which under the more modern system of naval warfare that had originated chiefly in Cartilage were almost exclusively employed in the line, had not yet been built in Italy. The measure adopted by the Romans was therefore much as if a maritime state of the present day were to pass at once from the building of frigates and cutters to the building of ships of the line; and, just as in such a case now a foreign ship of the line would, if possible, be adopted as a pattern, the Romans referred their master shipbuilders to a stranded Carthaginian -penteres- as a model No doubt the Romans, had they wished, might have sooner attained their object with the aid of the Syracusans and Massiliots; but their statesmen had too much sagacity to desire to defend Italy by means of a fleet not Italian. The Italian allies, however, were largely drawn upon both for the naval officers, who must have been for the most part taken from the Italian mercantile marine, and for the sailors, whose name (-socii navales-) shows that for a time they were exclusively furnished by the allies; along with these, slaves provided by the state and the wealthier families were afterwards employed, and ere long also the poorer class of burgesses. Under such circumstances, and when we take into account, as is but fair, on the one hand the comparatively low state of shipbuilding at that time, and on the other hand the energy of the Romans, there is nothing incredible in the statement that the Romans solved within a year the problem—which baffled Napoleon—of converting a continental into a maritime power, and actually launched their fleet of 120 sail in the spring of 494. It is true, that it was by no means a match for the Carthaginian fleet in numbers and efficiency at sea; and these were points of the greater importance, as the naval tactics of the period consisted mainly in manoeuvring. In the maritime warfare of that period hoplites and archers no doubt fought from the deck, and projectile machines were also plied from it; but the ordinary and really decisive mode of action consisted in running foul of the enemy's vessels, for which purpose the prows were furnished with heavy iron beaks: the vessels engaged were in the habit of sailing round each other till one or the other succeeded in giving the thrust, which usually proved decisive. Accordingly the crew of an ordinary Greek trireme, consisting of about 200 men, contained only about 10 soldiers, but on the other hand 170 rowers, from 50 to 60 on each deck; that of a quinquereme numbered about 300 rowers, and soldiers in proportion.
The happy idea occurred to the Romans that they might make up for what their vessels, with their unpractised officers and crews, necessarily lacked in ability of manoeuvring, by again assigning a more considerable part in naval warfare to the soldiers. They stationed at the prow of each vessel a flying bridge, which could be lowered in front or on either side; it was furnished on both sides with parapets, and had space for two men in front. When the enemy's vessel was sailing up to strike the Roman one, or was lying alongside of it after the thrust had been evaded, the bridge on deck was suddenly lowered and fastened to its opponent by means of a grappling- iron: this not only prevented the running down, but enabled the Roman marines to pass along the bridge to the enemy's deck and to carry it by assault as in a conflict on land. No distinct body of marines was formed, but land troops were employed, when required, for this maritime service. In one instance as many as 120 legionaries fought in each ship on occasion of a great naval battle; in that case however the Roman fleet had at the same time a landing-army on board.
In this way the Romans created a fleet which was a match for the Carthaginians. Those err, who represent this building of a Roman fleet as a fairy tale, and besides they miss their aim; the feat must be understood in order to be admired. The construction of a fleet by the Romans was in very truth a noble national work—a work through which, by their clear perception of what was needful and possible, by ingenuity in invention, and by energy in resolution and in execution, they rescued their country from a position which was worse than at first it seemed.
Naval Victory at Mylae
The outset, nevertheless, was not favourable to the Romans. The Roman admiral, the consul Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio, who had sailed for Messana with the first seventeen vessels ready for sea (494), fancied, when on the voyage, that he should be able to capture Lipara by a coup de main. But a division of the Carthaginian fleet stationed at Panormus blockaded the harbour of the island where the Roman vessels rode at anchor, and captured the whole squadron along with the consul without a struggle. This, however, did not deter the main fleet from likewise sailing, as soon as its preparations were completed, for Messana. On its voyage along the Italian coast it fell in with a Carthaginian reconnoitring squadron of less strength, on which it had the good fortune to inflict a loss more than counterbalancing the first loss of the Romans; and thus successful and victorious it entered the port of Messana, where the second consul Gaius Duilius took the command in room of his captured colleague. At the promontory of Mylae, to the north-west of Messana, the Carthaginian fleet, that advanced from Panormus under the command of Hannibal, encountered the Roman, which here underwent its first trial on a great scale. The Carthaginians, seeing in the ill-sailing and unwieldy vessels of the Romans an easy prey, fell upon them in irregular order; but the newly invented boarding-bridges proved their thorough efficiency. The Roman vessels hooked and stormed those of the enemy as they came up one by one; they could not be approached either in front or on the sides without the dangerous bridge descending on the enemy's deck. When the battle was over, about fifty Carthaginian vessels, almost the half of the fleet, were sunk or captured by the Romans; among the latter was the ship of the admiral Hannibal, formerly belonging to king Pyrrhus. The gain was great; still greater the moral effect of the victory. Rome had suddenly become a naval power, and held in her hand the means of energetically terminating a war which threatened to be endlessly prolonged and to involve the commerce of Italy in ruin.
The War on the Coasts of Sicily and Sardinia
Two plans were open to the Romans. They might attack Carthage on the Italian islands and deprive her of the coast fortresses of Sicily and Sardinia one after another—a scheme which was perhaps practicable through well-combined operations by land and sea; and, in the event of its being accomplished, peace might either be concluded with Carthage on the basis of the cession of these islands, or, should such terms not be accepted or prove unsatisfactory, the second stage of the war might be transferred to Africa. Or they might neglect the islands and throw themselves at once with all their strength on Africa, not, in the adventurous style of Agathocles, burning their vessels behind them and staking all on the victory of a desperate band, but covering with a strong fleet the communications between the African invading army and Italy; and in that case a peace on moderate terms might be expected from the consternation of the enemy after the first successes, or, if the Romans chose, they might by pushing matters to an extremity compel the enemy to entire surrender.
They chose, in the first instance, the former plan of operations. In the year after the battle of Mylae (495) the consul Lucius Scipio captured the port of Aleria in Corsica—we still possess the tombstone of the general, which makes mention of this deed—and made Corsica a naval station against Sardinia. An attempt to establish a footing in Ulbia on the northern coast of that island failed, because the fleet wanted troops for landing. In the succeeding year (496) it was repeated with better success, and the open villages along the coast were plundered; but no permanent establishment of the Romans took place. Nor was greater progress made in Sicily. Hamilcar conducted the war with energy and adroitness, not only by force of arms on sea and land, but also by political proselytism. Of the numerous small country towns some every year fell away from the Romans, and had to be laboriously wrested afresh from the Phoenician grasp; while in the coast fortresses the Carthaginians maintained themselves without challenge, particularly in their headquarters of Panormus and in their new stronghold of Drepana, to which, on account of its easier defence by sea, Hamilcar had transferred the inhabitants of Eryx. A second great naval engagement off the promontory of Tyndaris (497), in which both parties claimed the victory, made no change in the position of affairs. In this way no progress was made, whether in consequence of the division and rapid change of the chief command of the Roman troops, which rendered the concentrated management of a series of operations on a small scale exceedingly difficult, or from the general strategical relations of the case, which certainly, as the science of war then stood, were unfavourable to the attacking party in general,(5) and particularly so to the Romans, who were still on the mere threshold of scientific warfare. Meanwhile, although the pillaging of the Italian coasts had ceased, the commerce of Italy suffered not much less than it had done before the fleet was built.
Attack on Africa
Naval Victory of Ecnomus
Weary of a course of operations without results, and impatient to put an end to the war, the senate resolved to change its system, and to assail Carthage in Africa. In the spring of 498 a fleet of 330 ships of the line set sail for the coast of Libya: at the mouth of the river Himera on the south coast of Sicily it embarked the army for landing, consisting of four legions, under the charge of the two consuls Marcus Atilius Regulus and Lucius Manlius Volso, both experienced generals. The Carthaginian admiral suffered the embarkation of the enemy's troops to take place; but on continuing their voyage towards Africa the Romans found the Punic fleet drawn up in order of battle off Ecnomus to protect its native land from invasion. Seldom have greater numbers fought at sea than were engaged in the battle that now ensued. The Roman fleet: of 330 sail contained at least 100,000 men in its crews, besides the landing army of about 40,000; the Carthaginian of 350 vessels was manned by at least an equal number; so that well-nigh three hundred thousand men were brought into action on this day to decide the contest between the two mighty civic communities. The Phoenicians were placed in a single widely-extended line, with their left wing resting on the Sicilian coast. The Romans arranged themselves in a triangle, with the ships of the two consuls as admirals at the apex, the first and second squadrons drawn out in oblique line to the right and left, and a third squadron, having the vessels built for the transport of the cavalry in tow, forming the line which closed the triangle. They thus bore down in close order on the enemy. A fourth squadron placed in reserve followed more slowly. The wedge-shaped attack broke without difficulty the Carthaginian line, for its centre, which was first assailed, intentionally gave way, and the battle resolved itself into three separate engagements. While the admirals with the two squadrons drawn up on the wings pursued the Carthaginian centre and were closely engaged with it, the left wing of the Carthaginians drawn up along the coast wheeled round upon the third Roman squadron, which was prevented by the vessels which it had in tow from following the two others, and by a vehement onset in superior force drove it against the shore; at the same time the Roman reserve was turned on the open sea, and assailed from behind, by the right wing of the Carthaginians. The first of these three engagements was soon at an end; the ships of the Carthaginian centre, manifestly much weaker than the two Roman squadrons with which they were engaged, took to flight. Meanwhile the two other divisions of the Romans had a hard struggle with the superior enemy; but in close fighting the dreaded boarding-bridges stood them in good stead, and by this means they succeeded in holding out till the two admirals with their vessels could come up. By their arrival the Roman reserve was relieved, and the Carthaginian vessels of the right wing retired before the superior force. And now, when this conflict had been decided in favour of the Romans, all the Roman vessels that still could keep the sea fell on the rear of the Carthaginian left wing, which was obstinately following up its advantage, so that it was surrounded and almost all the vessels composing it were taken. The losses otherwise were nearly equal. Of the Roman fleet 24 sail were sunk; of the Carthaginian 30 were sunk, and 64 were taken.
Landing of Regulus in Africa
Notwithstanding its considerable loss, the Carthaginian fleet did not give up the protection of Africa, and with that view returned to the gulf of Carthage, where it expected the descent to take place and purposed to give battle a second time. But the Romans landed, not on the western side of the peninsula which helps to form the gulf, but on the eastern side, where the bay of Clupea presented a spacious harbour affording protection in almost all winds, and the town, situated close by the sea on a shield-shaped eminence rising out of the plain, supplied an excellent defence for the harbour. They disembarked the troops without hindrance from the enemy, and established themselves on the hill; in a short time an entrenched naval camp was constructed, and the land army was at liberty to commence operations. The Roman troops ranged over the country and levied contributions: they were able to send as many as 20,000 slaves to Rome. Through the rarest good fortune the bold scheme had succeeded at the first stroke, and with but slight sacrifices: the end seemed attained. The feeling of confidence that in this respect animated the Romans is evinced by the resolution of the senate to recall to Italy the greater portion of the fleet and half of the army; Marcus Regulus alone remained in Africa with 40 ships, 15,000 infantry, and 500 cavalry. Their confidence, however, was seemingly not overstrained. The Carthaginian army, which was disheartened, did not venture forth into the plain, but waited to sustain discomfiture in the wooded defiles, in which it could make no use of its two best arms, the cavalry and the elephants. The towns surrendered -en masse-; the Numidians rose in insurrection, and overran the country far and wide. Regulus might hope to begin the next campaign with the siege of the capital, and with that view he pitched his camp for the winter in its immediate vicinity at Tunes.
Vain Negotiations for Peace
The spirit of the Carthaginians was broken: they sued for peace. But the conditions which the consul proposed—not merely the cession of Sicily and Sardinia, but the conclusion of an alliance on unequal terms with Rome, which would have bound the Carthaginians to renounce a war-marine of their own and to furnish vessels for the Roman wars —conditions which would have placed Carthage on a level with Neapolis and Tarentum, could not be accepted, so long as a Carthaginian army kept the field and a Carthaginian fleet kept the sea, and the capital stood unshaken.
Preparations of Carthage
The mighty enthusiasm, which is wont to blaze up nobly among Oriental nations, even the most abased, on the approach of extreme peril—the energy of dire necessity—impelled the Carthaginians to exertions, such as were by no means expected from a nation of shopkeepers. Hamilcar, who had carried on the guerilla war against the Romans in Sicily with so much success, appeared in Libya with the flower of the Sicilian troops, which furnished an admirable nucleus for the newly-levied force. The connections and gold of the Carthaginians, moreover, brought to them excellent Numidian horsemen in troops, and also numerous Greek mercenaries; amongst whom was the celebrated captain Xanthippus of Sparta, whose talent for organization and strategical skill were of great service to his new masters.(6) While the Carthaginians were thus making their preparations in the course of the winter, the Roman general remained inactive at Tunes. Whether it was that he did not anticipate the storm which was gathering over his head, or that a sense of military honour prohibited him from doing what his position demanded—instead of renouncing a siege which he was not in a condition even to attempt, and shutting himself up in the stronghold of Clupea, he remained with a handful of men before the walls of the hostile capital, neglecting even to secure his line of retreat to the naval camp, and neglecting to provide himself with —what above all he wanted, and what might have been so easily obtained through negotiation with the revolted Numidian tribes —a good light cavalry. He thus wantonly brought himself and his army into a plight similar to that which formerly befell Agathocles in his desperate adventurous expedition.
Defeat of Regulus
When spring came (499), the state of affairs had so changed, that now the Carthaginians were the first to take the field and to offer battle to the Romans. It was natural that they should do so, for everything depended on their getting quit of the army of Regulus, before reinforcements could arrive from Italy. The same reason should have led the Romans to desire delay; but, relying on their invincibleness in the open field, they at once accepted battle notwithstanding their inferiority of strength—for, although the numbers of the infantry on both sides were nearly the same, their 4000 cavalry and 100 elephants gave to the Carthaginians a decided superiority—and notwithstanding the unfavourable nature of the ground, the Carthaginians having taken up their position in a broad plain presumably not far from Tunes. Xanthippus, who on this day commanded the Carthaginians, first threw his cavalry on that of the enemy, which was stationed, as usual, on the two flanks of the line of battle; the few squadrons of the Romans were scattered like dust in a moment before the masses of the enemy's horse, and the Roman infantry found itself outflanked by them and surrounded. The legions, unshaken by their apparent danger, advanced to attack the enemy's line; and, although the row of elephants placed as a protection in front of it checked the right wing and centre of the Romans, the left wing at any rate, marching past the elephants, engaged the mercenary infantry on the right of the enemy, and overthrew them completely. But this very success broke up the Roman ranks. The main body indeed, assailed by the elephants in front and by the cavalry on the flanks and in the rear, formed square, and defended itself with heroic courage, but the close masses were at length broken and swept away. The victorious left wing encountered the still fresh Carthaginian centre, where the Libyan infantry prepared a similar fate for it. From the nature of the ground and the superior numbers of the enemy's cavalry, all the combatants in these masses were cut down or taken prisoners; only two thousand men, chiefly, in all probability, the light troops and horsemen who were dispersed at the commencement, gained—while the Roman legions stood to be slaughtered—a start sufficient to enable them with difficulty to reach Clupea. Among the few prisoners was the consul himself, who afterwards died in Carthage; his family, under the idea that he had not been treated by the Carthaginians according to the usages of war, wreaked a most revolting vengeance on two noble Carthaginian captives, till even the slaves were moved to pity, and on their information the tribunes put a stop to the shameful outrage.(7)
Evacuation of Africa
When the terrible news reached Rome, the first care of the Romans was naturally directed to the saving of the force shut up in Clupea. A Roman fleet of 350 sail immediately started, and after a noble victory at the Hermaean promontory, in which the Carthaginians lost 114 ships, it reached Clupea just in time to deliver from their hard-pressed position the remains of the defeated army which were there entrenched. Had it been despatched before the catastrophe occurred, it might have converted the defeat into a victory that would probably have put an end to the Punic wars. But so completely had the Romans now lost their judgment, that after a successful conflict before Clupea they embarked all their troops and sailed home, voluntarily evacuating that important and easily defended position which secured to them facilities for landing in Africa, and abandoning their numerous African allies without protection to the vengeance of the Carthaginians. The Carthaginians did not neglect the opportunity of filling their empty treasury, and of making their subjects clearly understand the consequences of unfaithfulness. An extraordinary contribution of 1000 talents of silver (244,000 pounds) and 20,000 oxen was levied, and the sheiks in all the communities that had revolted were crucified; it is said that there were three thousand of them, and that this revolting atrocity on the part of the Carthaginian authorities really laid the foundation of the revolution which broke forth in Africa some years later. Lastly, as if to fill up the measure of misfortune to the Romans even as their measure of success had been filled before, on the homeward voyage of the fleet three- fourths of the Roman vessels perished with their crews in a violent storm; only eighty reached their port (July 499). The captains had foretold the impending mischief, but the extemporised Roman admirals had nevertheless given orders to sail.
Recommencement of the War in Sicily
After successes so immense the Carthaginians were able to resume their offensive operations, which had long been in abeyance. Hasdrubal son of Hanno landed at Lilybaeum with a strong force, which was enabled, particularly by its enormous number of elephants—amounting to 140 —to keep the field against the Romans: the last battle had shown that it was possible to make up for the want of good infantry to some extent by elephants and cavalry. The Romans also resumed the war in Sicily; the annihilation of their invading army had, as the voluntary evacuation of Clupea shows, at once restored ascendency in the senate to the party which was opposed to the war in Africa and was content with the gradual subjugation of the islands. But for this purpose too there was need of a fleet; and, since that which had conquered at Mylae, at Ecnomus, and at the Hermaean promontory was destroyed, they built a new one. Keels were at once laid down for 220 new vessels of war—they had never hitherto undertaken the building of so many simultaneously—and in the incredibly short space of three months they were all ready for sea. In the spring of 500 the Roman fleet, numbering 300 vessels mostly new, appeared on the north coast of Sicily; Panormus, the most important town in Carthaginian Sicily, was acquired through a successful attack from the seaboard, and the smaller places there, Soluntum, Cephaloedium, and Tyndaris, likewise fell into the hands of the Romans, so that along the whole north coast of the island Thermae alone was retained by the Carthaginians. Panormus became thenceforth one of the chief stations of the Romans in Sicily. The war by land, nevertheless, made no progress; the two armies stood face to face before Lilybaeum, but the Roman commanders, who knew not how to encounter the mass of elephants, made no attempt to compel a pitched battle.
In the ensuing year (501) the consuls, instead of pursuing sure advantages in Sicily, preferred to make an expedition to Africa, for the purpose not of landing but of plundering the coast towns. They accomplished their object without opposition; but, after having first run aground in the troublesome, and to their pilots unknown, waters of the Lesser Syrtis, whence they with difficulty got clear again, the fleet encountered a storm between Sicily and Italy, which cost more than 150 ships. On this occasion also the pilots, notwithstanding their representations and entreaties to be allowed to take the course along the coast, were obliged by command of the consuls to steer straight from Panormus across the open sea to Ostia.
Suspension of the Maritime War
Roman Victory at Panormus
Despondency now seized the fathers of the city; they resolved to reduce their war-fleet to sixty sail, and to confine the war by sea to the defence of the coasts, and to the convoy of transports. Fortunately, just at this time, the languishing war in Sicily took a more favourable turn. In the year 502, Thermae, the last point which the Carthaginians held on the north coast, and the important island of Lipara, had fallen into the hands of the Romans, and in the following year (summer of 503) the consul Lucius Caecilius Metellus achieved a brilliant victory over the army of elephants under the walls of Panormus. These animals, which had been imprudently brought forward, were wounded by the light troops of the Romans stationed in the moat of the town; some of them fell into the moat, and others fell back on their own troops, who crowded in wild disorder along with the elephants towards the beach, that they might be picked up by the Phoenician ships. One hundred and twenty elephants were captured, and the Carthaginian army, whose strength depended on these animals, was obliged once more to shut itself up in its fortresses. Eryx soon fell into the hands of the Romans (505), and the Carthaginians retained nothing in the island but Drepana and Lilybaeum. Carthage a second time offered peace; but the victory of Metellus and the exhaustion of the enemy gave to the more energetic party the upper hand in the senate.
Siege of Lilybaeum
Peace was declined, and it was resolved to prosecute in earnest the siege of the two Sicilian cities and for this purpose to send to sea once more a fleet of 200 sail. The siege of Lilybaeum, the first great and regular siege undertaken by Rome, and one of the most obstinate known in history, was opened by the Romans with an important success: they succeeded in introducing their fleet into the harbour of the city, and in blockading it on the side facing the sea. The besiegers, however, were not able to close the sea completely. In spite of their sunken vessels and their palisades, and in spite of the most careful vigilance, dexterous mariners, accurately acquainted with the shallows and channels, maintained with swift-sailing vessels a regular communication between the besieged in the city and the Carthaginian fleet in the harbour of Drepana. In fact after some time a Carthaginian squadron of 50 sail succeeded in running into the harbour, in throwing a large quantity of provisions and a reinforcement of 10,000 men into the city, and in returning unmolested. The besieging land army was not much more fortunate. They began with a regular attack; machines were erected, and in a short time the batteries had demolished six of the towers flanking the walls, so that the breach soon appeared to be practicable. But the able Carthaginian commander Himilco parried this assault by giving orders for the erection of a second wall behind the breach. An attempt of the Romans to enter into an understanding with the garrison was likewise frustrated in proper time. And, after a first sally made for the purpose of burning the Roman set of machines had been repulsed, the Carthaginians succeeded during a stormy night in effecting their object. Upon this the Romans abandoned their preparations for an assault, and contented themselves with blockading the walls by land and water. The prospect of success in this way was indeed very remote, so long as they were unable wholly to preclude the entrance of the enemy's vessels; and the army of the besiegers was in a condition not much better than that of the besieged in the city, because their supplies were frequently cut off by the numerous and bold light cavalry of the Carthaginians, and their ranks began to be thinned by the diseases indigenous to that unwholesome region. The capture of Lilybaeum, however, was of sufficient importance to induce a patient perseverance in the laborious task, which promised to be crowned in time with the desired success.
Defeat of the Roman Fleet before Drepana
Annililation of the Roman Transport Fleet
But the new consul Publius Claudius considered the task of maintaining the investment of Lilybaeum too trifling: he preferred to change once more the plan of operations, and with his numerous newly-manned vessels suddenly to surprise the Carthaginian fleet which was waiting in the neighbouring harbour of Drepana. With the whole blockading squadron, which had taken on board volunteers from the legions, he started about midnight, and sailing in good order with his right wing by the shore, and his left in the open sea, he safely reached the harbour of Drepana at sunrise. Here the Phoenician admiral Atarbas was in command. Although surprised, he did not lose his presence of mind or allow himself to be shut up in the harbour, but as the Roman ships entered the harbour, which opens to the south in the form of a sickle, on the one side, he withdrew his vessels from it by the opposite side which was still free, and stationed them in line on the outside. No other course remained to the Roman admiral but to recall as speedily as possible the foremost vessels from the harbour, and to make his arrangements for battle in like manner in front of it; but in consequence of this retrograde movement he lost the free choice of his position, and was obliged to accept battle in a line, which on the one hand was outflanked by that of the enemy to the extent of five ships —for there was not time fully to deploy the vessels as they issued from the harbour—and on the other hand was crowded so close on the shore that his vessels could neither retreat, nor sail behind the line so as to come to each other's aid. Not only was the battle lost before it began, but the Roman fleet was so completely ensnared that it fell almost wholly into the hands of the enemy. The consul indeed escaped, for he was the first who fled; but 93 Roman vessels, more than three-fourths of the blockading fleet, with the flower of the Roman legions on board, fell into the hands of the Phoenicians. It was the first and only great naval victory which the Carthaginians gained over the Romans. Lilybaeum was practically relieved on the side towards the sea, for though the remains of the Roman fleet returned to their former position, they were now much too weak seriously to blockade a harbour which had never been wholly closed, and they could only protect themselves from the attack of the Carthaginian ships with the assistance of the land army. That single imprudent act of an inexperienced and criminally thoughtless officer had thrown away all that had been with so much difficulty attained by the long and galling warfare around the fortress; and those war- vessels of the Romans which his presumption had not forfeited were shortly afterwards destroyed by the folly of his colleague.
The second consul, Lucius Junius Pullus, who had received the charge of lading at Syracuse the supplies destined for the army at Lilybaeum, and of convoying the transports along the south coast of the island with a second Roman fleet of 120 war-vessels, instead of keeping his ships together, committed the error of allowing the first convoy to depart alone and of only following with the second. When the Carthaginian vice-admiral, Carthalo, who with a hundred select ships blockaded the Roman fleet in the port of Lilybaeum, received the intelligence, he proceeded to the south coast of the island, cut off the two Roman squadrons from each other by interposing between them, and compelled them to take shelter in two harbours of refuge on the inhospitable shores of Gela and Camarina. The attacks of the Carthaginians were indeed bravely repulsed by the Romans with the help of the shore batteries, which had for some time been erected there as everywhere along the coast; but, as the Romans could not hope to effect a junction and continue their voyage, Carthalo could leave the elements to finish his work. The next great storm, accordingly, completely annihilated the two Roman fleets in their wretched roadsteads, while the Phoenician admiral easily weathered it on the open sea with his unencumbered and well-managed ships. The Romans, however, succeeded in saving the greater part of the crews and cargoes (505).
Perplexity of the Romans
The Roman senate was in perplexity. The war had now reached its sixteenth year; and they seemed to be farther from their object in the sixteenth than in the first. In this war four large fleets had perished, three of them with Roman armies on board; a fourth select land army had been destroyed by the enemy in Libya; to say nothing of the numerous losses which had been occasioned by the minor naval engagements, and by the battles, and still more by the outpost warfare and the diseases, of Sicily.
What a multitude of human lives the war swept away may be seen from the fact, that the burgess-roll merely from 502 to 507 decreased by about 40,000, a sixth part of the entire number; and this does not include the losses of the allies, who bore the whole brunt of the war by sea, and, in addition, at least an equal proportion with the Romans of the warfare by land. Of the financial loss it is not possible to form any conception; but both the direct damage sustained in ships and -materiel-, and the indirect injury through the paralyzing of trade, must have been enormous. An evil still greater than this was the exhaustion of all the methods by which they had sought to terminate the war. They had tried a landing in Africa with their forces fresh and in the full career of victory, and had totally failed. They had undertaken to storm Sicily town by town; the lesser places had fallen, but the two mighty naval strongholds of Lilybaeum and Drepana stood more invincible than ever. What were they to do? In fact, there was to some extent reason for despondency. The fathers of the city became faint-hearted; they allowed matters simply to take their course, knowing well that a war protracted without object or end was more pernicious for Italy than the straining of the last man and the last penny, but without that courage and confidence in the nation and in fortune, which could demand new sacrifices in addition to those that had already been lavished in vain. They dismissed the fleet; at the most they encouraged privateering, and with that view placed the war- vessels of the state at the disposal of captains who were ready to undertake a piratical warfare on their own account. The war by land was continued nominally, because they could not do otherwise; but they were content with observing the Sicilian fortresses and barely maintaining what they possessed,—measures which, in the absence of a fleet, required a very numerous army and extremely costly preparations.
Now, if ever, the time had come when Carthage was in a position to humble her mighty antagonist. She, too, of course must have felt some exhaustion of resources; but, in the circumstances, the Phoenician finances could not possibly be so disorganized as to prevent the Carthaginians from continuing the war—which cost them little beyond money—offensively and with energy. The Carthaginian government, however, was not energetic, but on the contrary weak and indolent, unless impelled to action by an easy and sure gain or by extreme necessity. Glad to be rid of the Roman fleet, they foolishly allowed their own also to fall into decay, and began after the example of the enemy to confine their operations by land and sea to the petty warfare in and around Sicily.
Petty War in Sicily
Thus there ensued six years of uneventful warfare (506-511), the most inglorious in the history of this century for Rome, and inglorious also for the Carthaginian people. One man, however, among the latter thought and acted differently from his nation. Hamilcar, named Barak or Barcas (i. e. lightning), a young officer of much promise, took over the supreme command in Sicily in the year 507. His army, like every Carthaginian one, was defective in a trustworthy and experienced infantry; and the government, although it was perhaps in a position to create such an infantry and at any rate was bound to make the attempt, contented itself with passively looking on at its defeats or at most with nailing the defeated generals to the cross. Hamilcar resolved to take the matter into his own hands. He knew well that his mercenaries were as indifferent to Carthage as to Rome, and that he had to expect from his government not Phoenician or Libyan conscripts, but at the best a permission to save his country with his troops in his own way, provided it cost nothing. But he knew himself also, and he knew men. His mercenaries cared nothing for Carthage; but a true general is able to substitute his own person for his country in the affections of his soldiers; and such an one was this young commander. After he had accustomed his men to face the legionaries in the warfare of outposts before Drepana and Lilybaeum, he established himself with his force on Mount Ercte (Monte Pellegrino near Palermo), which commands like a fortress the neighbouring country; and making them settle there with their wives and children, levied contributions from the plains, while Phoenician privateers plundered the Italian coast as far as Cumae. He thus provided his people with copious supplies without asking money from the Carthaginians, and, keeping up the communication with Drepana by sea, he threatened to surprise the important town of Panormus in his immediate vicinity. Not only were the Romans unable to expel him from his stronghold, but after the struggle had lasted awhile at Ercte, Hamilcar formed for himself another similar position at Eryx. This mountain, which bore half-way up the town of the same name and on its summit the temple of Aphrodite, had been hitherto in the hands of the Romans, who made it a basis for annoying Drepana. Hamilcar deprived them of the town and besieged the temple, while the Romans in turn blockaded him from the plain. The Celtic deserters from the Carthaginian army who were stationed by the Romans at the forlorn post of the temple—a reckless pack of marauders, who in the course of this siege plundered the temple and perpetrated every sort of outrage —defended the summit of the rock with desperate courage; but Hamilcar did not allow himself to be again dislodged from the town, and kept his communications constantly open by sea with the fleet and the garrison of Drepana. The war in Sicily seemed to be assuming a turn more and more unfavourable for the Romans. The Roman state was losing in that warfare its money and its soldiers, and the Roman generals their repute; it was already clear that no Roman general was a match for Hamilcar, and the time might be calculated when even the Carthaginian mercenary would be able boldly to measure himself against the legionary. The privateers of Hamilcar appeared with ever- increasing audacity on the Italian coast: already a praetor had been obliged to take the field against a band of Carthaginian rovers which had landed there. A few years more, and Hamilcar might with his fleet have accomplished from Sicily what his son subsequently undertook by the land route from Spain.
A Fleet Built by the Romans
Victory of Catulus at the Island Aegusa
The Roman senate, however, persevered in its inaction; the desponding party for once had the majority there. At length a number of sagacious and high-spirited men determined to save the state even without the interposition of the government, and to put an end to the ruinous Sicilian war. Successful corsair expeditions, if they had not raised the courage of the nation, had aroused energy and hope in a portion of the people; they had already joined together to form a squadron, burnt down Hippo on the African coast, and sustained a successful naval conflict with the Carthaginians off Panormus. By a private subscription—such as had been resorted to in Athens also, but not on so magnificent a scale—the wealthy and patriotic Romans equipped a war fleet, the nucleus of which was supplied by the ships built for privateering and the practised crews which they contained, and which altogether was far more carefully fitted out than had hitherto been the case in the shipbuilding of the state. This fact —that a number of citizens in the twenty-third year of a severe war voluntarily presented to the state two hundred ships of the line, manned by 60,000 sailors—stands perhaps unparalleled in the annals of history. The consul Gaius Lutatius Catulus, to whom fell the honour of conducting this fleet to the Sicilian seas, met there with almost no opposition: the two or three Carthaginian vessels, with which Hamilcar had made his corsair expeditions, disappeared before the superior force, and almost without resistance the Romans occupied the harbours of Lilybaeum and Drepana, the siege of which was now undertaken with energy by water and by land. Carthage was completely taken by surprise; even the two fortresses, weakly provisioned, were in great danger. A fleet was equipped at home; but with all the haste which they displayed, the year came to an end without any appearance of Carthaginian sails in the Sicilian waters; and when at length, in the spring of 513, the hurriedly-prepared vessels appeared in the offing of Drepana, they deserved the name of a fleet of transports rather than that of a war fleet ready for action. The Phoenicians had hoped to land undisturbed, to disembark their stores, and to be able to take on board the troops requisite for a naval battle; but the Roman vessels intercepted them, and forced them, when about to sail from the island of Hiera (now Maritima) for Drepana, to accept battle near the little island of Aegusa (Favignana) (10 March, 513). The issue was not for a moment doubtful; the Roman fleet, well built and manned, and admirably handled by the able praetor Publius Valerius Falto (for a wound received before Drepana still confined the consul Catulus to his bed), defeated at the first blow the heavily laden and poorly and inadequately manned vessels of the enemy; fifty were sunk, and with seventy prizes the victors sailed into the port of Lilybaeum. The last great effort of the Roman patriots had borne fruit; it brought victory, and with victory peace.
Conclusion of Peace
The Carthaginians first crucified the unfortunate admiral—a step which did not alter the position of affairs—and then dispatched to the Sicilian general unlimited authority to conclude a peace. Hamilcar, who saw his heroic labours of seven years undone by the fault of others, magnanimously submitted to what was inevitable without on that account sacrificing either his military honour, or his nation, or his own designs. Sicily indeed could not be retained, seeing that the Romans had now command of the sea; and it was not to be expected that the Carthaginian government, which had vainly endeavoured to fill its empty treasury by a state-loan in Egypt, would make even any further attempt to vanquish the Roman fleet He therefore surrendered Sicily. The independence and integrity of the Carthaginian state and territory, on the other hand, were expressly recognized in the usual form; Rome binding herself not to enter into a separate alliance with the confederates of Carthage, and Carthage engaging not to enter into separate alliance with the confederates of Rome,—that is, with their respective subject and dependent communities; neither was to commence war, or exercise rights of sovereignty, or undertake recruiting within the other's dominions.(8) The secondary stipulations included, of course, the gratuitous return of the Roman prisoners of war and the payment of a war contribution; but the demand of Catulus that Hamilcar should deliver up his arms and the Roman deserters was resolutely refused by the Carthaginian, and with success. Catulus desisted from his second request, and allowed the Phoenicians a free departure from Sicily for the moderate ransom of 18 -denarii- (12 shillings) per man.
If the continuance of the war appeared to the Carthaginians undesirable, they had reason to be satisfied with these terms. It may be that the natural wish to bring to Rome peace as well as triumph, the recollection of Regulus and of the many vicissitudes of the war, the consideration that such a patriotic effort as had at last decided the victory could neither be enjoined nor repeated, perhaps even the personal character of Hamilcar, concurred in influencing the Roman general to yield so much as he did. It is certain that there was dissatisfaction with the proposals of peace at Rome, and the assembly of the people, doubtless under the influence of the patriots who had accomplished the equipment of the last fleet, at first refused to ratify it. We do not know with what view this was done, and therefore we are unable to decide whether the opponents of the proposed peace in reality rejected it merely for the purpose of exacting some further concessions from the enemy, or whether, remembering that Regulus had summoned Carthage to surrender her political independence, they were resolved to continue the war till they had gained that end—so that it was no longer a question of peace, but a question of conquest. If the refusal took place with the former view, it was presumably mistaken; compared with the gain of Sicily every other concession was of little moment, and looking to the determination and the inventive genius of Hamilcar, it was very rash to stake the securing of the principal gain on the attainment of secondary objects. If on the other hand the party opposed to the peace regarded the complete political annihilation of Carthage as the only end of the struggle that would satisfy the Roman community, it showed political tact and anticipation of coming events; but whether the resources of Rome would have sufficed to renew the expedition of Regulus and to follow it up as far as might be required not merely to break the courage but to breach the walls of the mighty Phoenician city, is another question, to which no one now can venture to give either an affirmative or a negative answer. At last the settlement of the momentous question was entrusted to a commission which was to decide it upon the spot in Sicily. It confirmed the proposal in substance; only, the sum to be paid by Carthage for the costs of the war was raised to 3200 talents (790,000 pounds), a third of which was to be paid down at once, and the remainder in ten annual instalments. The definitive treaty included, in addition to the surrender of Sicily, the cession also of the islands between Sicily and Italy, but this can only be regarded as an alteration of detail made on revision; for it is self-evident that Carthage, when surrendering Sicily, could hardly desire to retain the island of Lipara which had long been occupied by the Roman fleet, and the suspicion, that an ambiguous stipulation was intentionally introduced into the treaty with reference to Sardinia and Corsica, is unworthy and improbable.
Thus at length they came to terms. The unconquered general of a vanquished nation descended from the mountains which he had defended so long, and delivered to the new masters of the island the fortresses which the Phoenicians had held in their uninterrupted possession for at least four hundred years, and from whose walls all assaults of the Hellenes had recoiled unsuccessful. The west had peace (513).
Remarks on the Roman Conduct of the War
Let us pause for a moment over the conflict, which extended the dominion of Rome beyond the circling sea that encloses the peninsula. It was one of the longest and most severe which the Romans ever waged; many of the soldiers who fought in the decisive battle were unborn when the contest began. Nevertheless, despite the incomparably noble incidents which it now and again presented, we can scarcely name any war which the Romans managed so wretchedly and with such vacillation, both in a military and in a political point of view. It could hardly be otherwise. The contest occurred amidst a transition in their political system—the transition from an Italian policy, which no longer sufficed, to the policy befitting a great state, which had not yet been found. The Roman senate and the Roman military system were excellently organized for a purely Italian policy. The wars which such a policy provoked were purely continental wars, and always rested on the capital situated in the middle of the peninsula as the ultimate basis of operations, and proximately on the chain of Roman fortresses. The problems to be solved were mainly tactical, not strategical; marches and operations occupied but a subordinate, battles held the first, place; fortress warfare was in its infancy; the sea and naval war hardly crossed men's thoughts even incidentally. We can easily understand—especially if we bear in mind that in the battles of that period, where the naked weapon predominated, it was really the hand- to-hand encounter that proved decisive—how a deliberative assembly might direct such operations, and how any one who just was burgomaster might command the troops. All this was changed in a moment. The field of battle stretched away to an incalculable distance, to the unknown regions of another continent, and beyond a broad expanse of sea; every wave was a highway for the enemy; from any harbour he might be expected to issue for his onward march. The siege of strong places, particularly maritime fortresses, in which the first tacticians of Greece had failed, had now for the first time to be attempted by the Romans. A land army and the system of a civic militia no longer sufficed. It was essential to create a fleet, and, what was more difficult, to employ it; it was essential to find out the true points of attack and defence, to combine and to direct masses, to calculate expeditions extending over long periods and great distances, and to adjust their co-operation; if these things were not attended to, even an enemy far weaker in the tactics of the field might easily vanquish a stronger opponent. Is there any wonder that the reins of government in such an exigency slipped from the hands of a deliberative assembly and of commanding burgomasters?
It was plain, that at the beginning of the war the Romans did not know what they were undertaking; it was only during the course of the struggle that the inadequacies of their system, one after another, forced themselves on their notice—the want of a naval power, the lack of fixed military leadership, the insufficiency of their generals, the total uselessness of their admirals. In part these evils were remedied by energy and good fortune; as was the case with the want of a fleet. That mighty creation, however, was but a grand makeshift, and always remained so. A Roman fleet was formed, but it was rendered national only in name, and was always treated with the affection of a stepmother; the naval service continued to be little esteemed in comparison with the high honour of serving in the legions; the naval officers were in great part Italian Greeks; the crews were composed of subjects or even of slaves and outcasts. The Italian farmer was at all times distrustful of the sea; and of the three things in his life which Cato regretted one was, that he had travelled by sea when he might have gone by land. This result arose partly out of the nature of the case, for the vessels were oared galleys and the service of the oar can scarcely be ennobled; but the Romans might at least have formed separate legions of marines and taken steps towards the rearing of a class of Roman naval officers. Taking advantage of the impulse of the nation, they should have made it their aim gradually to establish a naval force important not only in numbers but in sailing power and practice, and for such a purpose they had a valuable nucleus in the privateering that was developed during the long war; but nothing of the sort was done by the government. Nevertheless the Roman fleet with its unwieldy grandeur was the noblest creation of genius in this war, and, as at its beginning, so at its close it was the fleet that turned the scale in favour of Rome.
Far more difficult to be overcome were those deficiencies, which could not be remedied without an alteration of the constitution. That the senate, according to the strength of the contending parties within it, should leap from one system of conducting the war to another, and perpetrate errors so incredible as the evacuation of Clupea and the repeated dismantling of the fleet; that the general of one year should lay siege to Sicilian towns, and his successor, instead of compelling them to surrender, should pillage the African coast or think proper to risk a naval battle; and that at any rate the supreme command should by law change hands every year—all these anomalies could not be done away without stirring constitutional questions the solution of which was more difficult than the building of a fleet, but as little could their retention be reconciled with the requirements of such a war. Above all, moreover, neither the senate nor the generals could at once adapt themselves to the new mode of conducting war. The campaign of Regulus is an instance how singularly they adhered to the idea that superiority in tactics decides everything. There are few generals who have had such successes thrown as it were into their lap by fortune: in the year 498 he stood precisely where Scipio stood fifty years later, with this difference, that he had no Hannibal and no experienced army arrayed against him. But the senate withdrew half the army, as soon as they had satisfied themselves of the tactical superiority of the Romans; in blind reliance on that superiority the general remained where he was, to be beaten in strategy, and accepted battle when it was offered to him, to be beaten also in tactics. This was the more remarkable, as Regulus was an able and experienced general of his kind. The rustic method of warfare, by which Etruria and Samnium had been won, was the very cause of the defeat in the plain of Tunes. The principle, quite right in its own province, that every true burgher is fit for a general, was no longer applicable; the new system of war demanded the employment of generals who had a military training and a military eye, and every burgomaster had not those qualities. The arrangement was however still worse, by which the chief command of the fleet was treated as an appanage to the chief command of the land army, and any one who chanced to be president of the city thought himself able to act the part not of general only, but of admiral too. The worst disasters which Rome suffered in this war were due not to the storms and still less to the Carthaginians, but to the presumptuous folly of its own citizen-admirals.
Rome was victorious at last. But her acquiescence in a gain far less than had at first been demanded and indeed offered, as well as the energetic opposition which the peace encountered in Rome, very clearly indicate the indecisive and superficial character of the victory and of the peace; and if Rome was the victor, she was indebted for her victory in part no doubt to the favour of the gods and to the energy of her citizens, but still more to the errors of her enemies in the conduct of the war—errors far surpassing even her own.
Notes for Chapter II
1. II. V. Campanian Hellenism
2. II. VII. Submission of Lower Italy
3. The Mamertines entered quite into the same position towards Rome as the Italian communities, bound themselves to furnish ships (Cic. Verr. v. 19, 50), and, as the coins show, did not possess the right of coining silver.
4. II. VII. Submission of Lower Italy
5. II. VII. Last Struggles in Italy
6. The statement, that the military talent of Xanthippus was the primary means of saving Carthage, is probably coloured; the officers of Carthage can hardly have waited for foreigners to teach them that the light African cavalry could be more appropriately employed on the plain than among hills and forests. From such stories, the echo of the talk of Greek guardrooms, even Polybius is not free. The statement that Xanthippus was put to death by the Carthaginians after the victory, is a fiction; he departed voluntarily, perhaps to enter the Egyptian service.
7. Nothing further is known with certainty as to the end of Regulus; even his mission to Rome—which is sometimes placed in 503, sometimes in 513—is very ill attested. The later Romans, who sought in the fortunes and misfortunes of their forefathers mere materials for school themes, made Regulus the prototype of heroic misfortune as they made Fabricius the prototype of heroic poverty, and put into circulation in his name a number of anecdotes invented by way of due accompaniment—incongruous embellishments, contrasting ill with serious and sober history.
8. The statement (Zon. viii. 17) that the Carthaginians had to promise that they would not send any vessels of war into the territories of the Roman symmachy—and therefore not to Syracuse, perhaps even not to Massilia—sounds credible enough; but the text of the treaty says nothing of it (Polyb. iii. 27).