First Punic War > First Punic War Battles
First Punic War Battles
List of Battles
See Battle of Messana
See Battle of Agrigentum
In 262 BC, Rome besieged Agrigentum, an operation that involved both consular armies—a total of four Roman legions—and took several months to resolve. The garrison of Agrigentum (known to the Greeks as Acragas) managed to call for reinforcements and the Carthaginian relief force commanded by Hanno which destroyed the Roman supply base at Erbessus. With supplies from Syracuse cut, the Romans were now besieged and constructed a line of contravallation. After a few skirmishes, disease struck the Roman army while supplies in Agrigentum were running low, and both sides saw an open battle as preferable to the current situation. Although the Romans won a clear victory over the Carthaginian relief force at the Battle of Agrigentum, the Carthaginian army defending the city managed to escape. Agrigentum, now lacking any real defenses, fell easily to the Romans, who then sacked the city and enslaved the populace.
See Battle of Adys
See Battle of Bagradas
See Battle of Panormus
See Siege of Apsis
Sicily is a hilly volcanic island, with geographical obstacles and rough terrain making lines of communication difficult to maintain. For this reason, land warfare played a secondary role in the First Punic War. Land operations were confined to small scale raids and skirmishes, with few pitched battles. Sieges and land blockades were the most common large-scale operations for the regular army. The main blockade targets were the important ports since neither Carthage nor Rome were based in Sicily, and both needed continuous reinforcements and communication with their mainlands.
The land war in Sicily began with the Roman landing at Messana in 264 BC. According to Polybius, despite the Carthaginian prewar naval advantage, the Roman landing was virtually unopposed. Two legions commanded by Appius Claudius Caudex disembarked at Messana, where the Mamertines had expelled the Carthaginian garrison commanded by Hanno (no relation to Hanno the Great). After defeating the Syracusan and Carthaginian forces besieging Messana, the Romans marched south and in turn besieged Syracuse. After a brief siege, with no Carthaginian help in sight, Syracuse made peace with the Romans.
According to the terms of the treaty, Syracuse would become a Roman ally, pay a somewhat light indemnity of 100 talents of silver to Rome and, perhaps most importantly, agree to help supply the Roman army in Sicily. That solved the Roman problem of having to keep an overseas army provisioned while facing an enemy with a superior navy. Following the defection of Syracuse from Carthage, several other smaller Carthaginian dependencies in Sicily also switched to the Roman side.
Meanwhile, Carthage had begun to build a mercenary army in Africa, which was to be shipped to Sicily to meet the Romans. According to the historian Philinus, this army was composed of 50,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and 60 elephants and partly composed of Ligurians, Celts and Iberians.
In past wars on the island of Sicily, Carthage had won by relying on certain fortified strong-points throughout the island, and their plan was to conduct the land war in the same fashion. The mercenary army would operate in the open against the Romans, while the strongly fortified cities would provide a defensive base from which to operate.
See Siege of Drepana
See Siege of Lilybaeum (250 BC)
Continued Roman advance
Continued Roman advance 260–256 BC.
The next year, 258 BC, the Romans were able to regain the initiative by retaking Enna and Camarina. In central Sicily, they took the town of Mytistraton, which they had attacked twice previously. The Romans also moved in the north by marching across the northern coast toward Panormus, but were not able to take the city.
Invasion of Africa
After their conquests in the Agrigentum campaign, and following several naval battles, Rome attempted (256/255 BC) the second large scale land operation of the war. Seeking a swifter end to the war than the long sieges in Sicily would have provided, Rome decided to invade the Carthaginian colonies of Africa and usurp Carthage's supremacy in the Mediterranean Sea, consequently forcing Carthage to accept its terms.
Invasion of Africa.
Main articles: Siege of Aspis, Battle of Adys, and Battle of Tunis
As a result of the battle, the Roman army, commanded by Marcus Atilius Regulus, landed in Africa and began ravaging the Carthaginian countryside. The Siege of Aspis (or Clupea) was the first fighting on African land during the war. Regulus was next victorious at the Battle of Adys, forcing Carthage to sue for peace. According to Polybius, the terms suggested were so heavy that Carthage decided they would be better off under Roman rule. The negotiations failed but fortunately, for the Carthaginians, Xanthippus, a Spartan mercenary, returned to Carthage to reorganize its army. Xanthippus defeated the Roman army and captured Regulus at the Battle of Tunis, and then managed to cut off what remained of the Roman army from its base by re-establishing Carthaginian naval supremacy.
The Romans, meanwhile, had sent a new fleet to pick up the survivors of its African expedition. Although the Romans defeated the Carthaginian fleet and were successful in rescuing its army in Africa, a storm destroyed nearly the entire Roman fleet on the return trip; the number of casualties in the disaster may have exceeded 90,000 men. The Carthaginians took advantage of this to attack Agrigentum. They did not believe that they could hold the city, so they burned it and left.
Renewed Roman offensive
Roman attacks 253–251 BC.
The Romans were able to rally, however, and quickly resumed the offensive. With a new fleet of 140 ships, Rome returned to the strategy of taking the Carthaginian cities in Sicily one by one.
Attacks began with naval assaults on Lilybaeum, the center of Carthaginian power on Sicily, and a raid on Africa. Both efforts ended in failure. The Romans retreated from Lilybaeum, and the Roman African force was caught in another storm and destroyed.
The Romans, however, made great progress in the north. The city of Thermae was captured in 252 BC, enabling another advance on the port city of Panormus. The Romans attacked this city after taking Kephalodon in 251 BC. After fierce fighting, the Carthaginians were defeated and the city fell. With Panormus captured, much of western inland Sicily fell with it. The cities of Ietas, Solous, Petra, and Tyndaris agreed to peace with the Romans that same year.
Main article: Battle of Drepana
Roman attacks 250–249 BC.
The next year, the Romans shifted their attention to the northwest. They sent a naval expedition toward Lilybaeum. En route, the Romans seized and burned the Carthaginian hold-out cities of Selinous and Heraclea Minoa. This expedition to Lilybaeum was not successful, but attacking the Carthaginian headquarters demonstrated Roman resolve to take all of Sicily. The Roman fleet was defeated by the Carthaginians at Drepana, forcing the Romans to continue their attacks from land. Roman forces at Lilybaeum were relieved, and Eryx, near Drepana, was seized thus menacing that important city as well.
Following the conclusive naval victory off Drepana in 249 BC, Carthage ruled the seas as Rome was unwilling to finance the construction of yet another expensive fleet. Nevertheless, the Carthaginian faction that opposed the conflict, led by the land-owning aristocrat Hanno the Great, gained power and in 244 BC, considering the war to be over, started the demobilization of the fleet, giving the Romans a chance to again attain naval superiority.
Stalemate in Sicily
Carthaginians negotiate peace and withdraw.
At this point (247 BC), Carthage sent general Hamilcar Barca (Hannibal's father) to Sicily. His landing at Heirkte (near Panormus) drew the Romans away to defend that port city and resupply point and gave Drepana some breathing room. Subsequent guerilla warfare kept the Roman legions pinned down and preserved Carthage's toehold in Sicily, although Roman forces which bypassed Hamilcar forced him to relocate to Eryx, to better defend Drepana.
Battle of the Aegates Islands
Main article: Battle of the Aegates Islands
Perhaps in response to Hamilcar's raids, Rome built another fleet (paid for with donations from wealthy citizens). It was this fleet that rendered the Carthaginian success in Sicily futile, as the stalemate Hamilcar produced in Sicily became irrelevant following the Roman naval victory at the Battle of the Aegates Islands in 241 BC, where the new Roman fleet under consul Gaius Lutatius Catulus was victorious over an undermanned and hastily built Carthaginian fleet. Carthage lost most of its fleet and was economically incapable of funding another, or of finding manpower for the crews.
Without naval support, Hamilcar Barca was cut off from Carthage and forced to negotiate peace and agree to evacuate Sicily. It should be noted that Hamilcar Barca had a subordinate named Gesco conduct the negotiations with Lutatius, in order to create the impression that he had not really been defeated.
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