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 First Punic War (264-241 BC)

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Andrew Cox
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PostSubject: First Punic War (264-241 BC)   Thu Nov 12, 2009 10:41 am

From 264 to 241 BC, the First Punic War took place between Rome and Carthage. This 23 year war was the first of three major wars between these Mediterranean powers.

The power of Rome was growing. They had secured the entire Italian peninsula, and were looking to expand their empire. Carthage was located across the Strait of Sicily and the Tyrrhenian Sea from Rome. Carthage was a great Naval power, and controled most of the Mediterranean Sea trade routes.



The comflict started when Italian mercenaries on Sicily were attacking the city of Syracuse. Hiero II of Syracuse decided to take action in 265 BC. He requested help from both Rome and Carthage. At first, Rome did not want to, but when Carthage started sending soldiers, Rome decided it would not like to see Carthage get onto Sicily, getting close to their empire. Rome then started to send troops to Sicily, and made an alliance with Syracuse. This started a struggle between Rome and Carthage over the possession of Sicily.

Due to the difficulty of operation in the hilly terrain of Sicily, the First Punic war was mainly fought at sea. This was a great benefit for Carthage, which had a great Navy and sea experience, due to the great amount of sea trade.

The land battles of the First Punic War were mainly small scale raids, or short battles. There were two large scale campains fought on land. The first, in 262 BC, is when Rome besieged the city of Agrigetum. The seige took four roman leagons and several months. During the seige, reinforcements were called, and Syracuse was also beseiged, stopping the Roman flow of supplies. After a few small battles, Agrigentum was won by Rome.



A second major land battle took place in 256 and 255 BC. Rome had fought several naval battles, and was lookin for a quick way to end the war. Rome decided to invade Carthaginian colonies of Africa, and force them to accept their terms. The Romans then built an enormous fleet to transport the army, equipment, and had warships to protect it. The Roman army, commanded by Marcus Atilius Regulus, ravaged the countryside, forcing Carthage to sue for peace. Negotiations failed, so Carthage hired the Spartain mercenary Xanthippus to reorganize the army. Xanthippus reorganized the army and the navy, and defeated and captured Regulus at the battle of Tunis.



Near the end of the war, in 249 BC, Carthage sent Hamilcar Barca to Sicily. Hamilcar fought to gain control of nearly all of Sicily. Romans attempted to appoint a dictator to resolve the problem, but this did little. Hamicar remained undefeated in Sicily throughout the rest of the war.

The first large fleet of the Romans was put under construction after the victory of Agrigentum in 261 BC. The ships were mainly Carthaginian style, because the Romans had almost no naval experience. To compensate for this inexperience, the Romans equiped their ships with a weapon called the corvus. The corvus proved its worth in the following years, until it was abandoned, because of the problems it caused with navigation. The Corvus was basicly a giant boarding ramp with a spike on the bottom. The ramp was lifted high into the air, then dropped onto the Carthaginian ships. The Romans could then board the Carthaginian ships, and take the ship.



Rome won many battles at sea, most of these beeing early in the war. Despite this fact, Rome lost the most ships and crew during the course of the war. This is mainly because of Roman fleets getting caught in storms. At least two times, in 255 and 253 BC, whole Roman fleets were destroyed in bad weather. Later, Rome was hesitant about building a new fleet, because of the enormous cost. They did however build another paid for by wealthy citizen's donations.

The fate of the First Punic War was decided at the navel battle of the Aegates Islands (March 10, 241 BC). The Roman fleet, commanded by Gaius Lutatius Catulus was victorious. Carthage lost nearly all of its fleet, and did not have the means of building another, or suppling crews. Without a fleet, Hamilcar was cut off in Sicily, and had to surrender.


The Roman Victory



Sources: http://www.crystalinks.com/punicwars.html http://www.mmdtkw.org/CNAf0317Corvus.jpg
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