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Polybius: the First Punic War

Map of ancient Sicily. Map design Jona Lendering. According to the Greek historian Polybius of Megalopolis (c.200-c.118), the First Punic War (264-241) between Carthage and Rome was "the longest and most severely contested war in history". And indeed, it lasted almost a quarter of a century and probably, a million people lost their lives. In the end, Rome had conquered the island of Sicily, and had become a Mediterranean superpower.

Polybius' World History was translated by W.R. Paton.

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Polybius. Museo nazionale della civiltÓ romana, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Polybius; cast from a lost monument in Cleitor (Greece) (Museo nazionale della civiltÓ romana, Rome) 

Book 1, chapter 7

Much the same fortune had befallen the two cities on the straits, Messana and Rhegium. Certain Campanians serving under [king] Agathocles [of Syracuse] had long cast covetous eyes on the beauty and prosperity of Messana; and not long before the events I am speaking of they availed themselves of the first opportunity to capture it by treachery. After being admitted as friends and occupying the city, they first expelled or massacred the citizens and then took possession of the wives and families of the dispossessed victims, just as chance assigned them each at the time of the outrage. They next divided among themselves the land and all other property.

Having thus possessed themselves so quickly and easily of a fine city and territory, they were not long in finding imitators of their exploit. For the people of Rhegium, when [king] Pyrrhus [of Epirus] crossed to Italy, dreading an attack by him and fearing also the Carthaginians who commanded the sea, begged from the Romans a garrison and support. The force which came, 4,000 in number and under the command of Decius, a Campanian, kept the city and their faith for some time, but at length, anxious to rival the Mamertines and with their co-operation, played the people of Rhegium false, and eagerly coveting a city so favorably situated and containing so much private wealth, expelled or massacred the citizens and possessed themselves of the city in the same manner as the Campanians had done.

The Romans were highly displeased, yet could do nothing at the time, as they were occupied with the wars I have already mentioned. But when they had a free hand they shut up the culprits in the city and proceeded to lay siege to it as I have stated above.

[270 BCE] When Rhegium fell, most of the besieged were slain in the actual assault, having defended themselves desperately, as they knew what awaited them, but more than 300 were captured. When they were sent to Rome the consuls had them all conducted to the Forum and there, according to the Roman custom, scourged and beheaded; their object being to recover as far as possible by this punishment their reputation for good faith with the allies. The city and territory of Rhegium they at once restored to the citizens.


to book 1, chapter 8

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