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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.

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Satellite photo of the Strait of Messina.(©!!!)

Book 1, chapter 11

... and, even at the end, the Senate did not sanction the proposal for the reason given above, considering that the objection on the score of inconsistency was equal in weight to the advantage to be derived from intervention. 

The People's Assembly, however, worn out as they were by the recent wars and in need of any and every kind of restorative, listened readily to the military commanders, who, besides giving the reasons above stated for the general advantageousness of the war, pointed out the great benefit in the way of plunder which each and every one would evidently derive from it. They were therefore in favor of sending help; and when the measure had been passed by the people they appointed to the command one of the consuls, Appius Claudius, who was ordered to cross to Messana.

[264 BCE] The Mamertines, partly by menace and partly by stratagem, dislodged the Carthaginian commander, who was already established in the citadel, and then invited Appius to enter, placing the city in his hands. The Carthaginians crucified their general, thinking him guilty of a lack both of judgment and of courage in abandoning their citadel. Acting for themselves they stationed their fleet in the neighborhood of Cape Pelorias, and with their land forces pressed Messana close in the direction of Sunes.

Hiero now, thinking that present circumstances were favorable for expelling from Sicily entirely the foreigners who occupied Messana, made an alliance with the Carthaginians, and quitting Syracuse with his army marched towards that city. Pitching his camp near the Chalcidian mountain on the side opposite to the Carthaginians he cut off this means of exit from the city as well.

Appius, the Roman consul, at the same time succeeded at great risk in crossing the straits by night and entering the city. Finding that the enemy had strictly invested Messana on all sides and regarding it as both inglorious and perilous for himself to be besieged, as they commanded both land and sea, he at first tried to negotiate with both, desiring to deliver the Mamertines from the war. But when neither paid any attention to him, have decided perforce to risk an engagement and in the first place to attack the Syracusans. Leading out his forces he drew them up in order of battle, the king of Syracuse readily accepting the challenge. After a prolonged struggle Appius was victorious and drove the whole hostile force back to their camp. After despoiling the dead he returned to Messana. Hiero, divining the final issue of the whole conflict, retreated in haste after nightfall to Syracuse.

 
to book 1, chapter 12
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