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Polybius: the First Punic War


Sicily. 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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Carthaginian war coinage: the Carthaginian goddess Tanit and the Greek mythological creature Pegasus.
Carthaginian war coinage: the Carthaginian goddess Tanit and the Greek mythological creature Pegasus (©!!)

Book 1, chapter 12

[264 BCE] On the following day Appius, learning of the result of this action and encouraged thereby, decided not to delay but to attack the Carthaginians. He ordered his troops to be in readiness early and sallied forth at break of day. Engaging the enemy he slew many of them and compelled the rest to retreat in disorder to neighboring cities. Having raised the siege by these successes, he advanced fearlessly, devastating the territory of the Syracusans and of their allies, no one disputing the open country with him. Finally he sat down before Syracuse and commenced to besiege it.

Such then was the occasion and motive of this the first crossing of the Romans from Italy with an armed force, an event which I take to be the most natural starting-point of this whole work. 

[Polybius now makes some methodological remarks; he continues his account of the war here.]

I have therefore made it my serious base, but went also somewhat further back in order to leave no possible obscurity in my statements of general causes. To follow out this previous history -how and when the Romans after the disaster to Rome itself began their progress to better fortunes, and again how and when after conquering Italy they entered on the path of foreign enterprise- seemed to me necessary for anyone who hopes to gain a proper general survey of their present supremacy. My readers need not therefore be surprised if, even in the further course of this work, I occasionally give them in addition some of the earlier history of the most famous states; for I shall do so in order to establish such a fundamental view as will make it clear in the sequel starting from what origins and how and when they severally reached their present position. This is exactly what I have just done about the Romans.

 
to book 1, chapter 13
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