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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 13

Enough of such explanations. It is now time to come to my subject after a brief summary of the events included in these introductory Books. To take them in order we have first the incidents of the war between Rome and Carthage for Sicily. Next follows the war in Africa and next the achievements of the Carthaginians under Hamilcar and after under Hasdrubal. At the same time occurred the first crossing of the Romans to Illyria and these parts of Europe, and subsequently to the preceding events their struggle with the Italian Celts. Contemporary with this the Cleomenic war was proceeding in Greece, and with this war I wind up my Introduction as a whole and my second Book.

Now to recount all these events in detail is neither incumbent on me nor would it be useful to my readers; for it is not my purpose to write their history but to mention them summarily as introductory to the events which are my real theme. I shall therefore attempt by such summary treatment of them in their proper order to fit in the end of the Introduction to the beginning of the actual History. Thus there will be no break in the narrative and it will be seen that I have been justified in touching on events which have been previously narrated by others, while this arrangement will render the approach to what follows intelligible and easy for students. I shall, however, attempt to narrate somewhat more carefully the first war between Rome and Carthage for the possession of Sicily; since it is not easy to name any war which lasted longer, nor one which exhibited on both sides more extensive preparations, more unintermittent activity, more battles, and greater changes of fortune. The two states were also at this period still uncorrupted in morals, moderate in fortune, and equal in strength, so that a better estimate of the peculiar qualities and gifts of each can be formed by comparing their conduct in this war than in any subsequent one.


to book 1, chapter 14

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