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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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The Liparan Islands

Book 1, chapter 25

[257 BCE] Next year Gaius Atilius Regulus, the Roman consul, while anchored off Tyndaris, caught sight of the Carthaginian fleet sailing past in disorder. Ordering his crews to follow the leaders, he dashed out before the rest with ten ships sailing together. The Carthaginians, observing that some of the enemy were still embarking, and some just getting under weigh, while those in the van had much outstripped the others, turned and met them.

Surrounding them they sunk the rest of the ten, and came very near to taking the admiral's ship with its crew. However, as it was well manned and swift, it foiled their expectation and got out of danger. The rest of the Roman fleet sailed up and gradually got into close order. As soon as they faced the enemy, they bore down on them and took ten ships with their crews, sinking eight. The rest of the Carthaginian fleet withdrew to the islands known as Liparaean.

The result of this battle was that both sides thought that they had fought now on equal terms, and both threw themselves most thoroughly into the task of organizing naval forces and disputing the command of the sea, while in the mean time the land forces accomplished nothing worthy of mention, but spent their time in minor operations of no significance. The Romans, therefore, after making preparations as I said, for the coming summer, set to sea with a fleet of 330 decked ships of war and put in to Messana. Starting again from there they sailed with Sicily on their right hand, and doubling Cape Pachynus they came round to Ecnomus, because their land forces too happened to be just in that neighborhood. The Carthaginians, setting sail with 350 decked vessels, touched at Lilybaeum, and proceeding thence came to anchor off Heraclea Minoa. 

 
to book 1, chapter 26
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