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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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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 29

[256 BCE] After this the Romans, laying in a further supply of provisions, repairing the captured ships, and bestowing on their men the attention which their success deserved, put to sea and sailed towards Africa, reaching the shore with their advanced ships under the promontory known as the Hermaeum, which lies in front of the whole Gulf of Carthage and stretches out to sea in the direction of Sicily.

Having waited there until their other ships came up, and having united their whole fleet, they sailed along the coast till they reached the city called Shield. Landing there and beaching their ships, which they surrounded with a trench and palisade, they set themselves to lay siege to the town, the garrison of which refused to surrender voluntarily.

Those Carthaginians who made good their escape from the naval battle sailed home, and being convinced that the enemy, elated by their recent success, would at once attack Carthage itself from the sea, kept watch at different points over the approaches to the city with their land and sea forces. But when they learnt that the Romans had safely landed and were laying siege to Shield, they abandoned the measures taken to guard against an attack from the sea, and uniting their forces devoted themselves to the protection of the capital and its environs.

The Romans, after making themselves masters of Shield, where they left a garrison to hold the town and district, sent a mission to Rome to report on recent events, and to inquire what they should do in future and how they were to deal with the whole situation. They then hastily advanced with their whole force and set about plundering the country. As nobody tried to prevent them, they destroyed a number of handsome and luxuriously furnished dwelling-houses, possessed themselves of a quantity of cattle, and captured more than 20,000 slaves, taking them back to their ships.

Messengers from Rome now arrived with instructions for one of the consuls to remain on the spot with an adequate force and for the other to bring the fleet back to Rome. Marcus [Atilius] Regulus, therefore, remained, retaining 40 ships and a force of 15,000 infantry and 500 horse, while Lucius [Manlius Vulso Longus], taking with him the ship's crews and all the prisoners, passed safely along the coast of Sicily and reached Rome.


to book 1, chapter 30

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