home  :   index   :   ancient Carthage   :   ancient Rome   :   First Punic War   :   article by Polybius of Megalopolis

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 30

[256 BCE] The Carthaginians, observing that the Romans were preparing for a long occupation, in the first place elected two generals from among themselves, Hasdrubal, the son of Hanno, and Bostar, and next sent to Heraclea to Hamilcar, ordering him to return instantly. Taking with him 500 horse and 5000 foot, he came to Carthage where, being appointed third general, he held a consultation with Hasdrubal and his staff as to what steps should be taken. They decided on marching to the assistance of the country and no longer looking on while it was plundered with immunity.

A few days later Regulus had begun to advance, taking by assault and pillaging the unwalled places and laying siege to those which had walls. On reaching Adys, a town of some importance, he encamped about it and busied himself with raising works to besiege it.

The Carthaginians, being anxious to attempt to regain the command of the open country, led out their forces. They took possession of a hill which, while overlooking the enemy, was not a favorable position for their own army; and there they encamped. In this manner, though their best hope lay in their cavalry and elephants, yet by quitting the level country and shutting themselves up in a precipitous place, difficult of access, they were sure to make it plain to their adversaries how best to attack them, and this is exactly what did happen.

For the Roman commanders, perceiving from their experience of war that the most efficient and formidable part of the enemy's force was rendered unserviceable by their position, did not wait for the Carthaginians to come down and offer battle on the plain, but, seizing on their own opportunity, advanced at daybreak on the hill from both sides.

And so their elephants and cavalry were absolutely useless to the Carthaginians, but their mercenaries sallying out with great gallantry and dash compelled the first legion to give way and take to flight; but on their advancing too far and being surrounded and driven back by the force that was attacking on the other side, the whole Carthaginian army were at once dislodged from their camp. The elephants and cavalry, as soon as they reached level ground, effected their retreat in safety, and the Romans, after pursuing the infantry for a short distance and destroying the camp, henceforth over-ran and plundered the country and its towns unmolested.

Having made themselves masters of the town named Tunis, which was a suitable base for these raids, and also well situated for operations against the capital and its immediate environs, they established themselves there.


to book 1, chapter 31

 home   :    index    :    ancient Carthage    :    ancient Rome   :   First Punic War