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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 31

[256/255 BCE] The Carthaginians, having thus been twice defeated, shortly before at sea and now on land, in both cases owing to no lack of bravery in their troops, but owing to the incompetence of their commanders, had now fallen into a thoroughly difficult position. For, in addition to the misfortunes I have mentioned, the Numidians, attacking them at the same time as the Romans, inflicted not less but even more damage on the country than the latter.

The terror-stricken inhabitants took refuge in the city of Carthage where utter despondency and extreme famine prevailed, the latter owing to overcrowding and the former owing to the expectation of a siege. Regulus, perceiving that the Carthaginians were utterly worsted both by land and sea and expecting to capture the city in a very short time, was yet apprehensive lest his successor in the consulate should arrive from Rome before Carthage fell and receive the credit of the success, and he therefore invited the enemy to enter into negotiations.

The Carthaginians gave a ready ear to these advances, and sent out an embassy of their leading citizens. On meeting Regulus, however, the envoys were so far from being inclined to yield to the conditions he proposed that they could not even bear listening to the severity of his demands. For, imagining himself to be complete master of the situation, he considered they ought to regard any concessions on his part as gifts and acts of grace. As it was evident to the Carthaginians that even if they became subject to the Romans, they could be in no worse case than if they yielded to the present demands, they returned not only dissatisfied with the conditions proposed but offended by Regulus' harshness. The attitude of the Carthaginian Senate on hearing the Roman general's proposals was, although they had almost abandoned all hope of safety, yet one of such manly dignity that rather than submit to anything ignoble or unworthy of their past they were willing to suffer anything and to face every exertion and every extremity.

 




to book 1, chapter 32




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