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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 36

[255 BCE] All having now fallen out with the Carthaginians as they could best desire, there was no extravagance of rejoicing in which they did not indulge, paying thank-offerings to the gods and giving congratulatory entertainments. But Xanthippus, to whom this revolution and notable advance in the fortunes of Carthage was due, after a little time sailed again for home, and this was a very prudent and sensible decision on his part; for brilliant and exceptional achievements are wont to breed the deepest jealousy and most bitter slander. Natives of a place, supported as they are by their kinsmen and having many friends, may possibly be able to hold their own against those for some time, but foreigners when exposed to either speedily succumb and find themselves in peril. There is another account given of Xanthippus' departure which I will endeavor to set forth on an occasion more suitable than the present.

The Romans, who had never expected to receive such bad news from Africa, at once directed their efforts to fitting out their fleet and rescuing their surviving troops there. The Carthaginians after the battle encamped before Shield and laid siege to it with the object of capturing these survivors, but as they had no success owing to the gallantry and daring of the defenders they at length abandoned the siege. When news reached them that the Romans were preparing their fleet and were about to sail again for Africa, they set to repairing the ships they had and building other entirely new ones, and having soon manned a fleet of 200 sail, they put to sea and remained on the watch for an attack by the enemy.

In the early summer the Romans, having launched 350 ships, sent them off under the command of [the consuls] Marcus Aemilius [Paullus] and Servius Fulvius [Paetinius Nobilior], who proceeded along the coast of Sicily making for Africa. Encountering the Carthaginian fleet near the Hermaeum they fell on them and easily routed them, capturing one 114 ships with their crews. Then having taken on board at Shield the lads who remained in Africa they set sail again for Sicily. 


to book 1, chapter 37

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