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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.

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 43

[250 BCE] About this time some of the superior officers in the [Celtic] mercenary force, after talking the matter over among themselves and in the full conviction that their subordinates would obey them, sallied from the town by night to the Roman camp and made proposals to the consul for the surrender of the city.

But the Achaean Alexon, who had on a former occasion saved the Acragentines, when the Syracusan mercenaries had formed a project of breaking faith with them, was now too the first to get wind of what was going on and informed the Carthaginian general. Himilco, on hearing of it, at once summoned the remaining officers and urgently implored their aid, promising them lavish gifts and favors if they remained loyal to him and refused to participate in the plot of those who had left the city.

On their readily consenting, he bade them return at once to their troops, sending with them to the Celts Hannibal, the son of that Hannibal who had died in Sardinia, as they had served under him and were well acquainted with him, while to the other mercenaries he sent Alexon, owing to his popularity and credit with them. They called a meeting of the soldiery and partly by entreating them, partly moreover by assuring them that each man would receive the bounty the general had offered, easily persuaded them to bide by their engagements.

So, afterwards, when the officers who had quitted the city advanced openly to the walls and attempted to entreat them and tell them of the promises made by the Romans, not only did they pay no attention but would not lend ear to them at all, and chased them away from the wall with stones and other missiles.

The Carthaginians, then, for the above reasons very narrowly escaped a complete disaster due to the treachery of their mercenaries, and Alexon, who had previously saved by his loyalty not only the city and district but the laws and liberties of Acragas, now was the cause of the Carthaginians being saved from total ruin.


to book 1, chapter 44

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