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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 44

[250 BCE] The Carthaginian government knew nothing of all this, but calculating the requirements of a besieged town, they filled 50 ships with troops. After addressing the soldiers in terms befitting the enterprise, they sent them off at once under the command of Hannibal, the son of Hamilcar, trierarch and most intimate friend of Adherbal, with orders not to delay, but at the first opportunity to make a bold attempt to relieve the besieged.

Setting sail with 10,000 troops on board, he came to anchor off the islands called Aegusae, which lie between Lilybaeum and Carthage, and there awaited favorable weather. As soon as he had a fine stern breeze he hoisted all sail and running before the wind sailed straight for the mouth of the harbor, his men drawn up on deck armed ready for action.

The Romans, partly owing to the suddenness of the fleet's appearance and partly because they feared being carried into the hostile harbor by the force of the wind together with their enemies, made no effort to prevent the entrance of the relieving force, but stood out at sea amazed at the audacity of the Carthaginians.

The whole population had assembled on the walls in an agony of suspense on the one hand as to what would happen, and at the same time so overjoyed at the unexpected prospect of succor that they kept on encouraging the fleet as it sailed in by cheers and clapping of hands. Hannibal, having entered the harbor in this hazardous and daring manner, anchored and disembarked his troops in security. All those in the city were delighted not so much at the arrival of the relief, although their prospects were much improved and their force increased thereby, as at the fact that the Romans had not ventured to try to prevent the Carthaginians from sailing in.

 




to book 1, chapter 45




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