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 49

[249 BCE] On the news reaching Rome, and on it being reported from various quarters that the greater part of the crews of their fleet had perished in the works or in the siege operations in general, they set about actively enlisting sailors, and when they had collected about ten thousand dispatched them to Sicily. These reinforcements were ferried over the straits and thence proceeded on foot to the camp, where on their arrival the Roman consul, Publius Claudius Pulcher, called a meeting of the tribunes and told them that now was the time to attack Drepana with the whole fleet.

The Carthaginian general Adherbal who commanded there was, he said, unprepared for such a contingency, as he was ignorant of the arrival of the crews, and convinced that their fleet was unable to take the sea owing to the heavy loss of men in the siege. On the tribunes readily consenting, he at once embarked the former crews and the new arrivals, and chose for marines the best men in the whole army, who readily volunteered as the voyage was but a short one and the prospect of booty seemed certain.

After making these preparations he put to sea about midnight unobserved by the enemy, and at first sailed in close order with the land on his right. At daybreak when the leading ships came into view sailing on Drepana, Adherbal was at first taken by surprise at the unexpected sight, but soon recovering his composure and understanding that the enemy had come to attack, he decided to make every effort and incur every sacrifice rather than expose himself to the certitude of a blockade.

He at once collected the crews on the beach and summoned by crier the mercenaries from the city. On all being assembled he tried in a few words to impress on their minds the prospect of victory if they risked a battle, and the hardships of a siege should they delay now that they clearly foresaw the danger. Their spirit for the fight was readily aroused, and on their calling on him to lead them on and not delay, he thanked them, praised their zeal, and then ordered them to get on board at once, and keeping their eyes on his ship, to follow in his wake. Having made these orders quite clear to them he quickly got under weigh and took the lead, making his exit close under the rocks on the opposite side of the harbor from that on which the Romans were entering. 


to book 1, chapter 50

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