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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 50

[249 BCE] Publius [Claudius Pulcher], the Roman commander, had expected that the enemy would give way and would be intimidated by his attack, but when he saw that on the contrary they intended to fight him, and that his own fleet was partly inside the harbor, partly at the very mouth, and partly still sailing up to enter, he gave orders for them all to put about and sail out again.

On the ships already in the harbor fouling those which were entering owing to their sudden turn there was not only great confusion among the men but the ships had the blades of their oars broken as they came into collision. The captains, however, bringing the ships as they cleared the harbor into line, soon drew them up close to shore with their prows to the enemy.

Publius himself from the start had been bringing up the rear of the entire fleet, and now veering out to sea without stopping his course, took up a position on the extreme left.

At the same time Adherbal, outflanking the enemy's left with five beaked ships, placed his own ship facing the enemy from the direction of the open sea. As the other ships came up and joined getting into line, he ordered them by his staff officers to place themselves in the same position as his own, and when they all presented a united front he gave the signal to advance that had been agreed upon and at first bore down in line on the Romans, who kept close to the shore awaiting those of their ships that were returning from the harbor. This position close inshore placed them at a great disadvantage in the engagement.

 




to book 1, chapter 51




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