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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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Map of Motya and the siege of Lilybaeum during the First Punic War. Design Jona Lendering.
The siege of Lilybaeum

Book 1, chapter 54

[249 BCE] The consul [Lucius Junius Pullus], who had remained in Syracuse, when he had concluded his business there, rounded Cape Pachynus and sailed in the direction of Lilybaeum in entire ignorance of what had befallen the advance force.

The Carthaginian admiral, when his look-outs again reported that the enemy were in sight, put to sea and sailed with all haste, as he wished to engage them at as great a distance as possible from their own ships.

Junius had sighted the Carthaginian fleet for some time, and noticed the number of their ships, but he neither dared to engage them nor could he now escape them, as they were so near. He therefore diverted his course to a rugged and in every way perilous part of the coast and anchored there, thinking that, no matter what happened to him, it would be preferable to his whole force of ships and men falling into the hands of the enemy.

The Carthaginian admiral, on seeing what Junius had done, decided not to incur the risk of approaching such a dangerous shore, but, gaining a certain cape and anchoring off it, remained on the alert between the two fleets, keeping his eye on both.

When the weather now became stormy, and they were threatened with a heavy gale from the open sea, the Carthaginian captains who were acquainted with the locality and with the weather signs, and foresaw and prophesied what was about to happen, persuaded Carthalo to escape the tempest by rounding Cape Pachynus. He very wisely consented, and with great labor they just managed to get round the cape and anchor in a safe position. But the two Roman fleets, caught by the tempest, and the coast affording no shelter at all, were so completely destroyed that not even the wrecks were good for anything. In this unlooked for manner, then, the Romans had both their fleets disabled.

 
to book 1, chapter 55
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