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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
The Eryx. Photo Jona Lendering.
Eryx

Book 1, chapter 55

[249 BCE] Owing to this occurrence the hopes of the Carthaginians rose again, and it seemed to them that the fortune of war was inclining in their favor, while the Romans, on the contrary, who had been previously to a certain extent unlucky but never had met with so complete a disaster, relinquished the sea, while continuing to maintain their hold on the country.

The Carthaginians were now masters of the sea and were not hopeless of regaining their position on land. Subsequently, though all, both at Rome and in the army at Lilybaeum, continued to lament their whole situation after these recent defeats, yet they did not abandon their purpose of pursuing the siege, the government not hesitating to send supplies over land, the besiegers thereby keeping up the investment as well as they could.

Junius, returning to the army after the shipwreck in a state of great affliction, set himself to devise some novel and original step that would be of service, being most anxious to make good the loss inflicted by the disaster. Therefore on some slight pretext offering itself, he surprised and occupied Eryx, possessing himself both of the temple of Venus and of the town.

(Eryx is a mountain on the sea on that side of Sicily which looks towards Italy [1]. It is situated between Drepana and Panormus, or rather it is adjacent to Drepana, on the borders, and is much the biggest mountain in Sicily after Etna. On its summit, which is flat, stands the temple of Venus Erycina, which is indisputably the first in wealth and general magnificence of all the Sicilian holy places. The city extends along the hill under the actual summit, the ascent to it being very long and steep on all sides.)

He garrisoned the summit and also the approach from Drepana, and jealously guarded both these positions, especially the latter, in the conviction that by this means he would securely hold the city and the whole mountain.

 
to book 1, chapter 56
Note 1:
Of course, Africa is meant.
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