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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 62

[241 BCE]Even on hearing of this unexpected defeat the Carthaginians, had they let themselves be guided by passion and ambition, would readily have continued the war, but when it came to a matter of cool calculation they were quite at a loss.

For one thing, they were no longer able to send supplies to their forces in Sicily as the enemy commanded the sea, and if they abandoned and in a manner betrayed them, they had neither other men nor other leaders with whom to pursue the war. They therefore at once sent a message to [Hamilcar] Barca, giving him full powers to deal with the situation.

Hamilcar acted thoroughly like the good and prudent leader he was. As long as there had been some reasonable hope in the situation he had left no means, however perilous and venturesome it seemed, unemployed, and if there ever was a general who put to proof in a war every chance of success, it was he. But now that fortunes were reversed and there was no reasonable prospect left of saving the troops under his command, he showed his practical good sense in yielding to circumstance and sending an embassy to treat for peace.

For our opinion should be that a general ought to be qualified to discern both when he is victorious and when is beaten. [Proconsul Gaius] Lutatius [Catulus] readily consented to negotiate, conscious as he was that the Romans were by this time worn out and enfeebled by the war, and he succeeded [through Gesco] in putting an end to the contest by a treaty more or less as follows.

"There shall be friendship between the Carthaginians and Romans on the following terms if approved by the Roman people. The Carthaginians to evacuate the whole of Sicily and not to make war on Hiero or bear arms against the Syracusans or the allies of the Syracusans. The Carthaginians to give up to the Romans all prisoners without ransom. The Carthaginians to pay to the Romans by installments in twenty years 2200 Euboean talents." 
 




to book 1, chapter 63




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