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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 64

Some of my readers will wonder what can be the reason why, now that they are masters of the world and far more puissant than formerly, the Romans could neither man so many ships, nor put to sea with such large fleets.

Those, however, who are puzzled by this, will be enabled to understand the reason clearly when we come to deal with their political institutions, a subject not to be treated incidentally by the writer or followed inattentively by the reader. It offers a noble spectacle and one almost wholly unrevealed hitherto, owing to the incompetence of the authors who have dealt with it, some of whom sinned from lack of knowledge, while the account given by others is wanting in clearness and entirely unprofitable.

As regards, however, the war of which we are speaking, one will find its purpose and prosecution on the part of the two states equally characterized on both sides by enterprise, by lofty spirit, and above all by ambition for supremacy. In individual courage indeed the Romans were far superior on the whole, but the general to whom the palm must be given both for daring and for genius is Hamilcar Barca, the actual father of that Hannibal who afterwards made war on the Romans. 


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