Livy on the First Punic War

The Roman historian Titus Livius or Livy (59 BCE - 17 CE) is the writer of the authorized version of the history of the Roman republic. Many of the 142 books of the History of Rome from its beginning are now lost; however, we do have an excerpt, the Periochae. In books 16-19, he described the First Punic War (264-241), in which the Romans conquered Sicily. The Periochae were translated by Jona Lendering; the Latin text can be found here.

The First Punic War

From book 16

[Per.16] A description is offered of the origins of the Carthaginians and the early history of their city.

Against them and against king Hiero of the Syracusans, the Senate decided to offer help to the Mamertines.note There had been much debate between those for and against it. For the first time, the Romans crossed the sea with an army and they fought successfully against Hiero. When he sued for peace, it was granted.note

From book 17

[Per.17] Consul Gnaeus Cornelius was cornered by a Carthaginian navy and was captured under the pretext of negotiations.

Consul Gaius Duillius successfully fought against the Carthaginian navy,note and was the first Roman leader to celebrate a a naval triumph. Therefore, he was given a lasting right to have himself accompanied by a torch carrier and a flutist when he returned home from dinner.

Consul Lucius Cornelius Scipio fought successfully in Sardinia and Corsica against the Sardines, Corsicans and the Carthaginian commander Hanno.note

Consul Atilius Calatinus, carelessly led his troops to a place where they were surrounded by Carthaginians, but escaped by the courage and energy of the military tribune Marcus Calpurnius, who made a sortie with 300 soldiers and diverted the enemy's attention.note

The Carthaginian  general Hannibal was crucified by his own men after the navy he commanded had been defeated.

Consul Atilius Regulus crossed to Africa after he had defeated the Carthaginians in a naval battle.note

From book 18

[Per.18] In Africa, Atilius Regulus killed a serpent of portentous dimensions, and suffered great losses among his soldiers. But although he had fought successfully against the Carthaginians in several battles, the Senate did not send him a successor. He complained in a letter to the Senate, in which he compared his request to a piece of land that had been left by its workers. In the person of Regulus, Fortuna wanted to to give an example of both sides of fate: he was defeated and captured by Xanthippus, a Spartan leader that had been invited by the Carthaginians to support them.note After this, the Roman commanders pursued the war successfully on land and sea, although the effects were spoiled by shipwreck of the fleet.note


The Carthaginians sent Regulus to the Senate to conduct peace negotiations or (if he could not obtain peace) the exchange of prisoners. Although he was bound by an oath to return to Carthage if he did not obtain the exchange, he advised the Senate against both proposals. When he returned to imprisonment, he was executed by the Carthaginians.

From book 19

[Per.19] Caecilius Metellus fought successfully against the Carthaginians [commanded by Hasdrubal] and organized a spectacular triumph, in which 13 enemy leaders and 120 elephants were to be seen.note Consul Claudius Pulcher fought without success against the Carthaginian navy after evil omens (he had ordered to drown the holy chickens if they refused to eat).note He was recalled by the Senate, ordered to appoint a dictator, and chose Claudius Glicia, a man of the lowest kind. Although he was forced to lay down his office, he was to attend the games in a purple-bordered toga.

Aulus Atilius Calatinus was the first dictator to lead an army out of Italy. Prisoners were exchanged with the Carthaginians. [...]

Claudia (the sister of the Publius Claudius who had fought so badly after his contempt for the omens) said, when she returned from the games and was hindered by the crowds: "Oh, that my brother were still alive and commanded a navy!" Because of this, she was fined. [...]

The war against the Carthaginians was conducted successfully by several commanders. The ultimate victory was won by consul Gaius Lutatius near the Aegatian isles, where he defeated the Carthaginian navy. When the Carthaginians sued for peace, it was granted.note

This page was created in 2004; last modified on 16 January 2017.