The First Punic War
First Punic War is the first of three wars between the Roman Republic and the
Carthaginian empire that lasted from 256 to 241 BC. The war was mainly over the
control of Sicily and Corsica, two very important islands in the Mediterranean
Sea. These islands were in a strategic location, and whoever won them would get
a serious advantage in upcoming wars. The war was fought on both land and
water, so the Romans were forced to adapt to naval warfare and its necessities.
In the end, Rome won and gained control of Sicily.
First Punic War was caused by an intervention of Carthage in a dispute. This
dispute was between Messana and Syracuse, which were two important cities on
the coast of Sicily. A band of raiders, named the Mamertines, were once hired
by the king of Syracuse. When he died, the raiders were excused, and they
headed toward Italy. On their trip, they found the city of Messana and took
possession of it. The Mamertines turned Messana from “a quiet trading
emporium into raiding base” (Everitt 220). Later, Hiero, the ruler of
Syracuse, defeated the Mamertines and besieged Messana. One group of the
Mamertines, fearing Hiero, saw a passing Carthaginian fleet and pleaded for
help. The Carthaginians accepted their plea for help and decided to help them.
The other group of the Mamertines, however, turned to the Romans for help.
Because Carthage already owned much of Sicily, the Senate hesitated. They
finally came to an agreement on helping the bandits, so Rome established a
presence on the island. (Everitt 220)
the war began, “Messana and the Mamertines faded into the background”
(Everitt, 222). As the war went on, the Roman’s campaign on the land went well,
however, they knew if they didn’t have a strong presence in the sea, Rome could
never defeat Carthage. At the beginning of the war, Rome had no naval fleet,
for they were never very interested in “maritime matters” (Everitt
223). So, Rome decided to develop a navy and began attacking the Carthaginians
at sea. Rome’s new fleet, which was built in only 60 days, included 20 triremes
and 100 quinquereme warships. Despite Rome’s best efforts, however, Rome failed
to gain control over Sicily, but they managed to open the way to Corsica. As
the war waged on, Rome managed to defeat Carthage in several crucial naval
battles. (Everitt 222-223)
Rome made its way to Carthage, they decided to “recall half the army and
the fleet” (…). Rome also withdrew two legions. This was because there was
an upcoming winter and Rome thought that they couldn’t attack at that time.
Even with these restrictions, Regulus, a Roman general still defeated the
Carthaginians at the city of Tunis. Regulus occupied the city in 255 BC and
made an effort to have peace talks. The Carthaginians were near surrender, but
the terms given by the Romans were too severe (Cartwright).
Carthage sought help from a Spartan
military expert by the name of Xanthippus. Carthage, with its 12,000 infantry
and 4,000 cavalries were ready to face the Romans. Xanthippus combined his
cavalry with 100 war-elephants, which proved to be a helpful tactic. Carthage
completely destroyed the Romans in the next battle, with Carthage killing
12,000 Romans, and Rome only killing 800 Carthaginians.
Having failed their campaign in
Africa, the Romans decided to bring back the war to Sicily. Carthage had to
concentrate their efforts closer to home, to “ensure its control of its
African territories” (Cartwright). Soon enough, Carthage went back to
Sicily to resume its campaign there. Led by Hasdrubal, the expedition ended up
being a failure. Lucius Caecilius Metellus, a Roman consul, even managed to
capture Carthage’s war-elephants.
Hamilcar Barca soon became the new
Carthaginian general. Using guerrilla tactics, he soon became victorious in many
of his battles. He continued to attack the Italian mainland, but without a full
army, he was limited. Hamilcar’s efforts persuaded the Romans that they could
not defeat Carthage on land. Instead, Rome would have to resort to a war at
sea. In 242 BC, Rome came out with a brand-new fleet of 200 ships. With their
new powerful navy, Rome defeated Carthage in a very decisive battle. In that
battle, Carthage lost 50 of their ships, and 70 of their ships were captured,
and 10,000 prisoners were taken by Rome. Carthage didn’t lose by much in the
battle, but it “drove cash-strapped Carthaginians to seek peace
terms” (Cartwright). The terms given by the Romans were fairly lenient,
especially compared to the terms given years earlier. Carthage had to give
Sicily and the Lipari Islands to Rome. Carthage also had to pay Rome 3,200
silver talents in reparations for the damage caused. As Carthage ceded Sicily
to Rome, it became Rome’s first province. Rome would later get Corsica and
Sardinia under their control as well. Despite everything that happened,
Carthage remained a business power and they would soon come back for Rome, in
the Second Punic War (Cartwright).
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