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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

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Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David


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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David





The First Punic War








A contest greater than with Pyrrhus and the Greek cities, more memorable
in its incidents, and more important in its consequences, now awaited the
Romans. This was with Carthage, the greatest power, next to Rome, in the
world at that time--a commercial State which had been gradually aggrandized
for three hundred years. It was a rich and powerful city at the close of
the Persian wars. It had succeeded Tyre as the mistress of the sea.

We have seen, in the second book, how the Carthaginians were
involved in wars with Syracuse, when that city had reached the acme of its
power under Dionysius. We have also alluded to the early history and power
of Carthage. At the time Pyrrhus landed in Sicily, it contained nearly a
million of people, and controlled the northern coast of Africa, and the
western part of the Mediterranean. Carthage was strictly a naval power,
although her colonies were numerous, and her dependencies large. The land
forces were not proportionate to the naval; but large armies were
necessary to protect her dependencies in the constant wars in which she
was engaged. These armies were chiefly mercenaries, and their main
strength consisted in light cavalry.

The territories of Carthage lay chiefly in the islands which were
protected by her navy and enriched by her commerce. Among these insular
possessions, Sardinia was the largest and most important, and was the
commercial depot of Southern Europe. A part of Sicily, also, as we have
seen (Book ii., chap. 24), was colonized and held by her, and she aimed at
the sovereignty of the whole island. Hence the various wars with Syracuse.
The Carthaginians and Greeks were the rivals for the sovereignty of this
fruitful island, the centre of the oil and wine trade, the store-house for
all sorts of cereals. Had Carthage possessed the whole of Sicily, her
fleets would have controlled the Mediterranean.

The embroilment of Carthage with the Grecian States on this island
was the occasion of the first rupture with Rome. Messina, the seat of the
pirate republic of the Mamertines, was in close alliance with Rhegium, a
city which had grown into importance during the war with Pyrrhus. Rhegium,
situated on the Italian side of the strait, solicited the protection of
Rome, and a body of Campanian troops was sent to its assistance. These
troops expelled or massacred the citizens for whose protection they had
been sent, and established a tumultuary government. On the fall of
Tarentum, the Romans sought to punish this outrage, and also to embrace
the opportunity to possess a town which would facilitate a passage to
Sicily, for Sicily as truly belonged to Italy as the Peloponnesus to
Greece, being separated only by a narrow strait. A Roman army was
accordingly sent to take possession of Rhegium, but the defenders made a
desperate resistance. It was finally taken by storm, and the original
citizens obtained repossession, as dependents and allies of Rome. The fall
of Rhegium robbed the pirate city of Messina of the only ally on which it
could count, and subjected it to the vengeance of both the Carthaginians
and the Syracusans. The latter were then under the sway of Hiero, who, for
fifty years, had reigned without despotism, and had quietly developed both
the resources and the freedom of the city. He collected an army of
citizens, devoted to him, who expelled the Mamertines from many of their
towns, and gained a decisive victory over them, not far from Messina.

The Mamertines, in danger of subjection by the Syracusans, then
looked for foreign aid. One party looked to Carthage, and another to Rome.
The Carthaginian party prevailed on the Mamertines to receive a Punic
garrison. The Romans, seeking a pretext for a war with Carthage, sent an
army ostensibly to protect Messina against Hiero. But the strait which
afforded a passage to Sicily was barred by a Carthaginian fleet. The
Romans, unaccustomed to the sea, were defeated. Not discouraged, however,
they finally succeeded in landing at Messina, and although Carthage and
Rome were at peace, seized Hanno, the Carthaginian general, who had the
weakness to command the evacuation of the citadel as a ransom for his
person.

On this violation of international law, Hiero, who feared the
Romans more than the Carthaginians, made an alliance with Carthage, and
the combined forces of Syracuse and Carthage marched to the liberation of
Messina. The Romans, under Appius, the consul, then made overtures of
peace to the Carthaginians, and bent their energies against Hiero. But
Hiero, suspecting the Carthaginians of treachery, for their whole course
with the Syracusans for centuries had been treacherous, retired to
Syracuse. Upon which the Romans attacked the Carthaginians singly, and
routed them, and spread devastation over the whole island.

This was the commencement of the first Punic war, in which the Romans were
plainly the aggressors. Two consular armies now threatened Syracuse, when
Hiero sought peace, which was accepted on condition of provisioning the
Roman armies, and paying one hundred talents to liberate prisoners.

The first Punic war began B.C. 264, and lasted twenty-four years. Before
we present the leading events of that memorable struggle, let us glance at
the power of Carthage--the formidable rival of Rome.

As has been narrated, Carthage was founded upon a peninsula, or
rocky promontory, sixty-five years before the foundation of Rome. The
inhabitants of Carthage, descendants of Phoenicians, were therefore of
Semitic origin. The African farmer was a Canaanite, and all the Canaanites
lacked the instinct of political life. The Phoenicians thought of commerce
and wealth, and not political aggrandizement. With half their power, the
Hellenic cities achieved their independence. Carthage was a colony of
Phoenicians, and had their ideas. It lived to traffic and get rich. It was
washed on all sides, except the west, by the sea, and above the city, on
the western heights, was the citadel Byrsa, called so from the word {~GREEK SMALL LETTER BETA~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER UPSILON WITH OXIA~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER RHO~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER SIGMA~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA~},
a hide, according to the legend that Dido, when she came to Africa, bought
of the inhabitants as much land as could be encompassed by a bull's hide,
which she cut into thongs, and inclosed the territory on which she built
the citadel. The city grew to be twenty-three miles in circuit, and
contained seven hundred thousand people. It had two harbors, an outer and
inner, the latter being surrounded by a lofty wall. A triple wall was
erected across the peninsula, to protect it from the west, three miles
long, and between the walls were stables for three hundred elephants, four
thousand horses, and barracks for two thousand infantry, with magazines
and stores. In the centre of the inner harbor was an island, called
Cothon, the shores of which were lined with quays and docks for two
hundred and twenty ships. The citadel, Byrsa, was two miles in circuit,
and when it finally surrendered to the Romans, fifty thousand people
marched out of it. On its summit was the famous temple of AEsculapius. At
the northwestern angle of the city were twenty immense reservoirs, each
four hundred feet by twenty-eight, filled with water, brought by an
aqueduct at a distance of fifty-two miles. The suburb Megara, beyond the
city walls, but within those that defended the peninsula, was the site of
magnificent gardens and villas, which were adorned with every kind of
Grecian art, for the Carthaginians were rich before Rome had conquered
even Latium. This great city controlled the other Phoenician cities, part
of Sicily, Numidia, Mauritania, Lybia--in short, the northern part of
Africa, and colonies in Spain and the islands of the western part of the
Mediterranean. The city alone could furnish in an exigency forty thousand
heavy infantry, one thousand cavalry, and twenty thousand war chariots.
The garrison of the city amounted to twenty thousand foot and four
thousand horse, and the total force which the city could command was more
than one hundred thousand men. The navy was the largest in the world, for,
in the sea-fight with Regulus, it numbered three hundred and fifty ships,
carrying one hundred and fifty thousand men.

Such was this great power against which the Romans were resolved to
contend. It would seem that Carthage was willing that Rome should have the
sovereignty of Italy, provided it had itself the possession of Sicily. But
this was what the Romans were determined to prevent. The object of
contention, then, between these two rivals, the one all-powerful by land
and the other by sea, was the possession of Sicily.

During the first three years of the war, the Romans made themselves
masters of all the island, except the maritime fortresses at its western
extremity, Eryx and Panormus. Meanwhile the Carthaginians ravaged the
coasts of Italy, and destroyed its commerce. The Romans then saw that
Sicily could not be held without a navy as powerful as that of their
rivals, and it was resolved to build at once one hundred and twenty ships.
A Carthaginian quinquereme, wrecked on the Bruttian shore, furnished the
model, the forests of Silo the timber, and the maritime cities of Italy
and Greece, the sailors. In sixty days a fleet of one hundred and twenty
ships was built and ready for sea. The superior seamanship of the
Carthaginians was neutralized by converting the decks into a battle-field
for soldiers. Each ship was provided with a long boarding-bridge, hinged
up against the mast, to be let down on the prow, and fixed to the hostile
deck by a long spike, which projected from its end. The bridge was wide
enough for two soldiers to pass abreast, and its sides were protected by
bulwarks.

The first encounter of the Romans with the Carthaginians resulted
in the capture of the whole force, a squadron of seventeen ships. The
second encounter ended in the capture of more ships than the Roman
admiral, Cn. Scipio, had lost. The next battle, that of Mylae, in which the
whole Roman fleet was engaged, again turned in favor of the Romans, whose
bad seamanship provoked the contempt of their foes, and led to
self-confidence. The battle was gained by grappling the enemy's ships one
by one. The Carthaginians lost fourteen ships, and only saved the rest by
inglorious flight.

For six years no decided victories were won by either side, but in
the year B.C. 256, nine years from the commencement of hostilities, M.
Atilius Regulus, a noble of the same class and habits as Cincinnatus and
Fabricius, with a fleet of three hundred and thirty ships, manned by one
hundred thousand sailors, encountered the Carthaginian fleet of three
hundred and fifty ships on the southern coast of Sicily, and gained a
memorable victory. It was gained on the same principle as Epaminondas and
Alexander won their battles, by concentrating all the forces upon a single
point, and breaking the line. The Romans advanced in the shape of a wedge,
with the two consuls' ships at the apex. The Carthaginian admirals allowed
the centre to give way before the advancing squadron. The right wing made
a circuit out in the open sea, and took the Roman reserve in the rear,
while the left wing attacked the vessels that were towing the horse
transports, and forced them to the shore. But the Carthaginian centre,
being thus left weak, was no match for the best ships of the Romans, and
the consuls, victorious in the centre, turned to the relief of the two
rear divisions. The Carthaginians lost sixty-four ships, which were taken,
besides twenty-four which were sunk, and retreated with the remainder to
the Gulf of Carthage, to defend the shores against the anticipated attack.

The Romans, however, made for another point, and landed in the
harbor of Aspis, intrenched a camp to protect their ships, and ravaged the
country. Twenty thousand captives were sent to Rome and sold as slaves,
besides an immense booty--a number equal to a fifth part of the free
population of the city. A footing in Africa was thus made, and so secure
were the Romans, that a large part of the army was recalled, leaving
Regulus with only forty ships, fifteen thousand infantry, and five hundred
cavalry. Yet with this small army he defeated the Carthaginians, and
became master of the country to within ten miles of Carthage. The
Carthaginians, shut up in the city, sued for peace; but it was granted
only on condition of the cession of Sicily and Sardinia, the surrender of
the fleet, and the reduction of Carthage to the condition of a dependent
city. Such a proposal was rejected, and despair gave courage to the
defeated Carthaginians.

They made one grand effort while Regulus lay inactive in winter
quarters. The return of Hamilcar from Sicily with veteran troops, which
furnished a nucleus for a new army, inspired the Carthaginians with hope,
and assisted by a Lacedaemonian general, Xanthippus, with a band of Greek
mercenaries, the Carthaginians marched unexpectedly upon Regulus, and so
signally defeated him at Tunis, that only two thousand Romans escaped.
Regulus, with five hundred of the legionary force, was taken captive and
carried to Carthage.

The Carthaginians now assumed the offensive, and Sicily became the
battle-field. Hasdrubal, son of Hanno, landed on the island with one
hundred and forty elephants, while the Roman fleet of three hundred ships
suffered a great disaster off the Lucanian promontory. A storm arose,
which wrecked one hundred and fifty ships--a disaster equal to the one
which it suffered two years before, when two-thirds of the large fleet
which was sent to relieve the two thousand troops at Clupea was destroyed
by a similar storm. In spite of these calamities, the Romans took Panormus
and Thermae, and gained a victory under the walls of the former city which
cost the Carthaginians twenty thousand men and the capture of one hundred
and twenty elephants. This success, gained by Metellus, was the greatest
yet obtained in Sicily, and the victorious general adorned his triumph
with thirteen captured generals and one hundred and four elephants.

The two maritime fortresses which still held out at the west of the
island, Drepanum and Lilybaeum, were now invested, and the Carthaginians,
shut up in these fortresses, sent an embassy to Rome to ask an exchange of
prisoners, and sue for peace. Regulus, now five years a prisoner, was
allowed to accompany the embassy, on his promise to return if the mission
was unsuccessful. As his condition was now that of a Carthaginian slave,
he was reluctant to enter the city, and still more the Senate, of which he
was no longer a member. But when this reluctance was overcome, he
denounced both the peace and the exchange of prisoners. The Romans wished
to retain this noble patriot, but he was true to his oath, and returned
voluntarily to Carthage, after having defeated the object of the
ambassadors, knowing that a cruel death awaited him. The Carthaginians,
indignant and filled with revenge, it is said, exposed the hero to a
burning sun, with his eyelids cut off, and rolled him in a barrel lined
with iron spikes.

The embassy having thus failed, the attack on the fortresses, which
alone linked Africa with Sicily, was renewed. The siege of Lilybaeum lasted
till the end of the war, which, from the mutual exhaustion of the parties,
now languished for six years. The Romans had lost four great fleets, three
of which had arms on board, and the census of the city, in the seventeenth
year, showed a decrease of forty thousand citizens. During this interval
of stagnation, when petty warfare alone existed, Hamilcar Burca was
appointed general of Carthage, and in the same year his son Hannibal was
born, B.C. 247.

The Romans, disgusted with the apathy of the government, fitted out
a fleet of privateers of two hundred ships, manned by sixty thousand
sailors, and this fleet gained a victory over the Carthaginians,
unprepared for such a force, so that fifty ships were sunk, and seventy
more were carried by the victors into port. This victory gave Sicily to
the Romans, and ended the war. The Roman prisoners were surrendered by
Hamilcar, who had full powers for peace, and Carthage engaged to pay three
thousand two hundred talents for the expenses of the war.

The Romans were gainers by this war. They acquired the richest
island in the world, fertile in all the fruits of the earth, with splendid
harbors, cities, and a great accumulation of wealth. The long war of
twenty-four years, nearly a whole generation, was not conducted on such a
scale as essentially to impoverish the contending parties. There were no
debts contracted for future generations to pay. It was the most absorbing
object of public interest, indeed; but many other events and subjects must
also have occupied the Roman mind. It was a foreign war, the first that
Rome had waged. It was a war of ambition, the commencement of those
unscrupulous and aggressive measures that finally resulted in the
political annihilation of all the other great powers of the world.

But this war, compared with those foreign wars which Rome subsequently
conducted, was carried on without science and skill. It was carried on in
the transition period of Roman warfare, when tactics were more highly
prized than strategy. It was by a militia, and agricultural generals, and
tactics, and personal bravery, that the various Italian nations were
subdued, when war had not ripened into a science, such as was conducted
even by the Greeks. There was no skill or experience in the conduct of
sieges. The navy was managed by Greek mercenaries.

The great improvement in the science of war which this first
contest with a foreign power led to, was the creation of a navy, and the
necessity of employing veteran troops, led by experienced generals. A
deliberative assembly, like the Senate, it was found could not conduct a
foreign war. It was left to generals, who were to learn marches and
countermarches, sieges, and a strategical system. The withdrawal of half
the army of Regulus by the Senate proved nearly fatal. Carthage could not
be subdued by that rustic warfare which had sufficed for the conquest of
Etruria or Samnium. The new system of war demanded generals who had
military training and a military eye, and not citizen admirals. The final
success was owing to the errors of the Carthaginians rather than military
science.





Next: The Second Punic Or Hannibalic War

Previous: The Conquest Of Italy



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