The first punic war   
264-241 B.C.

264-255 B.C.


Temple of Janus (Basilica of San Nicola in Carcere)
Temple of Janus (Basilica of San Nicola in Carcere)
dedicated by Gaius Duilius
after his naval victory at the Battle of Mylae

The Romans, having conquered all their enemies at home, began to pant for foreign conquests, and began the first war with the Carthaginians, commonly called the first Punic war, 264 years B.C.

The Carthaginians were in possession of the greatest part of Sicily, and only wanted an opportunity of embroiling the natives with one another, to become masters of the island. This opportunity at length offered itself. Hiero, king of Syracuse, which was as yet unconquered, entreated their aid against the Mamertines, a little people of the same country, and they sent him supplies.

The Mamertines, on the other hand, to shield off impending ruin, put themselves under the protection of Rome. The Romans, not thinking the Mamertines worthy to be their allies, instead of assisting them, boldly declared war against Carthage.

Carthage, a colony of the Phoenicians, was built on the coast of Africa, near the place where Tunis now stands, about a hundred and thirty seven years before the foundation of Rome. As it had long been growing into power, so it had extended its dominions along the coasts. But its chief strength lay in its fleets and commerce. Thus these two great powers began what is called the first Punic war. The Carthaginians possessed gold and silver; the Romans were famous for perseverance, patriotism, and poverty.

But there seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle to the ambitious views of the Romans, as they had no fleet; while the Carthaginians had the entire command of the sea. The Romans began to apply themselves to maritime affairs; and, though without shipwrights, to build, or seamen to navigate a fleet, they resolved to encounter every obstacle.

A Carthaginian vessel happened to be driven ashore upon the coast of Italy, and this was sufficient for a model. The consul, Duillius, was the first who ventured to sea with his newly constructed armament, and though far inferior to the enemy in the management of his fleet, yet he gained the first naval victory, the Carthaginians losing fifty of their ships, and the undisturbed sovereignty of the sea.

But the conquest of Sicily was only to be obtained by humbling the power of Carthage. For this reason the senate resolved to carry the war into Africa, and sent Regulus and Manlius, with a fleet of three hundred sail, to make the invasion. The two generals set sail with their fleet, carrying an hundred and forty thousand men. They were met by the Carthaginians with a fleet as powerful, and men better used to the sea. While the fight continued at a distance, the Carthaginians seemed successful.

But when the Romans came to grapple with them, the difference was apparent. The Romans were crowned with success; the enemy's fleet was dispersed, and fifty four of their vessels taken. The consequence of this victory was an immediate descent upon the coast of Africa, and the capture of the city Clupea, together with twenty thousand men, who where made prisoners of war.

255 B.C.

Marcus Atilius Regulus

In consequence of this signal overthrow of the Carthaginians by the Romans, the senate ordered Manlius back to Italy, to superintend the Sicilian war, and directed Regulus to continue in Africa, when a battle soon followed, in which the Carthaginians were once more defeated. This threw them into despair; and more than eighty of their towns submitted to the Romans. In this distress, the Carthaginians sent to Lacedaemon, offering the command of their armies to Xantippus, a general of great experience, who undertook to conduct them.

At length both armies engaging, after a long resistance, the Romans were overthrown with dreadful slaughter; the greatest part of the army being destroyed, and Regulus himself taken prisoner. Several other distresses of the Romans soon followed. They lost their fleet in a storm, and Agrigentum, their principal town in Sicily, was taken by Karthalo, the Carthaginian general.

They built a new fleet, which shared the fate of the former; the mariners as yet unacquainted with the Mediterranean shores, drove it upon the quicksands; and soon after the greater part perished in a storm.

255 B.C.

The death of Regulus

Marcus Atilius Regulus
Marcus Atilius Regulus

The Carthaginians having been successful, were desirous of a new treaty for peace, hoping to have better terms than those insisted upon formerly by Regulus.

For this purpose, they supposed that Regulus, whom they had now for four years kept in a dungeon, confined and chained, would be a proper solicitor. It was expected, that being wearied with imprisonment, he would gladly endeavor to persuade his countrymen to a discontinuance of a war, which only prolonged his captivity. He was accordingly sent with their ambassadors to Rome, but with a promise, previously exacted from him, to return in case he was unsuccessful. He was even given to understand, that his life depended upon the negotiation.

When this old general, together with the ambassadors of Carthage, approached Rome, numbers of his friends came out to see and congratulate him on his return. Their acclamations resounded through the city; but Regulus refused, with settled melancholy, to enter the gates; it was in vain that he was entreated on every side to visit once more his little dwelling, and share in that joy which his return had inspired. He persisted in saying he was now but a slave belonging to the Carthaginians, and unfit to partake in the liberal honors of his country.

The senate assembling without the walls, as usual, to give audience to the ambassadors, Regulus opened his commission as he had been directed by the Carthaginian council, and their ambassadors seconded his proposals. The senate, were by this time, themselves weary of a war which had been protracted above eight years, and were no way disinclined to peace.

It only remained for Regulus to give his opinions, and when it came his turn to speak, to the surprise of all he gave his voice for continuing the war. So unexpected an advice, not a little disturbed the senate; they pitied as well as admired a man who had used such eloquence against his private interest, and could not conclude upon a measure, which was to terminate in his ruin. But he soon relieved their embarrassment by breaking off the treaty, and by rising in order to return to his confinement.

It was in vain that the senate and all his dearest friends entreated him to stay; he still repressed their solicitations. Marcia his wife, with her little children, filled the city with their lamentations, and vainly entreated to be permitted to see him; he obstinately persisted in keeping his promise; and though sufficiently apprised of the tortures that awaited his return, without embracing his family, or taking leave of his friends, he departed with the ambassadors for Carthage.

Nothing could equal the fury and the disappointment of the Carthaginians when they were informed by their ambassadors that Regulus, instead of hastening a peace, had given his opinion for continuing the war. They accordingly determined to punish his conduct with the most severe tortures. First his eyelids were cut off, and then he was remanded to prison. He was, after some days, again brought out, and exposed with his face to the burning sun. At last, when malice was fatigued with studying all the arts of torture, he was put into a barrel stuck full of nails that pointed inward; and in this painful condition he continued till he died.

241 B.C.

The end of the first Punic War

In consequence of the Romans refusing the terms of peace proposed, and the great severity to Regulus by the Carthaginians, both sides took up arms with more than former animosity. At length the Roman perseverance was crowned with success; one victory followed another.

Fabius Buteo the consul, defeated a large squadron of the enemy's ships; but Latutius Catulus, gained a victory still more complete, in which the power of Carthage seemed totally destroyed at sea, by the loss of one hundred and twenty ships (battle of the Aegates Islands, 241 B.C.).

Another loss brought the Carthaginians to sue for peace, which Rome thought proper to grant; but still inflexible in her demands, exacted the same conditions which Regulus had formerly offered at the gates of Carthage. These were that they should lay down a thousand talents of silver, to defray the charge of the war, and should pay two thousand two hundred more in ten years; that they should quit Sicily, with all such islands as they possessed near it, that they should never make war against the allies of Rome, or come with any vessel of war within the Roman dominions; and lastly, that all their prisoners and deserters should be delivered up without ransom.

To these hard conditions, the Carthaginians, now exhausted, readily subscribed; and thus ended the first Punic war 240 years B. C. which had lasted 24 years, and had drained both nations.

The war being ended between the Carthaginians and the Romans, a profound peace ensued, and in six years the temple of Janus was shut for the second time since the foundation of the city.

229-219 B.C.

The Illyrian wars

Queen Teuta
Queen Teuta orders her guards
to murder the Roman envoys

Augustyn Mirys

The Romans being thus in friendship with all nations, had an opportunity of turning to the arts of peace; they now began to have a relish for poetry, the first liberal art which rises in every civilized nation, and the first also that decays. While they were fostering the arts of peace, they were not unmindful of making fresh preparations for war.

The Illyrians were the first people upon whom they tried their strength, after a long continuance of peace. This nation, which had long plundered the merchants of the Mediterranean with impunity, happened to make depredations upon some of the subjects of Rome. A war ensued in which the Romans were victorious.

Most of the Illyrian towns were surrendered to the consuls, and a peace was at last concluded, by which the greatest part of the country was ceded to Rome; a yearly tribute was exacted for the rest.

224-221 B.C.

The conquest of Cisalpine Gaul

After the war with the Illyrians, the Gauls were the next people that incurred the displeasure of the Romans, and a war commenced between them 224 years B. C.

Supposing a time of peace a proper season for new irruptions, this barbarous people invited fresh forces from beyond the Alps, and entering Etruria, wasted all with fire and sword, till they came within about three days' journey of Rome. A praetor and a consul were sent to oppose them; these now instructed in the improved arts of war, were enabled to surround the Gauls, who still retained their primeval barbarity.

It was in vain that those hardy troops, who had nothing but their courage to protect them, formed two fronts to oppose their adversaries; their naked bodies and undisciplined forces were unable to withstand the shock of an enemy completely armed, and skilled in military evolutions. A dreadful slaughter ensued, in which forty thousand men were killed, and ten thousand taken prisoners.

This victory was followed by another gained over them by Marcellus in which he killed Viridomarus, their king with his own hand, and gained the third royal spoils that were obtained at Rome. These conquests forced them to beg a peace, the conditions of which served greatly to enrich the empire.

Thus the Romans went on with success; they had now totally recovered their former losses, and only wanted an enemy worthy of their arms, to begin a new war.

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