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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

Who had now placed the transports and triarii in security


Romans, an seeing their enemy, assumed a formation hitherto unknown in tactics at sea. Their first and second squadrons formed the sides of an acute-angled triangle; the third squadron formed the base of the triangle, towing the transports, and the fourth squadron brought up the rear, covering the transports. The whole formed a compact wedge, pushing forward like a great spear head to pierce the enemy's line.

Admirable as this formation was, the Carthaginians were no less skillful in their tactics for destroying it. Instead of keeping an unbroken line to receive the attack, they stationed their left wing at same distance from the center so as to overlap the Roman right, and their right wing in column ahead, so as to overlap the Roman left. As the Romans advanced, the Carthaginian center purposely gave way, drawing the advance wings of their enemy away from the transports and the two squadrons in the rear. Then they faced about and attacked. Meanwhile the two Carthaginian squadrons on the flanks swung round the Roman wedge, the left wing engaging the Roman third squadron, which was hampered by the transports, and driving it toward the shore. At the same time the Carthaginian right wing attacked the fourth, or reserve, squadron from the rear and drove it into the open sea. Thus the battle went on in three distinct engagements, each separated by considerable distance from the others. The outcome is thus narrated by Polybius:

justify;">[Illustration: ROMAN FORMATION AT ECNOMUS]

"Because in each of these divisions the strength of the combatants was nearly equal, the success was also for some time equal. But in the progress of the action the affair was brought at last to a decision: a different one, perhaps, from what might reasonably have been expected in such circumstances. For the Roman squadron that had begun the engagement gained so full a victory, that Amilcar [the Carthaginian commander] was forced to fly, and the consul Manlius brought away the vessels that were taken.

"The other consul, having now perceived the danger in which the triarii[1] and the transports were involved, hastened to their assistance with the second squadron, which was still entire. The triarii, having received these succors, when they were Just upon the point of yielding, again resumed their courage, and renewed the fight with vigor: so that the enemy, being surrounded on every side in a manner so sudden and unexpected, and attacked at once both in the front and rear were at last constrained to steer away to sea.

[Footnote 1: The rear guard, or fourth squadron.]

"About this time Manlius also, returning from the engagement, observed that the ships of the third squadron were forced in close to the shore, and there blocked up by the left division of the Carthaginian fleet. He joined his forces, therefore, with those of the other consul, who had now placed the transports and triarii in security, and hastened to assist these vessels, which were so invested by the enemy that they seemed to suffer a kind of siege. And, indeed, they must have all been long before destroyed if the Carthaginians, through apprehension of the _corvi_, had not still kept themselves at distance, and declined a close engagement. But the consuls, having now advanced together, surround the enemy, and take fifty of their ships with all the men. The rest, being few in number, steered close along the shore, and saved themselves by flight.

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