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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

The Carthaginians had no navy left


to relinquish the mastery of the sea that had been won by an uninterrupted series of victories, Rome sent another fleet to attack a Carthaginian force lying in the harbor of Drepanum. As the Romans approached, the Carthaginians went out to meet them, and so maneuvered as to force them to fight with an enemy in front and the rocks and shoals of the coast in their rear. The Roman ships were never able to extricate themselves from this predicament, and the greater part were either taken or wrecked on the coast. The Consul in command managed to escape with about thirty of his vessels, but 93 were taken with their crews. This is the single instance of a pitched battle between Roman and Carthaginian fleets in which the victory went to Carthage, a victory due entirely to better seamanship. The immediate result of this success was the destruction of the Roman squadron lying in the port of Lilybaeum which was assisting the troops in the siege of that town.

Still another Roman fleet that had the temerity to anchor in an exposed position was destroyed by a storm. "For so complete was the destruction," writes Polybius, "that scarcely a single plank remained entire."

Stunned by these disasters, the government at Rome gave up the idea of contesting any further the command of the sea. The citizens, how ever, were not willing to submit, and displayed a magnificent spirit of patriotism in this the darkest period of the war.

Individuals of means, or groups of individuals, pledged each a quinquereme, fully equipped, for a new fleet, asking reimbursement from the government only in case of victory. By these private efforts a force of 200 quinqueremes was constructed. At this time, as at the very beginning, the model for the Roman ships was a prize taken from the enemy.


Meanwhile the Carthaginians, confident that the Romans were finally driven from the sea, had allowed their own fleet to disintegrate. Accordingly when the astonishing news reached them that the Romans were again abroad they were compelled to fill their ships with raw levies of troops and inexperienced rowers and sailors. And, since the Carthaginian troops who were besieging the city of Eryx in Sicily were in need of supplies, a large number of transports were sent with the fleet. The Carthaginian commander planned to make a landing unobserved, leave his transports, exchange his raw crews for some of the veterans before Eryx and then give battle to the Roman fleet.

This program failed because of the initiative of the Roman Consul commanding the new fleet. Having got word of the coming of the Carthaginians and divining their plan, he braved an unfavorable wind and a rough sea for the sake of forcing an action before they could establish contact with their army. Accordingly he sought out his enemy and met him (in the year 241 B.C.) off the island of AEgusa, near Lilybaeum. Almost at the first onset the Romans won an overwhelming victory, capturing seventy and sinking fifty of the Carthaginian force.

This final desperate effort of Rome was decisive. The Carthaginians had no navy left, and their armies in Sicily were cut off from all communications with their base. Accordingly ambassadors went to Rome to sue for peace, and the great struggle that had lasted without intermission for twenty-four years and reduced both parties to the point of exhaustion, ended with a triumph for Rome through a victory on the sea. By the treaty of peace Carthage was obliged to pay a heavy indemnity and yield all claim to Sicily.

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