Little Bits of History

Punic Wars, Part I

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 10, 2014
Battle of the Aegates Islands

Battle of the Aegates Islands

March 10, 241 BC: The Battle of the Aegates Islands is fought. It was a decisive victory for the Romans and ended the First Punic War. The term Punic comes from the Latin word Punicus which meant Carthaginian and was a reference to their Phoenician ancestry. The Punic Wars were fought between Rome and Carthage from 264 BC to 146 BC. At the time of the conflict, they were (probably) the largest wars that had ever taken place. The three wars were fought to see who would control the western Mediterranean Sea where lucrative trade was essential to the well-being of one’s country. At the beginning of the wars, Carthage was in control of The Med.

The first of the wars was fought between 264 BC and 241 BC and the location for most of the battles was the Mediterranean itself, Sicily, Sardinia, and North Africa. For twenty years, the two powers had struggled with control of the waterways and keeping supply lines open. Carthage was located in what is today Tunisia and they held sway over the coast of northern Africa, southern Spain, and most of the larger islands in the sea, including Sicily right at the tip of the “boot” of modern day Italy. By the time the first war began, Rome was in control of most of what is modern day Italy but were hoping to expand control. Syracuse also was in control of a small portion of the southeastern tip of Sicily.

Prior to this battle, the Roman fleet was fairly nonexistent. The few ships they had were mostly destroyed in the Battle of Drepana and the storm that followed which took place in 249 BC. In this one event, Rome lost 93 of her 120 ships while Carthage lost none of her 120 ships. The Carthaginians did not capitalize on this and by 242 BC, Rome decided to rebuild its navy. However, the coffers had been depleted by the war effort to date and so wealthy Romans decided to finance the building of about 200 quinqueremeres and crew them without government expense. This new fleet was ready in 242 BC and Gaius Lutatius Catulus and Quintus Valerius Falto were given control. The past defeats had lost the ships but much was learned from the experience.

Catulus resumed a siege of the two ports of Sicily and waited for Carthage to respond. The Carthage fleet arrived but Hanno called a halt to wait for favorable winds near the Aegates Islands. The Romans spotted the fleet and Catulus abandoned the blockade. The Carthaginians had a favorable wind on this day and set sail. Even though the winds were not in his favor, Catulus opted to intercept the fleet. The Romans stripped their ships of all unnecessary equipment, making them more seaworthy and agile in the rough seas. Catulus had been previously injured in battle and left the command to Falto who brought the battle to the Carthage fleet, destroying half of it and effectively ending the First Punic War. Unfortunately, there would be two more wars to fight.

Surging into the Carthaginian ships, the Romans used their speed and agility to their advantage and wreaked havoc upon their enemy. – Kennedy Hickman

Catulus’s battle-ready ships with their experienced crews and carefully selected marines inflicted a crushing defeat on Hanno’s heavily burdened ships and their inexperienced crews. – J. Rickard

This crucial naval engagement launched Rome on a path of Mediterranean conquest and the remains of this battle provide unprecedented evidence for warship construction and fleet operations in the third century B.C. – Jeffrey Royal

Thus it was that on March 10, 241BC, the Carthaginian relieving fleet was totally defeated near the Aegates Islands off western Sicily. – Hilary Gowen

Also on this day: Slavery – In 1910, China (theoretically) ends slavery.
Never Surrender – In 1831, the French Foreign Legion was created.
The Odd Couple – In 1965, Neil Simon’s play, The Odd Couple, opened.
Coal Explosion – In 1906, Europe experienced their worst coal mine accident.

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