They chose, in the first instance, the former plan of operations. In the year after the battle of Mylae (495) the consul Lucius Scipio captured the port of Aleria in Corsica--we still possess the tombstone of the general, which makes mention of this deed--and made Corsica a naval station against Sardinia. An attempt to establish a footing in Ulbia on the northern coast of that island failed, because the fleet wanted troops for landing. In the succeeding year (496) it was repeated with better success, and the open villages along the coast were plundered; but no permanent establishment of the Romans took place. Nor was greater progress made in Sicily. Hamilcar conducted the war with energy and adroitness, not only by force of arms on sea and land, but also by political proselytism. Of the numerous small country towns some every year fell away from the Romans, and had to be laboriously wrested afresh from the Phoenician grasp; while in the coast fortresses the Carthaginians maintained themselves without challenge, particularly in their headquarters of Panormus and in their new stronghold of Drepana, to which, on account of its easier defence by sea, Hamilcar had transferred the inhabitants of Eryx. A second great naval engagement off the promontory of Tyndaris (497), in which both parties claimed the victory, made no change in the position of affairs. In this way no progress was made, whether in consequence of the division and rapid change of the chief command of the Roman troops, which rendered the concentrated management of a series of operations on a small scale exceedingly difficult, or from the general strategical relations of the case, which certainly, as the science of war then stood, were unfavourable to the attacking party in general,(5) and particularly so to the Romans, who were still on the mere threshold of scientific warfare. Meanwhile, although the pillaging of the Italian coasts had ceased, the commerce of Italy suffered not much less than it had done before the fleet was built.

Attack On Africa Naval Victory Of Ecnomus

Weary of a course of operations without results, and impatient to put an end to the war, the senate resolved to change its system, and to assail Carthage in Africa. In the spring of 498 a fleet of 330 ships of the line set sail for the coast of Libya: at the mouth of the river Himera on the south coast of Sicily it embarked the army for landing, consisting of four legions, under the charge of the two consuls Marcus Atilius Regulus and Lucius Manlius Volso, both experienced generals. The Carthaginian admiral suffered the embarkation of the enemy's troops to take place; but on continuing their voyage towards Africa the Romans found the Punic fleet drawn up in order of battle off Ecnomus to protect its native land from invasion. Seldom have greater numbers fought at sea than were engaged in the battle that now ensued. The Roman fleet: of 330 sail contained at least 100,000 men in its crews, besides the landing army of about 40,000; the Carthaginian of 350 vessels was manned by at least an equal number; so that well-nigh three hundred thousand men were brought into action on this day to decide the contest between the two mighty civic communities. The Phoenicians were placed in a single widely-extended line, with their left wing resting on the Sicilian coast. The Romans arranged themselves in a triangle, with the ships of the two consuls as admirals at the apex, the first and second squadrons drawn out in oblique line to the right and left, and a third squadron, having the vessels built for the transport of the cavalry in tow, forming the line which closed the triangle. They thus bore down in close order on the enemy. A fourth squadron placed in reserve followed more slowly. The wedge-shaped attack broke without difficulty the Carthaginian line, for its centre, which was first assailed, intentionally gave way, and the battle resolved itself into three separate engagements. While the admirals with the two squadrons drawn up on the wings pursued the Carthaginian centre and were closely engaged with it, the left wing of the Carthaginians drawn up along the coast wheeled round upon the third Roman squadron, which was prevented by the vessels which it had in tow from following the two others, and by a vehement onset in superior force drove it against the shore; at the same time the Roman reserve was turned on the open sea, and assailed from behind, by the right wing of the Carthaginians. The first of these three engagements was soon at an end; the ships of the Carthaginian centre, manifestly much weaker than the two Roman squadrons with which they were engaged, took to flight. Meanwhile the two other divisions of the Romans had a hard struggle with the superior enemy; but in close fighting the dreaded boarding-bridges stood them in good stead, and by this means they succeeded in holding out till the two admirals with their vessels could come up. By their arrival the Roman reserve was relieved, and the Carthaginian vessels of the right wing retired before the superior force. And now, when this conflict had been decided in favour of the Romans, all the Roman vessels that still could keep the sea fell on the rear of the Carthaginian left wing, which was obstinately following up its advantage, so that it was surrounded and almost all the vessels composing it were taken. The losses otherwise were nearly equal. Of the Roman fleet 24 sail were sunk; of the Carthaginian 30 were sunk, and 64 were taken.

Landing Of Regulus In Africa

Notwithstanding its considerable loss, the Carthaginian fleet did not give up the protection of Africa, and with that view returned to the gulf of Carthage, where it expected the descent to take place and purposed to give battle a second time. But the Romans landed, not on the western side of the peninsula which helps to form the gulf, but on the eastern side, where the bay of Clupea presented a spacious harbour affording protection in almost all winds, and the town, situated close by the sea on a shield-shaped eminence rising out of the plain, supplied an excellent defence for the harbour.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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