A Roman fleet of 350 sail immediately started, and after a noble victory at the Hermaean promontory, in which the Carthaginians lost 114 ships, it reached Clupea just in time to deliver from their hard-pressed position the remains of the defeated army which were there entrenched. Had it been despatched before the catastrophe occurred, it might have converted the defeat into a victory that would probably have put an end to the Punic wars. But so completely had the Romans now lost their judgment, that after a successful conflict before Clupea they embarked all their troops and sailed home, voluntarily evacuating that important and easily defended position which secured to them facilities for landing in Africa, and abandoning their numerous African allies without protection to the vengeance of the Carthaginians. The Carthaginians did not neglect the opportunity of filling their empty treasury, and of making their subjects clearly understand the consequences of unfaithfulness. An extraordinary contribution of 1000 talents of silver (244,000 pounds) and 20,000 oxen was levied, and the sheiks in all the communities that had revolted were crucified; it is said that there were three thousand of them, and that this revolting atrocity on the part of the Carthaginian authorities really laid the foundation of the revolution which broke forth in Africa some years later. Lastly, as if to fill up the measure of misfortune to the Romans even as their measure of success had been filled before, on the homeward voyage of the fleet three- fourths of the Roman vessels perished with their crews in a violent storm; only eighty reached their port (July 499). The captains had foretold the impending mischief, but the extemporised Roman admirals had nevertheless given orders to sail.

Recommencement Of The War In Sicily

After successes so immense the Carthaginians were able to resume their offensive operations, which had long been in abeyance. Hasdrubal son of Hanno landed at Lilybaeum with a strong force, which was enabled, particularly by its enormous number of elephants--amounting to 140 --to keep the field against the Romans: the last battle had shown that it was possible to make up for the want of good infantry to some extent by elephants and cavalry. The Romans also resumed the war in Sicily; the annihilation of their invading army had, as the voluntary evacuation of Clupea shows, at once restored ascendency in the senate to the party which was opposed to the war in Africa and was content with the gradual subjugation of the islands. But for this purpose too there was need of a fleet; and, since that which had conquered at Mylae, at Ecnomus, and at the Hermaean promontory was destroyed, they built a new one. Keels were at once laid down for 220 new vessels of war--they had never hitherto undertaken the building of so many simultaneously--and in the incredibly short space of three months they were all ready for sea. In the spring of 500 the Roman fleet, numbering 300 vessels mostly new, appeared on the north coast of Sicily; Panormus, the most important town in Carthaginian Sicily, was acquired through a successful attack from the seaboard, and the smaller places there, Soluntum, Cephaloedium, and Tyndaris, likewise fell into the hands of the Romans, so that along the whole north coast of the island Thermae alone was retained by the Carthaginians. Panormus became thenceforth one of the chief stations of the Romans in Sicily. The war by land, nevertheless, made no progress; the two armies stood face to face before Lilybaeum, but the Roman commanders, who knew not how to encounter the mass of elephants, made no attempt to compel a pitched battle.

In the ensuing year (501) the consuls, instead of pursuing sure advantages in Sicily, preferred to make an expedition to Africa, for the purpose not of landing but of plundering the coast towns. They accomplished their object without opposition; but, after having first run aground in the troublesome, and to their pilots unknown, waters of the Lesser Syrtis, whence they with difficulty got clear again, the fleet encountered a storm between Sicily and Italy, which cost more than 150 ships. On this occasion also the pilots, notwithstanding their representations and entreaties to be allowed to take the course along the coast, were obliged by command of the consuls to steer straight from Panormus across the open sea to Ostia.

Suspension Of The Maritime War Roman Victory At Panormus

Despondency now seized the fathers of the city; they resolved to reduce their war-fleet to sixty sail, and to confine the war by sea to the defence of the coasts, and to the convoy of transports. Fortunately, just at this time, the languishing war in Sicily took a more favourable turn. In the year 502, Thermae, the last point which the Carthaginians held on the north coast, and the important island of Lipara, had fallen into the hands of the Romans, and in the following year (summer of 503) the consul Lucius Caecilius Metellus achieved a brilliant victory over the army of elephants under the walls of Panormus. These animals, which had been imprudently brought forward, were wounded by the light troops of the Romans stationed in the moat of the town; some of them fell into the moat, and others fell back on their own troops, who crowded in wild disorder along with the elephants towards the beach, that they might be picked up by the Phoenician ships. One hundred and twenty elephants were captured, and the Carthaginian army, whose strength depended on these animals, was obliged once more to shut itself up in its fortresses. Eryx soon fell into the hands of the Romans (505), and the Carthaginians retained nothing in the island but Drepana and Lilybaeum. Carthage a second time offered peace; but the victory of Metellus and the exhaustion of the enemy gave to the more energetic party the upper hand in the senate.

Siege Of Lilybaeum

Peace was declined, and it was resolved to prosecute in earnest the siege of the two Sicilian cities and for this purpose to send to sea once more a fleet of 200 sail.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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