The next great storm, accordingly, completely annihilated the two Roman fleets in their wretched roadsteads, while the Phoenician admiral easily weathered it on the open sea with his unencumbered and well-managed ships. The Romans, however, succeeded in saving the greater part of the crews and cargoes (505).

Perplexity Of The Romans

The Roman senate was in perplexity. The war had now reached its sixteenth year; and they seemed to be farther from their object in the sixteenth than in the first. In this war four large fleets had perished, three of them with Roman armies on board; a fourth select land army had been destroyed by the enemy in Libya; to say nothing of the numerous losses which had been occasioned by the minor naval engagements, and by the battles, and still more by the outpost warfare and the diseases, of Sicily.

What a multitude of human lives the war swept away may be seen from the fact, that the burgess-roll merely from 502 to 507 decreased by about 40,000, a sixth part of the entire number; and this does not include the losses of the allies, who bore the whole brunt of the war by sea, and, in addition, at least an equal proportion with the Romans of the warfare by land. Of the financial loss it is not possible to form any conception; but both the direct damage sustained in ships and -materiel-, and the indirect injury through the paralyzing of trade, must have been enormous. An evil still greater than this was the exhaustion of all the methods by which they had sought to terminate the war. They had tried a landing in Africa with their forces fresh and in the full career of victory, and had totally failed. They had undertaken to storm Sicily town by town; the lesser places had fallen, but the two mighty naval strongholds of Lilybaeum and Drepana stood more invincible than ever. What were they to do? In fact, there was to some extent reason for despondency. The fathers of the city became faint-hearted; they allowed matters simply to take their course, knowing well that a war protracted without object or end was more pernicious for Italy than the straining of the last man and the last penny, but without that courage and confidence in the nation and in fortune, which could demand new sacrifices in addition to those that had already been lavished in vain. They dismissed the fleet; at the most they encouraged privateering, and with that view placed the war- vessels of the state at the disposal of captains who were ready to undertake a piratical warfare on their own account. The war by land was continued nominally, because they could not do otherwise; but they were content with observing the Sicilian fortresses and barely maintaining what they possessed,--measures which, in the absence of a fleet, required a very numerous army and extremely costly preparations.

Now, if ever, the time had come when Carthage was in a position to humble her mighty antagonist. She, too, of course must have felt some exhaustion of resources; but, in the circumstances, the Phoenician finances could not possibly be so disorganized as to prevent the Carthaginians from continuing the war--which cost them little beyond money--offensively and with energy. The Carthaginian government, however, was not energetic, but on the contrary weak and indolent, unless impelled to action by an easy and sure gain or by extreme necessity. Glad to be rid of the Roman fleet, they foolishly allowed their own also to fall into decay, and began after the example of the enemy to confine their operations by land and sea to the petty warfare in and around Sicily.

Petty War In Sicily Hamilcar Barcas

Thus there ensued six years of uneventful warfare (506-511), the most inglorious in the history of this century for Rome, and inglorious also for the Carthaginian people. One man, however, among the latter thought and acted differently from his nation. Hamilcar, named Barak or Barcas (i. e. lightning), a young officer of much promise, took over the supreme command in Sicily in the year 507. His army, like every Carthaginian one, was defective in a trustworthy and experienced infantry; and the government, although it was perhaps in a position to create such an infantry and at any rate was bound to make the attempt, contented itself with passively looking on at its defeats or at most with nailing the defeated generals to the cross. Hamilcar resolved to take the matter into his own hands. He knew well that his mercenaries were as indifferent to Carthage as to Rome, and that he had to expect from his government not Phoenician or Libyan conscripts, but at the best a permission to save his country with his troops in his own way, provided it cost nothing. But he knew himself also, and he knew men. His mercenaries cared nothing for Carthage; but a true general is able to substitute his own person for his country in the affections of his soldiers; and such an one was this young commander. After he had accustomed his men to face the legionaries in the warfare of outposts before Drepana and Lilybaeum, he established himself with his force on Mount Ercte (Monte Pellegrino near Palermo), which commands like a fortress the neighbouring country; and making them settle there with their wives and children, levied contributions from the plains, while Phoenician privateers plundered the Italian coast as far as Cumae. He thus provided his people with copious supplies without asking money from the Carthaginians, and, keeping up the communication with Drepana by sea, he threatened to surprise the important town of Panormus in his immediate vicinity. Not only were the Romans unable to expel him from his stronghold, but after the struggle had lasted awhile at Ercte, Hamilcar formed for himself another similar position at Eryx. This mountain, which bore half-way up the town of the same name and on its summit the temple of Aphrodite, had been hitherto in the hands of the Romans, who made it a basis for annoying Drepana. Hamilcar deprived them of the town and besieged the temple, while the Romans in turn blockaded him from the plain.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book