The 1st Punic War

Ancient ruins of Carthage.
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One of the problems with writing ancient history is that much of the data just isn't available any longer.

"The evidence for early Roman history is notoriously problematic. Roman historians developed extensive narratives, preserved most fully for us in two histories written in the late first century bc, by Livy and by Dionysius of Halicarnassus (the latter in Greek, and fully extant only for the period down to 443 bc). However, Roman historical writing only began in the late third century bc, and it is clear that the early accounts were greatly elaborated by later writers. For the period of the kings, most of what we are told is legend or imaginative reconstruction."
"Warfare and the Army in Early Rome,"
A Companion to the Roman Army

Eyewitnesses are in particularly short supply. Even second-hand accounts can be hard to come by, so it's significant that in their A History of Rome, historians M. Cary and H.H. Scullard say that unlike earlier periods of Rome, the history of the period of the First Punic War comes from annalists who had contact with actual eye-witnesses.

Rome and Carthage fought the Punic Wars during the span of years from 264 to 146 B.C. With both sides well-matched, the first two wars dragged on and on; eventual victory went, not to the winner of a decisive battle, but to the side with the greatest stamina. The Third Punic War was something else entirely.

Carthage and Rome

In 509 B.C. Carthage and Rome signed a friendship treaty. In 306, by which time the Romans had conquered almost the entire Italian peninsula, the two powers reciprocally recognized a Roman sphere of influence over Italy and a Carthaginian one over Sicily. But Italy was determined to secure dominance over all of Magna Graecia (the areas settled by Greeks in and around Italy), even if it meant interfering with the dominance of Carthage in Sicily.

The First Punic Wars Begin

Turmoil in Messana, Sicily, provided the opportunity the Romans were looking for. Mamertine mercenaries controlled Messana, so when Hiero, tyrant of Syracuse, attacked the Mamertines, the Mamertines asked the Phoenicians for help. They obliged and sent in a Carthaginian garrison. Then, having second thoughts about the Carthaginian military presence, the Mamertines turned to the Romans for help. The Romans sent in an expeditionary force, small, but sufficient to send the Phoenician garrison back to Carthage.

Carthage responded by sending in a larger force, to which the Romans responded with a full consular army. In 262 B.C. Rome won many small victories, giving it control over almost the entire island. But the Romans needed control of the sea for final victory and Carthage was a naval power.

The First Punic War Concludes

With both sides balanced, the war between Rome and Carthage continued for 20 more years until the war-weary Phoenicians just gave up in 241.

According to J.F. Lazenby, author of The First Punic War, "To Rome, wars ended when the Republic dictated its terms to a defeated enemy; to Carthage, wars ended with a negotiated settlement." At the end of the First Punic War, Rome won a new province, Sicily, and began to look further. (This made the Romans empire builders.) Carthage, on the other hand, had to compensate Rome for its heavy losses. Although the tribute was steep, it didn't keep Carthage from continuing as a world-class trading power.


Frank Smitha The Rise of Rome

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Gill, N.S. "The 1st Punic War." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 27). The 1st Punic War. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The 1st Punic War." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).