CHAPTER XII. FOREIGN CONQUEST.
ROME AND CARTHAGE. - FIRST PUNIC WAR. (264-241.) [Footnote: The word "Punic" is derived from Phoenici. The Carthaginians were said to have come originally from PHOENICIA, on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. Their first ruler was Dido. The Latin student is of course familiar with Virgil's story of Dido and Aenéas.]
While Rome was gradually enlarging her territory from Latium to the Straits of Messána, on the other shore of the Mediterranean, opposite Italy and less than one hundred miles from Sicily, sprang up, through industry and commerce, the Carthaginian power.
Like Rome, Carthage had an obscure beginning. As in the case of Rome, it required centuries to gain her power.
It was the policy of Carthage to make a successful revolt of her subdued allies an impossibility, by consuming all their energies in the support of her immense population and the equipment of her numerous fleets and armies. Hence all the surrounding tribes, once wandering nomads, were forced to become tillers of the soil; and, with colonies sent out by herself, they formed the so called Libyo- Phoenician population, open to the attack of all, and incapable of defence. Thus the country around Carthage was weak, and the moment a foreign enemy landed in Africa the war was merely a siege of its chief city.
The power of Carthage lay in her commerce. Through her hands passed the gold and pearls of the Orient; the famous Tyrian purple; ivory, slaves, and incense of Arabia; the silver of Spain; the bronze of Cyprus; and the iron of Elba.
But the harsh and gloomy character of the people, their cruel religion, which sanctioned human sacrifice, their disregard of the rights of others, their well known treachery, all shut them off from the higher civilization of Rome and Greece.
The government of Carthage was an ARISTOCRACY. A council composed of a few of high birth, and another composed of the very wealthy, managed the state. Only in times of extraordinary danger were the people summoned and consulted.
Rome had made two treaties with Carthage; one immediately after the establishment of the Republic, in 500, the other about 340. By these treaties commerce was allowed between Rome and its dependencies and Carthage and her possessions in Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. But the Romans were not to trade in Spain, or sail beyond the Bay of Carthage.
In leaving Sicily, Pyrrhus had exclaimed, "What a fine battle-field for Rome and Carthage!" If Carthage were mistress of this island, Rome would be shut up in her peninsula; if Rome were in possession of it, "the commerce of Carthage would be intercepted, and a good breeze of one night would carry the Roman fleets to her walls".
At this time the island was shared by three powers, - HIERO, king of Syracuse, the CARTHAGINIANS, and the MAMERTINES, a band of brigands who came from Campania. The latter, making Messána their head- quarters, had been pillaging all of the island that they could reach. Being shut up in Messána by Hiero, they asked aid of Rome on the ground that they were from Campania. Although Rome was in alliance with Hiero, and had but recently executed 300 mercenaries for doing in Rhegium what the Mamertines had done in Sicily, - she determined to aid them, for Sicily was a rich and tempting prey.
Meanwhile, however, through the intervention of the Carthaginians, a truce had been formed between Hiero and the brigands, and the siege of Messána was raised. The city itself was occupied by a fleet and garrison of Carthaginians under HANNO, The Romans, though the Mamertines no longer needed their aid, landed at Messána and dislodged the Carthaginians,
Thus opened the FIRST PUNIC WAR. The Romans at once formed a double alliance with Syracuse and Messána, thus gaining control of the eastern coast of Sicily and getting their first foothold outside of Italy.
The most important inland city of Sicily was AGRIGENTUM. Here the Carthaginians the next year (262) concentrated their forces under HANNIBAL, son of Cisco. The Romans besieged the city, but were themselves cut off from supplies by Hanno, who landed at Heracléa in their rear. Both besieged and besiegers suffered much. At last a battle was fought (262), in which the Romans were victorious, owing to their superior infantry. Agrigentum fell, and only a few strongholds on the coast were left to the Carthaginians.
The Romans now began to feel the need of a fleet. That of Carthage ruled the sea without a rival: it notonly controlled many of the seaports of Sicily, but also threatened Italy itself. With their usual energy, the Romans began the work. [Footnote: In 259, three years previous to the battle of Ecnomus, the Romans under Lucius Scipio captured Blesia, a seaport of Corsica, and established there a naval station.] A wrecked Carthaginian vessel was taken as a model, and by the spring of 260 a navy of 120 sail was ready for sea.
The ships were made the more formidable by a heavy iron beak, for the purpose of running down and sinking the enemy's vessels; a kind of hanging stage was also placed on the prow of the ship, which could be lowered in front or on either side. It was furnished on both sides with parapets, and had space for two men in front. On coming to close quarters with the enemy, this stage was quickly lowered and fastened to the opposing ship by means of grappling irons; thus the Roman marines were enabled to board with ease their opponents' ship, and fight as if on land.
Four naval battles now followed: 1st, near LIPARA (260); 2d, off MYLAE (260); 3d, off TYNDARIS (257); 4th, off ECNOMUS (256).
In the first of these only seventeen ships of the Romans were engaged under the CONSUL GNAEUS CORNELIUS SCIPIO. The fleet with its commander was captured.