The Western Meditterranean in 264 BC at the onset of the First Punic War
Rome and Carthage were on friendly terms in the early days of the Republic, signing treaties and alliances. Between 288-83 B.C., Messana (now Messina) in Sicily was taken by Mamertine mercenaries1, until their defeat in around 269-265 BC. At this time, Sicily was still under the control of Greece and Carthage, who had been at war over this region since 580 BC. Rome got involved when the remaining Mamertines appealed to the Republic for help to regain independence, leading to much deliberation between the senators. After promises of booty by Consul Appius Claudius Caudex, the Tribal Assembly voted to break its peace treaty, which clearly forbade Sicily to Rome, and this led to the first Punic War between 264-241A.D.
Consul Appius Claudius Roman Beach Attack during the 1st Punic War Hiero II of Syracuse
The war began when two Roman Legions under the command of Consul Appius invaded Sicily in 264 BC and conquered the Carthaginian-controlled city of Messina, granting them a military foothold on the Island. Rome's conflict with its Carthaginian adversaries under the command of Hannibal Gisco, and Gisco's Hellenistic allies led by Hiero II of Syracuse dragged on for over two decades, with most confrontations being held at sea. Having understood the importance of naval power, the Romans modelled their fleet on that of their enemies and built a navy to challenge Carthage, then the greatest maritime power in the Mediterranean.
The First Punic War was characterised by several Naval Battles between Roman & Carthaginian Forces
The ensuing naval battles coupled with storms led the destruction of some 700 Roman and 500 Carthaginian warships, known as quinqueremes, with huge loss if life on both sides. The first Punic war dragged on for twenty three years, with command of the sea swaying repeatedly between the confronting powers. It was during this war that Malta was first attacked by the Romans in around 257 BC, when Rome was still a Republic, and Malta a Carthaginian outpost. The raid by Consul Gaius Atilius Regulus brought much devastation to the Islands, but they remained in Carthaginian hands.
Roman soldiers from the time of the first & second Punic Wars
The attack on Malta was followed by a large naval battle off the southern coast of Sicily in 256 BC which was won by the Romans. This led to the invasion of the North African Coast with more Roman victories at Aspis and Adys. The campaign ended in disaster when the Roman army was destroyed in battle by the Carthaginians and their Spartan mercenaries at the Bagradas River2 in 255 BC, with consul Marcus Atilius Regulus taken prisoner and eventually executed.3 Despite this setback, the Romans persisted and turned their attention to Sicily. A new fleet was built and put under the command of consul Gaius Lutatius Catulus. Gaius Lutatius confronted and destroyed the Carthaginian fleet led by Admiral Hanno at the Aegates Islands off the western coast of Sicily in 241 AD, forcing the cut-off Carthaginian troops on the Island to give up.
Roman defeat at the Battle of the Bagradas River in 255 BC & Roman victory at the naval Battle off Aegates in 241 BC
These events brought an end to the first Punic War with the signing of a peace treaty and vast reparations imposed by the victorious Romans. Despite the end of Carthaginian rule in Sicily, and its annexation as a Roman Province in 241 AD, the Maltese Islands were left under Punic control. Tensions remained high and the Romans proceeded by seizing Sardinia and Corsica, in total disregard of the recently signed treaty. The seeds of war had readily been sown with the unresolved strategic competition between Rome and Carthage inevitably leading to the eruption of a second Punic War between 218-201 BC. Roman Co-Consul Tiberius Sempronius Longus was sent to Africa with a large fleet of 160 Quinqueremes. This campaign led to a second invasion of Malta in 218 BC.
Tiberius Sempronius Longus Carthaginian Officer & Civilian Militia Man Titus Livius
According to Roman writer and historian Livy, Hamilcar, commander of the Punic garrison of 2000 men surrendered without resistance to Co-Consul Tiberius Sempronius Longus, effectively ending Carthaginian rule in Malta. But Rome itself would eventually be threatened by the Carthaginians when their able commander, Hannibal Barka invaded Italy by crossing the Alps. Despite several crushing victories over the Romans, the setbacks were eventually reverse ending in Carthagian defeat in 201 BC in the third and last Punic War, fought between 149-146 BC. Very little is known about the Roman garrison left behind in Malta or others that followed over the coming centuries.
1. The Mamertines hailed from the Campania region in mainland Italy. The term translates to "Sons of Mars". 2, The Bagradas River is situated in modern day Tunis. Only 2.000 Roman men managed to retreat from the original force of 15,500 after Spartan mercenary general Xanthippus attacked the Roman infantry with cavalry and elephants. Another 500 men including Consul Marcus were taken prisoner, 3. Marcus Atilius Regulus is thought to have been a cousin of Gaius Atilius Regulus, the consul who raided Malta in 257 BC.
Punic Wars - Wikipedia.org & Brittanica.com The Sons of Mars - Erich B. Anderson via Historytoday.com The Carthaginian Army - Realmofhistory,com Gaius & Marcus Atilius Regulus - Wikipedia.org Six Key Battles that Decided the First Punic War - Patrick Lynch via Historycollection.com The Origin of the Name of Gozo - H.C.R. Vella via Um.edu.mt
Images The Western Mediterranean in 264 BC - Wikiwand.com
Roman vs Punico-Hellenistic Forces in the 1st Punic War - Saico via Wikipedia/org / The Creative Assembly via Worldhistory.org / Look & Learn by G.F. Hill (Macmillan) via Mediastorehouse.com Punic-Roman Naval Encounter - Northwindprints.com The Roman Army during the 1st Punic War - Realmofhistory.com Battle of Bagradas & Naval Battle off Aegates - Mark Beerdom via Pinterest.com / Historycollection.com Tiberius/ Carthaginian Officer & Militia Man / Livy - Pinterest.com /Johnny Shumate & Steve Noon via Realmofhistory.com / Britannica.com
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