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Hamilcar Barca

1st Punic war; Roman setbacks

255-249 bc

When the senate learned of Atilius's defeat near Carthago and of the group of escaped Romans besieged in Apsis they decided to rescue them. It is a bit odd though, the Romans in Apsis didn't sail away. A large part of the fleet must have been there. Strange is also, it took the Romans over a year before the rescue operation was effectuated. But the Romans sent a large fleet, that defeated a large Carthaginian fleet and took the men on board.

A mightier opponent
The consuls Ser. Fulvius Paetinus and M. Aemilius Paullus were warned to avoid the south coast of Sicily, because of the untrustworthy weather in that time of the year Polybius claims Sirius and Orion were visible, These stars are only visible during the winter. They wished however to impress some cities there and make them change sides Those cities were seemingly at that south coast.
So they sailed there, met a terrible storm and lost the larger part of their fleet. (Polybius talks about 80 surviving ships out of 346, but I don't believe in such large fleets.) But even with a loss of 100 ships (=45,000 men) this was a great disaster. Part of the cause were the ravens, which attributed to the instability of their vessels. The Romans certainly met their master, but it would take several years before they really understood the powers of the sea and weather.

More shipwrecks
Polybius claims the Romans rebuilt the fleet of 200 ships in only three months."An unbelievable achiefment", and I don't believe it. The new consuls sailed to Panormus besieged and conquered the city.

The next consuls Cn. Servilius Caepo and C. Sempronius Blaesus sailed along the north African coast and got stranded, but on high tide they got their ships floating again. They returned to Panormus and from there directly to Rome. That means not along the coast as they should have. They too met a storm and lost over 100 ships. But still they didn't get it.

Battle of Drepanum
On the island the Romans conquered bit by bit the larger part of Sicily, but as long as the cities with a port to the sea could be supplied by the Carthaginian ships they couldn't win the war.
In 249 bc consul P. Claudius Pulcher decided to attack the Carthaginian fleet in the harbour of Drepanum (Drepana modern Trapani). He did this in such a stupid way, that he had lost the battle before it started.
His colleague L. Iunius Pullus would loose the other half of the fleet in yet another storm.

No more fleets
Now the senate decided not to rebuild the fleet again, but give up Sicily was out of the question, but without a fleet from now on.

    Zeus with ligtning bolt    

Zeus hurling his lightning


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