The first Roman naval triumph against the Carthaginians

Here we present an excerpt from Polybius’ book ‘The Histories‘ (The Loeb Classical Library).

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“As for Gaius Duilius (Note: commander of the land forces), no sooner had he learnt
of the disaster which had befallen the commander of the naval forces (Note: Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio) than handing over his legions to the military tribunes he proceeded to the fleet.

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Learning that the enemy were ravaging the territory of Mylae, he sailed against them with his whole force. The Carthaginians on sighting him put to sea with a hundred and thirty sail, quite overjoyed and eager, as they despised the inexperience of the Romans. They all sailed straight on the enemy, not even thinking it worth while to maintain order in the attack, but just as if they were falling on a prey that was obviously theirs. They were commanded by Hannibal the same who stole out of Agrigentum by night with his army in the sevenbanked galley that was formerly King Pyrrhus’. On approaching and seeing the ravens nodding aloft on the prow of each ship, the Carthaginians were at first nonplussed, being surprised at the construction of the engines. However, as they entirely gave the enemy up for lost, the front ships attacked daringly.

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But when the ships that came into collision were in every case held fast by the machines, and the Roman crews boarded by means of the ravens and attacked them hand to hand on deck, some of the Carthaginians were cut down and others surrendered from dismay at what was happening, the battle having become just like a fight on land. So the first thirty ships that engaged were taken with all their crews, including the commander’s galley, Hannibal himself managing to escape beyond his hopes by a miracle in the jolly-boat. The rest of the Carthaginian force was bearing up as if to charge the enemy, but seeing, as they approached, the fate of the advanced ships they turned aside and avoided the blows of the engines. Trusting in their swiftness, they veered round the enemy in the hope of being able to strike him in safety either on the broadside or on the stern, but when the ravens swung round and plunged down in all directions and in all manner of ways so that those who approached them were of necessity grappled, they finally gave way and took to flight, terror-stricken by this novel experience and with the loss of fifty ships.”

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Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus

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