Ancient Warfare IX Issue 4: Clash of the Colossi - The First Punic War

Ancient Warfare IX Issue 4: Clash of the Colossi - The First Punic War

Ancient Warfare IX Issue 4: Clash of the Colossi - The First Punic War

The First Punic War was the first clash between the expanding Roman Empire and the long established Carthaginian Empire, then the dominant naval power in the Western Mediterranean. Despite probably not having any real experience of naval warfare, the Romans built a series of fleets and won control of the seas, allowing them to fight for control of Sicily and even launch a failed invasion of North Africa.

Ten articles and the introduction cover the main theme. These include two focusing on two of the rare major land battles of the war, two on war elephants, three on the naval aspects of the war, one on a lost source, one on battle speeches and one on an impressive piece of Carthaginian armour.

The article on the rams recovered from the site of the battle of the Aegates Islands is a valuable reminder that archaeology can sometimes alter our understanding of historical events. Eleven rams have been recovered so far, all much smaller than would be expected if they had come from the large quinqueremes that Polybius says were used during the First Punic War. However the article also perhaps reminds us of the limits of archaeology. These rams were smaller than the rams used on Athenian triremes, and the assumption made here is that they thus must have come from smaller ships. However those triremes were from a previous era, so it is possible that the larger Roman and Carthaginian warships had smaller rams. It is also possible that we are seeing a distorted picture – hundreds of ships were involved in the battle, so eleven rams isn't a very large sample. It is also possible that they did indeed come from smaller ships, but that these ships suffered a disproportionately large number of casualties in a battle dominated by larger vessels. However if this interpretation of the evidence is correct, then the battle was fought by much less impressive fleets than we currently believe.

I rather agree with the author of an article on the battle speeches reported by Polybius. Although these are sometimes dismissed as being a purely literary construct, on the grounds that no general could hope to be heard by enough of their men to make it worthwhile, the author makes a good case for their being fairly accurate. The men commanding these armies were normally also political leaders, with a background in oratory, so it seems unlikely that they wouldn't have taken the chance to use their skills. The examples given by Polybius tend to be in camps or other situations where the troops could be concentrated, so a reasonable number of men could here the speech. A more modern example could certainly be given – Napoleon addressing his troops at the Camp of Boulogne on the Channel Coast and again just before the battle of Austerlitz, once again in an age before audio amplification.

One unusual idea is the article on post traumatic stress disorder, and the possibility that it was present in Ancient Greece. This is presented as two parallel arguments, side by side on the page. Here I'm rather more convinced by the universalistic case, which suggests that cultures might have changed, but people's brains haven't, and gives clear examples from the ancient sources of warriors suffering from battlefield stress.

There is also a short story set during the later conquests of Alexander the Great, looking at one of the few defeats suffered by part of his army. This is an interesting twist, and an pleasant addition to the normal range of articles.

The First Punic War - Historical Introduction
Puzzling History - The fragments of Fabius Pictor
Ship builders wanted - The escalation of the war at sea
Charge! - A Carthaginian war elephant
Behemoths of the battlefield - Elephants in war
Besiegers besieged - Agrigentum, 262-261 BC
From the bottom of the sea floor - Finds from the Battle of the Aegates Islands
The rhetoric of conflict - Battle speeches of the First Punic War
War on the waves - The Battle of Cape Ecnomus
The Battle of Tunis, 255 BC - Rome's disaster in North Africa
The beautiful body - A cuirass from a Punic grave

Special Features
We left our dead at the Polytimetos - short story by Marcus Pailing
Like a bronze statue of Ares - An extra-heavy Archaic Greek hoplite
PTSD in ancient Greece - Did the ancients suffer from it?
Hollywood Romans - Quo Vadis (1951)

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