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Foreign Wars (3rd century BC)

First Punic War (264 - 241 BC) and

its Aftermath (238 - 221 BC)


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Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

Rome had first engaged with the Carthaginians in 264 BC, in order to end their potentially threatening presence in Sicilia (Sicily).  According to John Lazenby (referenced below, at p. 19), this First Punic War, which lasted for 23 years:

  1. “... was the greatest naval war in ancient history, ... [from which] Rome emerged as the most powerful naval state in the Mediterranean ...”.  


King Hiero II, the king of the ancient Greek city-state of Syracuse at the south east of the island, was initially allied with the Carthaginians.  The well-defended nature of Syracuse placed him in a powerful position and, once the Romans under M' Valerius Maximus demonstrated their ability to take other, less well defended cities, he changed his allegiance and signed a 15-year treaty with Rome.  The fasti Capitolini record that, in this year:

  1. “M'. Valerius M.f. M.n. Maximus Messalla, consul,  [triumphed] over the Carthaginians and Hiero king of the Sicilians”

As Tenney Frank (referenced below, at p. 56) summarised, from this point:

  1. “The Syracusan state with its subject cities became an [independent] ‘amicus’ of Rome, and Messana and some of the other cities that  had been independent before Rome’s arrival [on the island] became socii.  The whole western portion, [previously] tributary to Carthage, now by right of conquest, became tributary to Rome. ... [Thus, in 242 BC], Rome secured her first subject province ... .”


[The war dragged on the Romans finally emerged as victors until 241 BC - expand].  The treaty that the they imposed on the Carthaginians was punitive: according to Polybius:

  1. “At the close of the war, ... [the Romans and Carthaginians] made another treaty, the clauses of which [include the following]:

  2. ‘The Carthaginians are to:

  3. evacuate the whole of Sicily and all the islands between Italy and Sicily ... ; and

  4. pay 2,200 talents within 10 years, and a sum of 1,ooo talents at once ....’”, (‘Histories’, 3: 27: 1-6)

Lazenby estimated that these payments amounted to over 80 tonnes of silver.

The Carthaginians consequently found themselves unable to pay the mercenaries who had served with their army during the war.  These mercenaries duly mutinied and marched on Carthage, and this precipitated a revolt (the so-called Mercenary War) that drew in a number of the Carthaginian’s erstwhile African allies.  As the Carthaginians finally began to regain control in 238 BC, the rebels on Sardinia offered the island to Rome.  Polybius recorded that, despite their treaty obligations:

  1. “The Romans, ... on the invitation of the mercenaries who had deserted to them from Sardinia, undertook an expedition to that island.  When the Carthaginians objected on the ground that the sovereignty of Sardinia was theirs rather than Rome's and began preparations for punishing those who were the cause of its revolt, the Romans made this the pretext of declaring war on them, alleging that the preparations were not against Sardinia, but against themselves.  The Carthaginians, who had barely escaped destruction in the last war, were in every respect ill-fitted at this moment to resume hostilities with Rome.  Yielding therefore to circumstances, they not only gave up Sardinia, but also agreed to pay a further sum of1,200 talents to the Romans to avoid going to war for the present”, (‘Histories’, 1: 88: 8-12).

According to Eve Macdonald (referenced below, at p. 59):

  1. “The Romans justified their actions by arguing that, since Sardinia lay in close proximity to the Italian coast, the island could be used for any future attack on Rome.  It seems that, in the Roman view, the hostilities between the two states were far from over.  To the Carthaginians, the Roman seizure of Sardinia was a great betrayal, a humiliation, and a cynical move at a time of great hardship.”

Polybius made no mention of Corsica, but there is evidence that the Romans considered it as a Carthaginian possession at this time: thus, according to Zonaras, during the war, the consul of 259 BC, Lucius Cornelius Scipio had:

  1. “... made a campaign against Sardinia and against Corsica.  These islands are situated in the Tyrrhenian sea and lie so near together that from a distance they seem to be one”, (‘Epitome of Cassius Dio’, 8:11).

Livy was explicit about the involvement of the Carthaginians in these engagements:

  1. “Consul Lucius Cornelius Scipio fought successfully in Sardinia and Corsica against the Sardinians, the Corsicans and the Carthaginian commander Hanno”, (‘Periochae’, 17: 4).

Since the Romans clearly laid claim to Corsica by 231 BC, when the fasti Triumphales record that the consul Caius Papirius Maso celebrated a triumph over the Corsicans on the Alban Mount, scholars usually assume that this claim dated back to the settlement with Carthage of 238 BC. 

The Romans gained no immediate benefit from the expulsion of the Carthaginians from Sardinia and Corsica: as Gareth Sampson (referenced below, at p. 25) observed:

  1. “... removing Carthage’s claims ... was one thing, but actually securing the territory was another. ... Carthage may have stepped aside without a fight, the Sicilians may have capitulated without much struggle, but the same cannot be said of the native inhabitants of Sardinia and Corsica, who were determined to resist any outside rule.”

Thus, as we shall see below, the Romans spent much of the 230s BC on the pacification of the Sardinians and the Corsicans, together with their Ligurian allies.  Meanwhile, the Carthaginians embarked upon another potentially threatening undertaking: the conquest of Hispania.

Coloniae Maritimae (ca. 264 - 241 BC)

Graham Mason (referenced below, at p. 75) noted that:

  1. “Between the end of the Latin War in 338 B. C. and the end of the First Punic War in 241 BC, Rome founded her first ten citizen colonies:

  2. Ostia; Antium; Tarracina, Minturnae; Sinuessa; Sena Gallica;

  3. [followed by the four under discussion here]: Castrum Novum; Pyrgi, Alsium; and Fregenae;

  4. in approximate order of foundation.”

Velleius Paterculus gave the foundation dates of three of these last four:

  1. “[Castrum Novum was founded] at the outbreak of the First Punic War; ... Alsium 17 years later [i.e. in 247 BC]; and Fregenae [in 245 BC]”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 14: 8). 

Graham Mason observed (at pp. 82-3) that all four:

  1. “... were [located] in the ager Caeretanus, a coastal strip ceded by Caere after a failed Etruscan revolt in [ca. 280 BC].”

Each of the ten colonies in Mason’s list appears in one or both lists of coloniae maritimae recorded by Livy: in the case of the four under discussion here:

  1. In 207 BC, when the Romans realised that Hasdrubal, the brother of Hannibal, was about to cross the Alps into Italy and open up a second front in the on-going Hannibalic War:

  2. “... the consuls ... compelled even the men of the ‘colonia maritimae’, who, it was said, had an inviolable exemption [from conscription], to furnish soldiers.  When they refused, the consuls named a date for them to report to the Senate on what basis each state claimed exemption”, (‘History of Rome’, 27: 38: 1-4).

  3. His list of the seven colonies whose representatives came before the Senate on the following day included Alsium (but none of Castrum Novum, Pyrgi and Fregenae).

  4. In 191 BC BC, when the Romans decided to send an army to Greece against King Antiochus:

  5. “Whilst [the praetor Caius Livius Salinator] was doing his utmost to make the fleet ready for sea, he was delayed for some time by a dispute with the citizens of the ‘colonia maritimae’. ... The [eight] colonies concerned [included]: Fregenae; Castrum Novum,; Pyrgi, ...[but not Alsium]”, (‘History of Rome’, 36: 3: 3-5).

There is some uncertainty as to the identity of the Castrum Novum recorded by Velleius Paterculus and by Livy (in 191 BC), since there were two broadly contemporary colonies of this name:

  1. at modern Giulianova, on the Adriatic; and

  2. at modern Santa Marinella, under discussion here.

However, since, in both of these records, Castrum Novum is listed with other coloniae maritimae on the Tyrrhenian, we might reasonably assume that both sources refer to the colony of this name at Santa Marinella. 

Livy described only the eight coloniae maritimae of his later list as citizen colonies, but there is sufficient overlap between his two lists to suggest that this was true of all ten (including Alsium).  It is usually assumed that they each each received 300 new colonists, each of whom received 2 iugera of land.  In fact, we have documentary evidence for this only at Tarracina (and at three of the eight citizen colonies founded on coastal sites in ca. 194 BC).  However, Graham Mason (referenced below, at p. 80) observed that, despite the absence of information for the other nine:

  1. “... there is no weighty reason to dispute the numbers [300 colonists and 2 iugera per colonist] ... , especially since the [areas enclosed by those] original castrum walls that can be traced at .. [for example,] Minturnae and Pyrgi are about the right size for ...  300 colonists.”

In short, we might reasonably assume that each of Castrum Novum at Santa Marinella, Pyrgi, Alsium and Fregenae was a citizen colony, and that each received some 300 colonists who were each allotted 2 iugera of land.

The timing of the foundations of these four colonies suggests that, at least initially, their function was primarily defensive: in particular, Velleius Paterculus associated the foundation of Castrum Novum with the outbreak of the First Punic War.  Furthermore, the Romans founded very few colonies of any kind during the war: indeed, Pyrgi, Alsium; and Fregenae were the only colonies that they founded between 263 BC (Aesernia) and 243 BC (Brundisium), which suggests that, despite the presence of the colony at Cosa, this part of the coast was deemed to be at particular risk.  However, military considerations might not have been the single determinant of the decision to found these colonies.  Unlike Cosa, they were citizen colonies, and it might be that, in the longer term, the Romans wished to promote the citizen settlement of this tract of ager publicus.  The colonists would certainly have cultivated the land allotted to them.  However, as Graham Mason (referenced below, at p. 87) pointed out:

  1. “All the ten coloniae maritimae, with only perhaps one exception [presumably Fregenae - see below], were established in areas where careful agriculture at subsistence level or better would and did thrive.  An agrarian role for all these colonies was both possible and essential ... The 2 iugera individual allotments were never meant to be the only land available to the colonists; [they would also have had the use of non-distributed public land].”

In other words, the colonists might well have facilitated the agricultural use of the ager publicus, perhaps creating  a model for future viritane settlers.  This hypothesis is possibly supported by the fact that, as discussed below, Caere itself was constituted at some point as a prefecture (the seat of a Roman prefect who would administer the legal affairs of citizens in the vicinity).

Graham Mason(referenced below, pp. 81-3) summarised:

  1. “[The] ancient references to the sites [of the ten coloniae maritimae], their agricultural fertility and subsequent general prosperity in the later Republic and Empire.   [In the case of] the four  ...  in the ager Caeretanus:

  2. Castrum Novum ... was apparently a new site [and] appears little in history ....

  3. Pyrgi was placed in an area of longstanding Etruscan wealth.  It seems never to have grown large, [but] served as a small port for the area of Caere.

  4. Alsium was never large and has limited historical record ... From the time of Pompey until [after that of] Marcus Aurelius, it was a favoured villa resort area: clearly agriculture on a fair scale was possible.

  5. Fregenae, about midway between Alsium and the mouth of the Tiber, apparently did not thrive and faded somewhat after the founding of Portus [closer to Rome, on the right bank of the Tiber, in 42 AD],   According to Silius Italicus, the site was marshy and unhealthy [and] it did not prosper as a town ...”

The remark by Silius Italicus was to the effect that the Roman army at the Battle of Cannae (216 BC) included a contingent of:

  1. “... Etruscan warriors  ... The choicest of their men were sent by Caere and Cortona ... , and by  ancient Graviscae.  Alsium too sent men .... ; and Fregenae, girt about by a barren plain.” (‘Punica’, 8:458).

This poem, which is not renowned for its historical accuracy, can nevertheless be relied on in relation to its topographical details, which would relate tothe time of writing (in the late 1st century AD.  Thus we  might reasonably assume that the territory of Fregenae had become infertile by this time.  Nevertheless, Pliny the Elder included all four of these coastal centres in his account of the Augustan seventh region (by which time, they would have been constituted as municipia):

  1. “... Castrum Novum; Pyrgi, the river Caeretanus and Caere, which is 4 miles inland ... ; Alsium; Fregenae; and [then] the river Tiber ...” (‘Natural History’, 3: 8). 

Aftermath of the First Punic War (238 - 221 BC)


Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

Revolt of the Carthaginian Mercenaries (238 BC)

The treaty that the Romans imposed on the Carthaginians at the end of the First Punic War was punitive: according to Polybius:

  1. “At the close of the war, ... [the Romans and Carthaginians] made another treaty, the clauses of which [include the following]:

  2. ‘The Carthaginians are to: evacuate the whole of Sicily and all the islands between Italy and Sicily ... ; and pay 2,200 talents within 10 years, and a sum of 1,ooo talents at once ....’”, (‘Histories’, 3: 27: 1-6).

Lazenby estimated that these payments amounted to over 80 tonnes of silver.  The Carthaginians consequently found themselves unable to pay the mercenaries who had served with their army during the war.  These mercenaries duly mutinied and marched on Carthage, and this precipitated a revolt (the so-called Mercenary War) that drew in a number of the Carthaginian’s erstwhile African allies. 

Roman Appropriation of Sardinia and Corsica (238 BC)

As the Carthaginians finally began to regain control in 238 BC, the rebels on Sardinia offered the island to Rome.  Polybius recorded that, despite their treaty obligations:

  1. “The Romans, ... on the invitation of the mercenaries who had deserted to them from Sardinia, undertook an expedition to that island.  When the Carthaginians objected on the ground that the sovereignty of Sardinia was rather their own than Rome's, and began preparations for punishing those who were the cause of its revolt, the Romans made this the pretext of declaring war on them, alleging that the preparations were not against Sardinia, but against themselves.  The Carthaginians, who had barely escaped destruction in the last war, were in every respect ill-fitted at this moment to resume hostilities with Rome. Yielding therefore to circumstances, they not only gave up Sardinia, but also agreed to pay a further sum of 1,200 talents to the Romans to avoid going to war for the present”, (‘Histories’, 1: 88: 8-12)

According to Eve Macdonald (referenced below, at p. 59):

  1. “The Romans justified their actions by arguing that Sardinia lay in close proximity to the Italian coast, which meant that the island could be used for any future attack on Rome.  It seems that, in the Roman view, the hostilities between the two states were far from over.  To the Carthaginians, the Roman seizure of Sardinia was a great betrayal, a humiliation, and a cynical move at a time of great hardship.”

Polybius made no mention of Corsica, but there is evidence that the Romans considered it as a Carthaginian possession at this time: thus, according to Zonaras, during the war, the consul of 259 BC, Lucius Cornelius Scipio had:

  1. “... made a campaign against Sardinia and against Corsica.  These islands are situated in the Tyrrhenian sea and lie so near together that from a distance they seem to be one”, (‘Epitome of Cassius Dio’, 8:11).

Livy was explicit about the involvement of the Carthaginians in these engagements:

  1. “Consul L. Cornelius Scipio fought successfully in Sardinia and Corsica against the Sardinians, Corsicans and the Carthaginian commander Hanno”, (Periochae, 20). 

Since the Romans clearly laid claim to Corsica by 231 BC, when the Fasti Triumphales record that the consul C. Papirius Maso celebrated a triumph over the Corsicans on the Alban Mount, scholars usually assume that this claim dated back to the settlement with Carthage of 238 BC. 

The Romans gained no immediate benefit from the expulsion of the Carthaginians from Sardinia and Corsica: as Gareth Sampson (referenced below, at p. 25) observed:

  1. “... removing Carthage’s claims ... was one thing, but actually securing the territory was another. ... Carthage may have stepped aside without a fight , the Sicilians may have capitulated without much struggle, but the same cannot be said of the native inhabitants of Sardinia and Corsica, who were determined to resist any outside rule.”

As we shall see below, the Romans spent much of the 230s BC on the pacification of the Sardinians and the Corsicans, together with their Ligurian allies.  Meanwhile, the Carthaginians embarked upon another potentially threatening undertaking: the conquest of Hispania.

Carthaginian Expansion into Hispania (237 - 221 BC)

Hamilcar Barca (237 - 229 BC)

In 237 BC, at the end of the Mercenary War, Hamilcar Barca (who had apparently emerged from the wars in a strong political position) began to consolidate the Carthaginian presence in the southern part of the Iberian peninsular, with his base of operations at Gades (Cadiz).   Eve Macdonald (referenced below, at p. 63) observed that:

  1. “The [subsequent] Carthaginian conquest of Iberia and the creation of this new province set in motion a chain of events that culminated in the start of the Second Punic War and Hannibal’s invasion of Italy.”

Only a single fragment from Cassius Dio suggests that the Romans entertained any concerns about this development during Hamilcar’s lifetime:

  1. “On one occasion in the consulship of Marcus Pomponius and] Caius Papirius [231 BC, they] sent envoys to investigate the movements of Hamilcar, in spite of the fact that they had no interests in Hispania as yet.  Hamilcar showed them all due honour and offered them plausible explanations, declaring, among other things, that he was obliged to fight against the [tribes of Hispania] in order that the money that was still owed to the Romans might be paid; for it was impossible to obtain it from any other source.  The envoys were consequently embarrassed to know how to censure him”, (Fragment 48).

This reply would have been particularly resonant in 231 BC, when Carthage was due to complete the payment of the reparations owed to Rome.

Hasdrubal ‘the Fair’ (220 - 221 BC)

When Hamilcar died in ca. 229 BC, his son-in-law and successor, Hasdrubal, continued this process of expansion, creating a new capital at Carthago Nova (New Carthage, modern Cartagena).  According to Polybius, in 226 BC:

  1. “Seeing [Hasdrubal] strengthening the Carthaginian influence in Hispania,  ... the Romans were anxious to interfere in the politics of that country. ... However, they did not immediately venture to impose conditions or make war [there] because they were in almost daily dread of an attack from the [tribes of Transalpine and Cisalpine Gaul].  They therefore decided to mollify Hasdrubal  ... and to leave themselves free to attack the [Gauls] first ...  Accordingly, they sent envoys to Hasdrubal and made a treaty with him, by which the Carthaginians ... engaged not to cross the river Iber in arms, while pushing on with the war with the [Gauls] in Italy”, (‘Histories’, 2: 13).

The ‘Iber’ is usually assumed to be the river now known as the Ebro, which is marked ‘Iber ?’ on the map at the top of the page. 

The Romans’ purpose in establishing it as the limit of the Carthaginian sphere of influence was presumably to deter them from participating in the expected Gallic War. 


  1. Read more: 

E. Macdonald, “Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life”, (2018) New Haven and London

G. Sampson, “Rome Spreads Her Wings: Territorial Expansion Between the Punic Wars”, (2016) Barnsley

G. Mason, “The Agrarian Role of Coloniae Maritimae: 338-241 BC”, Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 41:1 (1992)  75-87

J. F. Lazenby, “Hannibal's War: A Military History of the Second Punic War”, (1978) Warminster


Foreign Wars (3rd century BC)


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