Roman Republic

Foreign Wars (3rd century BC)

First Punic War (264 - 241 BC) and

its Aftermath (238 - 221 BC)

Western Mediterranean in 264 BC (adapted from this page in Wikipedia)

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 ...”.  

It began on 264 BC, when the Romans crossed from Rhegium to Messana at the request of the Mamerines, who were in dispute with their neighbour, Hiero II, the king of the ancient Greek city-state of Syracuse. At his point, Hiero maintained good relations with the Carthaginians, who occupied almost all of the other territory on Sicily.  The city of Syracuse was famously impregnable, but, 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 ... .”

Course of the War

Sicily during the First Punic War(adapted from this page in Wikipedia)

[The war dragged on the Romans finally emerged as victors until 241 BC - expand]. 


The fasti Triumphales recorded that C. Duilius , the consul of 260 BC, was awarded the first naval triumph in Roman history for his victory over the Sicilians and the Carthaginians.  Christopher Dart and Frederik Vervaet (referenced below, at p, 70, citing Tanja Itgenshorst, referenced below, at note 2) noted that this was the first of eleven naval triumphs recorded in the extant fasti, and that another six of the eleven  were awarded during the First Punic War:

  1. 257 BC: C. Atilius Regulus, as consul, over the Carthaginians;

  2. 256 BC: L. Manlius Vulso Longus, as consul, over the Carthaginians;

  3. 254 BC: Ser. Fulvius Paetinus Nobilior and M. Aemilius Paullus, both proconsuls, over the Carthaginians, (each alongside  a ‘regular’ triumph over the people of the island of Cossyra, near Malta); and

  4. 241 BC: C. Lutatius Catulus, as proconsul, over the Sicilians and the Carthaginians; and Cn. Octaviuss, as  propraetor, over the Sicilians

The treaty that the Romans 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. 

Province of Sicily

Polybius characterised the First Punic War as:

  1. “... the war between the Romans and Carthaginians for the possession of Sicily ...”, (‘Histories’, 1: 63: 4).

Most of the military engagements during the war had taken place on or around the island and, as Simon Day (referenced below, at p. 1) observed, when it ended:

  1. “Rome was left nominally in possession of the [western parts of the Sicily] that had previously been Carthaginian-controlled, namely the parts that were outside of King Hieron II’s Syracusan kingdom.  The end of the war marked the beginning of Roman territorial overseas empire.”

Sicily had been the assigned province of at least one but usually two of the serving consuls throughout the war, but these assignments had been entirely military in nature.  However, once  hegemony over the western part of the island passed to the Romans, arrangements had to be made for its governance. 

Corey Brennan (referenced below, at p. 88) observed that:

  1. “... it would be surprising if Sicily did not receive a regular Roman magistrate ... [from] 241 BC [or soon thereafter in order] ... to protect and maintain this hard-won possession.”

However, the Romans had never before had control of am off-shore territory: as Cicero observed in a speech that he gave in 70 BC during his prosecution of C. Verres, the recently-returned governor of Sicily,  this island:

  1. “... was the first of all to receive the title of [permanent] province, the first such jewel in our imperial crown”, (‘Against Verres’, 2: 2: 2, translated by Leonard Greenwood, referenced below, at p. 297).

Corey Brennan (as above) pointed out that:

  1. “A provincia certainly requires a magistrate (or pro-magistrate) to fill it, ... [and] the declaration of Sicily as a [permanent] provincia after the First Punic War should be synonymous with the sending of a magistrate.”

A surviving summary of Appian’s now-lost account of these events recorded that, when the western part of the island came under Roman control in 241 BC, the Romans:

  1. “... levied tribute on the Sicilians, apportioned certain naval charges among their towns, and sent a praetor each year to govern them.  (On the other hand Hiero, the ruler of Syracuse, who had cooperated with them in this war, was declared to be their friend and ally)”, (‘Wars on the Islands’, 3).

Brennan suggested (at p. 89) that this magistrate was the praetor mentioned by Appian, and that was one of the two annually-elected praetors, now known as praetor inter peregrinus.  He pointed out that the role of this praetor would not have been primarily military, particularly since the Carthaginians were engaged in many urgent problems elsewhere (see below).  He argued that:

  1. “The most likely scenario is that the praetor in Sicily commanded a small fleet and perhaps a few cohorts of socii, acting in concert with the  ... quaestor [based at Lilybaeum]:

  2. to protect the coastal parts of the provincia from pirates; and

  3. to see to the collection of taxes from those in the ex-Punic part of Sicily who were liable to them.”

Aftermath of the First Punic War

Roman Appropriation of Sardinia and Corsica (238 BC)

As we have seen, the treaty that the Romans imposed on the Carthaginians at the end of the war was extremely punitive: John Lazenby (referenced below, at p. ??) estimated that the imposed monetary  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, with the result that these mercenaries duly mutinied and marched on Carthage.  This precipitated a revolt (the so-called Mercenary War) that drew in a number of the Carthaginian’s erstwhile African allies. 

The treaty that had ended the war had  not required any changes to the Carthaginian’s position in relation to either Sardinia or Corsica. HHowever, as the Carthaginians finally began to regain control over the rebels in Africa in 238 BC, others 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.)

  1. Read more: 

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

Day S., “The People's Rôle in Allocating Provincial Commands in the Middle Roman Republic”, Journal of Roman Studies, 107 (2017), 1-26  

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

Dart C. J. and Vervaet F. J., ‘The Significance of the Naval Triumph in Roman History (260–29 BC)”, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 176 (2011) 267–80

Itgenshorst, T., “Tota Illa Pompa: Der Triumph in der Römischen Republik”, (2005 ) Göttingen

Brennan T. C., “The Praetorship in the Roman Republic: Volume 1: Origins to 122 BC”, (2000) Oxford

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

Frank T., “Roman Imperialism”, (1914) New York

Greenwood L. H. G. (translator), “Cicero: the Verrine Orations, Vol. I: Against Caecilius’ Against Verres, Part 1; Part 2, Books 1-2”, (1928), Cambridge, MA

Foreign Wars (3rd century BC)