When the Sicilian city of Messana turned to Rome for help in the fight against Hieron II, the senators referred the issue to the consideration of the national assembly: after all, helping Messana turned into a war not so much with Syracuse as with Carthage. The citizens of Rome voted for war. So in 265 BC. The long and debilitating First Punic War began. Rome thereby declared claims to the role of a great power. He entered the world political arena.
The hostilities took place mainly in Sicily and lasted 24 years. At first things went well for Rome. Hieron P went over to his side, and in the third year of the war the new allies laid siege to the Puns in their strongholds on the northwest coast of the island. But it was impossible to defeat the Carthaginians by the forces of the land army alone, and Rome set about creating a fleet. In one year, with the help of the Greek allies, 100 penteres and 30 triremes were built. The assertion that the Romans then plunged oars into the water for the first time is hardly an exaggeration. The navy throughout the history of Rome remained a stepchild. Service in the navy was less prestigious than in the legions. Naval officers were recruited for the most part from Italian Greeks, and crews from allies and slaves.
The Romans didn't like the sea. Therefore, as far as possible, they tried to turn naval battles into land battles. To do this, they equipped their ships with flip bridges with iron spikes - "ravens". When approaching an enemy ship, the "raven" clung to its side, and the soldiers who got over it converged in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy's crew. After a series of victories thus won at sea, Rome decided to attack Carthage itself. In the summer of 256 BC a huge fleet of 330 ships with a total crew of 100 thousand people and a landing army of 40 thousand people was sent to the shores of Africa. Off the southeastern coast of Sicily, near Cape Ecnomus, the Romans were met by a Carthaginian fleet of 350 ships. The most grandiose naval battle in the history of the Ancient World took place here. Having lost about 100 ships, the Puns were forced to retreat, and the Roman army landed unhindered on the coast of Africa. However, the successfully launched operation failed. The Senate withdrew most of the army to Italy, leaving only 15,000 infantry and 500 horsemen in Africa. The mediocre and self-confident consul Regulus in the spring of 255 BC. destroyed the army and was himself taken prisoner.
After this defeat, the Romans limited the fighting to the territory of Sicily and its coastal waters. Over the next 12 years, the war went on with varying success and heavy losses for both sides. In total, Rome lost 4 fleets, on board which were three ground forces. The fourth land army fell under the walls of Carthage. Carthage was also exhausted. The war began to be waged sluggishly and reached a stalemate. Some revival in its course was brought by the one appointed in 247 BC. commander-in-chief of the young and energetic Carthaginian commander Hamilcar Barca ("Lightning"). He clung with a death grip to a piece of land remaining in the power of Carthage, fortifying himself on the mountain plateau of Eirkte.
In the 23rd year of the war, Rome made a decisive leap towards victory. With the money collected from citizens, 200 new penthers were built. The appearance of the Roman fleet in the waters of Sicily came as a complete surprise to Carthage. Held in March 241 BC. The naval battle of the Aegates Islands finally brought Rome a decisive victory. Carthage requested peace, entrusting its conclusion to Hamilcar Barca, a supporter of the continuation of the war. He managed to get out of this situation with dignity. Under the terms of the peace treaty, Sicily went to Rome, and Carthage had to pay an indemnity of 3.2 thousand talents. However, Hamilcar categorically rejected the demand to hand over his weapons, saying that he would rather die than return home in disgrace. He took his army out of Sicily with weapons in hand and with the firm intention of continuing the war with Rome in the future.
In Carthage, a struggle of political factions unfolded. Hamilcar gained the upper hand and received the powers of the perpetual commander of the army, becoming almost a dictator. He immediately set about preparing a bridgehead for waging war with Rome in the Iberian Peninsula. Together with his son-in-law Hasdrubal, he expanded there the boundaries of the possessions of Carthage to the Ebro River. But in 228 BC. Hamilcar died in battle, and seven years later his son-in-law Hasdrubal fell at the hands of an assassin. The army unanimously elected as its commander-in-chief the 28-year-old son of Hamilcar, Hannibal. He inherited from his father all the power of hatred for Rome, as a nine-year-old boy he swore to destroy the arrogant city. From childhood, Hannibal was brought up in a military camp. He was skilled both as a general and as a soldier. In this man, according to the Roman historian Titus Livius, the most opposite qualities were combined: prudence and inspiration, caution and energy.
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