The First Punic War
The first three years saw Carthage strategically withdrawing and abandoning territory, which the Romans captured. However, this meant that the infantry was thinly-stretched, with lines of transport or communication easily disrupted by naval attacks by Carthage. Such was the case in Iraq or Afghanistan, with guerrilla attacks on the convoy of US trucks bringing in food or soldiers wreaking more havoc than a direct land battle.
Rome’s fleet only made its presence felt after 260 B.C., after much help from the Greeks, who built ships and supplied the crew. Their lack of experience, when compared with Carthage’s long history of seamanship, meant that early battles were primarily lost. However, without cannons or other forms of developed artillery, these sea battles usually progressed by the Roman’s attaching grappling hooks then invading the enemy ships, defeating them in hand-to-hand combat. Such tactics resulted in a great loss of life, on both sides, but the Romans, like the US during the Cold War, were able to manage resources such that they were able to continue escalation.
The Carthaginian “grand fleet” was destroyed in 256 B.C., which gave the Romans access to Africa. The locals seized the chance to rebel against Carthage, their colonial masters. A peace treaty might have been made, but Regulus, the Roman commander, set unreasonable terms, and thus Carthage continued the fight, led by Xanthippus. This new commander defeated Regulus, and even the survivors of the land battle were lost at sea while retreating. Thus, in 255 B.C., Rome lost her first invasion into Africa. Her second fleet was also lost in 253 B.C., while on a second African venture, so the depleted Roman force consolidated its hold on Sicily while waiting for the ships to be rebuilt.
Yet three years later Lilybaeum and a new naval base at Drepanum still posed as potential threats to Roman superiority in the Mediterranean. Fears arose that these remote ports might hold out indefinitely, if they were not blockaded by sea. Carthaginian attempts to compromise were ignored as Rome hastened ship construction and naval training.
Carthage determinedly held out in the course of the war and her resistance was partially due to their commander, Hamilcar Barca, who succeeded in wearing down Rome’s resources and morale. Nevertheless, her supply route was cut off by Rome and was thus, brought to the negotiations table. Eventually, she was forced to accept humiliating terms including the surrender of Siciliy.