Rome Seizes the Trident – The Defeat of Carthaginian Seapower and the Forging of the Roman Empire – Review

After reading Great Naval Battles of the Ancient Greek World by Owen Rees recently, it only seemed natural to pick up the story by looking at Rome and Carthage. Carthage was famous for its seafaring having been originally a Phoenician colony, the same Phoenicians who participated (we must assume unwillingly) in the ill-fated Persian invasions of Greece. Rome certainly was not famous for its seafaring.

Where the naval battles were mostly fought in  the Ancient Greek World by triremes and to a lesser extent, penteconters, when Rome and Carthage faced off against each other the vessels had become heavier, consisting to quadriremes and more importantly, the peak of the ancient Mediterranean galleys, quinqueremes.

Pen & Sword Books published Rome Seizes the Trident – The Defeat of Carthaginian Seapower and the Forging of the Roman Empire by Marc G DeSantis. The book is 272 pages long (ISBN: 9781473826984) and was originally published on 16 May 2016. It is available in hardback, Kindle and ePub versions with the electronic versions somewhat cheaper than the printed copy.

Owen Rees noted that in the Battle of Catane, part of the Hegemony period, in the the battle between Syracuse and Carthage it appears that this is where the Carthaginians were first exposed to quadriremes and quinqueremes, noting:

Leptines had already shown himself a capable commander, having been in charge of the fleet since the siege of Motya, at the latest. Within his fleet he is said to have had thirty superior ships, a crack force of the same number which had confronted the Carthaginian armada at the beginning of their expedition. It seems extremely probably that these thirty ships, or at least a proportion of them, were of the new designs: quadriremes and quinqueremes.

When Carthage and Rome finally faced off in the Punic Wars, the standard warships at the stage were the quadriremes and quinqueremes Carthage may have been exposed to in Syracuse.

Marc G DeSantis commences his book by a look at the sources, and for this period , the preeminent source is Polybius. Also important of course were Livy although a much later author and concentrating on the Second Punic War and Plutarch, later still with his Parallel lives. Appian is the main source for the final Punic War and the destruction of Carthage. The Byzantine, John Zonaras was an author from the 12th Century but his value here is the summaries in Epitome Historiarum where he recounts information from the now fragmentary Dio with some naval aspects from the First Punic War that Polybius did not mention.

In Part I of his work, DeSantis breaks that section up into the following chapters:

Part I: Breaking Carthage

Chapter 1 – Sources
Chapter 2 – The Contestants
Chapter 3 – Sicily: Theatre of War, History and Blood
Chapter 4 – War at Sea in the Age of the War Galley
Chapter 5 – Breaking Athens: A Case Study

Chapters 4 and 5 are where DeSantis really gets swinging. The early chapters really set the scene, discussing Rome and Carthage and Sicily, for much of the naval aspects of the Punic Wars, the battleground. In Chapter 4 however he talks about the ways galleys fought, and for once he does not draw a straight dichotomy between ramming and boarding tactics, rather noting that both were used by all sides, depending on situation. He does draw a clear distinction, however, between the skilled seafarers who seemed to prefer ramming over boarding, such as the Athenians, the Phocaeans, the Rhodians and the Carthaginians. However he does point out that “ramming and boarding would have been carried out as the opportunities presented themselves”.

He notes the use of lemboi as a means of transferring signals across a fleet by standing off a little and repeating the signals, much like the frigates of the Napoleonic Wars at sea.

Chapter 5 is a review of the breaking of Athens through the negation of naval superiority in the Peloponnesian Wars. He also recounts a Corinthian tactic where the Corinthians at the Battle of Erineus in 413 BCE, slightly outnumbered by the 33 Athenian vessels, had made changes to their rams and adopted the tactic of a headlong charge at the Athenian fleet, looking to ram their vessels straight on and not giving the Athenians a chance to use their superior seamanship.  While no vessels were sunk from either side so technically a draw, the Corinthians looked on it as a victory and the Athenians saw it as a defeat.

After this survey of early naval tactics, DeSantis starts on the meat of his work – the Punic Wars.

Part II – The First Punic War

Chapter 6 – Trouble at the Toe of Italy
Chapter 7 – Opening Moves
Chapter 8 – Mylae, 260 BC: Rome’s Fleet Sails in Harm’s Way
Chapter 9 – After Mylae
Chapter 10 – Ecnomus, 256 BC
Chapter 11 – The Battle of Cape Hermaeum, 255 BC
Chapter 12 – Rome Tries Again
Chapter 13 – Drepna, 249 BC
Chapter 14 – The Debut of Hamilcar Barca
Chapter 15 – Endgame: The Battle of the Aegates Islands, 241 BC
Chapter 16 – Peace
Chapter 17 – Was Seapower Worth the Cost?

DeSantis starts with the trouble at Messana and Rhegium and the effect of the perceived threat from Pyrrhus. Mercenaries and garrisons revolting and taking over, enter Hiero of Syracuse who placed the city of Messana under siege after defeating the Mamertimes at the Battle of Longanus River in 264 BC. The Mamertimes appealed to both Rome and Carthage for assistance. Rome really stepped in to prevent Carthage developing a toehold in Sicily, fearing that the Carthaginians would use that as a springboard to an invasion of Italy.

From this point in and narrative DeSantis examines the moves and counter moves of the protagonists. The Romans built a fleet, copying a Carthaginian galley that had grounded itself on the coast back in 264 when it was trying to oppose the Roman landings in Sicily. The Roman vessels however were not of the same quality as Carthaginian or Greek vessels. DeSantis the follows the course of the war, the defeats and then victories of the Romans, stopping briefly to discuss the Corvus and its origins. The necessity for the corvus was probably because of the poor quality of the Roman vessels and seamanship. The suggestion for the corvus appears to have come from an unnamed Sicilian Greek. The suggestion may have come from within Messana although there are a number of compelling suggestion that it may have come from Syracuse, given the Syracusans being an enthusiastic practitioner of the Corinthian style headlong rush into the enemy. Grappling from that position was a natural extension of that tactic and building a boarding bride, the next logical step.

DeSantis also examines the negative answer to this version of the corvus mounting as well and provides a good counter argument. His discussion of the corvus and the Roman quinquereme versus the Carthaginian quinquereme is a far argument of both sides of the tale. I will admit that his discussion has me reexamining some of my thoughts and perceptions of naval warfare in those times.

He then discusses the more famous battles, Mylae; Ecnomus; Cape Hermaeum; Drepna; and Aegates Islands. To conclude the section on the First Punic War DeSantis looks at the question, “was the seapower worth the cost?”

Part III: Conflicts Between the Wars

Chapter 18 – Illyria and Gaul
Chapter 19 – The Mercenary Revolt 240-238 BC

The two chapters here deal with Rome’s intervention in Illyria in 229 and the overseas deployment, this time across the Adriatic, of the Roman army. The start of this intervention paralleled that of the start of the First Punic War but in this case it was a bunch of Gallic mercenaries seized control of the city of Phoenice in Epirus. The people of the city asked the Romans for assistance and that coupled with the Illyrian pirates attacking Italian shipping the situation became one that Rome could ignore. Polybius even records that previously the Senate in Rome always ignored complaints about the Illyrians. Rome sent a couple of commissioners to Queen Teuta’s court but she dismissed them and apparently had one murdered while he was returning to Rome.

Naval operations got underway with the Illyrians attacking Epidamnus and Corcyra. The Corcyraeans appealed for assistance to the Achaeans and Aetolians for assistance and 10 Achaean ships were sent (quadriremes it seems). Acarnanians allied themselves to the Illyrians and sent seven galleys. A small inconclusive battle was fought off the Paxi Islands. The Illyrians used lighter galleys than the Achaeans but developed an interesting tactic when they faced the Achaeans. The Illyrians lasd their vessels together in groups of four. This was a tempting broadside target for the Achaeans who dutifully increased the stroke rate to ram speed and hit the Illyrians vessels only then to become entangled with the four lashed vessels and as their crews were well outnumbered (about 4 to 1), the Illyrians stormed the Achaean vessels and four Achaean quadriremes were either lost or captured.

The Roman army and fleet became engaged in the area now and the result was around 20 Illyrian galleys and most of the coastal cities captured by the fleet while the army moved inland and took control of cities there.

Part IV: Strangling Carthage

Chapter 20 – The Second Punic War, 218-202 BC
Chapter 21 – A Second War with Carthage
Chapter 22 – Hannibal in Italy
Chapter 23 – Holding the Line in the Adriatic: The War with Macedonia
Chapter 24 – Sicily and Sardinia
Chapter 25 – Carthage’s Spanish Ulcer
Chapter 26 – Africa
Chapter 27 – Seapower and the Second Punic War

The Second Punic War is one that modern readers mostly associate with Hannibal (with or without his elephants); Scipio Africanus; battles such as Cannae, Trebia, Trasimene and Zama; and a small largely mercenary army spending 16 years in enemy territory undefeated. This is not to ignore the contribution of Scipio, especially with the battles he fought in Spain but mostly the Second Punic War is remembered for land actions.

DeSantis makes a good survey of naval action as well as other theatres over this period. The details of the treaty Hannibal struck with Philip V of Macedon, for example, where the Macedonians would assemble a fleet of 200 ships and harry the west coast of Italy as well as operations on land. Once the Romans had been defeated, Macedon would be given control of the Illyrian coast and Hannibal would assist Philip to defeat his Greek enemies.

Over the period of the Second Punic War there were a number of naval expeditions, mostly in and around Sicily. Bomilcar in 212 with 130 war galleys and 700 transport ships sailing to Sicily to rescue Syracuse from the Romans was one such expedition.  Over this period, Rome maintained some measure of control over the sea between Africa and Sicily but there were many other  areas where control of the sea was not so complete.

DeSantis also notes that the Carthaginians may have been reluctant to try their hand against Rome at sea as the First Punic War and the naval defeats there were only a generation previously.

Part V: Destroying Carthage

Chapter 28 – Roman Naval Operation in the East
Chapter 29 – A Third War with Carthage

Interestingly, DeSantis notes as well about this period, “the First Macedonian War (215-205), fought as part of the larger Second Punic War, had sputtered along once the Romans lost interest in it.” In chapter 28 he surveys the Roman naval operations in and around Greece, especially with regards to the Second Macedonian War and makes mention of the monster galley building of the Hellenistic monarchs (for further detail on those monster galleys, I can suggest Giant Hellenistic warships with more than 7000 crew members).

To conclude his work, DeSantis notes a number of changes in Roman Society as a result of the Punic Wars. He contends that the huge influx on slaves after the First Punic War changed the state from one of yeoman farmers into a state with great inequality among the citizenry. The appearance of the patron-client relationship over this period as well would cause issues for the later Republic. This relationship first appeared in the Second Punic War. As more provinces were added to the Roman Empire, the equites or knights became more and more wealthy as the class that were the tax collectors. This stymied any future attempts of the aristocrats to return Italian peasant farmers to the land as well as causing provincial populations to hate the state as a result of the deprivations of the tax collectors.

The Romans also simplified their ship building (as did the Carthaginians for that matter), preparing premade parts and stockpiling them, building the ship as a large kit. Rome settled on two ship designs over the period, the being based on the Carthaginian war galley that had run aground in 264 and the second on the vessel of Hannibal the Rhodian, captured in 250.

DeSantis’ book is a good survey of Rome’s efforts at sea and the effects of the strategy and tactics involved in the period covered. He discusses the effects of battles and political manoeuvring, including its effects on the struggles underway on land. This is a great read, and one I have been waiting to read since I read A Naval History of the Peloponnesian War – Ships, Men and Money in the War at Sea, 431-404 BC – Marc G DeSantis last year (yes, I know, read them in the wrong order). I am happy to recommend this book to anyone interested in ancient history, military history, naval history, classic naval warfare. I will admit to having learnt a few new things here, especially about Queen Teuta and her conflict with Rome.

The Singapore Wargames Project – Part 6 the Materials

P1000946So I finally collected everything. I have the baseboard (thank you Doug for the idea), paint, materials for terrain, figures to make 7 DBA armies from around the time and area of the Punic Wars as well as pre-cut bases to base on it all.

A can of Tiger beer and a planning session gave me the plan. The project will follow the following order (well, that is the plan at the moment at least).

  1. Paint the base board. The reason for starting with this is that I feel it will be a basically straightforward job, fairly quick and give me something complete to look at to encourage me for the other parts of the project (especially as there is another wargaming project at the back of my brain at the moment as well).
  2. Cut, assemble and make the terrain pieces. again, something reasonably quick and there are a couple of techniques I want to play around with.
  3. Paint and base the army with the least number of figures to deal with. This will be the Numidians. Whilst they are not part of the base set, there are some Numidians present in some of the armies anyway so the extra bases will be painted at the same time. They will give me a head start to some of the forces as well as giving me something pretty to look at.
  4. Start on the main 6 armies. When it gets closer to this time I will decide on the order to take.

P1000951

OK – ready to start. As I mentioned earlier I’ll be blogging the progress as this will help force me to keep to the plan.

To the left is a close up of some of the figures. The wooden bases you can see are 40mm x 30mm in size and the figures are just over 6mm small.

Right then, to paint! Tally ho the brush!

The Singapore Wargames Project – Part 5 the Figures

I mentioned that I was going to build this set using 6mm figures from Baccus 6mm. There are seven armies being prepared over time but I thought, as it was payday last week, to buy all the figures at one time.

Two orders were therefore sent to the nice Mr Berry of Baccus (his shopping cart got overloaded halfway through the order Open-mouthed smile) and if previous deliveries are anything to go buy, a nice parcel should arrive at the office next week.

The order was for the following:

Quantity ID Name
1 AGR8 Unarmoured Hoplites
1 AGR1 Hoplites
1 AGR6 Greek Cavalry
1 AGR11 Greek Bolt Throwers
1 AGR4 Psiloi – Bow
1 AGR3 Psiloi – Javelins
1 AMA9 Theurophoros Infantry
1 AMA15 Tarantine Cavalry
2 AGD1 Greek Decals
2 AIT1 Samnite Infantry
1 ARR1 Hastatii w pilum
1 ARR2 Triarii
1 ARR3 Velites
1 ARR5 Roman Cavalry
1 ACA3 Libyan Cavalry
1 ACA5 Veteran Infantry
3 ACA4 Elephants
2 AIR6 Roman Generals
1 ASP5 Spanish Heavy Cavalry
1 ASP4 Spanish Light Cavalry
1 ASP2 Spanish Caetratii
1 ASP1 Spanish Scutarii
1 ASP3 Balearic Slingers
1 ACE1 Celtic Infantry, stood
1 ACE2 Celtic Heavy Cavalry
1 ACE3 Celtic Javelinmen
1 ACE4 Celtic Slingers
2 ACE5 Celtic Chariots
1 ACE6 Celtic Leaders
1 ACE7 Celtic Infantry, charging
2 AMO1 Moorish Infantry
2 AMO3 Moorish Cavalry

This will be enough figures to make the seven armies with leftovers.

Later I will break up the armies into their contents. In the meantime, the next step is to an email an order to East Riding Miniatures for bases for the figures. I will be using the standard DBA 40mm wide bases for this.

The Singapore Wargames Project – Part 3 – the Armies

Yesterday I detailed the terrain to be purchased for the project. I mentioned earlier as well that once I started looking at possible armies, one of the campaign sets popped up as an obvious choice. The 2nd Punic War campaign has a good group of armies all of which are fairly competitive and that together will make some interesting combinations for big battle games.

Of course, given the usual wargamer’s megalomania, I could not just leave it at that six but decided to add a seventh, just for interest sake. All these armies will be made with Baccus 6mm figures and based on 15mm sized bases.

The armies:

List Number Army  
II/9 Syracusan  
II/32 Later Carthaginian  
II/33 Polybian Roman  
II/39a Spain The Iberian option was selected rather than the Celtiberian or Lusitanian options as the Iberians fought with both the Carthaginians and the Romans
II/11 Gauls  
II/8a Italy  
II/40 Numidian This is the extra one added to the set – purely because it just makes sense for some variety. Interestingly I also have a Numidian army to paint for Polemos Ancient

OK, these then are the armies to be purchased and painted.

Carthage

Chariots of Fire was the first game I had purchased recently from GMT Games. The other game I purchased at that time was Carthage. Carthage is one of the games in the Ancient World Series. The first of that series, Rise of the Roman Republic, is out of print. Carthage being the second and most recent still is in print.

I’ve always (well, for the last 40 years anyway) had an interest in Carthage, the Phoenician colony on the North African coast. Carthage almost bought Rome to her knees before she was an established power. The struggles between Rome and Carthage produced two of the great captains in history – Hannibal and Scipio Africanus.

The game Carthage concentrates on the First Punic War. This was the precursor to the one made famous by Hannibal and Scipio. Indeed, it was in the First Punic War that Hannibal’s father fought and were the oath taken by the father on behalf of Hannibal was made, the oath that the Barcas would fight the Romans until they succeeded in destroying them.

The game components look good with two maps covering the main areas of conflict (Italy, North Africa and Sicily). There are over 1,000 counters in this game as well.

The game itself lists four scenarios. These are:

The Mercenary War, 241 B.C. At the completion of the First Punic War over, the Carthaginian mercenaries in Sicily sought payment. They were sent back to Carthage where they were paid a small amount of what was owed to them and then they sere shipped off to Numidia.

After a while they revolted and massacred a number of officers then laid waste to Carthage. Some Libyans joined in the revolt. In the end Hanno was compelled to assemble an army of veterans and elephants to combat the mercenaries. Hamilcar Barca (Hannibal’s father) returned to Carthage from overseas as well with a mostly mounted second army and Navaras, a Numidian chieftain joined with Hanno to put down the revolt.

Agathocles, 311 B.C. In this scenario the Carthaginians are fighting against Syracuse, led by the ambitious tyrant, Agathocles. This fighting was based around Agrigentum (Acragas).
Hiero, Hero or Gyro? 264–263 B.C. This is an introductory scenario, simplified in its approach and what it involves. Very good for learning the game system.
The First Punic War, 264 to 241 B.C. This is the full war – with the folks at GMT making the assumption that our game war will end at the same completion date of the First Punic War generally.

Board Game Geek has Carthage rated at 7.47/10.

As with Chariots of Fire, I am very much looking forward to getting into this game.