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Naval Battle Off Drepana

And now the fleets were within a short distance of each
The battle.
other: the signals were raised from the ships of the respective commanders; the charge was made; and ship grappled with ship. At first the engagement was evenly balanced, because each fleet had the pick of their land forces serving as marines on board. But as it went on the many advantages which, taking it as a whole, the Carthaginians possessed, gave them a continually increasing superiority. Owing to the better construction of their ships they had much the advantage in point of speed, while their position with the open sea behind them materially contributed to their success, by giving them freer space for their manœuvres. Were any of them hard pressed by the enemy? Their speed secured them a sure escape, and a wide expanse of water was open to their flight. There they would swing round and attack the leading ships which were pursuing them: sometimes rowing round them and charging their broadsides, at other times running alongside them as they lurched awkwardly round, from the weight of the vessels and the unskilfulness of the crews. In this way they were charging perpetually, and managed to sink a large number of the ships. Or was one of their number in danger? They were ready to come to the rescue, being out of danger themselves, and being able to effect a movement to right or left, by steering along the sterns of their own ships and through the open sea unmolested.
The Romans beaten.
The case of the Romans was exactly the reverse. If any of them were hard pressed, there was nowhere for them to retreat, for they were fighting close to the shore; and any ship of theirs that was hard driven by the enemy either backed into shallow water and stuck fast, or ran ashore and was stranded. Moreover, that most effective of all manœuvres in sea fights,—sailing through the enemy's line and appearing on their stern while they are engaged with others,—was rendered impossible for them, owing to the bulk of their vessels; and still more so by the unskilfulness of their crews. Nor, again, were they able to bring help from behind to those who wanted it, because they were hemmed in so close to the shore that there was not the smallest space left in which those who wished to render such help might move. When the Consul saw how ill things were going for him all along the line; when he saw some of his ships sticking fast in the shallows, and others cast ashore; he took to flight. Thirty other ships which happened to be near him followed him as he sailed from the left, and coasted along the shore. But the remaining vessels, which amounted to ninety-three, the Carthaginians captured with their crews, except in the case of those who ran their ships ashore and got away.

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  • Cross-references in notes to this page (1):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), CARTHA´GO
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