The Romans Build Ships
Great was the joy of the Roman Senate when the news
This success inspires the Senate with the idea of expelling the Carthaginians from Sicily.
of what had taken place at Agrigentum
Their ideas too were so raised that they no longer
confined themselves to their original designs.
They were not content with having saved the
Mamertines, nor with the advantages gained
in the course of the war; but conceived the
idea that it was possible to expel the Carthaginians entirely
from the island, and that if that were done their own power
would receive a great increase: they accordingly engaged in
this policy and directed their whole thoughts to this subject.
As to their land forces they saw that things were going on as
well as they could wish.
For the Consuls elected
in succession to those who had besieged
, Lucius Valerius Flaccus and Titus Otacilius
Crassus, appeared to be managing the Sicilian business as well
as circumstances admitted. Yet so long as the Carthaginians
were in undisturbed command of the sea, the balance of
success could not incline decisively in their favour. For
instance, in the period which followed, though they were now
in possession of Agrigentum
, and though consequently many
of the inland towns joined the Romans from dread of their
land forces, yet a still larger number of seaboard towns held
aloof from them in terror of the Carthaginian fleet. Seeing
therefore that it was ever more and more the case that the
balance of success oscillated from one side to the other from
these causes; and, moreover, that while Italy
ravaged by the naval force, Libya
remained permanently uninjured; they became eager to get upon the sea and meet the
It was this branch of the subject that more than anything else induced me to give an account of this war at somewhat greater length than I otherwise should have done. I was
unwilling that a first step of this kind should be unknown,—
namely how, and when, and why the Romans first started a navy.
It was, then, because they saw that the war they had undertaken lingered to a weary length, that they first
thought of getting a fleet built, consisting of a
hundred quinqueremes and twenty triremes. But
one part of their undertaking caused them
The Romans boldly determine to build ships and meet the Carthaginians at sea.
Their shipbuilders were entirely
unacquainted with the construction of quinqueremes, because no one in Italy
had at that time employed
vessels of that description. There could be no more signal
proof of the courage, or rather the extraordinary audacity of
the Roman enterprise. Not only had they no resources for it
of reasonable sufficiency; but without any resources for it at
all, and without having ever entertained an idea of naval war,—
for it was the first time they had thought of it,—they nevertheless handled the enterprise with such extraordinary audacity,
that, without so much as a preliminary trial, they took upon
themselves there and then to meet the Carthaginians at sea,
on which they had for generations held undisputed supremacy.
Proof of what I say, and of their surprising audacity, may be
found in this. When they first took in hand to send troops
across to Messene
they not only had no decked vessels but
no war-ships at all, not so much as a single galley: but they
borrowed quinqueremes and triremes from Tarentum
, and even from Elea
; and having thus
collected a fleet, boldly sent their men across upon it.
A Carthaginian ship used as a model.
was on this occasion that, the Carthaginians
having put to sea in the Strait to attack them,
a decked vessel of theirs charged so furiously
that it ran aground, and falling into the hands of the Romans
served them as a model on which they constructed their whole
fleet. And if this had not happened it is clear that they would
have been completely hindered from carrying out their design
by want of constructive knowledge.