1. C. LUTATIUS (C. F. C. N. CATULUS, consul B. C. 242 with A. Postumius Albinus.
The first Punic war had now continued for upwards of twenty-two years. Both parties were exhausted by the long struggle, but neither of them shewed any inclination to abandon the contest. Ever since the battle of Panormus (250) the Romans had been in possession of all Sicily with the exception of Lilybaeum, Drepanum, and the fortified camp upon Mount Eryx; but these strongholds had hitherto defied every effort upon the part of the besiegers, who having abandoned in despair all active measures, were blockading them by land, while Hamilcar Barca was gradually forming an army with which he hoped that he might soon venture to meet his adversaries in the open field. The Carthaginians were undisputed masters of the sea, for the Romans, dispirited by the loss of four large fleets within a very short period (255-249), amounting in all to upwards of 600 ships, had, after the great victory of Adherbal over P. Claudius Pulcher (249), completely abandoned their navy.
In this juncture the senate, feeling convinced that only one path to success lay open, determined to make a desperate effort.
A fleet of 200 ships of war was built and manned with astonishing rapidity, chiefly through the patriotic liberality of individuals who came forward to support the state with voluntary loans, and both consuls were ordered to take the command. Albinus, being flamen of Mars, was prohibited by the chief pontiff from quitting the city, and his place was supplied by Q. Valerius Falto, then praetor. Catulus before setting out, filled with anxiety in regard to the result of an enterprise so important, had determined to consult the oracle of Fortune at Praeneste; but this was forbidden, on the ground that it was unbecoming in a Roman general to intermeddle with any deities save those of Rome.
These measures were so prompt, that the new fleet appeared upon the Sicilian coast early in summer, while the navy of the enemy was still in winter-quarters at Carthage.
The harbour of Drepanum was instantly occupied, and the siege vigorously pressed both by land and sea.
But while the struggle was most fierce, Catulus received a serious wound which compelled him to suspend operations for a time. Meanwhile he trained his sailors with unceasing activity, and by constant practice rendered them expert in all ordinary nautical evolutions. News had now reached Africa of the events in Sicily.
A powerful armament was launched in haste and put to sea, deeply laden with provisions and warlike stores for the relief of Drepanum, navigated, however, by raw, ill-trained, and awkward crews.
The great object of Hanno, the admiral, was, as we are told by Polybius, to run over to Eryx without attracting the notice of the Romans, to lighten his vessels by landing their cargo, and to take on board a number of the brave and welldisciplined troops of Hamilcar. His movements, however, were known by Catulus, who resolved at every hazard to force an engagement, and being himself still unfit for active exertion, entrusted the execution of his plans in a great measure to Falto.
The fleet accordingly passed over to the island of Aegusa, opposite to Lilybaeum, and from thence, at day-break on the morning of the 10th of March 241, they descried the hostile squadron bearing down under a press of canvass right before the wind, which was blowing a gale from the west and had raised a heavy sea. Notwithstanding these disadvantages, the Romans formed their line of battle with their prows to windward. The Carthaginians, perceiving that they were cut off, prepared for action by hauling down their sails, thus altogether sacrificing the advantage of the weather gage.
The result of the contest seems never to have been for a moment doubtful.
The deep-laden ships of Hanno could neither manoelig;uvre nor fight; seventy were captured, fifty were sunk ; the rest taking advantage of a lucky shift of the wind which veered round to the East, wore and escaped.
This blow, which at an earlier period would scarcely have been felt, was decisive. The Carthaginians, upon receiving intelligence of the disaster, feeling that they had neither officers, men, nor money, left for prosecuting the war, despatched a messenger with all speed to Hamilcar, investing him with full authority to accept the best terms he could obtain. Catulus was eager to meet these overtures, that he might have the honour of concluding a glorious peace before the period of his command, which was fast drawing to a close, should expire.
With these dispositions preliminaries were quickly arranged, and the following conditions were agreed upon : 1.
That the Carthaginians should evacuate all Sicily, and should not make war upon Hiero, the Syracusans, or the allies of the Syracusans. 2.
That they should restore all the Roman prisoners without ransom. 3.
That they should pay to the Romans 2200 Euboic talents by instalments, extending over a space of twenty years.
These stipulations, when submitted to the Roman people, did not meet with their approbation, and ten commissioners were despatched to examine into the state of affairs, who, when they arrived, insisted upon certain changes to the disadvantage of the Carthaginians, and Hamilcar thought fit to submit.
These were, that the compensation money should be augmented by the sum of one thousand talents, and that the period allowed for payment should be diminished by ten years; moreover, that the Carthaginians should evacuate all the islands between Italy and Sicily.
Catulus on his return home claimed and was allowed his well-won triumph, which he celebrated on the 4th of October, 241, not, however, without a vexatious opposition on the part of Falto, who pretended, contrary to those principles of military law by which the Romans were invariably guided, that he was entitled to all the glory because the commander-in-chief had been disabled by his wound from taking an active share in the final engagement. (Plb. 1.58
; Liv. Epit. 19
; Eutrop. 2.27
; Oros. 4.10
; V. Max. 2.8.2
; Zonar. viii. p. 398, &c.; Fast. Capitol.)