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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 arrived. 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.
B. C. 261.
For the Consuls elected in succession to those who had besieged Agrigentum, 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 was repeatedly ravaged by the naval force, Libya remained permanently uninjured; they became eager to get upon the sea and meet the Carthaginians there.

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 much difficulty.

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 Locri, and even from Elea and Neapolis; and having thus collected a fleet, boldly sent their men across upon it.
A Carthaginian ship used as a model.
It 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.

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