The next year of 257 brought in two new consuls and another battle at sea off Tyndaris, though Aulus Atilius Calatinus stayed on as a land commander acting in the capacity of either a proconsul or praetor. The other land general was the consul Gnaeus Cornelius Blasio. He had been a consul previously in 270 and most likely earned his own triumph at that time for his involvement in putting down the brigands who seized Rhegium.1 Remember the Mamertines who took Messana and set off the chain of events to start the First Punic War? Another band of similar Campanians had taken Rhegium, right across the straits, but Rome quickly recaptured the city and executed the rebels.
257 On Land
Unfortunately, Blasio’s movements in Sicily at this time were not recorded by any of the extant sources that we have. All Polybiu states is that, “in the mean time the land forces accomplished nothing worthy of mention, but spent their time in minor operations of no significance.” (1.25) While the campaigns and operations may have been “minor,” they were important in that it kept demonstrating that neither side wanted to engage in a pitched battle. Heavy skirmishing was the order of the day, and while there will be some more set piece battles on land later on, skirmishing and guerrilla style warfare would highlight the majority of the rest of conflict in Sicily.
This skirmishing which continued to lead to somewhat of a standoff in Sicily also likely reinforced the idea of using naval power to make headway against the enemy. There had to have been proponents of this on both sides of the conflict and with nothing major happening in Sicily for some time (remember we are now in the seventh year of the war), their arguments would likely gain more traction.
257 At Sea
With that said let’s turn to the naval aspect of this year. Gnaeus Cornelius Blasio’s consular partner was Gaius Atilius Regulus. The Romans may have wanted to take another stab at Lipara which led to Regulus and the fleet being anchored off of Cape Tyndaris. This town was located near the northeastern corner of Sicily across from the Lipari Islands. What seems to have happened next was that the Carthaginian fleet sailed within sight of the Romans and led to the Battle of Tyndaris. It was not uncommon in the ancient world for armies, and especially navies, to basically just bump into each other when information could be scarce and unreliable. We will cover this battle in more detail in the next post.
Suffice it to say that Rome nominally won this small engagement. Now with another victory along with Mylae, instead of being sent to the briny depths quickly as many probably would have thought originally, the Romans were gaining in confidence with using fleets. It is likely that there was some raiding done against the Lipari Islands after the Carthaginians had retreated there after the Battle of Tyndaris.
There is also an interesting mention of a further naval campaign undertaken by Gaius Atilius Regulus this year in a much later source. Orosius, a Christian writer in the late Roman Empire who was a friend and contemporary of St. Augustine, wrote this. “[After Tyndaris] The consul Atilius marched through Lipara and Melita, famous islands of Sicily, and left them in ruin.”3 This Melita must be the island of Malta. This would be quite far into the Mediterranean and rather close to Africa. A successful operation here may have had a great impact in going ahead with the decision to sail to Africa in the following year.
But before we move on to the Romans deciding to undergo an invasion of Africa and bring the war to Carthage’s lands, let’s take a closer look at the Battle of Tyndaris.
P.S. Also I’ve made a new map of Sicily I’ll be using. A big thanks goes to the Wikimedia Commons user Sémhur for the amazing template.
- Fasti Triumphales. Attalus.org.
- Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.
- Orosius. Seven Books of History Against the Pagans.
https://sites.google.com/site/demontortoise2000/orosius_book4 (It was the only online English translation I could find)