Aftermath of Agrigentum

The results of the first major pitched battle between Rome and Carthage set the stage for the next two decades of war that the First Punic War entailed. The Romans firmly established control of much of central and eastern Sicily, while Carthage retained control of the western portion of the island. This was a strategy that Carthage had essentially employed before in other wars against Syracuse and particularly against Pyrrhus. Even if they were pushed to just the western coastal strongholds, the Carthaginians were able to counterattack and regain their lost territory. The months after Agrigentum also demonstrated potential weaknesses that might emerge in the coming years of the war for both sides.

For the Romans

The Roman victory at Agrigentum led to a sack of the city and the enslavement (some tens of thousands) of the population. This forceful approach may have alarmed many of the Sicilian towns and a softer approach may have gone a long way in fostering pro-Roman support throughout Sicily. However, Agrigentum may have been treated in such a harsh way because Agrigentum had earlier been a pro-Carthaginian city and lent itself over to being a fortified base of operations rather than simply being a neutral town in the matter. Yet it does seem that pragmatism was the name of the game regarding towns and their allegiances throughout the war, namely coastal towns deferred to Carthage and more interior towns went over to Rome because of their respective dominances at land or sea. Therefore, the sacking of Agrigentum may not have had as big of a negative impact as may seem.
The decision making organ of the Roman state, the Senate, became ecstatic at the victory at Agrigentum and was swayed over to more ambitious undertakings. Polybius describes as follows:

In their joy and elation they no longer confined themselves to their original designs and were no longer satisfied with having saved the Mamertines and with what they had gained in the war itself, but, hoping that it would be possible to drive the Carthaginians entirely out of the island and that if this were done their own power would be much augmented, they directed their attention to this project and to plans that would serve their purpose. (Polybius 1.20)1

Namely this meant that Rome would have to build a fleet in order to counter Carthage’s and remove Carthage’s influence in Sicily and replace it with its own. The inherent weakness of having absolutely no navy and waging a war against a power with naval supremacy would soon fall upon the Romans. In the meantime, the two new consuls, Titus Otacilius Crassus and Lucius Valerius Flaccus, didn’t suck it up in Sicily. Though it does seem that no new progress was made and Hanno was able to either hold his own or evade them before being removed to Africa.

For the Carthaginians

Even though Agrigentum had fallen, Carthage was likely able to slip away with plenty of forces (Hanno had retreated to Heraclea Minoa and Hannibal had been able to perform his night escape with his garrison forces) to easily continue the war. In regards to naval matters, Carthage was the reigning ruler of the seas in the western Mediterranean and had been for some centuries before. With supremacy of the waves Carthage had tactical maneuverability over the Romans in that they could reach anywhere in Sicily, the islands, and even raid the Italian peninsula somewhat much faster than the Romans could march armies. The coastal towns of Sicily deferred to Carthage because of the prowess of her navy and could react faster than Rome could in consolidating them.

It is likely that in the meantime before Carthage’s government (more on that sometime later) was able to relay the dispatch of recalling Hanno for the failure at Agrigentum, Hanno was able to hold his own against the two new Roman consuls. There is an interesting anecdote told by Frontinus in his Strategems regarding Hanno during this time period regarding his, should we say, “management” of his mercenaries. The following is found under the chapter entitled “How to Meet the Menace of Treason and Desertion.”

Hanno, commander of the Carthaginians in Sicily, learned on one occasion that about four thousand Gallic mercenaries had conspired to desert to the Romans, because for several months they had received no pay. Not daring to punish them, for fear of mutiny, he promised to make good the deferred payment by increasing their wages. When the Gauls rendered thanks for this, Hanno, promising that they should be permitted to go out foraging at a suitable time, sent to the consul Otacilius an extremely trustworthy steward, who pretended to have deserted on account of embezzlement, and who reported that on the coming night four thousand Gauls, sent out on a foraging expedition, could be captured. Otacilius, not immediately crediting the deserter, nor yet thinking the matter ought to be treated with disdain, placed the pick of his men in ambush. These met the Gauls, who fulfilled Hanno’s purpose in a twofold manner, since they not only slew a number of the Romans, but were themselves slaughtered to the last man. (Frontinus 3.16)2

This seems to be what is implied by Diodorus Siculus’ statement “Hanno adopted a clever plan and by a single stratagem destroyed both the malcontents and the public foe.” (23.8)3

Also in Frontinus’ work, just before the above passage, is another somewhat similar reference regarding Hamilcar Barca and his mercenaries much later in the war. This is indicative of one of Carthage’s underlying problems in relying heavily on mercenaries to fit out the army. Even if the mercenaries fight as good as or even better than the regulars their hiring cost and upkeep would force a heavy strain on any state’s coffers, even a commercial empire like Carthage. When this is compounded with the fact that the war dragged on and on for twenty-three years, it is no wonder that these events occurred. While the mercenaries were generally kept under control during the war (though there were several Celtic mercenary problems and one Celtic mercenary band in particular that we will look at in more detail), Carthage had to immediately fight another war right after the First Punic War known as the Mercenary War, due to these problems fermenting for so long.

Be that as it may, eventually Hanno was ultimately replaced by a Hamilcar (not Hamilcar Barca) to take charge of the campaigns in Sicily and it is he whom we shall turn to next.

1. Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.
2. Frontinus. Strategemata. Translated by Charles E. Bennett. 1925.
3. Diodorus Siculus. Library of History. Translated by Francis Walton. 1957.