Aftermath of Ecnomus

Results from the Battle of Ecnomus

     Rome, despite only having a genuine fleet for a mere five years, had won what is perhaps the largest naval battle in history after emerging victorious from the Battle of Ecnomus. In somewhat of a rarity, the sources (even later ones) are in agreement over the figures of the engagement, both for the size of the fleets and ships lost. With the fleets at 330 ships for the Romans and 350 ships for the Carthaginians in mind, let’s turn to the losses sustained on both sides. Polybius accounts for twenty-four Roman ships sunk and none captured by the enemy. (1.28)1 The historian Eutropius of the late Roman Empire puts this figure at twenty-two ships in his work Abridgment of Roman History. (2.21)2 The Carthaginian losses were more substantial. Polybius puts the numbers at “more than thirty” lost at sea with another sixty-four ships captured by the Romans. (1.28)3 Later sources have similar figures at around sixty-four ships, though Orosius simply states sixty-four were lost and not making a distinction between lost and captured ships. (4.8)4 Also, the author of De Viris Illustribus puts the number of ships captured at sixty-three. (40.1)5 Remember that the average quinquereme had at least 340 or so men aboard and the Romans likely having 420 due to the extra marines that they put aboard. This would create substantial manpower losses at somewhere around 32,000 to 40,000 for Carthage and just over 10,000 for Rome.

Ecnomus took place off the central southern coast of Sicily.

Aftermath of Ecnomus

     The immediate impact of the battle was that Hamilcar withdrew the fleet west. Still, both fleets had to be laid up in Sicily for repairs, so it’s not as if the Romans immediately exploited this and sailed to Africa. It was a common occurrence for ancient navies to dock after battles (if possible) to assess damage and make repairs. Remember, for the most part, the ship itself was used largely as a weapon for ramming. Ships would suffer attrition even with clean hits, making it vital for crews to make sure everything would be seaworthy after a conflict. 

     Even though the Romans could not just sail to Africa right after the battle, Ecnomus had crippled the Carthaginian fleet enough to where it was not willing to meet the Roman navy in another engagement at this time. There is some evidence in other sources that the right wing commander, Hanno, made some peace overtures, perhaps during the times the fleets were being repaired. Zonaras mentions this and we even have some of the original work of Cassius Dio that Zonaras was editing on this moment. Valerius Maximus also mentions this scenario in his book of famous sayings. (6.6.2)6 Interestingly, while Hanno was making peace talks (probably as a diversion of sorts) he was threatened to be arrested, apparently for in retaliation Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Asina’s debacle at the Lipari Islands some years before. There is a small chance that “trickery” was used in capturing Scipio Asina and apparently some of his supporters were in on the negotiations. Or the Romans just wanted to get back at Hanno since he was the most effective Carthaginian commander at the Battle of Ecnomus. Here is Zonaras’ description of how Hanno escaped from this awkward situation.

When some clamoured for Hanno’s arrest, because the Carthaginians had treacherously arrested Cornelius, the envoy said : “If you do this, you will no longer be any better than the Africans.” He, therefore by flattering them most opportunely escaped all molestation; but the Romans once more resumed the war. (8.12)7

     Whether or not this event is true is anybody’s guess. Eventually what did happen was that Hanno and Hamilcar did separate. The latter remained in Sicily with some forces, while the former took much of the fleet and returned to guard the city of Carthage. Rather reasonably, the Carthaginians were “convinced that the enemy, elated by their recent success, would at once attack Carthage itself from the sea, kept watch at different points over the approaches to the city with their land and sea forces.” (Polybius 1.29)8
     For Rome’s part, they did sail to Africa, though not directly. After repairs, they set out to sea and first rendezvoused at the “promontory known as the Hermaeum” or “Cape Hermaea.” This is Cape Bon today and is the peninsula that juts out from Tunisia into the Mediterranean and forms part of the gulf of Tunis. They then sailed down the eastern coast of the peninsula and went ashore near the town of Aspis. They first built some minor defenses around their beached ships and then the two Roman consuls decided to lay siege to Aspis. 

     Before we move on to examine the Roman campaign in Africa and the legend surrounding Marcus Atilius Regulus, I would like to discuss and reflect on some thoughts in general on the Battle of Ecnomus and why Rome still came out victorious in such a titanic naval battle against the preeminent naval power of the day.

P.S. There will be a map of northern Africa coming soon.

  1. Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.
  2. Eutropius. Abridgment of Roman History. Translated by John Selby Watson. 1853.
  3. Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.
  4. Orosius. Seven Books of History Against the Pagans.
  5. Aurelius Victor. De Viris Illustribus Urbis Romae. Latin translation found at
  6. Valerius Maximus. Factorum et Dictorum Memorabilium. Latin Translation found at
  7. Cassius Dio and Zonaras. Roman History. Translated by Earnest Cary. 1914.
  8. Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.