Gaius Aquillius Florus

    I actually feel pretty bad for Gaius Aquillius Florus. As the land commander in Sicily he was Lucius Cornelius Scipio’s consular counterpart for 259. However, since he was not involved with the fleet, he took no action in Corsica or Sardinia and therefore did not triumph with Scipio. (We’ll put aside that the triumph was probably awarded for accomplishing comparatively little.) Also, as stated earlier, Polybius says nothing at all about Florus. Lastly, many modern historians somewhat disregard Florus or describe Florus as a failure in Sicily. Let’s try to clarify what was really going on in Sicily while Florus was in command.
     After Gaius Duilius left command and retired back to Rome, Hamilcar, as usual, countered. Around this time, he began to strongly fortify the harbor town of Drepana on the northwest coast of Sicily. In these preparations, Hamilcar ordered that the nearby town of Eryx, located on the mountain of the same name, to be abandoned with the people moving into Drepana. Eryx was then largely destroyed, except for what may have been a large temple complex (Diodorus Siculus 23.9).1 This was likely due to its nearby position to Drepana (a mere few miles away) and because of its formidable position on the mountain, it would have a formidable stronghold and a very favorable base of operations if one was to make an effort against Drepana. He was able to then launch some counterattacks against the towns of Camarina and Enna, probably others as well. It seems that Florus was unable to stop Hamilcar’s attacks, leading to a bad rep in modern works.
     This is largely undeserved I feel. Hamilcar likely had more than twice the manpower Gaius Aquillius Florus did. Florus had a single consular army of around 20,000 men with no other reinforcements as they were with Lucius Cornelius Scipio carousing in Corsica and Sardinia. Hamilcar, supplementing his forces with what was left after Agrigentum (who largely escaped), likely had 40,000 to 50,000 men. In a theater of war where the the upper hand seesawed all the time between Rome and Carthage, it’s no wonder that Florus was unable to fully prevent Hamilcar’s operations.
     Even against Hamilcar’s advances, Florus resisted with what he could it seemed. We are told “if Gaius Florus, who was wintering there, had not restrained him, he would have subjugated the whole of Sicily. ” (Zonaras 8.11)2 While that may have been certainly an exaggeration, it does seem that Florus did not allow Hamilcar to just simply have his way with things. A key thing to note from the source here as well is that Florus wintered in Sicily. This is important because previously and throughout much of the First Punic War, it seems that Roman forces largely withdrew from Sicily and back to Italy during the winter campaigning season (or more aptly lack thereof). Carthage and Rome both seemed content to not engage in wintertime, with only a few exceptions. This combined with the fact that during triumphs (rather common affairs in this war) the participating legions had to actually march in Rome, oftentimes in early spring. This would be one of the times the legions stayed over winter in Sicily to continue against Hamilcar and also to begin a major siege against Mytistraton. This was a town that had previously resisted a Roman siege in the war. Florus conducted this siege over the winter months.
     And this is where we will leave Gaius Aquillius Florus for now. Rest assured that his contemporaries did not share the same view others have had of him and that they will honor him accordingly with a triumph.
  1. Diodorus Siculus. Library of History. Translated by Francis Walton. 1957.
  2.  Cassius Dio and Zonaras. Roman History. Translated by Earnest Cary. 1914.