Gaius Aurelius Cotta

     After losing the majority of the fleet in yet another storm, Rome decided to refocus her attention back on Sicily. Sending two expeditions to Africa had cost the Romans somewhere around 400 ships and well over 100,000 lives. While the Romans had seen success on the seas, it was clear they were willing to yield to the Carthaginians in this arena for some time. The Roman fleet was curtailed severely and not rebuilt and at the same time the Carthaginian fleet of 200 ships would have likely been about finished if it was not so already. Still, it seems that neither side was willing to risk another major naval engagement and this forced Sicily to once again return to the forefront.

Cotta and Gemina

     Polybius doesn’t even mention the consuls’ names Gaius Aurelius Cotta or Publius Servilius Gemina at this point in the war. Instead, after relating the disaster of the second storm, he goes straight to the year 251 BCE. He states that for the years 252 and 251 the Romans “never dared to begin a battle” because of the large number of Carthaginian elephants.1 But, he then goes on to say that the Romans did conduct some sieges. The ones that he relates, Lipara and Therma, would have occurred under the consulships of Cotta and Gemina. 

     Few sources mention this year of campaigning under Cotta and Gemina, though one of the later sources is quite colorful in his description of Cotta. Here is Orosius’ account of 252 BCE.

     Moreover, the consul Cotta crossed to Sicily and fought many battles on land and sea against the Carthaginians and Sicilians, leaving throughout the whole of Sicily unburied heaps of the dead, not only of the enemy, but also of his own allies. (4.9)2

     Clearly this is just fantastical, as Orosius really is just berating a greedy pagan Rome at this point in his narrative. There were certainly no naval battles, very few land battles, and I’m honestly not quite sure what to make of Cotta just leaving corpses everywhere. (His own allies as well, really?) Anyways, at least Zonaras’ summary of Cassius Dio makes Cotta and Gemina seem much more normal, though he does get their names wrong at first.

The consuls Cotta and Gemina assaulted Lipara and Thermae in their 252 BCE campaigning season.


Thermae Himera

     In this account, the Roman consuls, probably each operating with a consular army, was able to overtake the town of Himera after failing to take the town of Hercte. This Himera is likely Therma (or Therma, Thermae Himera). Himera was originally an early Greek settlement in Sicily but had been conquered and destroyed by Carthage in 409 BCE in the Second Greco-Punic War. A new town was built nearby and named Thermae Himera and had since been under the political influence of Carthage. 
     Even though Cotta and Gemina conquered Himera/Therma, Zonaras relates that the Carthaginians had already evacuated the town beforehand. (8.14)3 Diodorus Siculus also tells of the capture of Therma, but he also has somewhat strange account of a failed first attempt to take the town. Essentially, the watchman at the gate was captured as he was away from the wall “for the needs of nature.” (23.19)4 In exchange for his life he opened up the gate at night for the Romans. The Romans sent in a force of 1,000 men and forced the gate keeper to then lock the door behind them “since they wished to carry off the wealth of the city themselves.” (23.19)5 It is hard to figure out what this force really though it was going to do. Perhaps they wanted to loot the city themselves and therefore keep more of the booty, but it’s hard to see how they would be able to keep their actions quiet without the rest of the army knowing. In any case the Carthaginian forces or garrison in the town handled themselves against whatever this Roman force was up to. In the words of Diodorus Siculus, “All of these men were cut down and suffered the death that their greed deserved.” (23.19)6


     The other offensive that Cotta and Gemina launched was against the Lipari Islands. They had been a Carthaginian naval base for the duration of the war and had continually eluded Roman capture. Starting with Scipio Asina’s debacle, the Romans had tried to force the islands two other times. This time, however, Cotta was able to get the job done, though not without incident. King Hiero, who really has been an excellent and noble ally of Rome throughout this war, allowed the consuls to borrow some ships to land forces at Lipara. A siege then began and, for whatever reason, Cotta decided to leave and places a tribune named Quintus Cassius in charge. 
     Cotta had advised Cassius to not give battle to the Carthaginians. Of course, Quintus Cassius then proceeded to attack the Carthaginians unsuccessfully and lost quite a few Romans in the process. Cotta returned and, “subsequently took the place, killed all the inhabitants, and deposed Cassius from his command.” (Zonaras 8.14)7 With Lipara and Thermae captured, only the western and southwestern coast of Sicily remained in Carthaginian hands. Cotta, for his part, earned a triumph on his return to Rome. 

     This would continue to put the pressure on Carthage. In particular, Hasdrubal with his army and 140 elephants that had been training continuously could put off engaging the Romans no longer. It is to his actions that we will turn to next time.

  1. Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.
  2. Orosius. Seven Books of History Against the Pagans.                                      
  3. Cassius Dio and Zonaras. Roman History. Translated by Earnest Cary. 1914.
  4. Diodorus Siculus. Library of History. Translated by Francis Walton. 1957.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Cassius Dio and Zonaras. Roman History. Translated by Earnest Cary. 1914.