Gaius Duilius

With Scipio Asina out of the picture as a Carthaginian hostage, Gaius Duilius promptly took command of the entire Roman fleet and gave command of the land forces to military tribunes. Duilius was a plebeian and not an aristocratic patrician owing to the fact that he lacked a cognomen (the third name in the tria nomina). Beyond that, he was also a novus homo – literally “new man”, the first man in his family (the gens Duilia) to achieve the office of consul. It may be likely due to his plebeian status that he was originally in control of the land forces in Sicily and the patrician Scipio Asina would receive the higher honor of commanding the first true Roman fleet. Be that as it may, Duilius seemed to be up to the challenge that presented itself.

     While the case can be made that Gaius Duilius performed the land operations attributed to him before he took command of the fleet and the Battle of Mylae, it seems more chronological based on the events that the naval actions took place first, perhaps after brief preparations in Sicily. As admiral of the fleet, Duilius immediately set towards the Carthaginian navy that he had obtained information on. This Carthaginian force, under the command of Hannibal Gisgo, was operating now in between the Lipari Islands and Sicily. It was off the coast of the town of Mylae that Duilius met and the two fleets fought a pitched battle. Despite the Roman’s lack of experience on the high seas and Duilius’ brand new command, the Carthaginians lost the battle and withdrew with their remaining ships. A more detailed account of the Battle of Mylae can be found here.

Gaius Duilius after Mylae

     With the captured ships that he was able to send back to Rome, a rostral column was erected in Duilius’ honor. A ship’s rostrum in the ancient world was its bronze ram at the prow and it was these that were used to adorn the column that was placed in the forum. These rostra and others that were fixed on platforms for orators is where our modern term of rostrum (meaning a particular raised setup for a speaker) comes form. Speaking platform etymology aside, Duilius continued his command back to the war in Sicily.
     It seems likely that Duilius sailed at once to relieve the siege of Segesta that was being conducted by Hamilcar. The Carthaginians broke the siege and Duilius took command, probably to the relief of the military tribune leading the defending garrison. It was also probably under Duilius that the 4,000 allies of Rome were annihilated in an ambush set by Hamilcar, though Duilius may have captured the town of Makella despite the setback. After this, the battle for Sicily stalemated once again, though the Romans must have been encouraged from their first real foray into battle on the high seas.
     After his return to Italy, Gaius Duilius was awarded a naval triumph, the first of its kind in Roman history. Also, interestingly, according to Livy, Gaius Duilius was to be accompanied by a torchbearer and a flute player henceforth when he went out and about Rome at night. (17)1 Despite his success and triumph, Duilius never again held military command after his consulship, despite being alive many years later. In 231 he became dictator, but only for the function of presiding over certain elections. This strange state of affairs where Rome was unwilling to delegate command to the same man consecutively (their were only a handful of instance in the whole war) must certainly have been a weakness to her war effort.
     As for the admiral who opposed Gaius Duilius, Hannibal, he was able to escape punishment (at least for now) through a clever gambit.
The Carthaginians because of their defeat by the Romans in the sea-fight came near putting Hannibal to death. It is a natural tendency of practically all people who send out armies on any mission to claim credit for the advantages gained, but to charge the defeats upon their leaders; and the Carthaginians were very ready to punish those who failed in any enterprise. Hannibal, however, was afraid, and immediately after the defeat inquired of them, just as if the business were still untouched, whether they bade him risk a sea-fight or not. When they declared in the affirmative, as he had of course expected, because they prided themselves on having such a superior navy, he added, by the mouths of the same messengers: “I, then, have done no wrong, for I went into the engagement with the same hopes as you. The decision was within my power, but not the fortune of the battle.” (Cassius Dio 11.11)2
Let us now turn to a more detailed look at the Battle of Mylae, found here.
  1. Livy. History of Rome. Periochae 17.
  2. Cassius Dio and Zonaras. Roman History. Translated by Earnest Cary. 1914.