Gaius Sulpicius Paterculus and the Battle of Sulci

   The next year as usual, now 258BC, brought on two new Roman consuls. Gaius Florus was still besieging Mytistraton and received reinforcements from the new consul Aulus Atilius Caitinus. The fleet, which had largely returned with Lucius Scipio now set out under the command of Gaius Sulpicius Paterculus. Polybius has Gaius Paterculus going to Sicily with Caitinus, but was mistaken. 
     Gaius Sulpicius Paterculus instead picked up where Lucius Scipio had left in Sardinia. Taking command of the fleet he headed across the Tyrrhenian Sea and promptly “overran the greater part of Sardinia.” (Zonaras 8.12)1 This was likely a mostly mopping up ordeal. That is until Hannibal returned on the scene, the one that had been defeated at the Battle of Mylae. He had already been in  Sardinia, “Hannibal with the ships that escaped sailed away to Carthage and shortly after crossed from there to Sardinia, taking with him additional ships and some of the most celebrated naval officers.” (Polybius 1.24)So it does seem that his ploy of deflecting the responsibility of Mylae back onto the senate worked and he was left in command, though not fully on his own either. With his new forces he began to move against Gaius Paterculus.

     The following series of events is rather convoluted. Polybius only has about one sentence on the matter (and he doesn’t even indicate the Roman commander and also seems to have the events occurring in the prior year.) Diodorus Siculus is silent on this event, leaving Zonaras’ paraphrasing of Cassius Dio as the fullest account of the incident. Unfortunately, some of what is recorded simply doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The Battle of Sulci

     According to Zonaras, here is how the “battle” of Sulci went down. After overrunning Sardinia, whatever that really meant, Gaius Sulpicius Paterculus became filled with “arrogance” and now decided he had had enough of thrashing Sardinia. It was now time to take an expedition to Africa. This is the first action that we should rise an eyebrow at. The Romans did not have ships enough in strength to undertake such an expedition that could land a sizable army in Africa, let alone doing such a logistical nightmare from a base in Sardinia. An expedition to Africa, though forthcoming in a couple years, was simply out of the question at this moment in time. Be as it may, Hannibal couldn’t just let a Roman fleet sail off towards Carthage unrestricted. However, while Gaius Paterculus began sailing towards Africa with Hannibal not far behind, a “contrary wind was encountered.” (Zonaras 8.12)3 Whatever this wind was, it forced both Hannibal and Paterculus back to their harbors in Sardinia.
     Perhaps seeing how intent Hannibal was on giving chase, Gaius Paterculus came up with a plan. He deliberately allowed individuals of in his forces to act as deserting troops. In this capacity they disseminated false information on how Paterculus was planning and readying to make another attempt towards Africa. Hannibal seized upon the bait and set out to sea in pursuit again. This time however, Gaius Sulpicius Paterculus was waiting for him. Naval warfare in the ancient world was always dicey and it is likely that Hannibal was not ready for battle when Paterculus came upon his fleet. This ambush was also compounded by a mist that hampered visibility. Of course, the Carthaginians (and likely the Romans too) “were thrown into confusion.” (Zonaras 8.12)4

     Many Carthaginian vessels were sunk and they withdrew to the nearest shore on Sardinia. Paterculus pursued them and captured the remaining Carthaginian vessels as they were abandoned with the crews heading inland to the town of Sulci. The Carthaginian crew members and likely the aforementioned “celebrated” captains had had enough of this Hannibal and began to mutiny against him. Eventually they killed him, likely by crucifixion as was their manner.

After the Battle of Sulci

     Paterculus then began to ravage Sardinia again. This time, however, a new Carthaginian was able to put up some fight and stop Paterculus. Unfortunately all we literally know of this man is that his name was Hanno. Perhaps he was one of the captains who sailed out from Carthage after the Mylae defeat. It seems that the Paterculus and the Romans felt that fighting through tough resistance in Sardinia was not worth the trouble and operations around Sardinia for the rest of the war came to an end. Any naval threat from Corsica or Sardinia was removed, if that was indeed the original reasoning for the assaults on these two islands in the first place. In any case Paterculus and the fleet returned to Italy. Here Gaius Sulpicius Paterculus was awarded a triumph celebrating his deeds “over the Carthaginians and Sardinia.”5

     Next time we shall return to the Sicilian theater of war and take our first look at Aulus Atilius Calatinus.


  1. Cassius Dio and Zonaras. Roman History. Translated by Earnest Cary. 1914.
  2. Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.
  3. Cassius Dio and Zonaras. Roman History. Translated by Earnest Cary. 1914.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Fasti Triumphales.