Lucius Junius Pullus and the Third Storm

Carthalo and the Relief Convoy

     When we last left off we saw that Carthalo’s attempt to overtake the first half of the Roman convoy fleet was pushed back by shoreline artillery. The quaestors who were in charge of this force should applauded for not panicking in such a situation, even if Carthalo voluntarily backed off just so that he could try again with another ambush. While he was waiting, Carthalo was alerted of the presence of the second half of the Roman fleet. This portion of the relief expedition was still under the command of the consul Lucius Junius Pullus and was able to start its voyage from the harbor at Syracuse. Junius Pullus almost surely didn’t know of Publius Claudius Pulcher’s disaster at the Battle of Drepana and, obviously, he was unaware of Carthalo’s attempt on the half of the fleet he had sent in advance a few days ago. 
     Once Carthalo was informed of his scouts spotting Junius Pullus’ fleet rounding Cape Pachyon (the southeastern corner of Sicily), he quickly advanced eastward to meet them. He wanted to make sure that the gap between the two fleets remained large so that if he did engage Junius Pullus, the first advance fleet could not aid Junius Pullus’ in any way. Somewhat fortunately for the consul, he was able to see Carthalo’s fleet from a distance and prevent the Roman fleet from stumbling into Carthalo’s hands. Unfortunately, Junius Pullus was still in a predicament as, “he neither dared to engage them nor could he now escape them, as they were so near.” (Polybius 1.54)1 In the end, he did something similar to what his quaestors had done. He ordered his ships to head for the coastline. The problem with this here, however, was that the area the Roman fleet was in was “a rugged and in every way perilous part of the coast.” (Polybius 1.54)2
     Perhaps because there were no towns nearby or that attempting to go closer to shore was even more dangerous, the Roman fleet simply anchored off the shore. Carthalo could see that any attempt on Junius Pullus’ fleet would be extremely dangerous for both fleets. Deciding on the better course of action he sailed to a position in between the two Roman fleets and simply waited for some time. Even though he was not destroying the Roman convoy, his mission was certainly being successful as it was clearly preventing any supplies from getting to the Roman army besieging Lilybaeum. Neither of the Roman fleets felt that they could sail out against Carthalo alone and were essentially stuck in their positions.

The Storm

     However, it would not be Carthalo or the Carthaginian fleet that the Romans needed to worry about. After only a short time into this standoff, Carthalo ended up sailing out and around Junius Pullus’ fleet and anchored somewhere up on the eastern coastline of Sicily. Here’s why.
     When the weather now became stormy, and they were threatened with a heavy gale from the open sea, the Carthaginian captains who were acquainted with the locality and with the weather signs, and foresaw and prophesied what was about to happen, persuaded Carthalo to escape the tempest by rounding Cape Pachynus. He very wisely consented, and with great labour they just managed to get round the cape and anchor in a safe position. (Polybius 1.54)3
     I’m not sure what the Romans were thinking when Carthalo sailed by, but it certainly couldn’t be good if the weather was picking up and the Carthaginian fleet had even decided not to wait it out. But really, the Romans didn’t have any real alternative to braving the weather at this point. Since Carthalo had taken the initiative and retreated first, the Romans would be vulnerable to his attacks if they tried to follow him up the eastern coast. But it was also largely open ocean to the west, making the weather perhaps even more dangerous to be in. So the choice was for both fleets to wait it out.

The Romans suffer another storm off the southern Sicilian coast.
     Just like the first storm near Camarina and the second storm north of Sicily, this storm wrought havoc on the Roman fleets. Unlike the previous two storms though, this one essentially brought complete destruction on the fleet. Diodorus Siculus attests that “only two were saved.” (24.1)4 The magnitude of this disaster can hardly be overstated. The entire fleet was annihilated where even the damaged ships “were so completely destroyed that not even the wrecks were good for anything.” (Polybius 1.54)5 Several hundred supply ships and their cargo were completely wasted as well as the actual Roman war fleet. This devastation may have been magnified by the anchorages of the fleets, which were not real harbors, but simply rocky shorelines. The only silver lining that the Romans might be able to conjure out of this situation was that the human losses might not have been as proportional as the ship losses. The crews of the advance half of the fleet, presumably, were ashore and took cover in the local town of Phintias. Perhaps, too, since the Romans were so close to the shore (though it was rocky) in the consul’s fleet many might have been able to swim or get to shore before the waves and wind became too dangerous.

Lucius Junius Pullus after the Storm

     In any case, the Roman losses were terrible. When this disaster combined with the loss of Pulcher’s fleet at the Battle of Drepana, the Romans may have had less than three dozen ships still afloat on the water. Considering this was the third major fleet constructed and then lost during the First Punic War it is understandable that the Romans gave up maintaining a presence on the waves and abandoned the naval aspect of the war.  
     Diodorus Siculus implies that the consul and the other men that survived the storm made their way to Lilybaeum with the two surviving ships, I think it would be unlikely because two ships could be intercepted and sunk quickly (especially since they knew Carthage was very present in these waters now.) Probably, they made their way to the Roman army at Lilybaeum by an overland route just as supplies would have to be transported this way from here on out. To his credit, the Junius Pullus still tried to conduct the war as best he could despite the situation the Romans found themselves in. 
     As Polybius puts it, the consul “set himself to devise some novel and original step that would be of service, being most anxious to make good the loss inflicted by the disaster.” (Polybius 1.55)6 He was able to command a night raid to capture Mt. Eryx. This mountain had a major temple and a town situated on it. (Though Eryx’s civilian population was evacuated about a decade earlier under order from the Hamilcar in charge at the time.) This was a small mountain that had an advantageous position overlooking one of Sicily’s major roads as well the Carthaginian stronghold Drepana. Diodorus Siculus adds that he “also fortified Aegithallus (now called Acellum) and left eight hundred men there as a garrison.” (24.1)7 This place is not known, but must have been presumably located in the vicinity of Mt. Eryx. However, Junius Pullus may have been pushing his forces too much as Zonaras states that Carthalo was able to lead some form of a counterattack and take back Aegithallus. In the process, the Carthaginian forces were also able to capture Junius Pullus alive. (8.15)8
     Clearly, 249 BCE was not a good year for Rome. When we return, we will examine a debacle involving implementing a dictator to take care of things since one consul was now captured and the other had been recalled back to Rome.

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