Reaction to the Storm

     It is interesting to note how Rome and Carthage responded to the storm that catastrophically wrecked Rome’s fleet off of the town of Camarina. It is hard to overstate the loss that Rome incurred with around 284 quinqueremes lost along with perhaps 100,000 men. It was a devastating blow that would have put many states throughout history in a seat at the negotiating table, despite whether they were winning the war or not. Of course, the First Punic War didn’t end and we will now look at what happened after the storm.


     Carthage may have a caught a break from the sudden loss of a Roman fleet, but that didn’t have any bearing on what was happening on the home front. As we have seen, during Regulus‘ invasion, some of the Numidian tribes surrounding Carthaginian territory also took action against Carthage. This havoc was still going on in Africa, presumably, even after the Battle of Tunis and the Romans withdrew from Africa. The Numidians, “inflicted not less but even more damage on the country than [Rome].” (Polybius 1.31)1 This Numidian threat had to be dealt with so that it didn’t affect the wartime economy too much, let alone for the military strains it would cause. 
     Still, after the Camarina storm at sea and the Battle of Tunis on land, Carthage was “encouraged to make more extensive military and naval preparations.” (1.38)2 It seems on the naval aspect, Carthage was struggling to really get things going with another fleet. The only operation seems to be to retake the small island of Cossyra back. Yet, in particular, the Carthaginians were ready to make Sicily the prime battleground once again. Hasdrubal, one of the generals present at the Battle of Tunis, was dispatched to Sicily. What is not clear is where some of the troops under his command came from. Polybius states “the troops they previously had” and this isn’t clear whether these are units from the army in Africa or at Sicily. They were probably the troops left in Sicily as the African army would have to be used to pacify the Numidians, but it could easily have been a combination of the two armies. Heraclean troops are also mentioned and these must be the soldiers Hamilcar brought from Sicily to Africa earlier. Lastly, no fewer than one hundred forty elephants were also under Hasdrubal’s control. 
Carthage Operating in Sicily 
     Hasdrubal’s arrival in Sicily has been debated. It seems that he went in either 255 or 254 BCE. However, there really isn’t any mentioning of Hasdrubal for some time afterwards, which has led many scholars to assume that Hasdrubal did not arrive in Sicily for a couple of years. Yet the sources seem to subtly defend the case that he arrived at the earlier date. Diodorus Siculus mentions that, at a later date, Hasdrubal was “berated by his own people for not fighting.” (23.21)3 It seems that he was not in a rush to use his forces very often, perhaps even detrimentally. He did regularly train his army in the meantime, so at least he wasn’t just sitting around. Hadrubal “occupied himself in drilling unopposed his elephants and the rest of his force.” (Polybius 1.38)4
     Hasdrubal may have occupied himself with practice maneuvers, but there was another Carthaginian general operating in Sicily, Carthalo. This general was much more proactive in his methods to aid the Carthaginian war effort. Carthalo had been able to recapture Agrigentum from the Romans, maybe as early as later in the year 255 BCE.  Carthalo “captured and burned the city, and tore down its walls.”5 The inhabitants were largely relocated. Carthalo also played a role in defending a Carthaginian stronghold which will be mentioned later.

Sicily once again became the battleground of the First Punic War after the storm off Camarina.


     What would have collapsed other states of the time, Rome was able to withstand. The Camarina storm was indeed a disaster, but the Romans resolved not to give up the war. Instead, they decided to construct another fleet in order to replace the one that was lost. In another extraordinary effort, similar to the first round of ship building, Rome constructed 220 ships in three months. Even Polybius states that it is “a thing difficult to believe.”6 Indeed it is, which, of course, make many modern readers also doubt such a thing. It may not have been done in three months, but I do believe that Rome was able to quickly put another significant fleet. Polybius puts the total at a full 300 ships and Diodorus Siculus put the fleet at a still substantial 250 ships. 
     In 254 BCE two consuls were elected in Rome and, unusually for this war, these consuls had already held the consulship. They were Aulus Atilius Calatinus, who had already triumphed in the capacity of a praetor, and our friend Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Asina. Yes, the one that got in a debacle in the Lipari Islands and earned the nickname “she-ass.” Asina must have been released in a prisoner exchange or ransom at some point earlier in the war. Still, I have no idea how Asina was able to attain the consulship again after his earlier mess up. It is likely that it was simply the political clout that his family had since the Scipionic branch of the Cornelii was a preeminent family, even among the patriciate, and they would continue to be for many generations. 
     In our next post, we will look into Asina and Calatinus’ use of both ground and land forces in a campaign in Sicily.

  1. Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.
  2. Ibid. 
  3. Diodorus Siculus. Library of History. Translated by Francis Walton. 1957.
  4. Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.
  5. Diodorus Siculus. Library of History. Translated by Francis Walton. 1957.
  6. Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.