The Aftermath of Drepana

Carthage Builds Upon Her Victory at Drepana

     Adherbal, the victor at the Battle of Drepana, did not stop his operations there. Another Carthaginian admiral, Carthalo, rendezvoused with him adding another seventy ships to the Carthaginian fleet. This would bring the number of ships he commanded to about 200 ships (since he lost none in the aforementioned battle.) In regards to all the captured Roman ships, he probably had no means of actually rowing them (at least not effectively for fighting), so they were probably sent to Drepana or back to Carthage with smaller crews with the Roman prisoners.
     After Carthalo arrived, Adherbal split his navy and gave command of 100 ships to him. With these ships Adherbal “dispatched him with orders to make a sudden descent on the enemy’s ships that were moored near Lilybaeum, capture all he could and set fire to the rest.” (Polybius 1.53)1 I’m assuming these ships were the thirty or so ships that Pulcher fled with back to Lilybaeum. Carthalo quickly acted on these orders and started something of a panic in the Roman camp still besieging Lilybaeum. As the Romans hurried around trying to think of something to do to protect the ships, Himilco acted with great vigilance. He had so far defended Lilybaeum extraordinarily and would continue to do so here. He led a concentrated sortie out from the walls and placed the Romans under severe pressure for some time before retreating back to safety. Polybius doesn’t mention how many Roman ships were lost in this hit and run, but Diodorus Siculus, seeming to describe this skirmish, relates that Carthalo sunk some of the Roman ships and disabled another five. (24.1)2 Carthalo, however, was not done and sailed southwards along the coast after hearing about Junius Pullus’ relief expedition setting sail (see below). 
     Another Carthaginian operation took place at this time. Hannibal, the good friend of Adherbal that had brought reinforcements to Lilybaeum, was granted command of thirty ships. With this small fleet Hannibal went off and raided Panormus successfully. The Carthaginians were able to plunder the grain reserves in and around Panormus and bring them back to Drepana. “Then, taking from Drepana whatever other provisions were of use, they went to Lilybaeum, and provided the besieged population with an abundance of good things of all sorts.” (Diodorus Siculus 24.1)3 So even though the Siege of Lilybaeum really doesn’t end until the war does, without a blockade of the harbor, the population in Lilybaeum will hold up well for a siege of such a duration.

Lucius Junius Pullus

     The other consul of 249, Lucius Junius Pullus, was not idle while Publius Claudius Pulcher made his way to Lilybaeum and then to Drepana. Junius Pullus, instead of fighting, was organizing a large relief expedition for the Roman besieging army around Lilybaeum. As we saw in earlier posts, this Roman army was suffering from disease and malnutrition for the most part and part of the army even had to withdraw due to these logistical problems. Accordingly, Junius Pullus gathered the other half of the Roman navy (that wasn’t at Lilybaeum commanded by Pulcher) and allied ships at Messana. As continued to gather ships as he headed down the coast, he had assembled a fleet of “a hundred and twenty ships and the supplies in about eight hundred transports.” (Polybius 1.52)4 The war-fleet size is consistent with our previous calculations, but I honestly have no good answer for 800 transport or cargo ships and was unable to find much information on this situation in particular. Warships, such as the quinqueremes being used in this war really had little room for cargo and therefore cargo ships were instead escorted. Perhaps these ships in particular were smallish in comparison to the warships and many would be needed to supply an army in the tens of thousands.

Lucius Junius Pullus sent a relief expedition from Syracuse along the southern coast of Sicily to resupply the Roman army besieging Lilybaeum.

     While at Syracuse, things may have been taking longer than he had hoped they would. He sent half of the transport ships along with only a token escort so that the army might receive at least some supplies quickly. Junius Pullus himself remained behind to collect more supplies, probably from King Hiero, for the besieging force as well as other garrisons throughout Sicily. In his place he sent the “Quaestors” which may refer to the quaestor that was assigned to him for the year. (Quaestors were financial/treasurer magistrates and at this time there were a total of four, two of which followed consuls on their campaigns.) This small escort must mean that Junius Pullus was unaware of the disaster that had befallen Pulcher at the Battle of Drepana, else he wouldn’t have sent such a light force.

Carthalo’s Ambush

     The quaestor’s convoy headed along the southern coast of Sicily ahead of the rest of the Roman fleet. Carthalo, who had already heard of the Roman relief expedition, was lying in wait somewhere in whereabouts of Heraclea Minoa. He had placed scouts along the southern coast situated at high points so that they could see far into the ocean’s distance. Because of this, “when his look-out men reported that a considerable number of ships of every variety were approaching and at no great distance,” he immediately weighed anchor to try and overtake them. (Polybius 1.53)5 Fortunately for the Romans, they had several light vessels scouting the waters ahead of their convoy and spotted the Carthaginian ambush. 
     Promptly alerted, the Romans knew they couldn’t succeed in any form of a naval battle and headed for shore near a small but friendly town. Even though there was no harbor Polybius describes that it still had “a more or less secure anchorage.” (1.53)6 So while not great, it was certainly better than nothing. Diodorus Siculus names this town as Phintias (24.1)7 which would be very near Cape Ecnomus. He then relates that a small battle took place after the Romans anchored and disembarked. The Carthaginians “disabled fifty of the large freighters, sent to the bottom seventeen men-of‑war, and stove in and rendered useless thirteen others.” (Diodorus Siculus 24.1)8 Polybius, however, mentions something of a battle in a much different way.
     In his account, the Romans safely anchored and disembarked and then proceeded to commandeer weapons from the fortified town. Namely these were artillery pieces. While most translations use “catapults and mangonels,” the latter were medieval and it would have probably been ballistae. Still, whatever they had, they were certainly somewhat ready for Carthalo, who was likely anticipating easy pickings. As, “on their approach at first thought of besieging them, supposing that the crews would be afraid and retreat to the city, and that they would then easily possess themselves of the ships.” (Polybius 1.53)9 Instead, the Roman used the artillery to fire at the Carthaginian fleet as they tried to inflict damage to the convoy. The Carthaginians were able to take a few Roman cargo ships as prizes, but decided to call off the attack. While the artillery were probably quite inaccurate firing at moving ships (though many ships together all heading for the same area, namely the Roman ships, might indeed have presented an easier target to hit), Carthalo realized that taking some cargo ships would not be worth losing any of his warships. He decided to head back up the coast to try his luck again at hitting them, hopefully in open water.
     I prefer to go with Polybius’ version most of the time when different sources can’t really be reconciled with each other, though in this case it really doesn’t matter too much, as you will see in the next post. When we return, we will see another attempt from Carthalo, this time at Junius Pullus’ portion of the fleet, more bad weather, and what happened to Publius Claudius Pulcher after the Battle of Drepana.

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