Battle of Alalia

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Battle of Alalia
Date Some time between 540 BC and 535 BC
Location Off the coast of Corsica
Result Greek Cadmean victory, Carthaginian-Etruscan strategic victory
Territorial
changes
The Greeks evacuated Corsica, which was captured by the Etruscans, while Carthage maintained its hold on Sardinia
Belligerents
The Greek Phocaean Colonies of Massalia and Alalia Carthage
Etruscans
Strength
60 Pentekonters Around 120 Ships
Casualties and losses
Almost 40 Pentekonters Unknown

The naval Battle of Alalia took place between 540 BC and 535 BC off the coast of Corsica between Greeks and the allied Etruscans and Carthaginians. The Punic-Etruscan fleet of 120 ships was defeated by a Greek force of Phocean ships while emigrating to the western Mediterranean and the nearby colony of Alalia (now Aléria).

Background[edit]

Battle of Alalia and aftermath

The Phoenicians had planted trading posts in Africa, Sicily, Sardinia and Iberia during the 11th and 10th centuries BC while creating their trading monopoly. They had a relatively free hand during that period as other civilizations were suffering from a "Dark Age" during that period. The Etruscans emerged as a local power in the 8th century BC, spreading their trade to Corsica, Sardinia and Iberia and creating a powerful navy to guard their interests. The Phoenicians and Etruscans became trading partners and rivals, exchanging goods and opportunistic raids with each other. The situation changed with the arrival of the Greeks in the western Mediterranean in 750 BC.

Greater Greece outside Greece[edit]

The Greek colonization started with the planting of Cumae in Italy by 750 BC and Naxos in Sicily by 735 BC. Within the next 100 years, several Greek cities had planted colonies along the coast of southern Italy and most of Sicily, creating a position to control trade routes around these areas and dominating the Strait of Messina. Etruscans clashed with the Greeks, but were unable to stop the process. Although the colonization process was not done according to any master plan, with several Greek cities acting simultaneously, it probably seemed to the Phoenicians and Etruscans that a flood of Greeks were drowning the Tyrrhenian seacoast.

The Greek-colonized zone encompassing Sicily and Southern Italy came to be known as Magna Graecia. The Greeks living in this area behaved pretty much like the mainland Greeks, expanding their political and commercial domain at the expense of their neighbors while keeping the Ionian–Dorian feud alive. The colonization offered greater opportunities for increased trade, piracy and other conflicts among the Etruscans, Phoenicians and Greeks competing for control of seaborne trade of the area.

Carthaginian hegemony[edit]

Carthage created her hegemony in part to resist Greek encroachments in the Phoenician sphere of influence. Phoenicians initially (750–650 BC) did not resist the Greeks, but after the Greeks had reached Iberia sometime after 638 BC, Carthage emerged as the leader of the Phoenician resistance. During the 6th century BC, mostly under the leadership of the Magonid dynasty, Carthage established an empire which would commercially dominate the Western Mediterranean.[1] The Phoenician cities of Motya, Panormus and Solus in Sicily and the Elymians had teamed up to defeat the Greeks of Selinus and Rhodes near Lilybaeum in 580 BC, the first such recorded incident in Sicily. These cities remained independent until becoming part of the Carthaginian hegemony after 540 BC.[2]

Prelude: Phocaean pirates[edit]

The Phocaean Greeks from Asia Minor (modern Turkey) had founded the colony of Massalia around 600 BC, which the Carthaginians had tried and failed to prevent.[3] Massalia became a thriving trading center and a major rival of Carthage for the Spanish markets and the tin trade through Gaul. The Phocaeans also planted a colony in Alalia in Corsica around 562 BC. When the city of Phocaea itself fell to Cyrus the Great of Persia in 546 BC, most Phoceans moved to Alalia, partly because they were on good terms with the Greek colonies along the Strait of Messina and had even been granted toll-free passage. They also founded Elea in southern Italy (Magna Grecia) in 540 BC.

The Phoenicians had managed to establish their base at a time when Carthage was engaged in defending Punic colonies in Sicily (Greeks had started to encroach on Punic cities in 580 BC) and conquering territory in Sardinia,[4] Tyre was facing Persian domination and the Etruscans were engaged in expansion across Italy, starting with the formation of the Etruscan League. The Greeks started to prey on Carthaginian and Etruscan trade from Corsica, which continued unchecked for five years. However, fearing that the Greeks would threaten their colonies in North Italy and Sardinia next, the Etruscans and Carthaginians joined forces to oppose the Greeks around 540 BC. It is not known if the Carthaginians had allied with the Etruscan League or with individual Etruscan cities.

The battle[edit]

It is assumed that the Phocaean Greeks had 60 pentekonters (ships with 48 oars and two rudders for steering),[5] not the trireme that would become famous at the Battle of Salamis, and the allied fleet was twice as large, also made of pentekonters, not the bireme normally used by the Phoenicians. Details of the battle are sketchy, but it is known that the Greeks had driven the allied fleet off, but had lost almost two-thirds of their own fleet in doing so: a Cadmean victory, according to Herodotus.[6] The rams of the surviving ships had been severely damaged. Realizing that they could not withstand another attack, the Greeks evacuated Corsica, and initially sought refuge in Rhegion in Italy. Carthaginian and Etruscan battle losses are not known. A legend describes how Greek prisoners were stoned to death at Caere by the Etruscans, while the Carthaginians sold their prisoners into slavery. This battle is also known as "The Battle of Sardinia Sea".

Aftermath[edit]

Corsica passed into Etruscan hands, while Carthage retained Sardinia. Carthage would fight two more major naval battles with Massalia, losing both,[7] but still managing to close the Strait of Gibraltar to Greek shipping and thus containing the Greek expansion in Spain by 480 BC. Attempts by Etruscans to conquer Greek areas in Southern Italy would be opposed by the Greek city of Cumae. They would defeat an Etruscan invasion in 524 BC. Carthage would defeat the attempt of Spartan prince Dorieus to colonize North Africa (c. 513 BC) and Western Sicily c. 510 BC.[8] While Carthage was busy in Sardinia after 509 BC dealing with a native uprising, the Greek city of Syracuse under Gelon, allied with the Greek city of Agrigentum under Theron to jointly challenge the Carthaginians in Sicily. This set the stage for the Sicilian Wars (480–307 BC) between Carthage and the Greeks.
According to Herodotus, it was only after the battle that Phocaeans moved to Italy where they founded Elea.[9]

Some authors consider that the Greek defeat and consequent lack of Greek traders in the Gibraltar Strait led to the collapse of the Tartessian civilization in Southern Spain, while the Punic presence remained undisturbed.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Markoe, Glenn E., "Phoenicians", p54-55 ISBN 0-520-22614-3
  2. ^ Freeman, Edward A., History of Sicily, Volume 1, p283-297 – public domain book
  3. ^ Thucidydes, I.13.60
  4. ^ Casson, Lionel, The Ancient Mariners, p 74 id = ISBN 0-691-01477-9
  5. ^ Casson, Lionel, The Ancient Mariners, p 79 id = ISBN 0-691-01477-9
  6. ^ Herodotus, Histories, I, 166.
  7. ^ Casson, Lionel, The ancient Mariners, p 75 id = ISBN 0-691-01477-9
  8. ^ Baker, G.P Hannibal, p 15 id = ISBN 0-8154-1005-0
  9. ^ Herodotus 1.166.1, 1.167.2

References[edit]