Siege of Lilybaeum (250 BC)
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|Siege of Lilybaeum|
|Part of the First Punic War|
Sicily circa 241 BC after the decisive Battle of the Aegates Islands.
|Commanders and leaders|
Gaius Atilius Regulus Serranus|
Lucius Manlius Vulso Longus
Publius Claudius Pulcher
Lucius Junius Pullus
The Siege of Lilybaeum (250 BC) was a battle of the First Punic War that pitted a Roman Consular army led by Gaius Atilius Regulus Serranus and Lucius Manlius Vulso Longus against a Carthaginian army under the command of the general Himilcon. The battle resulted in a Roman retreat from the siege after the destruction of their fleet at Drepana.
After their victory at the Battle of Panormus of the previous year, the Roman Senate decided to raise an army to decisively put an end to the fighting in Sicily. To this end, a new fleet was commissioned to be made up of 240 ships. The two consuls that year were sent to Sicily at the head of four legions. The Roman forces were likely made up of up to 100,000 men, including the crews of galleys and the auxiliary troops that normally accompanied the legions.
Caius Atilius Regulus Serranus and Lucius Manlius Vulso Longus both had significant military experience having both previously served as consuls. The Romans arrived at Lilybaeum and began their siege of the city, building siege works around the city including rams, walls, trenches, catapults and siege towers. They further attempted to mine underneath the city walls and to block the city's port with their fleet.
The Carthaginian force was up to this point, based almost exclusively on a force of 10,000 mercenaries inside the city. Historically, Carthage had typically relied on mercenary armies and did not maintain its own standing army. According to the historian Polybius, many of the mercenary captains gathered together and decided to desert to the Roman side after fears were raised that they did not stand a chance against the Romans. The Carthaginian command gained knowledge of this plot and the traitors were not allowed to return to the city once they entered the Roman camp. The loyalty of the remaining mercenaries was thereafter not in question and the city was shortly thereafter reinforced by fresh troops from Carthage. The fleet that brought these reinforcements sailed to the Carthaginian base at modern day Trapani (then called Drepana) and were able to consistently run the Roman blockade of Lilybaeum to bring supplies to the town.
After a storm destroyed the Roman defensive works protecting their siege craft, the Carthaginians came out of the city on sorties and set most of the Roman siege weapons on fire, destroying them. This damage could have been repaired with time, but a second blow befell the Roman camp. The following year, new and non battle tested consuls arrived at the siege with reinforcements. The senior consul, Publius Claudius Pulcher, decided to launch an attack against the Carthaginian fleet at the First Battle of Drepana which turned into the worst naval disaster for the Roman fleet in the entire war. 93 of their ships were captured by the Carthaginian navy, with a mere 30 Roman ships escaping destruction or capture. Publius Claudius Pulcher was disgraced and called back to Rome where he was fined for his incompetence. Shortly after the defeat at Drepana, another Roman fleet under the second new consul, Lucius Junius Pullus, was destroyed by the Carthaginians.
The Romans attempted to reroute all trade away from the city in an effort to isolate Drepana. In response, Carthage designated Hamilcar Barca, the Carthaginian chief of Sicily in 247 BC to concentrate his forces elsewhere on the island. Attempts to take Lilybaeum by the Romans did not stop until their decisive victory at the Battle of the Aegates Islands in 241 BC. This defeat finally forced Carthage to negotiate a peace on Roman terms. One of the terms that Carthage was obliged to agree to was the complete abandonment of Sicily which included Lilybaeum. Roman consul Publius Claudius Pulcher was disgraced, and he received a heavy fine as a result of losing the engagement.
- Polybius. The Histories. The Loeb Classical Library. Translated by W. R. Paton. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
- Diodorus Siculus. The Library of History. The Loeb Classical Library. Translated by C. H. Oldfather. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
- Walbank, F.W. (1957). A Historical Commentary on Polybius. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Freeman, E.A. (1894). The History of Sicily. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Morrison, J.S. (1996). Greek and Roman Oared Warships, 399-30 B.C. Oxford: Oxbow Books.