Who ruled the seas during Second Punic War?

Jan 2014
1,734
Portugal
#1
So I'm learning about the campaign of Scipio Africanus, and 2nd Punic War in general, and I was thinking about who had the strongest navy, and who had sea dominance in the Mediterranean between Rome and Carthage..

Can anybody enlight me?
Thank you.
 
#2
The Romans were dominant at sea during the Second Punic War. The Carthaginians generally fielded only small fleets, and in the case of the larger fleet of Bomilcar, this particular admiral avoided a sea battle with the Romans when it was offered to him. Carthage's empire at the start of the Second Punic War represents a unique phase in their history that transcends their usual modus operandi of mercantile dominance. From 241 to 237 Carthage lost their control over Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, and they lost their naval dominance. This created the possibility of a new approach to empire, and this possibility was seized by Hannibal's father, Hamilcar Barca. Hamilcar came to dominate Carthaginian politics over the course of Carthage's war with the Libyans and mercenaries (241-237). He saved Carthage from this existential threat (worse than the threat posed at that time by Rome), and thus won political supremacy for himself, his political allies (some of whom he made into relatives), and ultimately his sons. He won Carthaginian support for an expedition into Spain designed to conquer much of the region, and to secure direct control over mineral wealth (especially silver) and Spanish military manpower. He even founded a new city, Acre Leuke, and his successor Hasdrubal (his son-in-law) founded New Carthage, married a Spanish princess and had Spanish tribal leaders proclaim him Strategos Autokrator. Hannibal too married a Spanish princess, and the Barcids appear to have depicted themselves on coins, the first Carthaginian politicans to do so. That is, they were creating a personal empire with Carthaginian backing. Hamilcar, Hasdrubal and Hannibal campaigned throughout Spain, fighting the Tartessiani, Turdetani, Orissi, Carpatani and Vaccei, with Hannibal penetrating into northern Spain. Hoyos, in Unplanned Wars (1998), on the origins of the First and Second Punic Wars, points out that Hannibal's campaigns from 221 to 219 were so far reaching that they threatened the Ebro Accord agreed between Hasdrubal and Rome in c. 226, whereby Hasdrubal agreed not to cross the Ebro River in northern Spain. As Hoyos points out, in 226 the accord probably seemed quite reasonable, since Hasdrubal's forces had not, as far as we can tell, crossed north of the Tagus. By 220, when Roman envoys pressed Hannibal to agree to the old accord, Carthage's presence in Spain had already drastically increased. The Barcids also preserved support at home through marriage alliances and the sending home of silver, spoils and gifts. It is notable that the Barcids' biggest enemy at home, Hanno the Great, is depicted in Livy's account as being decidedly powerless against the Barcid faction. Therefore, the empire of 219 BC was not the same empire that Carthage had traditionally possessed. Carthage's attention was now on the army and landward expansion in Spain. This was a more expansionist and more militaristic empire than the mercantile and naval hegemony of old. For more on this topic, see Hoyos 2003, Hannibal's Dynasty.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,654
#3
It is very expensive to maintain a large fleet and Carthage relied mostly on the Punic settlements for manpower for the fleet which was limited. After the 1st Punic war losses to Rome it was quite risky to have a naval battle for Carthage while the Barcid's main operations were focused in Spain and placating Carthage. If Carthage had another 10-20 years to consolidate Spain they might have really given Rome a challenge as it was only Hannibal's audacity and the support Barcid's did manage to wrest from Spain in the few short years of the expansion there even gave Rome as much trouble as it did.
 
#5
The Romans were dominant at sea during the Second Punic War. The Carthaginians generally fielded only small fleets, and in the case of the larger fleet of Bomilcar, this particular admiral avoided a sea battle with the Romans when it was offered to him. Carthage's empire at the start of the Second Punic War represents a unique phase in their history that transcends their usual modus operandi of mercantile dominance. From 241 to 237 Carthage lost their control over Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, and they lost their naval dominance. This created the possibility of a new approach to empire, and this possibility was seized by Hannibal's father, Hamilcar Barca. Hamilcar came to dominate Carthaginian politics over the course of Carthage's war with the Libyans and mercenaries (241-237). He saved Carthage from this existential threat (worse than the threat posed at that time by Rome), and thus won political supremacy for himself, his political allies (some of whom he made into relatives), and ultimately his sons. He won Carthaginian support for an expedition into Spain designed to conquer much of the region, and to secure direct control over mineral wealth (especially silver) and Spanish military manpower. He even founded a new city, Acre Leuke, and his successor Hasdrubal (his son-in-law) founded New Carthage, married a Spanish princess and had Spanish tribal leaders proclaim him Strategos Autokrator. Hannibal too married a Spanish princess, and the Barcids appear to have depicted themselves on coins, the first Carthaginian politicans to do so. That is, they were creating a personal empire with Carthaginian backing. Hamilcar, Hasdrubal and Hannibal campaigned throughout Spain, fighting the Tartessiani, Turdetani, Orissi, Carpatani and Vaccei, with Hannibal penetrating into northern Spain. Hoyos, in Unplanned Wars (1998), on the origins of the First and Second Punic Wars, points out that Hannibal's campaigns from 221 to 219 were so far reaching that they threatened the Ebro Accord agreed between Hasdrubal and Rome in c. 226, whereby Hasdrubal agreed not to cross the Ebro River in northern Spain. As Hoyos points out, in 226 the accord probably seemed quite reasonable, since Hasdrubal's forces had not, as far as we can tell, crossed north of the Tagus. By 220, when Roman envoys pressed Hannibal to agree to the old accord, Carthage's presence in Spain had already drastically increased. The Barcids also preserved support at home through marriage alliances and the sending home of silver, spoils and gifts. It is notable that the Barcids' biggest enemy at home, Hanno the Great, is depicted in Livy's account as being decidedly powerless against the Barcid faction. Therefore, the empire of 219 BC was not the same empire that Carthage had traditionally possessed. Carthage's attention was now on the army and landward expansion in Spain. This was a more expansionist and more militaristic empire than the mercantile and naval hegemony of old. For more on this topic, see Hoyos 2003, Hannibal's Dynasty.
With all this being said, the First Punic War was a different story. Both powers churned out fleets and fought massive battles that decided the course of the war. The Romans had little maritime experience, and were prone to losing their fleets to storms, but through tenacity and innovation they got the better of the Carthaginians. The scale of the naval effort for both sides was far greater than what was being experienced in the eastern Mediterranean. To quote the Greek historian Polybius (1.63.4-7): '(The First Punic War) had lasted without a break for twenty-four years and is the longest, most unintermittent, and greatest war we know of. Apart from all the other battles and armaments, the total naval forces engaged were, as I mentioned above, on one occasion more than five hundred quinqueremes and on a subsequent one very nearly seven hundred. Moreover the Romans lost in this war about seven hundred quinqueremes, inclusive of those that perished in the shipwrecks, and the Carthaginians about five hundred. So that those who marvel at the great sea-battles and great fleets of an Antigonus, a Ptolemy, or a Demetrius would, if I mistake not, on inquiring into the history of this war, be much astonished at the huge scale of operations. Again, if we take into consideration the difference between quinqueremes and the triremes in which the Persians fought against the Greeks and the Athenians and Lacedaemonians against each other, we shall find that no forces of such magnitude ever met at sea.'
 
Feb 2011
1,076
Scotland
#6
Indeed, if I remember correctly then Adrian Goldsworthy in his book "The Fall of Carthage" suggested that at Cape Ecnomus in 256BCE, there were about 700 ships and more men than in any other naval battle, including Jutland and Leyte Gulf.

The nature of naval dominance at that time however did not mean that the opposing fleet was confined to port. The Carthaginians conducted numerous naval operations during the second punic war including resupply to Hannibal in Italy.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,260
Dispargum
#7
Rome came to dominate the Mediterranean Sea as a result of their victory in the First Punic War. In the Second Punic War Carthage did not even attempt to regain naval supremacy. The logical way for Carthage to attack Rome would have been via an amphibious assault directly across the middle of the Mediterranean. Because their navy was so weak, Hannibal instead invaded Italy via Spain and Southern Gaul - a land route.
 
#8
Indeed, if I remember correctly then Adrian Goldsworthy in his book "The Fall of Carthage" suggested that at Cape Ecnomus in 256BCE, there were about 700 ships and more men than in any other naval battle, including Jutland and Leyte Gulf.
I've read that somewhere too.

The nature of naval dominance at that time however did not mean that the opposing fleet was confined to port. The Carthaginians conducted numerous naval operations during the second punic war including resupply to Hannibal in Italy.
Oh definitely. For instance, although Bomilcar's fleet never fought a Roman fleet, it sailed to allied Syracuse, allied Tarentum and even sailed into the Gulf of Corinth, since Macedon and the Achaean League were allies of Carthage as well.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,654
#9
I've read that somewhere too.

Oh definitely. For instance, although Bomilcar's fleet never fought a Roman fleet, it sailed to allied Syracuse, allied Tarentum and even sailed into the Gulf of Corinth, since Macedon and the Achaean League were allies of Carthage as well.
For Carthage just maintaining a fleet that could operate was enough of a strategic threat it forced the Romans to have more fleets operating in more locations and Carthage successfully evaded a major naval battle in the 2nd Punic war but was fairly active in raids. Most sources indicate the Romans probably had a 4 to 1 advantage in numbers if not even larger as Roman Consuls built more fleets at least three times during the course of the war while it is reported that Carthage and its Punic allies had trouble even manning the much smaller amount of ships they had.

Due to Bromilcar's fleet and the fleet of the Iberian Punic colonies Rome had to deploy 3 fleets- first in Sicily to fight off the raids and attempted attack on Lilybaem, then in Sardinia first to counter the uprisings and later to protect the grain supply once Hannibal was in Italy, then at Massilia with the elder Scipio supposedly to escort his armies to Spain, and another roaming transport/patrol fleet that is mentioned fighting off Carthaginian raiders and transporting units between Sicily and Latium.

Rome had at least 260 quinqueremes and a large number of triremes due to having recently raised fleets to fight the Illyrians just before the 2nd Punic war broke out and both Sempronius and the younger Scipio both built fleets while another fleet was reinforced/filled in with newly constructed ships in an effort to keep Macedon and Greece from interceding in Italy.

Carthage appears to have had around 140 quinqueremes with 80 under Bromilcar at Carthage and 60 in Spain plus another smaller 60 triremes that were likely not primarily warships.
 
Apr 2010
4,874
Oxford
#10
Here are a few passages following bits of what the Carthaginian navy got up to during the war.

Second Punic War - Carthaginian Navy

I always find this passage quite interesting too:

...When the agitation was quieted and the senate resumed its session, a fresh despatch was received, this time from Sicily. T. Otacilius, the propraetor, announced that Hiero's kingdom was being devastated by a Carthaginian fleet, and when he was preparing to render him the assistance he asked for, he received news that another fully equipped fleet was riding at anchor off the Aegates, and when they heard that he was occupied with the defence of the Syracusan shore they would at once attack Lilybaeum and the rest of the Roman province. If, therefore, the senate wished to retain the king as their ally and keep their hold on Sicily, they must fit out a fleet (Livy 22.56).
 
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