Battle of Mylae, 260 BC

Battle of Mylae, 260 BC

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Battle of Mylae, 260 BC

Naval battle of the First Punic War. After the defeat and capture of Cnaeus Cornelius Scipio at Lipara, his co-consul Caius Duilius took command of the Roman fleet. News reached him that the Punic fleet was raiding the area of Mylae, on the northern coast of Sicily. Immediately he took out the Roman fleet to face them. Both fleets were probably of about the same size, with around 120-130 ships each, but the Romans had added a new weapon, the corvus, a form of boarding bridge, with which they hoped to make up for the otherwise inferior quality of their sailors at this period. The Carthaginian fleet appears to have got out of control very quickly at the start of the battle, and the forward elements charged towards the Roman fleet. The first thirty or so galleys to make contact were pinned by the corvus and boarded by the Roman marines. This included the Carthaginian flagship, and their admiral was forced to flee. The remaining Carthaginian ships used their superior speed to mount an attack on the rear of the Roman fleet, but many were also pinned. Finally, the remains of the Punic fleet escaped.
The Roman victory was substantial. Some fifty Carthaginian ships were either captured or sunk, and the balance of power at sea began to swing towards the Romans. Duilius was able to celebrate the first naval triumph in Rome, and began the tradition of displaying the prows of captured ships in the forum. The battle was won by the superior Roman soldiers, with the corvus helping to reduce the Carthaginian advance at sea.

Naval Battle of Mylae (260 BC)

The naval battle of Mylae was the first naval battle between Carthage and the Roman Republic in the First Punic War in 260 BC. . AD before the city Mylae (Greek: Mylae today Milazzo ) on the north coast of Sicily called, won a decisive victory in the Rome.


Duilius met Hannibal off northern Mylae in 260. Polybius states that the Carthaginians had 130 ships, but does not give an exact figure for the Romans. [10] The loss of 17 ships at the Lipari Islands from a starting total of 120 ships suggests that Rome had 103 remaining. However, it is possible that this number was larger than 103, thanks to captured ships and the assistance of Roman allies. [9] The Carthaginians anticipated victory, especially because of their superior experience at sea. [10]

The corvi were very successful, and helped the Romans seize the first 30 Carthaginian ships that got close enough (including the Carthaginian flagship). In order to avoid the corvi, the Carthaginians were forced to navigate around them and approach the Romans from behind, or from the side. The corvi were usually still able to pivot and grapple most oncoming ships. [11] Once an additional 20 of the Carthaginian ships had been hooked and lost to the Romans, Hannibal retreated with his surviving ships, leaving Duilius with a clear victory.

Instead of following the remaining Carthaginians at sea, Duilius sailed to Sicily to retrieve control of the troops. There he saved the city of Segesta, which had been under siege from the Carthaginian infantry commander Hamilcar. [12] Modern historians have wondered at Duilius’ decision not to immediately follow up with another naval attack, but Hannibal’s remaining 80 ships were probably still too strong for Rome to conquer. [13]

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In T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land, Part I, "The Burial of the Dead" ends with the following passage:

There I saw one I knew, and called him, crying:
Stetson! You who were with me in the ships at Mylae.
That corpse you planted last year in your garden:
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Oh, keep the dog far hence, that's friend to men,
Or with his nails, he'll dig it up again.
You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!


Inspired by success in the battle of Agrigentum, the Romans sought to win all of Sicily, but required naval power to do so. In order to challenge the already prominent Carthaginian naval forces, Rome built a fleet of one hundred quinqueremes and twenty triremes. The famous Greek historian Polybius wrote that Rome used a wrecked Carthaginian quinquereme captured at Messina as a model for the entire fleet, and that the Romans would have otherwise had no basis for design. However, this may have been an exaggeration, as the Romans had also borrowed Greek quinqueremes previously in 264.

Rome’s two consuls of 260 were Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Asina and Gaius Duilius. It had been decided that the former would handle the fleet and that Duilius would command the army. However, Scipio’s first encounter with the enemy in the Battle of the Lipari Islands led to the loss of 17 ships and an embarrassing surrender to the Carthaginians under the general Senator Boodes and the naval commander Hannibal Gisco. This was the same Hannibal who had retreated after the conquest of Agrigentum, but not the famous Hannibal who would much later invade Italy during the Second Punic War. After Scipio Asina’s surrender, the remaining fleet was placed in the hands of Duilius, and the foot soldiers were turned over to military tribunes.

The Romans recognised their weakness in naval power and tactics, especially after the incident of the Lipari Islands. With this in mind they constructed the corvus, a plank to link ships together at sea. The inventor of the corvus is unknown, but it could have been a Syracusan, such as Archimedes. This device would be attached to the prow of Roman ships on a rotating axle, so that it could be swung around and its spiked end could then be dropped onto an enemy ship. In this way the Romans could still make use of their superior soldiers by loading them across the corvus and onto enemy ships.


Several civilizations settled in Milazzo and left signs of their presence from the Neolithic age. In Homer's Odyssey Milazzo is presumably the place where Ulysses is shipwrecked and meets Polyphemus.

Historically, the town originated as the ancient Mylae (Ancient Greek: Μύλαι ), an outpost of Zancle, occupied before 648 BC, perhaps as early as 716 BC. [5] [6] It was taken by the Athenians in 426 BC. The people of Rhegium planted the exiles from Naxos and Catana in 395 BC as a counterpoise to Dionysius the Elder's foundation of Tyndaris but Dionysius soon took it. In the bay Gaius Duilius won the first Roman naval victory over the Carthaginians (260 BC).

In 36 BC the naval Battle of Mylae was fought offshore. The fleet of Octavian, commanded by Marcus Agrippa, engaged that of Sextus Pompey. While the battle was nearly a draw, Sextus could not replace his losses, and was thus weaker at the following Battle of Naulochus (36 BC), where he was utterly defeated. [7]

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, under the Byzantines, the town became one of the first episcopal seats of Sicily. In the 9th century Milazzo was conquered by the Arabs, who built the first nucleus of the castle here. Frederick II of Hohenstaufen further fortified the town and created a personal hunting park. The castle was later mostly rebuilt in the age of Charles V of Spain.

Milazzo was also the seat of a battle in 1718 between Spain and Austria, and of another fought by Giuseppe Garibaldi against the Kingdom of Two Sicilies during his Expedition of the Thousand.

Milazzo borders with the municipalities of Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, Merì and San Filippo del Mela. [8]

Milazzo is the point of reference of a vast territory, from Villafranca Tirrena to Patti (over 200,000 inhabitants). Is also, an important centre of the Strait of Messina Metropolitan Area (who also includes areas of Reggio Calabria), with the nearby town Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto. Located at the base of a peninsula that juts into the Tyrrhenian Sea with a small promontory, the town is 43 kilometres (27 mi) from the city of Messina. [ citation needed ]

    . Begun by the Arabs, enlarged by the Normans, restored and strengthened by Frederick II, it is surrounded by walls with round towers built under Alfonso V of Aragon, with a Gothic portal dating from the 14th century. Near the castle are the ruins of the fourteenth-century palace of the grand jury and the old cathedral (1603) probably built on a design by architect Camillo Camillians.
  • the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
  • the Baroque Church of the Holy Crucifix (1629), housing a wooden canopy from the 18th century and a wooden crucifix from the early 17th century.
  • Rock church of St. Anthony of Padua
  • Sanctuary of St. Francis of Paola

Over time, the town is moving forward towards the sea by recording a continuous development of agriculture and fishing activities, commercial and industrial.

The port of Milazzo is a departure point for ferries to the Aeolian Islands and Naples.

The battle [ edit | edit source ]

While Scipio was at the strait, he received information that the garrison of Lipara was willing to defect to the Roman side. What happened next is usually described as a treacherous act of the Carthaginians, but the sources do not give much detail and are usually pro-Roman. Though at sea most likely to let the crews gain some experience, the consul could not resist the temptation of conquering an important city without a fight and sailed to Lipara. As the Romans entered the harbour with their brand new ships, a part of the Carthaginian fleet, commanded by Hannibal Gisco (the general defeated in Agrigentum) and Boodes, was either waiting in ambush (pro-Roman sources), or received word of the Roman fleet's position and surprised them. Boodes led about 20 ships to block the Romans inside the harbour. Scipio and his men offered little resistance. The inexperienced crews panicked and fled and the consul himself was captured. His credulity earned him the pejorative cognomen Asina, which means donkey in Latin. This cognomen was all the more insulting due to the fact that "asina" was the feminine form of the word donkey, as opposed to the masculine form "asinus".

Battle of Naulochus 38 B.C.

On 38 BC, the Second Triunvirate was living a relatively peaceful period: in Rome, Octavian had just married Livia Drusilla, while Marc Antony lived in Athens his last happy days with Octavia, that calmed him and tried to ease relations between him and her beloved brother.
However, the marriage of Octavian meant his divorce from Scribonia, Sextus Pompey´s aunt, and this fact accelerated the breach between them. Sextus, son of Pompey, had occupied Sicily for some years as well as Sardinia and the Peloponnese having been appointed as governor by the Treaty of Misenum in 39 BC. Sicily was the main grain supplier of Rome, and it was the last stronghold of the republican resistance. Sextus was a source of conflict for the Triunvirate, as he often stopped the supply of grain, causing hunger in the capital city of the Empire.
On 38 BC, Octavian started war against Sextus, but the campaign was a disaster and had to call back the boats due to bad weather. Octavian called Lepidus and Antony for help, but when Lepidus didn´t show up, Antony returned to the East.
Octavian, seeing himself neglected by the other triunvirs, focused on the construction of a new fleet, leaving in command his great friend Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, that had just arrived from Gaul where he had obtained great military success. Agrippa, grand strategist and great as field commander, built an inner harbor, Portus Iulius, that connected Lake Avernus and Lake Lucrinus and this to the sea. This port could´t be seen from the sea, which was frequently sailed by Sextus´ ships, and was used secretly to train men in naval special warfare. They could experiment with a new weapon invented by Agrippa himself, the harpax, that improved the traditional corvus.
Octavian joined him, leaving Maecenas in charge of Rome and Italy, even though he didn´t hold public office. He called again for help of the other triunvirs. Antony, thanks to the intervention of Octavia, sent 120 ships to Tarentum in exchange for 20.000 soldiers to be used in his Partian War. Lepidus also sent help, and this way, the Triunvirate powers were renewed fot 5 more years.
On 36 BC, Octavian, Agrippa and Antony launched a triple attack against Sextus Pompey. Once again, Octavian was near death in the Battle of Taormina, where he was defeated. Agrippa defeated Sextus in the Battle of Mylae, and later, on September 3, in the Battle of Naulochus.
In front of Naulochus promontory, Agrippa met Sextus’ fleet. Both fleets were composed of 300 ships, all with artillery, but Agrippa commanded heavier units, armed with the harpax. Agrippa used his new weapon to great effect, succeeding in blocking the more maneuverable ships of Sextus and, after a long and bloody fight, in defeating his enemy. Agrippa lost three ships, while 28 ships of Sextus were sunk, 17 fled, and the others were burnt or captured.
Octavian made Agrippa consul in 37 BC, an unaffordable office for someone lowly as Agrippa. He was also given numerous properties, and was granted the hand of Caecilia Attica, daughter of Titus Pomponius Atticus, great friend of Cicero.
The Battle of Naulochus is of decisive for the Roman Empire: on one hand, it meant the end of the Republican resistance, and on the other hand it meant the disappearance of Lepidus, leaving the world in the hands of two men: Octavian in the West and Antony in the East.
“But this man, unconquerable by human power, received at this time a heavy blow at the hands of fortune, since the greater part of his fleet was wrecked and scattered in the vicinity of Velia and Cape Palinurus by a violent scirocco. This delayed finishing the war, which, however, was subsequently carried on with shifting and sometimes doubtful fortune.”

Players [ edit | edit source ]

Player [ edit | edit source ]

  • Player (Carthaginians): The player starts with a Tool Age base, villagers, and some slingers on the Southern island.

Enemies [ edit | edit source ]

  • Romans (Romans): Rome starts with a large Bronze Age base on the Nouthern island. They also have a seperated base on one of the Western island, guarding some gold mines.
  • Syracuse (Romans): Syracuse starts with a Bronze Age base situated on the same island with the player. They are blocked by the cliff, so a land based invasion is practically impossible. They will actively attack the player with a navy and transport ships.

Player [ edit | edit source ]

  • Player (Carthaginians): The player starts with a Tool Age base, villagers, and some slingers on the western island.

Enemies [ edit | edit source ]

  • Rome (Romans): Rome starts with a large Bronze Age base on the eastern island. They attack with a navy, archers, infantry, and siege weapons. They keep several priests for defence.
  • Syracuse (Romans): Syracuse starts with a post-Iron Age force made of Broad Swordsmen, Heavy Catapults, and Priests on the southern island. The island is also guarded by Sentry Towers. Syracuse acts passively and has no economy, except for two Fishing Ships (the Villager is inactive).

Aftermath and Legacy

Scipio was later released, probably ransomed. His easy defeat earned him the pejorative cognomen Asina, which means donkey in Latin. This cognomen was all the more insulting because “asina” was the feminine form of the word donkey, as opposed to the masculine form “asinus”. In spite of this Scipio’s career prospered and he was consul for a second time in 254 BC.

Shortly after the Lipara victory, Hannibal Gisco was scouting with 50 Carthaginian ships when he encountered the full Roman fleet. He escaped, but lost most of his ships. It was after this skirmish that the Romans installed the corvus on their ships. The corvus was a bridge 1.2 m (4 ft) wide and 11 m (36 ft) long, with a heavy spike on the underside, which was designed to pierce and anchor into an enemy ship’s deck. This allowed marines to more easily board enemy ships and capture them.

Later the same year Scipio’s fellow consul, Gaius Duilius, placed the Roman army units under subordinates and took command of the fleet. He promptly sailed, seeking battle. The two fleets met off the coast of Mylae in the Battle of Mylae. Hannibal Gisco had 130 ships, and the historian John Lazenby calculates that Duilius had approximately the same number. Using the corvus the Romans captured 50 Carthaginian vessels and dealt the Carthaginians a sharp defeat.

The war was to last for another 19 years before ending in a Carthaginian defeat and a negotiated peace. Thereafter Rome was the leading military power in the western Mediterranean, and increasingly the Mediterranean region as a whole. The Romans had built more than 1,000 galleys during the war, and this experience of building, manning, training, supplying, and maintaining such numbers of ships laid the foundation for Rome’s maritime dominance for 600 years.

Watch the video: History of Battle - The Battle of Mylae 260 BCE