THE ROMANS BUILD A FLEET
 THE Romans had conquered Pyrrhus with the help of the
Carthaginians. Now that they no longer needed the help
of their new allies, the Romans would have been glad
had the Carthaginians sailed away to their home in
Africa. But this they did not seem to think of doing.
In Sicily they took possession of many Greek towns, and
this made Rome jealous. Their fleet, too, was often
seen sailing along the coasts of Italy.
Like the Vikings of the North, the Carthaginians would
suddenly swoop down upon some undefended coast town and
plunder it and the surrounding district. Farm-houses
were burned, plantations destroyed, and men and women
dragged away to be sold as slaves, long before the
Romans had been able to gather an army and march to the
spot to punish the offenders.
But such insolence Rome could not brook, and she
declared war against the bold intruders. This was the
beginning of the first Punic war, which was the name
given to the struggle between the Romans and Pœni or
Carthaginians for the empire of the world.
On land the Romans quickly showed that they were more
powerful than their former allies, and in about three
years the Carthaginians had been forced to sail away to
the shores of Africa, while those who stayed behind
held only a few sea-coast towns in Sicily.
But the Carthaginian fleet was as powerful as ever, and
the Romans saw that they would never get rid of their
 enemy, until they, too, had a fleet, and could cope
with them on sea as well as on land. So, although they
knew little about ships and none of them were sailors,
the Romans determined to build a fleet.
The Carthaginian warships were large vessels with five
benches, built one above the other. The five benches
were provided for five sets of rowers.
These large five-decked boats were called quinqueremes,
quinque being the Latin word for five, and remus for an
One day, one of these Punic vessels was stranded on the
Italian coast. Here was the very model the Romans
needed. They seized it, and sent it to Rome as a copy
for the ships that were to form the new fleet.
When the quinquereme reached Rome the shipwrights at
once set to work. Forests were hewn down, timber was
sawn, and in two short months the Romans had built and
launched one hundred ships, large and solid as those of
And what was perhaps even more wonderful was that there
were sailors ready to man the fleet. For while the
ships were being built, the men chosen to form the crew
had been placed on benches on dry land. These benches
were arranged in the position they would have on board.
Here the landsmen, who had still to be changed into
sailors, had practised the movements of the oars, and
had learned to keep time as they would have to do when
actually at sea. A musical accompaniment had helped
them to pull the oars together.
But these hastily trained sailors could not hope to
handle their vessels as skilfully as the well-trained
mariners of Carthage. So the Romans added to each ship
a solid wooden bridge, with a spike at the end. When
the enemy's ship drew near, the Romans meant to drop
the bridge, which was attached to the masts, on to the
deck of their foe. The spike, sinking into the deck by
the force of the fall, would hold the ship, while the
Romans would rush
 across this rough drawbridge and
fight with their enemy at close quarters, as though
they were on land.
In 260 B.C. the new fleet put to sea under the command
of the Consul Duilius, and before long it met the enemy
on the northern coast of Sicily.
The Carthaginians had no fear of the newly built ships
and quickly trained sailors. Their captain even
thought the usual manoeuvres unnecessary, and sailed
toward the Roman fleet in a careless way, thinking to
charge prow to prow. To his surprise he found his
vessels suddenly gripped by the ships of the enemy, and
unable to move.
The bridges, of which I told you, could be wheeled
round the masts and dropped just where they were
needed, and the Romans, aided by the careless attack of
the Carthaginians, had dropped their bridges at the
right moment and secured the enemy's ships.
Before the Carthaginians had recovered from their
surprise, the Romans had rushed on board, sword in
hand, and ere long had captured many of the crew and
taken possession of, or destroyed, fifty of the Punic
Even the flagship, a huge vessel of seven rows of oars,
which the Carthaginians had once taken from Pyrrhus,
was abandoned to the victors.
This, the first great victory at sea, caused much joy
in Rome, and Duilius was awarded a triumph.
It is said that to the end of his life, the Consul was
accompanied by a flute-player and a torchbearer as he
returned home from banquets, in memory of this glorious
Three years later another great battle was fought at
sea, both sides claiming the victory.
But the Romans were ambitious and inspired by their
success, they determined to sail to Africa and attack
the Carthaginians in their own country.
So they began to build a larger fleet of three hundred
and thirty ships. When it was ready they sent on board
 armies, of about 40,000 men, under the command of the
two Consuls, Regulus and Manlius.
As the Roman fleet sailed along the south coast of
Sicily, it was met at Ecnomus by an even larger
Carthaginian fleet, under the command of Hamilcar and
The Punic generals had been sent to scatter or destroy
the Roman fleet before it reached Africa.