(264 to 241 BC) Carthage seemed to have many significant strategic advantages at the beginning of the conflict.

Meanwhile, Carthage had begun to build a mercenary army in Africa, which was to be shipped to Sicily to meet the Romans. According to the historian Philinus, this army was composed of 50,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and 60 elephants and partly composed of Ligurians, Celts and Iberians.

Wikipedia Battle of Bagradas: The Romans lost 12,000 men killed and 500 men captured, while the Carthaginians lost only 800 men. (The Roman General Regulus was also captured.)

What were Rome's strategic advantages, and more importantly how did they marshal these strategies to win a war fought around the Mediterranean against an entrenched superior sea and economic power?

Again I'm looking for the strategies Rome employed not just the tactics.

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    I don't know where you got "larger army" or "more populous" or "Elephant was super weapon" from, given the latter's lackluster performance in battles. But wiki explains in detail how the Carthaginians lost the war, esp: [The corvus] allowed the Roman navy to circumvent some of Carthage's naval skills . . . Carthage [was] economically incapable of funding another [fleet] . . . Hamilcar Barca was cut off [and] forced to negotiate peace. So what exactly are you asking about? If you wish to challenge the narrative presented by Wikipedia, please cite specifics and state your reasoning.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 9:11
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    This site should answer your questions, and correct a few misconceptions: dcc.dickinson.edu/nepos-hannibal/first-punic-war Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 15:59
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    In a single word...the Corvus. After the Romans took the island of Sicily, they went about creating their fleet. They borrowed designs from captured Carthage ships and added a 'Corvus', which was a device that would drop from the roman ship, onto the Carthaginian ship and connect the two. This would allow the superior Roman legionaries to enter hand to hand combat with the superior sailors yet inferior melee Carthage troops on board. This single device became the strategic component that won the first Punic war for the Romans.
    – Twelfth
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 20:21
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    Should also note that the Elephant isn't a super weapon like it's advertised here. There are as many horrible drawbacks to using them as there are advantages...not to mention an elephant is pretty useless in a navy battle.
    – Twelfth
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 20:24
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    @JMS - Pigs worked best vs elephants. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_pig "Procopius, in History of the Wars,[6] records that the defenders of Edessa suspended a squealing pig from the walls to frighten away Khosrau's single siege elephant in the sixth century AD". Romans went a bit further and set pigs on fire before sending them into the elephants ;) I would say the article is a bit sensationalist then, but it also says "Unfortunately for Hannibal, though, they were also his biggest weakness."
    – Twelfth
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 17:25

2 Answers 2


Started to write an answer, realized midway through I was summarizing the wiki page and rewrote. The shortest answer I can now give is there really was no single tactic that won the battles, both sides had victories and defeats throughout the war. The Romans won due to resiliency in the face of attrition that the Carthaginians couldn't keep up with.

Navy: The Romans quite likely had help from Syracuse, however the Corvi became silly dominant in the early naval engagements between Carthage and Rome. The first engagement on the northern shores of sicily (using Polybius as the source) states the first 30 Carthage warships in this battle fell to the Corvi usage and were captured.

Rome managed to assemble a huge fleet with upwards of 200 warships and persued Carthage. The second major engagement was https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cape_Ecnomus . By this time, the Romans naval tactics had heavily adapted and were nearly on par with their Carthage rivals. This turned into one of the largest naval battles in history in which the Romans emerged victorious. It was long and drawn out (no big surprise tactic, just alot of fighting), but the Romans and their Corvi use won the battle.

You had mentioned this:

One might also ask how the Romans were able to build 2 fleets to match the Carthaginians. ( lost the first one in storm)

Timeline was the first win north of Sicily, second win en route to Africa, defeat in Africa and the storm wiping out their fleet on the way back. The Romans somewhat rebuilt, but no where near the numbers and were actually defeated in their next engagement off the coast of Sicily. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Drepana

The Drepana defeat so demoralized the Romans that they waited seven years before building another fleet.

7 years later was https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Aegates in which a new Roman fleet had been built without a dime being spent by the now exhausted republic treasury:

This resolution notwithstanding, after 20 years of war the finances of the Republic were in a calamitous state and the treasury was empty. A popular movement was formed to counter this difficulty in a typically Roman manner: wealthy citizens, either alone or in groups, decided to show their patriotism and finance the construction of one ship apiece. The result was a fleet of approximately 200 quinqueremes, built, equipped, and crewed without government expense.

As a nod to Roman adaptability, by this time they no longer needed the Corvi. In the short time frame of this conflict, the Roman sailors now exceeded their Carthage opponents in terms of sailing proficiency as the hastily levied Carthage fleet was relatively green in comparison.


Though the battle for Sicily saw much naval warfare, the Romans managed to supply themselves with the help of Syracuse early on until establishing themselves there. There were times where the legion was actively harvesting local crops to feed themselves though.

The first major conflict was ultimately :https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Agrigentum

After a long struggle, the Romans killed most of the Carthaginians; the Romans lost 3,000 infantry, 200 cavalry. The Carthaginians lost 30,000 foot and 540 cavalry and 4,000 men were taken prisoner (throughout the whole siege, not in the battle itself).

As a finance note...it appears the victorious Romans sold the entire population of Agrigentum (25k people) into slavery. Probably helped the pocket books a bit, but it became a rallying point for the Carthage soldier (remember the Alamo style)

There isn't much out there for tactics used and the actual engagement is a bit of a mystery, but I imagine this line holds a lot of weight:

It is also possible that the elephants also panicked and in their flight disorganized the Carthaginian formation. In any case, the Romans routed the enemy and were victorious.

The downside of the elephant 'super weapon' was they were as dangerous to friendly forces as they were to the enemy. A few rampaging elephants can completely disorganize an army and the resulting chaos is a walk over for the enemy army.

I also suspect the Carthaginians were always struggling for manpower. They heavily used mercenaries and wiki contains lines like this:

This first skirmish made Hannibal realise that he could not afford to lose any more men.

I suspect that as the conflict extended it transitioned to more of a war of attrition where the Romans superior financing and logistics started to shine through. They overcame several defeats, only to come back stronger for the next battle while it appears Carthage struggled to replace it's losses.

This sentiment is also echoed in the final naval engagement (Battle_of_the_Aegates) with wiki having such lines as:

The Carthaginian crews were also hurriedly levied and inexperienced.

where the new Roman fleet under consul Gaius Lutatius Catulus was victorious over an undermanned and hastily built Carthaginian fleet.


This entire conflict shows one of the key and often under-emphasized components of War. Carthage may have been superior in troops and numbers to begin the war, but the Romans shined in two attributes that eventually won the war for them.

1) Adaptability. Always a shining point in the Roman military, they adapted to new techniques and strategies amazingly quickly going from newcomers to seasoned tacticians in the matter of a few battles.

2) Supply lines (material, money, and people). As the war dragged on, the Romans armies were rebuilt and replenished often in stronger numbers than they had started with. The Carthaginians went the opposite way, unable to replace and rebuild as attrition whittled away at their numbers.


As many have said the use of the Corvus allowed Rome to bring it's land based fighting skills to bear on the Carthaginian navy. While there were many other factors the corvus was a simple easy to deploy answer to Carthage's naval skills. Combined with Rome's inexhaustible supplies of men and material the war was destined to only end with a Roman victory.

"*The Romans recognized 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 particular inventor of the corvus is unknown, but it could have possibly been a Roman or a Syracusan, such as Archimedes.[9]. 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.[8] In this way the Romans could still make use of their superior soldiers by loading them across the corvus and onto enemy ships. J.F. Lazenby, The First Punic War, p. 70."

The brilliance of the device was the use of the single spike and being able to swivel so could be deployed at any angle This a roman ship/gallery could attach itself at any angle anywhere on all types of enemy vessels.

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