Fighting at Sea
Many battles of the Punic Wars were fought at sea, and controlling the Mediterranean was very important for trade in the region.
Before the First Punic War, Carthage was able to trade widely and dominate the region due to their powerful fleet. However, their naval power was soon threatened by Rome.
During a battle at sea in 264 BCE, a Carthaginian ship was captured by Roman forces. The Romans examined the ship carefully and used it as a model for their own new vessels. By stealing the Carthaginian ship the Romans were able to improve their own technology and increase their naval power.
From 260 BCE onwards, the Romans worked hard to improve their naval capabilities and become more advanced than the Carthaginians. The two sides both knew the importance of fighting at sea, and an “arms race” ensued.
At the battle of Mylae in 260, the fleets consisted of around 100 warships on each side. By the battle of Ecnomus, both sides may have had over 300 each! This battle may have involved around 300,000 sailors, making it possibly the second largest naval battle in history.
However, such huge fleets were so expensive in men and money that both sides were almost ruined by the effort. The First Punic War was eventually decided at the naval battle of the Aegates islands on 10th March 241 BC. Carthage could not afford to replace its losses in this battle and sued for peace.