Publius, the Roman commander, had expected that the enemy would give way and would be intimidated by his attack, but when he saw that on the contrary they intended to fight him, and that his own fleet was partly inside the harbour, partly at the very mouth, and partly still sailing up to enter, he gave orders for them all to put about and sail out again. On the ships already in the harbour fouling those which were entering owing to their sudden turn there was not only great confusion among the men but the ships had the blades of their oars broken as they came into collision. The captains, however, bringing the ships as they cleared the harbour into line, soon drew them up close to shore with their prows to the enemy. Publius himself from the start had been bringing up the rear of the entire fleet, and now veering out to sea without stopping his course, took up a position on the extreme left. At the same time Adherbal, outflanking the enemy's left with five beaked ships, placed his own ship facing the enemy from the direction of the open sea. As the other ships came up and joined getting into line, he ordered them by his staff officers to place themselves in the same position as his own, and when they all presented a united front he gave the signal to advance that had been agreed upon and at first bore down in line on the Romans, who kept close to the shore awaiting those of their ships that were returning from the harbour. This position close inshore placed them at a great disadvantage in the engagement. When the two fleets approached each other, the signals for battle were raised on both the admirals, and they closed. At first the battle was equally balanced, as the marines in both fleets were the very best men of their land forces; but the Carthaginians gradually began to get the best of it as they had many advantages throughout the whole struggle. They much surpassed the Romans in speed, owing to the superior build of their ships and the better training of the rowers, as they had freely developed their line in the open sea. For if any ships found themselves hard pressed by the enemy it was easy for them owing to their speed to retreat safely to the open water and from thence, fetching round on the ships that pursued and fell on them, they either got in their rear or attacked them on the flank, and as the enemy then had to turn round and found themselves in difficulty owing to the weight of the hulls and the poor oarsmanship of the crews, they rammed them repeatedly and sunk many. Again if any other of their own ships were in peril they were ready to render assistance with perfect security to themselves, as they were out of immediate danger and could sail in open water past the sterns of their own line. It was, however, just the opposite with the Romans. Those in distress could not retire backwards, as they were fighting close to the land, and the ships, hard pressed by the enemy in front, either ran on the shallows stern foremost or made for the shore and grounded. To sail on the one hand through the enemy's line and then appear on the stern of such of his ships as were engaged with others (one of the most effective manouevres in naval warfare) was impossible owing to the weight of the vessels and their crews' lack of skill. Nor again could they give assistance where it was required from astern, as they were hemmed in close to the shore, and there was not even a small space left for those who wished to come to the rescue of their comrades in distress. Such being their difficult position in every part of the battle, and some of the ships grounding on the shallows while others ran ashore, the Roman commander, when he saw what was happening, took to flight, slipping out on the left along shore, accompanied by about thirty of the ships nearest to him. The remainder, ninety-three in number, were captured by the Carthaginians, including their crews, with the exception of those men who ran their ships ashore and made off.
The battle having resulted so, Adherbal gained a high reputation at Carthage, the success being regarded as due to his foresight and boldness. Publius, on the contrary, fell into ill repute among the Romans, and there was a great outcry against him for having acted rashly and inconsiderately and done all a single man could to bring a great disaster on Rome. He was accordingly brought to trial afterwards, condemned to a heavy fine, and narrowly escaped with his life.
Yet so determined were the Romans to bring the whole struggle to a successful issue, that, notwithstanding this reverse, they left undone nothing that was in their power, and prepared to continue the campaign. The time for the elections was now at hand, and accordingly when the new Consuls were appointed they dispatched one of them, Lucius Junius Pullus, with corn for the besiegers of Lilybaeum and such other provisions and supplies as the army required, manning sixty ships to act as a convoy to him. Junius, on arriving at Messene and being joined by the ships from Lilybaeum and the rest of Sicily, coasted along with all speed to Syracuse, having now a hundred and twenty ships and the supplies in about eight hundred transports. There he entrusted half the transports and a few of the war-ships to the Quaestors and sent them on, as he was anxious to have what the troops required conveyed to them at once. He himself remained in Syracuse waiting for the ships that were left behind on the voyage from Messene and procuring additional supplies and corn from the allies in the interior.
At about the same time Adherbal sent the prisoners from the naval battle and the captured ships to Carthage, and giving Carthalo his colleague thirty vessels in addition to the seventy with which he had arrived, dispatched him with orders to make a sudden descent on the enemy's ships that were moored near Lilybaeum, capture all he could and set fire to the rest. When Carthalo acting on these orders made the attack at dawn and began to burn some of the ships and carry off others, there was a great commotion in the Roman camp. For as they rushed to rescue the ships with loud cries, Himilco, on the watch at Lilybaeum, heard them, and as day was just beginning to break, he saw what was happening, and sent out the mercenaries from the town to attack the Romans also. The Romans were now in danger from all sides and in no little or ordinary distress. The Carthaginian admiral, having made off with a few ships and broken up others, shortly afterwards left Lilybaeum, and after coasting along for some distance in the direction of Heraclea remained on the watch, as his design was to intercept the ships that were on their way to join the army. When his look-out men reported that a considerable number of ships of every variety were approaching and at no great distance, he got under weigh and sailed towards them eager to engage them, as after the recent success he had great contempt for the Romans. The approach of the enemy was also announced by the light boats that usually sail in front of a fleet to the Quaestors who had been sent on in advance from Syracuse. Considering themselves not strong enough to accept a battle, they anchored off a certain small fortified town subject to the Romans, which had indeed no harbour, but a roadstead shut in by headlands projecting from the land in a manner that made it a more or less secure anchorage. Here they disembarked, and setting up the catapults and mangonels procured from the fortress, awaited the enemy's attack. The Carthaginians on their approach at first thought of besieging them, supposing that the crews would be afraid and retreat to the city, and that they would then easily possess themselves of the ships; but when their hopes were not realized, the enemy on the contrary making a gallant defence, and the situation of the place presenting many difficulties of every kind, they carried off a few of the ships laden with provisions and sailed away to a certain river where they anchored, and waited for the Romans to put out to sea again.
The Consul, who had remained in Syracuse, when he had concluded his business there, rounded Cape Pachynus and sailed in the direction of Lilybaeum in entire ignorance of what had befallen the advance force. The Carthaginian admiral, when his look-outs again reported that the enemy were in sight, put to sea and sailed with all haste, as he wished to engage them at as great a distance as possible from their own ships. Junius had sighted the Carthaginian fleet for some time, and noticed the number of their ships, but he neither dared to engage them nor could he now escape them, as they were so near. He therefore diverted his course to a rugged and in every way perilous part of the coast and anchored there, thinking that, no matter what happened to him, it would be preferable to his whole force of ships and men falling into the hands of the enemy. The Carthaginian admiral, on seeing what Junius had done, decided not to incur the risk of approaching such a dangerous shore, but, gaining a certain cape and anchoring off it, remained on the alert between the two fleets, keeping his eye on both. When the weather now became stormy, and they were threatened with a heavy gale from the open sea, the Carthaginian captains who were acquainted with the locality and with the weather signs, and foresaw and prophesied what was about to happen, persuaded Carthalo to escape the tempest by rounding Cape Pachynus. He very wisely consented, and with great labour they just managed to get round the cape and anchor in a safe position. But the two Roman fleets, caught by the tempest, and the coast affording no shelter at all, were so completely destroyed that not even the wrecks were good for anything. In this unlooked for manner, then, the Romans had both their fleets disabled.
Owing to this occurrence the hopes of the Carthaginians rose again, and it seemed to them that the fortune of war was inclining in their favour, while the Romans, on the contrary, who had been previously to a certain extent unlucky but never had met with so complete a disaster, relinquished the sea, while continuing to maintain their hold on the country. The Carthaginians were now masters of the sea and were not hopeless of regaining their position on land. Subsequently, though all, both at Rome and in the army at Lilybaeum, continued to lament their whole situation after these recent defeats, yet they did not abandon their purpose of pursuing the siege, the government not hesitating to send supplies over land, the besiegers thereby keeping up the investment as well as they could. Junius, returning to the army after the shipwreck in a state of great affliction, set himself to devise some novel and original step that would be of service, being most anxious to make good the loss inflicted by the disaster. Therefore on some slight pretext offering itself, he surprised and occupied Eryx, possessing himself both of the temple of Venus and of the town. Eryx is a mountain on the sea on that side of Sicily which looks towards Italy. It is situated between Drepana and Panormus, or rather it is adjacent to Drepana, on the borders, and is much the biggest mountain in Sicily after Etna. On its summit, which is flat, stands the temple of Venus Erycina, which is indisputably the first in wealth and general magnificence of all the Sicilian holy places. The city extends along the hill under the actual summit, the ascent to it being very long and steep on all sides. He garrisoned the summit and also the approach from Drepana, and jealously guarded both these positions, especially the latter, in the conviction that by this means he would securely hold the city and the whole mountain.
The Carthaginians shortly afterwards appointed Hamilcar surnamed Barcas to the command and entrusted naval operations to him. He started with the fleet to ravage the Italian coast (this, I should say, was in the eighteenth year of the war) and after laying waste Locris and the Bruttii quitted those parts and descended with his whole fleet on the territory of Panormus. Here he seized on a place called Hercte lying near the sea between Eryx and Panormus, and thought to possess peculiar advantages for the safe and prolonged stay of an army. It is an abrupt hill rising to a considerable height from the surrounding flat country. The circumference of its brow is not less than a hundred stades and the plateau within affords good pasturage and is suitable for cultivation, being also favourably exposed to the sea-breeze and quite free of animals dangerous to life. On the side looking to the sea and on that which faces the interior of the island, this plateau is surrounded by inaccessible cliffs, while the parts between require only a little slight strengthening. There is also a knoll on it which serves for an acropolis as well as for an excellent post of observation over the country at the foot of the hill. Besides this Hercte commands a harbour very well situated for ships making the voyage from Drepana and Lilybaeum to Italy to put in at, and with an abundant supply of water. The hill has only three approaches, all difficult, two on the land side and one from the sea. Here Hamilcar established his quarters, at great risk indeed, since he had neither the support of any of their towns nor any prospect of support from elsewhere, but had thrown himself into the midst of the enemy. Notwithstanding this, the peril to which he put the Romans, and the combats to which he forced them, were by no means slight or insignificant. For in the first place he would sally out with his fleet from this place, and devastate the coast of Italy as far as Cumae, and next, after the Romans had taken up a position on land in front of the city of Panormus and at a distance of about five stades from his own camp, he harassed them by delivering during almost three years constant and variously contrived attacks by land. These combats I am unable to describe in detail here. For as in a boxing-match when two champions, both distinguished for pluck and both in perfect training, meet in the decisive contest for the prize, continually delivering blow for blow, neither the combatants themselves nor the spectators can note or anticipate every attack or every blow, but it is possible, from the general action of each, and the determination that each displays, to get a fair idea of their respective skill, strength, and courage, so it was with these two generals. The causes or the modes of their daily ambuscades, counter-ambuscades, attempts, and assaults were so numerous that no writer could properly describe them, while at the same time the narrative would be most tedious as well as unprofitable to the reader. It is rather by a general pronouncement about the two men and the result of their rival efforts that a notion of the facts can be conveyed. Nothing was neglected; neither traditional tactics nor plans suggested by the occasion and by actual pressure of circumstances, nor those strokes which depend on a bold and strong initiative. Yet there were several reasons why no decisive success could be obtained. For the forces on each side were evenly matched; their trenches were so strong as to be equally unapproachable, and the camps were at a quite small distance from each other, this being the chief reason why there were daily conflicts at certain points, but no decisive engagement. The losses in these combats consisted only of those who fell in the hand-to-hand fighting, while the side which once gave way used to get out of danger at once behind their defences, from whence they would issue again and resume the fight.
But Fortune, however, like a good umpire, unexpectedly shifted the scene and changed the nature of the contest, confining both in a narrower field, where the struggle grew even more desperate. The Romans, as I said, had garrisons at Eryx on the summit of the mountain and at the foot. Hamilcar now seized the town which lies between the summit and the spot at the foot where the garrison was. The consequence of this was that the Romans on the summit — a thing they had never expected — remained besieged and in considerable peril, and that the Carthaginians, though it is scarcely credible, maintained their position though the enemy were pressing on them from all sides and the conveyance of supplies was not easy, as they only held one place on the sea and one single road connecting with it. However, here again both sides employed every device and effort that the siege demanded: both endured every kind of privation and both essayed every means of attack and every variety of action. At length not, as Fabius Pictor says, owing to their exhaustion and sufferings, but like two uninjured and invincible champions, they left the contest drawn. For before either could get the better of the other, though the struggle in this place lasted for another two years, the war had been decided by other means.
Such then was the condition of affairs at Eryx and as far as regarded land forces. We may compare the spirit displayed by both states to that of game cocks engaged in a death-struggle. For we often see that when these birds have lost the use of their wings from exhaustion, their courage remains as high as ever and they continue to strike blow upon blow, until closing involuntarily they get a deadly hold of each other, and as soon as this happens one or the other of the two will soon fall dead. So the Romans and Carthaginians, worn out by their exertions owing to the continual fighting, at length began to be despairing, their strength paralysed and their resources exhausted by protracted taxation and expense. But, in spite of all, the Romans, as if fighting for their lives, although they had for nearly five years utterly withdrawn from the sea owing to their disasters and their belief that they would be able to decide the war by the aid of their land forces alone, now, when they saw that chiefly owing to the bold action of the Carthaginian general they were not making the progress on which they had reckoned, decided for the third time to court the prospect of using sea-forces. They thought that this course, if they could but strike a deadly blow, was the only way of bringing the war to a favourable conclusion. And this they finally accomplished. It was yielding to the blows of Fortune that they had retired from the sea on the first occasion; the second time it was owing to their defeat at Drepana, but now they made this third attempt, and through it, by gaining a victory and cutting off the supplies from the sea of the Carthaginian army at Eryx, they put an end to the whole war. The attempt was indeed of the nature of a struggle for existence. For there were no funds in the public treasury for this purpose; but yet, owing to the patriotic and generous spirit of the leading citizens, enough was found to carry out the project; as either one, two, or three of them, according to their means, undertook to provide a quinquereme fully equipped on the understanding that they would be repaid if all went well. In this way a fleet of two hundred quinqueremes was rapidly got ready, all built on the model of the "Rhodian's" ship. They then appointed Gaius Lutatius to the command and dispatched him at the beginning of summer. Suddenly appearing off the coast of Sicily, he seized on the harbour of Drepana and the road-steads near Lilybaeum, the whole Carthaginian navy having retired to their own country. First of all he constructed works round the city of Drepana and made all preparations for its siege, but while continuing to prosecute this by every means in his power, he foresaw that the Carthaginian fleet would arrive, and was not forgetful of the original motive of the expedition, the belief that it was only by a sea battle that the war could be decisively finished. He did not, then, allow the time to pass uselessly and idly, but every day was spent in exercising and practising the crews properly for this purpose. He also paid unremitting attention to the matter of good food and drink, so that in a very short time he got his sailors into perfect condition for the anticipated battle.
When the unexpected news reached Carthage that the Romans were at sea with a fleet and were again disputing the naval supremacy, they at once got their ships ready, and filling them with corn and other provisions, dispatched their fleet on its errand, desiring that the troops at Eryx should be in no need of necessary supplies. Hanno, whom they had appointed to command the naval force, set sail and reached the so-called Holy Isle from whence he designed to cross as soon as possible to Eryx, unobserved by the enemy, and, after lightening the ships by disembarking the supplies, to take on board as marines the best qualified mercenaries together with Barcas himself and then engage the enemy. Lutatius, learning of Hanno's arrival and divining his intentions, took on board a picked force from the army and sailed to the island of Aegusa which lies off Lilybaeum. There, after exhorting his troops as became the occasion, he informed the captains that the battle would take place next day. In the early morning, just as day was breaking, he saw that a brisk breeze was coming down favourable to the enemy, but that it had become difficult for himself to sail up against the wind, the sea too being heavy and rough. At first he hesitated much what to do under the circumstances, but reflected that if he risked an attack now that the weather was stormy, he would be fighting against Hanno and the naval forces alone and also against heavily laden ships, whereas if he waited for calm weather and by his delay allowed the enemy to cross and join the army, he would have to face ships now lightened and manageable as well as the pick of the land forces and above all the bravery of Hamilcar which was what they dreaded most at that time. He therefore decided not to let the present opportunity slip. When he saw the Carthaginian ships under full sail he at once got under weigh. As his crews easily mastered the waves owing to their good training, he soon brought his fleet into a single line with their prows to the enemy.