Sunday, 11 March 2012

Rome Wins at Sea - Gaius Duilius and the 'Crow'

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The 'corvus' or crow
Before the First Punic War Rome was a land power only. The expansion of Rome's ambitions to Sicily revealed to them the importance of sea power in building up an overseas empire.

Gaius Duilius was the first of all Roman leaders to receive a triumph for a naval victory, won over the Carthaginians during the First Punic War (264–241).

As consul in 260, Duilius was in charge of the army in Sicily when he was assigned to command Rome's newly created fleet. Realising that his forces lacked skill in naval warfare, he decided that they must fight under conditions as similar as possible to those of a land engagement.

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Image Source: Warfare in the Classical World,
 by John Warry. St. Martin's Press, New York, 1980
The corvus or 'crow' was Rome's secret naval weapon in the First Punic War. This was a raised gangplank in the bow of the ship with a large spike on the underside. The plank was dropped onto one of the more manoeuvrable Carthaginian ships, and the spike held it in place. The Romans could then board the ship and use their superior marines to take the ship. In effect, they turned naval warfare into land warfare.
With these devices he decisively defeated the Carthaginian fleet off Mylae on the north coast of Sicily. He celebrated a triumph at Rome that was the first naval triumph in Roman history. In 258 Duilius was censor.

For this breakthrough, (according to Livy) Gaius Duilius was granted a perpetual honour - that a wax torch should be borne before him and a flautist should make music when he returned from dining out.

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