Share This Article

The First Punic Warby J.F. Lazenby, Stanford University Press, Palo Alto,Calif., 1996, $45 (hardcover), $17.95 (softcover).

The First Punic War was Rome’s first overseas war. It was also history’s first “world war,” lasting a quarter century (264-241 bc) and involving major powers battling by land and sea over a wide geographic area. In fact, the largest naval battle in history, in terms of sheer numbers of ships and men, took place during this war (Ecnomus, 256 bc).

No good single-volume history of the conflict had been available before J.F. Lazenby’s well-produced, inexpensive and well-written work, The First Punic War, appeared.

Lazenby attributes Rome’s success to both stubbornness and adaptability. The inland city, which had scant harbor facilities at the Tiber River mouth, became a world sea power by imitating its enemies. Rome essentially bought and requisitioned its first navy from allied Greek and Etruscan cities, then built bigger and better fleets of its own. Innovators like Valerius Messalla, consul in 263 bc, understood amphibious warfare.

The weakness of Carthaginian strategy was that they were always reacting to Roman initiatives, not taking charge. But the Romans chiefly won due to their unwavering commitment to finish a fight once begun. Lazenby points out, “To Rome, wars ended when the Republic dictated its terms to a defeated enemy; to Carthage, wars ended with a negotiated settlement.”

Lazenby includes clear maps, and the interesting narrative only slows to discuss the sources in each chapter–every lost or fragmentary ancient historian used.

Robert Brophy