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Roman Empire
Mediterranean Sea
Punic Wars

Did Rome become the most powerful force in the Mediterranean sea after the Punic wars?

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June 12, 2015 11:53AM

Rome was probably already the most powerful force on land. During Rome's wars of expansion in central and southern Italy, eight of the peoples who lived in this part of Italy became allies of Rome. They had to provide Rome with soldiers who fought in auxiliary forces which supported the Roman legions in exchange for a share of the war loot and protection. The allies provided 60% of the forces Rome could mobilise. This gave Rome the largest pool of military manpower in the Mediterranean. However, prior to the First Punic War, Rome hardly had a navy to speak of.

The First Punic War quickly developed from a war on land to a war at sea. The Carthaginians had one of the most powerful fleets in the Mediterranean and very experienced sailors. Rome built a fleet which matched that of Carthage in size and modelled their ships of the Carthaginians. However, her sailors were inexperienced and could not carry out the complex manoeuvre of turn the bow of a ship towards the side of an enemy ship to ram it. Therefore, they developed the corvus, a boarding bridge. The Roman ships carried marines and flanked the enemy ship, lowered the corvus and boarded it. This was a simple manoeuvre and proved successful. However, it made the ships top heavy and unstable and many ships were lost in storms. At the end of this war, the crews had become experienced enough to allow the ditching of the corvus and make the ships nimble. During the Second Punic War, the Roman fleets consistently defeated the Carthaginian ones and proved that they were superior. Rome had become the masters of the sea in the Mediterranean.

The Punic Wars and the destruction of Carthage also made Rome the undisputed master of the western basin of the Mediterranean.