The First Punic War

The coo test for Messina was, after all, however, considered by the Romans merely as a pretext, or rather as an occasion, for commencing the struggle which they had long been desirous of entering upon. They evinced their characteristic energy and greatness in the plan which they adopted at the outset. They knew very well that the power of Carthage rested mainly on her command of the seas, and that they could not hope successfully to cope with her till they could meet and conquer her on her own element. In the mean time, however, they had not a single ship and not a single sailor, while the Mediterranean was covered with Carthaginian ships and seamen. Not at all daunted by this prodigious inequality, the Romans resolved to begin at once the work of creating for themselves a naval power.

The preparations consumed some time; for the Romans had not only to build the ships, they had first to learn how to build them. They took their first lesson from a Carthaginian galley which was cast away in a storm upon the coast of Italy. They seized this galley, collected their carpenters to examine it, and set woodmen at work to fell trees and collect materials for imitating it. The carpenters studied their model very carefully, measured the dimensions of every part, and observed the manner in which the various parts were connected and secured together. The heavy shocks which vessels are exposed to from the waves make it necessary to secure great strength in the construction of them; and, though the ships of the ancients were very small and imperfect compared with the men-of-war of the present day, still it is surprising that the Romans could succeed at all in such a sudden and hasty attempt at building them.