Friday, November 16, 2012

March 10, 241 BC - Carthagian Fleet Victorious at Aegates Islands

The Roman Republic had expanded its control throughout Italy by conquest and forced treaties to create a potent confederation.  Sicily, just beyond the tip of southern Italy, lay as a foreign land ruled by tyrants from powerful Syracuse and smaller cities in alliance with the Mediterranean naval power Carthage.  The Greek king Pyrrhus attempted to carve out an empire in Southern Italy and Sicily, but the allied efforts of the Romans and Carthaginians managed to defeat him.  In the wake of the war, mercenaries left behind in Sicily called Mamertines ("Sons of Mars") seized the northeastern city of Messana and sparked a war with Syracuse.  The Mamertines called for aid from both Carthage and Rome hoping to secure themselves, but instead they caused the two superpowers to declare war upon one another in 264 BC.

The Romans were expert warriors in the field, and they landed their legions at Messana to begin a siege against Syracuse.  The Carthaginians, meanwhile, maintained their navy and depended on holding a few key fortresses on the island with a small mercenary force to ensure control of the island.  When the Romans stormed Syracuse, however, and caused it to switch sides, the Carthaginians lost their historical grip on the island.  A relief force arrived to stop the Roman advance as they besieged Agrigentum, but the Carthaginians were stolidly defeated in the resulting battle.  Meanwhile, the Romans adapted themselves to naval warfare, creating the corvus, a spiked plank that could grip enemy ships and allow foot soldiers to overwhelm opposing sailors.  At the Battle of Mylae in 260 BC, the Romans shocked and defeated the Carthaginian fleet.  The Carthaginian commander, Hannibal, was seized by his men and crucified for incompetence.

Over the next five years, Rome continued to advance, even raiding Africa itself.  In 255, the Carthaginians hired Spartan general Xanthippus, who drove off the Romans at Tunis.  The fleeing Roman ships were devastated in a sudden storm, wiping out the victorious Roman fleet.  Still invigorated, the Romans built a new fleet of some 140 ships and continued to roll across Sicily until another storm destroyed that fleet, too.  Storms destroyed ship after ship and raids on Africa proved ineffectual, stalling any great advantage of Roman naval superiority.  The corvus was blamed and abandoned.

In 249 BC at Drepana, the war turned toward the good of Carthage.  They won an overwhelming naval victory by pinning the Romans against the shore, and the newly arrived infantry general Hamilcar Barca ended Roman advantages on land.  For years, Sicily would become a stalemate with sieges and counter-sieges giving neither empire a chance for a victory in the field.

In 244 BC, seeing the war with Rome as an unnecessary drain on the public wealth, Carthaginian leader Hanno the Great (who had earned his epithet with victories in Africa) pushed to decrease the navy.  There had not been a naval battle in years, and most of the assembly agreed with him.  As Carthage minimized its fleet, Rome determined in 242 to build up a new force and besiege the ports in Sicily that kept Barca in supply.

Carthage responded in haste by rebuilding their fleet.  While most concerned themselves more about the number of ships involved, equating numerical might to victory, it became clear that the ships were undermanned.  The two fleets met at the Aegates Islands as Carthaginian commander Hanno (not to be confused with Hanno the Great) was en route to relieve Barca's fortresses.  Seeing the stripped-down Roman fleet had left its sails on shore and relying fully on rowers, Hanno recalled his defeats at Agrigentum and Cape Ecnomus and the Romans' impressive use of maneuverability.  Using the favorable wind, Hanno ordered his fleet to feign retreat.  The Romans, ready for final victory, gave pursuit.  After several miles, when the Roman rowers became exhausted, the Carthaginians turned back with fresh rowers and annihilated the Roman fleet by ramming and fire ships.

Victory celebrations rang through Carthage, but word also trickled back about the grand promises Hamilcar had made to keep the mercenary army from rebelling.  They had largely gone unpaid, living on rations and visions of great wealth from conquests.  The years of stalemate had taken a toll, and already Hamilcar had to put down revolts.  It became clear to the assembly that even taking a draw in the war would have severe consequences.

Hanno the Great’s antiwar faction capitulated, and Carthage began to launch raids on the Italian coast to incite revolt from among the newly conquered Etrurians in the north and Greek city-states in the south.  Rome found itself in a pincer as well as cut off from Sicily, which slid back under Carthaginian influence as mercenaries won their prizes.  Worried about security at home, the Romans finally agreed to a truce with Carthage and returned to solidifying their control over the Italian peninsula.

Wars in the next years with Illyricum and Gaul caused expansion northward and east across the Adriatic Sea.  Rome became embroiled with another Mediterranean power, Macedon, in wars through the second century BC that eventually gave Rome control over Greece.  Carthage, meanwhile, continued to expand into Iberia and southward along Africa’s western coast with their mighty navy and managed to avoid being pulled into the Roman-Macedonian conflicts.  The two empires continued side-by-side until inevitable disputes arose over Gaul as Romans expanded past the Alps.

The Second Punic War (121-70 BC) would again see drawn-out sieges and bids for naval superiority with the Romans at last achieving domination over the western Mediterranean in addition to conquests in the east by the general Sulla in the 80s.  The war proved a solidifying force for the Republic, whose heroes exhibited humility as well as glory.  Necessity cleansed the bureaucracies, and Rome became effective at ruling its provinces.  After the war, a younger set of would-be heroes, Crassus and his general Caesar, would march on Germania in a disastrous campaign in 54 BC.  Largely the Republic wished for peace under leaders such as the military-minded Pompey, civic Cicero, and philosopher Cato.  Centuries later, the peace would end as Germanic and Celtic hordes sacked and broke up the empire.


In reality, the Roman fleet destroyed the Carthaginians at the Aegates Islands.  Cut off from supply, Hamilcar was forced to sue for peace.  The terms were humiliating, and Carthage could not afford to pay its mercenaries, who revolted and nearly toppled the empire.  Hamilcar again defeated them and began a campaign to expand Carthaginian power in Iberia, creating a force that his son, Hannibal, would lead into Italy itself in the Second Punic War.  Eventually Rome defeated Carthage and then destroyed it fully in the Third Punic War (149-146 BC).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

November 6, 1612 - Henry Frederick Recovers Fever

Proving once again a dashing hero, the eighteen-year-old Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, recovered from typhoid fever to great acclaim. The eldest son of King James I of England (VI of Scotland) had already made a name for himself as the handsome, athletic, witty, just, and inspiring next leader of the British Isles.

Henry had been born at Stirling Castle February 19, 1594, and spent his early years in Scotland under the care of the Earl of Mar. His father, James, had worried about the boy being too near his mother Anne of Denmark's Catholic tendencies and so placed Henry among staunch Protestants despite the division it caused in his marriage. In 1603, James was called to London to be crowned, and he brought his family south with him. As Henry grew, his father created an environment that, according to Sir Thomas Chaloner, was a "courtly college or a collegiate court." James himself acted as lecturer and wrote tracts for his son such as The True Law of Free Monarchies, which detailed James' understanding of monarchy as Heavenly mandated absolute rule.

At 11 years old, Henry entered Magdalen College at Oxford. There, he learned sportsmanship and became interested in politicking and the tactics of warfare. He also became fastidious in his Protestantism, even to the point of fining anyone who uttered a swear, for which an alms box was always on hand for forced contributions. His small court was required to attend church services, and Henry himself became entranced in in the steely argumentation of Calvinism, whose sermons seemed to say to him, "Sir, you must hear me diligently: you must have a care to observe what I say."

In his teen years, Henry began to break with his family. He did not care for his increasingly extravagent younger brother, Charles, who seemed to emulate his father's ideals of autocracy. Henry had already rejected many of his father's values, especially James' sense of royal spending. The two very nearly rose to blows when James admonished Henry for not being energetic on a hunt, and Henry lifted his cane to strike his father out of rage but instead rode away. Most of the hunting party followed after the ever-increasingly popular Henry and left his father behind with a few loyals.

At the age of 18, Henry became ill during a typhoid fever epidemic but managed to recover. Upon the death of his father in 1625, Henry ascended the throne of England as Henry IX and the throne of Scotland as Henry I. James had spent the last years of his reign bickering with Parliament, and Henry began his rule by establishing an effective chain of command as well as respecting the right to free speech within the Commons. He approved the sanctions against Catholics and encouraged the increasing Protestantism of the country. Henry had made good on an old teasing promise to make his younger brother Archbishop of Canterbury, though Charles would constantly be admonished for overspending and, in truth, become a whipping boy for the perceived problems of the Anglican Church. Gradually over Henry's tenure, the strength of bishops would decline to favor a more Presbyterian system as seen in Scotland.

While Henry's domains seemed peaceable enough (although a campaign through Ireland to pacify the Catholic population became necessary in 1650), issues in foreign policy took up the majority of his reign. His deep sense of Protestantism caused war with Spain, and he agreed with Parliament on using naval tactics to undercut their flow of income from colonies. Through the seventeenth century, English and Dutch Protestant navies would seize much of the Caribbean. Henry also attempted to become involved in the Dutch War of Independence and the Thirty Years' War in the Germanies (especially since he married a Protestant German princess and his sister married Frederick V, Elector Palatine), but advisers such as Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell encouraged him not to become tied up with the Continent.  Instead, Henry focused on empire-building, as had been the dreams of Sir Walter Raleigh, whom Henry deeply admired and considered a friend.  Henry fought bitterly with his father over the execution of Raleigh in 1618 after an illegal attack on a Spanish outpost, but the opinion of Spain's ambassador won out.  He never forgave his father.

Following Raleigh's ideals, Henry widely encouraged settlement in the New World.  Not only did his fleets seize islands from Spain, but he also created new colonies along the northern coast of South America and dispatched explorers and colonists to affirm English control of the Mississippi.  His policies set precedent for colonial taxation through the Ship Tax, and taxation was reaffirmed in the next century by referrenda from the American colonies, who requested and were granted seats in Parliament.


In reality, Henry Frederick died at the age of 18, and his younger brother Charles ascended the throne in 1625.  Charles bickered with Parliament, eventually leading to the English Civil War and his own beheading in 1649.

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