Background of events
The newly built Roman fleet under the command of consul Cnaeus Cornelius Scipion was to sail along the eastern coast of Sicily. Scipio only took 17 ships with him, as he only wanted to prepare Messana for the reception of the main forces. On the spot, he learned that Lipari, a port city of great strategic importance, located on one of the few islands north of Sicily, wanted to betray the Carthaginians and go over to the Romans. For this reason, Scipio left Messana and sailed to Lipari, where his fleet entered the port.
At that time, Hannibal Gisco with his fleet of 130 ships left Panormos and, having reached Cape Mylae (now Milazzo), began to ravage the areas of northeastern Sicily. His intention was to provoke the enemy to a general naval battle and, as a result, destroy the newly built Roman fleet. Twenty Carthaginian ships separated from this fleet also blocked the Roman fleet in port. Inexperienced Roman sailors did not put up much resistance. Some of them fled inland when Scipio was captured.
Then the command of the fleet was taken over by the second consul, Gaius Duilius, who, along with 143 ships, sailed towards the northern coast of Sicily, where Hannibal with his fleet plundered the coast hoping to draw the Romans into battle. He was sure that the advantage of Carthaginian tactics and greater skill in rowing would give him an easy victory against the Roman fleet, but the Romans equipped their five-row ships (quinqueremes) with an unusual type of weapon – corvus (“raven”). Corvus was a boarding pier 36 feet long and 4 feet wide, terminated with a sharp peg that would hammer into the deck of an enemy ship to keep it from floating away. It was invented in the 5th century BCE. by Syracusan, but in this battle, it was used for the first time. Thanks to him, the Romans could use their excellent infantry for sea combat. Surprised by this invention, the Carthaginian crews died or surrendered, being able to oppose only 50 of their soldiers on one ship against 120 Roman soldiers.
The Carthaginian fleet attacked the Romans, but Roman ships using corvus began to conquer the Carthaginian ships one by one. Then the Carthaginian fleet, better manoeuvring, tried to attack from the rear, but here the Romans began to win thanks to boarding. The Roman fleet won its first victory. Hannibal escaped from the battlefield in a small boat because his ship was also driven into corvus.
The Romans captured 31 ships and sank 14, killed about 3,000, and captured about 7,000 Carthaginians. This victory significantly wiped out Carthage’s advantage at sea. Gaius Duilius built a monument in honour of his victory (Columna Rostrata) on the Roman forum, fragments of which we can still see today.
This battle was of great importance to the Romans. It was the first naval battle they won. This victory allowed them to gain confidence and faith in being successful in their maritime operations. It also served as a warning to the Carthaginians that a new naval power had just emerged to be reckoned with.