Treaty of Lutatius

Treaty of Lutatius
Type Peace Treaty
Context Treaty to end the First Punic War between Carthage and Rome
Drafted 241 BC
Signed 241 BC
Mediators  β€’ Hamilcar Barca
 β€’ Gaius Lutatius Catulus
Negotiators  β€’ Gisco
 β€’ Gaius Lutatius Catulus
 β€’ Quintus Lutatius Cerco
Parties  β€’ Carthage
 β€’ Rome

The Treaty of Lutatius was the agreement between Carthage and Rome which ended the First Punic War after 23 years. Most of the fighting during the war took place on, or in the waters around, the island of Sicily and in 241 BC the consul Gaius Lutatius Catulus defeated a Carthaginian fleet attempting to lift the blockade of its last strongholds there. Accepting defeat, the Carthaginian Senate ordered their army commander on Sicily, Hamilcar, to agree a peace treaty with the Romans, on whatever terms he could negotiate. Hamilcar refused, claiming the surrender was unnecessary, and the negotiation of the peace terms was left to Gisco, the commander of Lilybaeum, as the next most senior Carthaginian on the island. A draft treaty was rapidly agreed, but when this was referred to Rome for ratification it was rejected. A commission of ten was sent to settle the matter. This in turn agreed that Carthage would hand over what it still held of Sicily; relinquish several groups of islands nearby; release all Roman prisoners without ransom, although ransom would need to be paid to secure the release of prisoners held by the Romans; and pay an indemnity of 3,200 talents of silver β€“ 82,000 kg (81 long tons) β€“ over 10 years. It received its name from the victorious Gaius Lutatius Catulus, who also negotiated the initial draft.

In 237 BC, when Carthage was recovering from a bitter and hard-fought civil war, it prepared an expedition to recover the island of Sardinia, which had been lost to rebels. Cynically, the Romans stated they considered this an act of war. Their peace terms were the ceding of Sardinia and Corsica and the payment of an additional 1,200 talent indemnity. Weakened by 30 years of war, Carthage agreed rather than enter into a conflict with Rome again and the renunciation of Sardinia and Corsica, and the additional payment were added to the treaty.

Primary sources

A monochrome relief stele depicting a man in classical Greek clothing raising one arm
Polybius β€“ "a remarkably well-informed, industrious, and insightful historian". [1]

The main source for almost every aspect of the First Punic War[note 1] is the historian Polybius (c. 200 – c. 118 BC), a Greek sent to Rome in 167 BC as a hostage.[3][4][5] His works include a now lost manual on military tactics,[6] but he is known today for his The Histories, written sometime after 146 BC, or about a century after the end of the war.[3][7] Polybius's work is considered broadly objective and largely neutral as between Carthaginian and Roman points of view.[8][9]

Carthaginian written records were destroyed along with their capital, Carthage, in 146 BC and so Polybius's account of the First Punic War is based on several, now-lost, Greek and Latin sources.[10] Polybius was an analytical historian and wherever possible personally interviewed participants in the events he wrote about.[11][12] Only part of the first book of the forty comprising The Histories deals with the First Punic War.[13] The accuracy of Polybius's account has been much debated over the past 150 years, but the modern consensus is to accept it largely at face value, and the details of the treaty in modern sources are almost entirely based on interpretations of Polybius's account.[13][14] The modern historian Andrew Curry considers "Polybius turns out to [be] fairly reliable";[15] while Dexter Hoyos describes him as "a remarkably well-informed, industrious, and insightful historian".[16] Other, later, histories of the war and the treaty that ended it exist, but in fragmentary or summary form.[4][17] Modern historians usually also take into account the histories of Diodorus Siculus and Dio Cassius, and the 12th-century Byzantine chronicler Joannes Zonaras, who relied on much earlier sources, is also sometimes used. All, like Polybius, draw most of their information from even earlier, now lost, accounts.[18][19][20] The classicist Adrian Goldsworthy states "Polybius' account is usually to be preferred when it differs with any of our other accounts".[12][note 2]

First Punic War


The Roman Republic had been aggressively expanding in the southern Italian mainland for a century before the First Punic War.[21] It had conquered peninsular Italy south of the River Arno by 272 BC.[22] During this period Carthage, with its capital in what is now Tunisia, had come to dominate southern Spain, much of the coastal regions of North Africa, the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, and the western half of Sicily in a military and commercial empire.[23] In 264 BC Carthage and Rome were the preeminent powers in the western Mediterranean.[24] The two states had several times asserted their mutual friendship via formal alliances: in 509 BC, 348 BC and around 279 BC. Relationships were good, with strong commercial links.[25][26]

A map of the western Mediterranean showing the territory controlled by Carthage and Rome at the start of the First Punic War.
Territory controlled by Rome and Carthage at the start of the First Punic War

In 264 BC the two cities went to war over the city of Messana (modern Messina) in the north-eastern tip of Sicily.[27] Many members of the Roman elite saw strategic and monetary advantages in gaining a foothold in Sicily. The deadlocked Roman Senate put the matter before the popular assembly, which decided on war.[28][29] Carthaginian leaders expected their overwhelming maritime superiority would allow the war to be kept at a distance, and even for them to continue to prosper. Their experience over the previous two centuries of warfare on Sicily was that decisive action was impossible; military efforts petered out after heavy losses and huge expense.[30]

264–249 BC

In the event the war lasted 23 years, the longest war in Romano-Greek history and the greatest naval war of the ancient world.[31] During its first nine years the Romans became well established on Sicily[32] and the Carthaginians were defeated in several large naval battles; shortly after the last of these, the Roman fleet was destroyed in a storm, with an estimated loss of 384 ships sunk from their total of 464[note 3] and 100,000 men lost,[33][34] the majority non-Roman Latin allies.[35] The Romans rapidly rebuilt their fleet, only to lose another 150 ships to another storm in 253 BC. They rebuilt again, and in 250 BC blockaded the main Carthaginian base on Sicily of Lilybaeum with 200 warships.[36]

The Carthaginians broke the blockade in 249 BC with victories at Drepana and Phintias. These defeats so demoralized the Romans that they restricted their naval activities to small-scale operations for seven years.[37][38][39] The war had developed into a struggle in which the Romans were attempting to decisively defeat the Carthaginians and, at a minimum, control the whole of Sicily.[40] The Carthaginians were engaging in their traditional policy of waiting for their opponents to wear themselves out, in the expectation of then regaining some or all of their possessions and negotiating a mutually satisfactory peace treaty. Rome was the stronger land-based power and had gained control of most of Sicily.[41] The Carthaginian leadership preferred to expand their area of control in North Africa at the expense of the Numidians, and probably viewed Sicily as a secondary theatre.[42]

249–241 BC

From 250 BC the Carthaginians held only two cities on Sicily: Lilybaeum and Drepana; these were well-fortified and situated on the west coast, where they could be supplied and reinforced without the Romans being able to use their superior army to interfere.[43][44] When Hamilcar Barca[note 4] took command of the Carthaginians on Sicily in 247 BC he was only given a small army and the Carthaginian fleet was gradually withdrawn.[46][47][48] After more than 20 years of war, both states were financially and demographically exhausted.[49] Evidence of Carthage's financial situation includes their request for a 2,000-talent loan[note 5] from Ptolemaic Egypt, which was refused.[51] Rome was also close to bankruptcy and the number of adult male citizens, who provided the manpower for the navy and the legions, had declined by 17 per cent since the start of the war.[52]

In late 243 BC, realizing they would not capture Drepana and Lilybaeum unless they could extend their blockade to the sea, the Senate decided to build a new fleet.[53] With the state's coffers exhausted, the Senate approached Rome's wealthiest citizens for loans to finance the construction of one ship each, repayable from the reparations to be imposed on Carthage once the war was won. The result was a fleet of approximately 200 large warships, built, equipped, and crewed without government expense.[54] The Carthaginians raised a larger fleet which they intended to use to run supplies into Sicily. It was intercepted by the Roman fleet under Gaius Lutatius Catulus and Quintus Valerius Falto on 10 March 241 BC, and in a hard-fought battle the better-trained Romans defeated the undermanned and ill-trained Carthaginian fleet.[55][56] Of the 250 Carthaginian warships, the Romans sank 50 β€“ 20 with all hands β€“ and captured 70.[53][57] After achieving this decisive victory, the Romans continued their land operations in Sicily against Lilybaeum and Drepana.[58]


An ancient coin depicting a galley surrounded by a wreath of oak leaves
A Roman coin from 109 BC alluding to Catalus's victory; it shows a galley within a wreath of oak leaves [59]

With their relief effort defeated, the Carthaginian Senate was reluctant to allocate the resources necessary to have another fleet built and manned. In any case, it was probable their Carthaginian garrisons would be starved into surrender before that could be done.[60] Instead, it ordered Hamilcar to negotiate a peace treaty with the Romans, on whatever terms he could obtain. After receiving the order to make peace, Hamilcar refused, claiming the surrender was unnecessary; it is possible that for political and prestige reasons Hamilcar did not wish to be associated with the treaty which formalised Carthage's defeat in the 23-year-long war. As the next most senior Carthaginian on the island, it was left to Gisco, the commander of Lilybaeum, to broker the peace terms.[61][62][60]

Gisco opened discussions with Catulus, the recently victorious Roman commander on Sicily. It was the long-standing Roman procedure to appoint two men each year, known as consuls, to each lead an army. Catulus's term was near its end and his replacement could be expected to arrive on Sicily shortly. This caused him to be eager to conclude a definitive peace and thus claim the credit for bringing the lengthy war to a close.[61][63] Gisco and Catulus agreed that Carthage would hand over what it still held of Sicily; release all Roman prisoners without ransom, although ransom would need to be paid to secure the release of prisoners held by the Romans; and pay an indemnity of 2,200 talents of silver β€“ 57,000 kg (56 LT) β€“ over 20 years.[64][65] These terms were referred to Rome for ratification, where they were rejected by the popular assembly.[64][65] A commission of ten was sent to settle the matter. The commission was chaired by Catulus's brother Quintus Lutatius Cerco, who by this time had succeeded him as consul.[64][65] Some historians argue that there was a faction in Rome opposed to the treaty, and possibly to ending the war at all, which was led by the ex-consul Aulus Manlius Torquatus Atticus. This possible disagreement within Roman policy makers was exemplified by Atticus being elected consul again in 241 BC alongside Cerco.[19][66]

Gisco rapidly agreed to further concessions with the commission: several islands close to Sicily would also be handed over;[note 6] the indemnity was increased to 3,200 talents,[note 7] with the additional 1,000 talents payable immediately[note 8] and the time allowed to pay the balance reduced to 10 years. There were other minor clauses in the final agreement,[note 9] which was formalised in the Treaty of Lutatius, named after Catulus.[64][65] Hamilcar immediately handed over command on Sicily to Gisco, and was left with formally informing Carthage of what had been agreed.[67]

Sardinia and Corsica

After Carthage evacuated its 20,000-strong army from Sicily to North Africa it became embroiled with the troops in a pay dispute. Eventually the troops mutinied and turned against Carthage. The news of a formed, experienced, anti-Carthaginian army in the heart of its territory spread rapidly and many cities and towns rose in rebellion; some were freshly conquered and all had been harshly oppressed to finance the recently ended war. They added 70,000 men to the rebel force and supplied food and financial resources. Rome pointedly declined to take advantage of Carthage's troubles and adhered to the terms of the recent treaty. Italians were prohibited from trading with the rebels but encouraged to trade with Carthage; 2,743 Carthaginian prisoners still held were released without a ransom and were immediately enrolled into Carthage's army.[68][69] Hiero, the king of the Roman satellite kingdom of Syracuse, was allowed to supply Carthage with the large amounts of food it needed and was no longer able to obtain from its own hinterland.[69][70] In late 240 or early 239 BC the Carthaginian garrisons on Sardinia joined the mutiny, killing their officers and the island's governor. The Carthaginians sent a force to retake the island. When it arrived its members also mutinied, joined the previous mutineers, and killed all of the Carthaginians on the island. The mutineers then appealed to Rome for protection, which was refused.[71][68][72]

A map of the western Mediterranean showing the territory controlled by Carthage and Rome at the start of the Second Punic War.
Territory controlled by Rome and Carthage at the start of the Second Punic War

Probably in 237 BC,[73] the indigenous inhabitants of Sardinia rose up and drove out the mutinous garrison, which took refuge in Roman-controlled Italy. As the war in Africa came to a close, they appealed again for Roman assistance. This time the Romans agreed and prepared an expedition to seize both Sardinia and Corsica.[61] It is unclear from the sources why the Romans acted differently from three years earlier.[68][74] Polybius held that this action was indefensible.[75] Carthage sent an embassy to Rome, who quoted the Treaty of Lutatius and claimed Carthage was outfitting its own expedition to retake the island, which it had held for 300 years. The Roman Senate cynically stated they considered the preparation of this force an act of war, and demanded Carthage cede Sardinia and Corsica, and pay an additional 1,200-talent indemnity, as peace terms.[75][76][note 10] Weakened by 30 years of war, Carthage agreed rather than again enter into conflict with Rome.[77] The renunciation of Sardinia, which was understood to include Corsica, and the additional payment were added to the treaty.[78]


For Rome, the treaty marked the start of its expansion beyond the Italian Peninsula. Sicily became the first Roman province as Sicilia, governed by a former praetor. Henceforth Rome was the leading military power in the western Mediterranean, and increasingly the Mediterranean region as a whole. Carthage was not reconciled to this situation, and when Carthage besieged the Roman-protected town of Saguntum in eastern Iberia in 218 BC, it ignited the Second Punic War with Rome.[79]