World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Battle of Drepana

Article Id: WHEBN0000468671
Reproduction Date:

Title: Battle of Drepana  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: First Punic War, Battle of Cape Ecnomus, Battle of the Egadi Islands, Trapani, Siege of Drepana
Collection: 240S Bc Conflicts, 249 Bc, Naval Battles of the First Punic War, Trapani
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Battle of Drepana

Battle of Drepana
Part of the First Punic War
Date 249 BC
Location Off Drepana (modern Trapani), Sicily
Result Carthaginian victory
Carthage Roman Republic
Commanders and leaders
Publius Claudius Pulcher
About 120 ships About 120 ships
Casualties and losses
None 93 ships captured or sunk

The naval Battle of Drepana (or Drepanum) took place in 249 BC during the First Punic War near modern Trapani, western Sicily between the fleets of Carthage and the Roman Republic.


  • Prelude 1
  • Actions and consequences 2
  • Aftermath 3
  • References 4
  • Notes 5
  • See also 6


The string of Roman naval victories, such as Mylae and Ecnomus, gave them the confidence to make a direct attack on the Carthaginian stronghold of Lilybaeum governed by Himilco. The city was blockaded by a fleet commanded by the year's consuls Publius Claudius Pulcher and Lucius Junius Paullus. However, despite the acquired Roman naval experience, the Carthaginians were still superior in open sea manoeuvring. A small squadron led by a commander named Hannibal, son of Hamilcar, managed to break the siege in broad daylight and deliver supplies to the garrison of Lilybaeum. In the night, Hannibal left the city carrying the useless cavalry horses and sailed to the harbour of Drepana, before the Romans knew what was happening.

The success of the enterprise was so stunning that the Carthaginians repeated it several times. For the Romans, this was more than a humiliation: it was annulling the whole effect of the siege, since the garrison was being fed and kept in contact with Carthage. Something had to be done.

Shortly after, a brave sailor, identified as Hannibal the Rhodian, openly defied the Roman fleet by sailing around the fleet in order to spy on the town and relay the news of the goings on inside of Lilybaeum to the Carthaginian Senate and the Carthaginian commander at the battle, Adherbal.

Actions and consequences

Pulcher, the senior consul, then decided to launch a surprise attack on the harbour of Drepana, where the defiant ships were garrisoned. The fleet sailed north from Lilybaeum in a moonless night. Carthaginian scouts did not spot the Roman ships but low visibility conditions compromised the battle formation. When they reached Drepana at sunrise, the fleet was scattered in a long, disorganized line with Pulcher's ship in the rear. Punic scouts saw the clumsy approach and the advantage of surprise was lost.

Meanwhile, on the flagship, some sources claim that Pulcher performed the inspection of the omens before battle, according to Roman religious tradition. The prescribed method was observing the feeding behaviour of the sacred chickens, on board for that purpose. If the chickens accepted the offered grain, then the Roman gods would be favourable to the battle. However, on that particular morning of 249 BC, the chickens refused to eat – a horrific omen. Confronted with the unexpected and having to deal with the superstitious and now terrified crews, Pulcher quickly devised an alternative interpretation. He threw the sacred chickens overboard, saying, Let them drink, since they don't wish to eat. (Bibant, quoniam esse nolunt. Cicero, De Natura Deorum, where it is reported in "indirect discourse". The Latin here reflects what Pulcher's actual words would have been.)

However, it is not entirely clear if this actually occurred. The contemporary historian Polybius fails to mention it, instead crediting the victory to the superior maneuverability of the Carthaginian warships, making this incident at least dubious.[1]

In the harbour, the Carthaginians did not wait to see what the Romans intended. Adherbal had similar, though less controversial, quick thoughts and ordered the evacuation of Drepana before the blockade was unavoidable. Carthage's ships thus sailed out of Drepana, passing south of the city and around two small islands in the coast to the open sea. Seeing his plan for a surprise attack fail, Pulcher ordered his fleet to regroup into battle formation. However, by then, everything was against him. The coast of Sicily was at his back and the Punic fleet ready for battle at his front.

Herbal saw a chance for victory and ordered his right flank to attack the rear-most Roman ships. The result was an utter Roman defeat, with almost all the ships commanded by Pulcher sunk.


Publius Claudius Pulcher managed to escape and returned to Rome in shame, where he faced charges of treason. Unlike the Carthaginians, Romans did not execute generals for incompetence (cf. Hannibal Gisco); what brought Pulcher to the court was an accusation of sacrilege due to the chicken incident. He was convicted and sentenced to exile, with his political career finished.

In the same year, Hamilcar Barca (general Hannibal's father) led a successful campaign in Sicily and a storm mostly destroyed the other half of the Roman fleet, commanded by consul Junius Paullus. The situation was so desperate that Aulus Atilius Calatinus was appointed dictator and sent to the island to control the land warfare. The Drepana defeat so demoralized the Romans that they waited seven years before building another fleet.



  1. ^ Lazenby, J.F. (1996). The First Punic War: A Military History. Stanford: Stanford University Press. pp. 133–134.  

See also

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.