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The Roman Fleet of the Republic
I’ve just finished an intensive and rewarding investigation into the Roman fleet for the republic. The main barrier I had over the years is how many horse transports in a fleet and how many horses they can carry.
The Roman fleet for the invasion of Africa in 256 BC is mainly made up of warships (330). However, Scipio’s fleet in 204 BC is mainly made up of transports (about 400). I interpreted this to have occurred due to the Romans no longer believing they would be facing a large Carthaginian fleet as they did in 256 BC near Ecnomus. As the proof is in the pudding, I applied the army numbers for Scipio’s army of Africa to the fleet numbers and it was a perfect match up. Now armed with how many men a transport could carry and also how many horses a transport could hold, to see how this would hold up, I compiled all the references to fleet numbers for the First Punic war, plus ships lost and captured, both Carthaginian and Roman, and went to work, by first and most importantly, removing all of Polybius references and kept them to one side.
The numbers given in the primary sources for fleet sizes are quite accurate and there are a few of them, that I did a year by year breakdown of the fleet actions. Like their land organisation, the fleet is allocated a specific number of cavalry to each legion when on land, but in the fleet, the cavalry are have a separate organisation because the number of ships for the cavalry cannot be evenly divided by the number of legions technically represented by a fleet. However, by the Second Punic War this is no longer the case.
I was a little more than surprised to have found I have undertaken an investigation into a lot of data that has been ignored by modern historians. Tarn found it not worthwhile to acknowledge Florus’ reference to a fleet of 160 ships as Polybius has for the same year 120 ships. As I have since found out, the discrepancy outlines Roman protocol.
Looking at the fleet sizes and the large discrepancies is like following a harbour master’s arrivals and departure log. Some ancient historians have given the number of the fleet when all are in harbour, while other when half or a quarter of the fleet had departed, which explains the discrepancy. The difference between Florus’ 160 ships and Polybius’ 120 ships is 40 ships are at sea patrolling or acting as outposts so as to warn of an attack from an enemy fleet. This is why in one battle, the fleet assembled from various places. Some fleet sizes include the cavalry; others don’t. With this established, I reintroduced Polybius’ numbers and he is telling the same story, except in one area. Polybius’ numbers for lost and captured ships both Carthaginian and Roman tells a different story. For example at Hermaeum, Orosius and Eutropius have 104 Carthaginian ships SUNK, yet Polybius has 114 Carthaginian ships CAPTURED.
Surprisingly, Polybius mentions no losses for the Roman fleet, but Orosius mentions 9 Roman ships lost. Now if the 9 ships are rounded to 10 ships and added to Orosius and Eutropius figure of 104 Carthaginian ships captured, you arrive at Polybius’ figure of 114 Carthaginian ships captured.
In the same year, Polybius reports that the Roman fleet lost 364 ships in a storm and 80 were saved. Eutropius has 464 lost and 80 saved. When Polybius’ 114 ships are subtracted from both figures, Polybius equates to 250 ships, and Eutropius 350 ships, which is Polybius starting number for the fleet in 254 BC. Eutropius and Orosius 104 Carthaginian ships sunk are made up of the 80 ships saved from the storm and the 24 Carthaginian ships sunk at Hermaeum (as per Diodorus). Same with the Aegates Island of 242 BC, Roman figures relating to losses of men have been incorporated with the Carthaginian manpower losses.
The fleet organisation has helped determine how a fleet could be deployed and this has shown how the fleet could form the formation described at Ecnomus, which I was surprised at how simple it was to execute. This is due to the fleet, like the legion having both a horizontal and vertical organisation, which is what Polybius is trying to describe when he terms them a legion or squadron. It is simply a matter of some parts moving slowly and other parts moving a little faster and that is all there is to it. So I am going ahead with including the battle of Ecnomus for the book. I just can’t resist it.

Messages In This Thread
The Roman Fleet of the Republic - by Steven James - 09-18-2016, 01:38 PM
RE: The Roman Fleet of the Republic - by Alecto - 09-20-2016, 08:36 AM
RE: The Roman Fleet of the Republic - by Alecto - 09-20-2016, 08:48 AM
RE: The Roman Fleet of the Republic - by JaM - 09-20-2016, 02:02 PM
RE: The Roman Fleet of the Republic - by JaM - 09-23-2016, 02:12 PM
RE: The Roman Fleet of the Republic - by JaM - 09-24-2016, 05:47 AM
RE: The Roman Fleet of the Republic - by JaM - 09-25-2016, 08:17 AM
RE: The Roman Fleet of the Republic - by JaM - 09-30-2016, 01:28 PM
RE: The Roman Fleet of the Republic - by JaM - 10-01-2016, 07:23 AM
RE: The Roman Fleet of the Republic - by JaM - 10-01-2016, 05:03 PM
RE: The Roman Fleet of the Republic - by JaM - 10-03-2016, 12:45 PM

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