Battle of Naulochus

Battle of Naulochus

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The naval Battle of Naulochus was fought on 3 September 36 BC between the fleets of Sextus Pompeius
Sextus Pompeius
Sextus Pompeius Magnus Pius, in English Sextus Pompey , was a Roman general from the late Republic . He was the last focus of opposition to the Second Triumvirate...

 and Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa was a Roman statesman and general. He was a close friend, son-in-law, lieutenant and defense minister to Octavian, the future Emperor Caesar Augustus...

, off Naulochus
Naulochus
Naulochus, Naulochos, or Naulocha , was an ancient city on the north coast of Sicily, between Mylae and Cape Pelorus. It is known primarily from the great sea-fight in which Sextus Pompeius was defeated by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, 36 BCE, and which was fought between Mylae and Naulochus....

, Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

. The victory of Agrippa, admiral of Octavian, marked the end of the Pompeian resistance to the Second Triumvirate
Second Triumvirate
The Second Triumvirate is the name historians give to the official political alliance of Octavius , Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and Mark Antony, formed on 26 November 43 BC with the enactment of the Lex Titia, the adoption of which marked the end of the Roman Republic...

.

Background


After the strengthening of the bond between Octavian and Mark Antony
Mark Antony
Marcus Antonius , known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general. As a military commander and administrator, he was an important supporter and loyal friend of his mother's cousin Julius Caesar...

 with the Pact of Brundisium, the two triumvirs had to manage the menace of Sextus Pompey, son of Pompey
Pompey
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey or Pompey the Great , was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic...

. Sextus had occupied the province of Sicily, which provided much of Rome's grain supply
Grain supply to the city of Rome
In classical antiquity, the grain supply to the city of Rome could not be met entirely from the surrounding countryside, which was taken up by the villas and parks of the aristocracy and which produced mainly fruit, vegetables and other perishable goods...

. When Sextus had managed to bring Rome to famine, in 39 BC
39 BC
Year 39 BC was either a common year starting on Friday, Saturday or Sunday or a leap year starting on Saturday of the Julian calendar and a common year starting on Saturday of the Proleptic Julian calendar...

, Octavian and Anthony sought an alliance with him, appointing him governor of Sicily, Sardinia, and the Peloponnese for five years (Treaty of Misenum). The alliance was short-lived, and Sextus cut the grain supply to Rome. Octavian tried to invade Sicily in 38 BC
38 BC
Year 38 BC was either a common year starting on Sunday or Monday or a leap year starting on Saturday, Sunday or Monday of the Julian calendar and a common year starting on Sunday of the Proleptic Julian calendar...

, but his ships were forced to go back because of bad weather.

Agrippa cut through part of the Via Ercolana and dug a channel to connect Lake Lucrinus to the sea, in order to change it into a harbour, which was named Portus Iulius. The new harbour was used to train the ships for naval battles. A new fleet was built, with 20,000 oarsmen gathered by freeing slaves. The new ships were built much larger, in order to carry many more naval infantry units, which were being trained at the same time. Furthermore, Anthony exchanged 20,000 infantry for his Parthian campaign with 120 ships, under the command of Titus Statilius Taurus
Titus Statilius Taurus
Titus Statilius Taurus was the name of a line of Roman senators. The first known and most important of these was a Roman general and two-time consul prominent during the Triumviral and Augustan periods...

. In July 36 BC
36 BC
Year 36 BC was either a common year starting on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday or a leap year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar and a common year starting on Wednesday of the Proleptic Julian calendar...

 the two fleets sailed from Italy, and another fleet, provided by the third triumvir Marcus Aemilius Lepidus
Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (triumvir)
Marcus Aemilius Lepidus , was a Roman patrician who rose to become a member of the Second Triumvirate and Pontifex Maximus. His father, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, had been involved in a rebellion against the Roman Republic.Lepidus was among Julius Caesar's greatest supporters...

, sailed from Africa, to attack Sextus' stronghold in Sicily.

In August, Agrippa was able to defeat Sextus in a naval battle near Mylae (modern Milazzo
Milazzo
Milazzo is a town and comune in the province of Messina, Sicily, Italy.The city is situated between two bays, one of Milazzo and the east to the west of Patti, in a strategic place in the north-eastern Sicily.Located 43 km from the provincial capital, is part of the metropolitan area of the Strait...

); that same month Octavian was defeated and seriously wounded in a battle near Taormina
Taormina
Taormina is a comune and small town on the east coast of the island of Sicily, Italy, in the Province of Messina, about midway between Messina and Catania. Taormina has been a very popular tourist destination since the 19th century...

.

Battle


In front of Naulochus promontory, Agrippga met Sextus' fleet. Both fleets were composed of 300 ships, all with artillery, but Agrippa commanded heavier units, armed with the harpax
Harpax
The harpax or harpago was a Roman catapult-shot grapnel created by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa for use against Sextus Pompey during the naval battles of the Sicilian revolt...

, a newer version of the corvus
Corvus (weapon)
The corvus or harpago was a Roman military boarding device used in naval warfare during the First Punic War against Carthage....

. Agrippa used his new weapon to great effect, succeeding in blocking the more maneuverable ships of Sextus and, after a long and bloody fight, in defeating his enemy.

Agrippa lost three ships, while 28 ships of Sextus were sunk, 17 fled, and the others were burnt or captured.

Aftermath


After seven years, Sicily was finally wrested from the control of the resourceful Sextus, whose large navy had created many problems for the second triumvirate
Second Triumvirate
The Second Triumvirate is the name historians give to the official political alliance of Octavius , Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and Mark Antony, formed on 26 November 43 BC with the enactment of the Lex Titia, the adoption of which marked the end of the Roman Republic...

.

Sextus reached Messana with 7 ships and moved to Mytilene, then from there to the East, where he was defeated in 35 BC
35 BC
Year 35 BC was either a common year starting on Thursday or Friday or a leap year starting on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday of the Julian calendar and a common year starting on Thursday of the Proleptic Julian calendar...

 by Antony.

Octavian and Lepidus defeated the last Pompeian resistance in Sicily. Later, after a good amount of intrigue, Octavian was able to strip Lepidus of his political and military power and become the sole ruler of the west.

Historical sources

  • Appian
    Appian
    Appian of Alexandria was a Roman historian of Greek ethnicity who flourished during the reigns of Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius.He was born ca. 95 in Alexandria. He tells us that, after having filled the chief offices in the province of Egypt, he went to Rome ca. 120, where he practised as...

    : The Civil Wars. Book 5, paragraph 116-122 (online copy)
  • Velleius Paterculus: The Roman History. Book 2, paragraph 79 (online copy)