Saturday, 20 February 2021

Mylae 260 BC - Roma Victor

Historical Background

The first Punic war (264 - 241 BC) was the struggle between the two superpowers of their time for the control over Sicily. On the one side the Carthaginians (also known as Punics) were based on the Northern side of Africa (modern times Tunesia and a bit of Algeria) and are mainly seafearing community making trade all over the Mediterranean Sea, on the other side the Romans, purely land based with a strong will to expansion. A clash between the two cultures for predomination of the then known world was inevitable.

The casus belli was the plead for help of the tyrant of Syracuse against the growing pressure of the Carthaginians on Sicily. Rome was more than willing to help and therefore Rome sent troops to intervene. But the dilemma with that war was that the Romans were successfull on land, on sea the Romans had only small fleets from their allies and these are no match for the Carthaginians. So a stalemate between Roman land forces and Carthaginian maritime raids and invasions arose. In a typically Roman manner they built a fleet of 200 ships (based on a wreck of a stranded enemy warship), trained the crews and knowing that the Carthaginians are the much more experienced seafarers invented a secret weapon - the corvus (raven). It was a boarding bridge over which the Roman marines (lots of them!) can engage the enemy. All this was achieved within 6 months!

The first commitment of the fleet was at the battle of Mylae (modern day Milazzo) in 260 BC. Each fleet had approximately 130 ships, a real large encounter. The Carthaginians have absolutely no respect of the enemy navy and engaged the Romans even without making battle formations. The corvus came as true nasty surprise and the Carthaginians were for the first (but not the last) time decisevely beaten.

The war dragged on for further 13 years with several land and sea battles and finally ended with the Romans as masters of Sicily.

The moment depicted is the close combat between two Roman galleys (one command ship and one ship of the line with corvus) and one Carthaginian galley. The Roman ship of the line has just rammed the enemy vessel, commited the corvus and marines are engaging in overwhelming number the Carthaginians. The Roman command ship is in the process of supporting the own ship of the line.

Further information on the ships
  • The standard battleship of the period was the quinquereme, this means that each vertical section of rows has 5 rowers in 3 levels (2-2-1, variations possible) on each side. 
  • The hull of the ship should not get wet, as this would increase weight and therefore decrease speed and maneuverability. The vessels were beached every day!
  • Beneath the waterline the hull is covered with metal plates and coated with wax.
  • The ships had a high center of gravity as they had a minor draught. This of course affacted the stability of the vessel - marines, when not in combat, had to sit or hunker down on deck.
  • Only water was transported on the ships and really small amounts of food. This also made beaching every day necessary.
  • Of course there were no toilets on board - you may not saw the galley from a distance, but you will definitively smelt it.
  • As the ships were closed on all sides, there was a real problem of ventilation. Some openings on special places helped a little.
  • The ram was not part of the hull, so it possibly could broke off. 
  • Normally the masts are laid down or thrown overboard before battle (in the case of Mylae maybe not, as the Carthaginians attacked the Romans immediately)
  • Maximum speed for a quinquereme was about 10 knots (= 19 km/h) - so these vessels were very fast, but only in perfect sea and weather conditions. Waves of more than 1 meter height would keep the ship in the harbour or on the beach. The Romans lost more ships to bad weather than by combat.
  • Sinking of a rammed took a long, long time - some scholars even say, that the vessel run full of water and it was impossible to sink it (maybe with the exception if the keel is broken).
  • The rowers were not slaves, they were highly trained and paid professionals. It is difficult to get 170 rows coordinated when the crew is not well-rehearsed. Slaves in battles are too high a risk - so please forget all you have seen in the Ben Hur movies! Only in the 16th century slaves were used.
  • The rate of strokes was not indicated with beating of drums, instead tunes by flutes (or something similar) were used.

The diorama

All ships and figures are from Zvezda.
  • Ships: Greek Triera, Roman Trireme, Trireme of the Roman Emporer
  • Figures: Roman Republic infantry, Carthaginian infantry, Greek infantry, Egyptian infantry
The ships are upgraded with ventilation openings, sails are scratch built, improved rigging, some parts of the three ships are interchanged and some changes had to be made as some things are simply wrong (e.g. height of lowered corvus - would be difficult to climb in breast height and then you have no platform to stand on). The Roman ships are all brand new, the Carthaginian ship is a little bit worn out.

For reaching the interaction between the figures some conversions had to be made and for creating rowers and other marine personal the conversions were quite complex.

I tried to create sea water for the first time and used Vallejo Mediterranean water, MIG acrylic water and a wide mix of colours to achieve this final result.

I started this diorama back in 2006 (indeed!!!) and thought it won't be a long affair. But with every book I read and every contact I made it's getting more and more difficult. But now it is finally  finished and it looks quite like as I had it in mind 15 years before - but much more historically correct.

Photos (click to enlarge)

Video (Youtube)

Making of

Many pictures and explanations can be found here (German language only):


Nigel Bagnall - The Punic wars 264 - 146 BC (Osprey Essential Histories 16)
Kevin F. Kiley - The uniforms ot the Roman world
Terence Wise - Armies of the Carthaginan wars 265 - 146 BC (Osprey Men-at-Arms 121)
Andrea Salimbeti - The Carthaginians 6th - 2nd century BC (Osprey Elite 201)
Daniel Peterson - The Roman legions recreated in colour photographs
Nic Fields - Carthaginian Warrior 264 - 146 BC (Osprey Warrior 150)
Nic Fields - Roman republican legionary 298 - 105 BC (Osprey Warrior 162)
Nic Fields - The Roman army of the Punic wars 264 - 146 BC (Ospey Battle Orders 27)
Nic Fields - Roman battle tactics 390 - 110 BC (Osprey Elite 172)
Raffaelo D'Amato - Roman centurions 753 - 51 BC (Osprey Men-at-Arms 470)
Robert Gardiner - The age of the galley
H.D.L. Viereck - Classis romana, die römische Flotte
Manfred Beike - Kriegsflotten und Seekriege der Antike
Raffaele D'Amato - Republican Roman warships 509 - 27 BC (Osprey New Vanguard 225)
Simon Angum, … - Fighting techniques of the ancient world 3000 BC - 500 AD