The two major players in the first Punic War, 264-241 B.C., were Rome and Carthage. Rome, prior to the Punic Wars, was not a major player in the Mediterranean world of the time by any means. Their one redeeming factor was that they absorbed their conquests into their fold. Conquered communities agreed to supply Rome with soldiers, leading to Rome having a large, if not skilled, army.
Carthage was very prominent thanks to its navy, which was needed due to Carthage’s extensive trading. Carthage was the dominant naval power with some of the best naval technology. Rome, for example, had no chance of winning the war until they found a Carthaginian ship, ripped it apart, found out how it worked, and created replicas of it.
Rome later cited their hatred for Carthage being that Carthage sacrificed children and babies to their God, which is what the thousands of carved stone markers surrounding their villages are for. This story, however, could have merely been Roman propaganda because Carthage left no written records. It was not inevitable for Rome and Carthage to fight, for they both had control of different lands. Rome had Italy while Carthage had Africa and Sardinia. The island Sicily, the land between the two, allowed Roman traders and all was well, until the Greek city-states and Carthage competed over control of Sicily.
First, the Mamertines and Syracuse fought over Sicily until the Mamertines, feeling defeated and without hope, called on both Rome and Carthage to help. Carthage responded first, sending a small force to the citadel. A year later Rome responded, sending a force opposite Sicily under the command of Appius Claudius. The Mamertines, a group of pillaging mercenaries, allied with Rome and so Syracuse, led by Hiero, formed forces with Carthage, even though they were typically enemies.
The fighting took place primarily on the land of Sicily. In the early stages of the war, Rome created the corvus, an instant bridge between ships, similar to a ladder. They had to create this so they could use their land-battling techniques on battles in the water. Before the corvus, water battles tended to be ships running into each other and trying to out-maneuver one another. The corvus allowed Rome to gain an upper ground during fights on water by allowing them to board the Carthaginian ships.
The next two decades of fighting were confusing for the warring forces, especially since the Sicilian cities were prone to switching sides depending on who was the strongest force at the time. At one point Rome decided to invade Africa in the hopes of ending the war quickly. Marcus Atilius Regulus landed 15,000 troops south of Carthage. Rome lost this battle but had better success on water and on land in Sicily, where, in a the Battle of Agrigentum, Appius Claudis succeeded in getting his troops into the capital Messana, as well as driving Heiro’s camp and the Carthaginians out.
In 263 B.C. 40,000 troops came to Rome’s aid, successfully provoking Heiro to deflect sides in fear. In the Battle of the Aegates in 241 B.C., the Roman naval force cornered the Carthaginian fleet, who was unable to rebuild their dwindling troops. Hamilcar Barca, commander of the Carthaginian land forces, agreed resentfully to negotiate peace and evacuate Sicily. Rome won the war and Carthage was made to pay Rome all the war debt. Due to the debt they owed Rome, Carthage couldn’t pay their mercenaries hired during the war, which led to a civil war. All this resentment Carthage had for Rome resulted to the second Punic War.