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Rome at Sea: the Beginnings of Roman Naval Power

William V. Harris

Rome at Sea: the Beginnings of Roman Naval Power

The contention of this paper is that Rome did not “suddenly” become a naval power in the early years of its first war with Carthage (contrary to the contention of Leigh 2010: 265, and many others), but that it had been moving gradually in that direction since at least 314 BCE. The traditional account recognizes that Rome created duumuiri nauales for the first time in 311 but neglects, among other things, the implications of the foundations of the colonies of Luceria and Pontiae (314 and 313 respectively), the agreement with Rhodes made c. 306 (now more widely accepted as historical), the treaties made with the socii nauales, and the appropriation of the Sila forest, probably in the 270s. On a sensible view it seems unlikely that senators would ever have agreed to initiate hostilities against Carthage in 264 if Rome had no significant naval forces at all at its disposal: these people were risk-takers but not suicidal. There are wider implications, including negative ones for those who in recent years have infested the historiography of Roman imperialism with extreme forms of International Relations theory.

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Rethinking Roman Imperialism in the Middle and Late Republic (c.327 - 49 BCE)

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