by Marc C De Santis
Barnesly, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2016. Pp. xiv, 254.
Maps, diagr., notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 1473826985
The Origins of Roman Naval Supremacy
De Santis, the associate editor of Military History Quarterly and Military Heritage and Ancient Warfare Online, has produced a good popular history of the Punic Wars and the rise of Roman sea power. While he concentrates on the maritime aspects of the protracted series of wars (264-241 BC, 218-201 BC, and 149-146 BC ) and Rome’s rise as a naval power, he covers operations on land, which were greatly influenced by those at sea. De Santis fits the events into the larger framework of Mediterranean history in the period, given that the Gauls and Macedonians went to war with the Romans while they were engaged with the Carthaginian.
De Santis naturally spends much time discussing how the Romans became a sea power. He covers the traditional story of building a fleet based on the design of a captured Carthaginian vessel, training oarsmen in primitive rowing simulators, a matter of some skepticism, the introduction of the “corvus” which served to “turn sea battles into land battles,” only to be discarded soon after the end of the First Punic War as the Roman became more skillful in more traditional naval operations, and discusses tactics in considerable detail, with some interesting insights into theory and practice, while examining the course of the war, the commanders, and the battles.
In all, De Santis gives us an excellent view of war at sea in the period and of the Punic wars, which will prove of great value for those lacking familiarity with the period, and is not without some insights likely to be of interest to the more serious student of the subject.