« A.U.C. 512 = 242 B.C. »
Polybius 1.59.8 notes that a consul for this year, Q. Lutatius Catulus, took command of the Roman fleet at the beginning of summer, i.e. c. May. Sometime thereafter, after putting Drepana (Trapani) under siege, he defeated the fleet that the Carthaginians had assembled in the meantime to relieve the city at the battle of the Aegates Insulae, the concluding battle of the first Punic War. Polybius gives the impression that the interval was not too long, a matter of a few months. The battle is dated to a.d. VI Id. Mart. of this year by Eutropius 2.27.2, and Orosius 4.11 records under this year that the portents preceding the battle included a major flood at Rome, which must therefore have occurred in the first months of 241.
Since Polybius does not mention the passage of a winter, there are two ways to interpret this data.
Catulus defeated the Carthaginians at the end of the same summer he took command of the fleet. That is, he took command in May 241 and a.d. VI Id. Mart. A.U.C. 512 was around September/October 241; the Roman calendar was about 5-6 months behind the Julian.
This synchronism can be reached if there was only 8 intercalations between this year and A.U.C. 564 = 190, the most recent year whose dates are certain, in addition to that of A.U.C. 518 = 236. In that case, a.d. VI Id. Mart. A.U.C. 512 was between 24 September and 3 October 241. One more intercalation is just possible; any more than that drives the date of the battle too far into the winter of 241/0 to be credible.
Catulus defeated the Carthaginians early in the spring following the summer he took command of the fleet, and Polybius just failed to mention the winter for some reason. That is, he took command in May 242 and a.d. VI Id. Mart. A.U.C. 512 was around March/April 241; the Roman calendar was closely aligned to the Julian.
M. G. Morgan, Chiron 7 (1977) 90 at 111 argues that Polybius only gives seasonal indications when it is necessary to explain the course of events, and plausibly suggests that he does not mention the winter of 242/1 because nothing happened in it: the Romans were stuck beseiging Drepana and the Carthaginians were busy assembling the fleet to relieve it.
Considering first the date of the battle: This synchronism can be reached if there were 16, 17, or 18 intercalations between this year and A.U.C. 564 = 190, the most recent year whose dates are certain. Any more intercalations drives the date of the battle back into the winter of 242/1. Since a.d. VI Id. Mart. A.U.C. 512 falls after any intercalary month that may have occurred in that year, the following table gives the possible date ranges for a.d. VI Id. Mart. A.U.C. 512 assuming 16-18 intercalations after this date and before A.U.C. 564 = 190.
Number of Intercalations Number of intercalated days Julian date of a.d. VI Id. Mart. A.U.C. 512
16 352-368 16 April - 2 May 241
17 374-391 24 March - 10 April 241
18 396-414 1-19 March 241
Note that this analysis is independent of the start date of the consulate.
Considering next the start of the consulate: This occurred at least a few weeks before Catulus took command of the fleet in May. If this event is dated to May 242, there were between 16 and 19 intercalations between this date and A.U.C. 564 = 190. (19 is possible since there could have been an intercalation in 512 A.U.C. itself between the start of the consulate and a.d. V. Id. Mart.) The following table gives the possible date ranges for Kal. Mai. A.U.C. 512 assuming 16-19 intercalations after this date and before A.U.C. 564 = 190.
Number of Intercalations Number of intercalated days Kal. Mai. A.U.C. 512
16 352-368 17 June - 3 July 242
17 374-391 25 May - 11 June 242
18 396-414 2 - 20 May 242
19 418-437 9 - 28 April 242
Dates that appear to be compatible with the data are highlighted in blue. The preferred solution is bolded.
Clearly, there is only one solution that fits both data items: A.U.C. 512 itself was intercalary, and was followed by 18 intercalations before A.U.C. 537 = 217. The Roman year was aligned with the Julian at its end and slightly ahead at its beginning.
Regardless of the synchronisation between Julian and Roman calendars, there is a specific indication in the data for this year that the consulate started well after Id. Mart. Dio Cassius 12.17.3 notes that Catulus was anxious to make peace after the battle since his term of office was about to conclude. In the time between the battle and the conclusion of peace, the following events occurred:
Hanno, the Carthaginian commander, fled to Carthage and was executed
- The Carthaginians sent an embassy to Catulus suing for peace
- They were granted an armistice in order to return to Carthage
- Having done so, a Carthaginian embassy was then sent to Rome
- Peace was agreed on stricter terms than Catulus had originally proposed
It is not possible to complete these steps in 5 days. The only possible way to square this sequence of events with a consulate starting on Id. Mart. is to suppose that Catulus negotiated with a deputation from Drepana rather than Carthage itself, and that the final negotiations were actually concluded in the next year. This contradicts Dio's text, but could be compatible with the dynamics of the situation. However, it requires Catulus to be certain that Carthage would accept the terms agreed with the Drepana garrison. On the whole, it seems safest to assume that the consulate started on Kal. Mai.
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