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date: 26 September 2023

sea power, Romanlocked

sea power, Romanlocked

  • Carsten Hjort Lange


Sea power as a concept is a question of input (the fleet, shipsheds, and related maritime industry) and output and control (influence exerted on other people’s use of the sea). This can be approached theoretically from two classic angles: the destruction of the enemy fleet in decisive naval battles (power at sea) vs. how sea power can influence the outcome of events on land (power from the sea). In reality, sea control may have been impossible due to the limitations of ancient ships, whereas sea denialdenying the enemy the local use of the sea—was not. Ancient naval history is consequently not just about naval battles, but also about naval infrastructure: harbours, ships, trained sailors, shipsheds, and a complex naval organization. Roman naval activity before 260 bce is highly disputed, but whatever we make of this, the First Punic War and Cn. Duilius’ victory at Mylae in 260 bce marked a radical departure from traditional Roman strategy. The fleet turned into a tool of aggression. The prize was Sicily. After the First Punic War, Roman fleets were involved in numerous hostilities and wars. However, the Roman fleet was an ad hoc organisation: there was no permanent fleet, and temporary fleets arose circumstantially in order to confront crises and emergencies. With the victory of Augustus came a standing Roman fleet, protecting Rome and Italy with naval bases. It was only at this late stage that the navalists—champions of a permanent fleet—won the day. After Actium, Rome controlled the Mediterranean and there was simply no room for any enemy naval bases.


  • Roman History and Historiography

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