The battle of Alalia or battle of “the sea of Sardinia” took place around 540-535 BC. Following, as we saw in the previous article, the establishment of the Phocaeans in their area of influence, the alliance between the Etruscans and the Carthaginians decided to confront them at sea, at off Corsica.
The pretext for the war was, according to Herodotus, who left the main evidence of this battle, the piracy for which the Phocaeans of the city of Alalia were responsible. However, the conflict seems, as we have seen previously, to fit into a much broader dynamic where the cities, Etruscan or Greek, and the Carthaginians saw their areas of influence evolve. The rise of the Phocaeans forced the Carthaginians and the Etruscans to react, to protect their trade. The very site of the battle is subject to discussion. Indeed, Herodotus speaks of the “Sardonian Sea”. Many historians believe it took place off the east coast of Corsica. However others have proposed off the Etruscan city of Caere. This last hypothesis would explain the large number of prisoners taken by the Etruscans who were then stoned in this city.
A hotly contested naval battle
The battle took place between a fleet of sixty Phocaean ships, some not yet decked, which attacked one hundred and twenty Carthaginian and Etruscan ships. The Phocaeans managed to achieve victory while suffering very heavy losses. Indeed, according to the accounts, they lost about forty ships out of the sixty they had at the start. Many ships were destroyed by the Etruscans and very few by the Carthaginians. Despite their victory, the Phocaeans having suffered heavy losses had to leave Corsica after this battle to go and found a new colony, Elea, in Campania, in southern Italy. It seems that the various protagonists in the battle suffered widely varying fortunes. The Phocaeans of Massalia, according to thanks given at Delphi for the victory, and the Etruscans would have found many benefits there, particularly in terms of booty and prisoners, while the Phocaeans of Alalia and the Carthaginians would have suffered heavy losses.
Sharing the Mediterranean Basin
What resulted from this battle and even if they lost it was that the Etruscans and the Carthaginians won in terms of geopolitics. Indeed, following this battle, the Phocaeans were forced to leave Corsica and the Punico-Etruscan alliance was able to re-establish its trade and its areas of influence. They shared the Mediterranean basin. The Etruscans received the North and Corsica while the Carthaginians had the South and Sardinia. At least we thought so until now because recent archaeological excavations and historical research have shown a more contrasting reality. Archeology has, in fact, reported, through found objects, the maintenance of a Greek presence in Alalia until the taking possession by Rome in 259 BC, and a short Punic occupation of around ten years at the very end of the period. This situation existed despite the Etruscan domination that had been established over Corsica. In fact, it is likely that the city of Alalia became a very mixed center after the battle…
Source of the photograph:
Illustration by Giuseppe Rava AKG-IMAGES