How did a crow help Rome defeat Carthage?

Rome was not a major naval power and discovered that, although it was supreme on land, it could not shatter the maritime empire of Carthage. Did a crow really help Rome defeat the empire? Historian Miles Russell explains…

A Roman galley warship

It’s nothing to do with a bird, but a special device constructed in the hope of improving the Roman army’s chances on the water. The corvus (meaning ‘crow’) was a Roman device used to board enemy ships whilst at sea.

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Rome was not a major naval power and discovered that, although it was supreme on land, it could not shatter the maritime empire of Carthage. Determined to deploy its infantry at sea, Rome devised a platform that could be lowered from the prow of a ship onto a neighbouring vessel, before a heavy, beak-shaped spike on the underside pierced the deck of the opposing craft, effectively locking the two ships together.

Roman troops could therefore clamber aboard the enemy vessel. The crow was successfully deployed in a number of engagements but its weight made ships unstable. It appears to have contributed to the loss of two Roman fleets during storms in 255 and 249 BC.

Answered by one of our Q&A experts, historian and author Miles Russell

Find out more about the Romans here.

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This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine