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Regulus Biography

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REGULUS, MARCUS ATILIUS. A Roman general. He was consul for the first time in 267 B.C., and for his successes against the Sallentini obtained the honor of a triumph. Chosen consul a second time (256 B.C.), he was sent along with his colleague, L. Manlius Vulso, at the head of a fleet of 330 ships (with a land army on board) against the Carthaginians, in the ninth year of the First Punic War, and, encountering the enemy's fleet off Heraclea Minor, totally defeated it. The Romans then landed near Clypea, where they established their headquarters and ravaged the surrounding Carthaginian territory with fire and sword. When Manlius was recalled to Rome with one-half of the land forces, Regulus was left to carry on the war with the remainder. For some time he was victorious in every encounter, but at last (255 B.C.) suffered a total defeat; 30,000 Romans were left dead on the field, about 2000 fled and took shelter in Clypea, and Regulus, with 500 more, was taken prisoner. Regulus remained in captivity for five years, but, when fresh reverses induced the Carthaginians to solicit peace, he was released on parole and sent to Rome in company with the Punic envoys. The rest of his history is a favorite Roman tale. According to this, Regulus at first refused to enter Rome, since he was no longer a citizen; after this conscientious scruple was overcome he declined to give his opinion in the Senate until he was commanded to do so; he then sought earnestly to dissuade the Senators from agreeing to any of the Carthaginian proposals, even to an exchange of prisoners, and, after he had succeeded, by his earnest appeals, in obtaining the rejection of the Carthaginian offers, he resisted all persuasions to break his parole, though conscious of the fate that awaited him, and, refusing even to see his family, returned with the ambassadors to Carthage, where the rulers put him to death with horrible tortures. The common story is that he was placed in a cask or chest stuck full of nails with the points projecting inward and rolled about till he expired; when the news of this event reached Rome, retaliations equally atrocious, it is said, were committed on two of the noblest Carthaginian prisoners. (See Cicero, De Officiis, iii, 26; Livy, Epitome of Book XVIII; Silius Italicus, Punica, vi, 299-550.) Since, however, this story is not mentioned by Polybius (c.200 B.C.), who details at great length the achievements of Regulus (i, 25-34), modern authorities incline to doubt it. Consult the article "Atilius, 6," in Friedrich Lübker, Reallexikon der klassischen Alterturns, vol. ii (8th ed., Leipzig, 1914).

The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XIX (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 661-662.