Mercenaries from Mainland
of events that led to the loss of Sicilian independence and the supremacy
of the Roman Empire began innocuously. Upon the end of its century of
warfare with Carthage, Syracuse disbanded
a force of mercenaries--soldiers for hire--that it had recruited on
the Italian mainland. Displeased at the prospect of unemployment, the
mercenaries seized the Greek city at Messina. They renamed the city
Mamertina and styled themselves Mamertines--children of Mars.
itself, the incursion of the Mamertines would have been only a thorn
in the side of the Greeks of Sicily. In fact, however, their occupation
foreshadowed the much greater territorial hunger that was stirring the
Roman city-state further north on the Italian penninsula. The power
structure of the Mediterranean world was beginning a seismic shift.
The Greek city-state of Tarentum on the southern coast of the Italian
peninsula found herself lying in the path of Rome's expansion. Tarentum
prudently appealed to Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, to join in the impending
struggle as her ally. Pyrrhus' Greek army decisively defeated the Romans
in 281 BC at the battle of Heraclea (though with tremendous losses to
his own forces--a "Pyrrhic victory") and again at Apulia in 279 BC.
Pyrrhus then conceived the misguided idea of solidifying his support
among the Greeks of Sicily by crossing to the island and launching a
campaign to drive Carthage from her stronghold there. In fact, he succeeded
only in uniting Carthage and Rome in an alliance against him, while
arrogantly alienating the Greek cities of Sicily that he had hoped to
charm. After three years on the island, he returned to the Italian mainland
with even less support from Greek Sicily than when he began his Sicilian
campaign. The Romans soon achieved a climactic victory at Beneventum.
Pyrrhus was forced to evacuate his army and abandon his Italian adventure.
Now the stage was cleared for the First Punic War,
the epic struggle between Rome and Carthage with Sicily as both battlefield
RETURN TO TIMELINE
2000 C. I. Gable