First Punic War Engulfs Sicily

By the mid-Third Century BC two states of the central Mediterranean were experiencing dynamic economic growth: Rome on the Italian peninsula and Carthage on the North African coast. A major territorial clash was bound to erupt at some point as their interests collided. As events unfolded, the precipitating confrontation occurred at the city-state of Messina [Messana] on Sicily, where the Greek leadership had been overthrown in 282 BC by a band of former mercenaries from the Italian peninsula. The Messinans (or Mamertines, as they now called themselves), under sharp attack by Syracuse in 264 BC, appealed to both Carthage and Rome for help. Unfortunately for Messina, both responded positively.

Location MapThe Carthaginians arrived first. They occupied the city and soon made peace with Syracuse, which had no stomach for renewing the 100 years of wars with Carthage that had consumed their energies in the prior century. However, the fact that Messina no longer needed their help did not deter the Romans, who ejected the occupying Carthaginians and took their place.

The Carthaginians soon returned in force. Allied now with the Syracusans, who did not want a Roman stronghold in Sicily, the Carthaginians launched an attack on Messina. The 23-year year known in history as the First Punic War had begun. (The name "Punic," meaning "Phoenician" in Latin, alludes to Carthage's origin as a colony of Phoenicia.) Syracuse herself was to become the first victim of the great power struggle.


2000 C. I. Gable