A formal pretext for supporting the Mamertines was found in the protectorate which Rome claimed the right to exercise over all Italians. The transmarine Italians were received into the Italian confederacy;(3) and on the proposal of the consuls the citizens resolved to send them aid (489).

Variance Between Rome And Carthage Carthaginians In Messana Messana Seized By The Romans War Between The Romans And The Carthaginians And The Syracusans

Much depended on the way in which the two Sicilian powers, immediately affected by this intervention of the Romans in the affairs of the island, and both hitherto nominally in alliance with Rome, would regard her interference. Hiero had sufficient reason to treat the summons, by which the Romans required him to desist from hostilities against their new confederates in Messana, precisely in the same way as the Samnites and Lucanians in similar circumstances had received the occupation of Capua and Thurii, and to answer the Romans by a declaration of war. If, however, he remained unsupported, such a war would be folly; and it might be expected from his prudent and moderate policy that he would acquiesce in what was inevitable, if Carthage should be disposed for peace. This seemed not impossible. A Roman embassy was now (489) sent to Carthage, seven years after the attempt of the Phoenician fleet to gain possession of Tarentum, to demand explanations as to these incidents.(4) Grievances not unfounded, but half-forgotten, once more emerged--it seemed not superfluous amidst other warlike preparations to replenish the diplomatic armoury with reasons for war, and for the coming manifesto to reserve to themselves, as was the custom of the Romans, the character of the party aggrieved. This much at least might with entire justice be affirmed, that the respective enterprises on Tarentum and Messana stood upon exactly the same footing in point of design and of pretext, and that it was simply the accident of success that made the difference. Carthage avoided an open rupture. The ambassadors carried back to Rome the disavowal of the Carthaginian admiral who had made the attempt on Tarentum, along with the requisite false oaths: the counter-complaints, which of course were not wanting on the part of Carthage, were studiously moderate, and abstained from characterizing the meditated invasion of Sicily as a ground for war. Such, however, it was; for Carthage regarded the affairs of Sicily --just as Rome regarded those of Italy--as internal matters in which an independent power could allow no interference, and was determined to act accordingly. But Phoenician policy followed a gentler course than that of threatening open war. When the preparations of Rome for sending help to the Mamertines were at length so far advanced that the fleet formed of the war-vessels of Naples, Tarentum, Velia, and Locri, and the vanguard of the Roman land army under the military tribune Gaius Claudius, had appeared at Rhegium (in the spring of 490), unexpected news arrived from Messana that the Carthaginians, having come to an understanding with the anti-Roman party there, had as a neutral power arranged a peace between Hiero and the Mamertines; that the siege had in consequence been raised; and that a Carthaginian fleet lay in the harbour of Messana, and a Carthaginian garrison in the citadel, both under the command of admiral Hanno. The Mamertine citizens, now controlled by Carthaginian influence, informed the Roman commanders, with due thanks to the federal help so speedily accorded to them, that they were glad that they no longer needed it. The adroit and daring officer who commanded the Roman vanguard nevertheless set sail with his troops. But the Carthaginians warned the Roman vessels to retire, and even made some of them prizes; these, however, the Carthaginian admiral, remembering his strict orders to give no pretext for the outbreak of hostilities, sent back to his good friends on the other side of the straits. It almost seemed as if the Romans had compromised themselves as uselessly before Messana, as the Carthaginians before Tarentum. But Claudius did not allow himself to be deterred, and on a second attempt he succeeded in landing. Scarcely had he arrived when he called a meeting of the citizens; and, at his wish, the Carthaginian admiral also appeared at the meeting, still imagining that he should be able to avoid an open breach. But the Romans seized his person in the assembly itself; and Hanno and the Phoenician garrison in the citadel, weak and destitute of a leader, were pusillanimous enough, the former to give to his troops the command to withdraw, the latter to comply with the orders of their captive general and to evacuate the city along with him. Thus the tete de pont of the island fell into the hands of the Romans. The Carthaginian authorities, justly indignant at the folly and weakness of their general, caused him to be executed, and declared war against the Romans. Above all it was their aim to recover the lost place. A strong Carthaginian fleet, led by Hanno, son of Hannibal, appeared off Messana; while the fleet blockaded the straits, the Carthaginian army landing from it began the siege on the north side. Hiero, who had only waited for the Carthaginian attack to begin the war with Rome, again brought up his army, which he had hardly withdrawn, against Messana, and undertook the attack on the south side of the city.

Peace With Hiero

But meanwhile the Roman consul Appius Claudius Caudex had appeared at Rhegium with the main body of his army, and succeeded in crossing on a dark night in spite of the Carthaginian fleet. Audacity and fortune were on the side of the Romans; the allies, not prepared for an attack by the whole Roman army and consequently not united, were beaten in detail by the Roman legions issuing from the city; and thus the siege was raised. The Roman army kept the field during the summer, and even made an attempt on Syracuse; but, when that had failed and the siege of Echetla (on the confines of the territories of Syracuse and Carthage) had to be abandoned with loss, the Roman army returned to Messana, and thence, leaving a strong garrison behind them, to Italy. The results obtained in this first campaign of the Romans out of Italy may not quite have corresponded to the expectations at home, for the consul had no triumph; nevertheless, the energy which the Romans displayed in Sicily could not fail to make a great impression on the Sicilian Greeks.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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