Geography > Sicily
BackgroundIn 288 BC, the Mamertines, Italian mercenaries that were hired to attack the Carthaginians, went to the city of Messana to protect it but instead massacred its men, took the land, and forced the women to become their wives. They then used the city as a base of operations for raiding neighboring cities. Hiero II, then leader of Syracuse, campaigned against the Mamertines. At some time between 268 and 265, Hiero II decisively defeated the Mamertines at the Longanus River, which caused the Mamertines to appeal to Carthage and Rome, the other major powers in the region besides Syracuse, for military aid. A Carthaginian commander in Sicily responded and sent a small force to garrison Messana’s citadel. Hiero II did not want openly to attack the Carthaginians and invite a war, so he retreated back to Syracuse. Carthage had already been trying to control Sicily for centuries, and their main opposition had been the Greek colonies spread around the island. Syracuse, the wealthiest and most powerful of the Greek colonies in Sicily, had always been Carthage's main opposition. Taking control of Messana allowed Carthage to decrease Syracuse's power, and since Carthage already controlled North Africa, parts of Spain, Sardinia, and some small islands in the Mediterranean, control of Messana could lead to the conquest of Sicily. Additionally, Messana could be an excellent staging area if the Carthaginians wanted to invade Italy and attack Rome. While the Romans had been steadily expanding their territory for over a century, their army had never fought a battle outside of the Italian Peninsula. Carthage's control of an invasion route into Italy threatened Rome's newly conquered territory in southern Italy as well as Rome itself. In 264 BC, the Roman Senate voted to send an expedition to Sicily under the command of Appius Claudius Caudex, one of the consuls for that year. Whether the Centuriate Assembly of Rome formally declared war is disputed. Adrian Goldsworthy has maintained that it was highly unlikely, and that, although the Romans knew war with Syracuse was almost a certainty, they believed their military would deter or swiftly defeat any opposition in Sicily.
See Aegates Islands
After winning the First Punic War, the island of Sicily was an important source of grain for the Romans.