the romans conquer sicily --1/9/24

Today's selection -- from Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History by Sandra Benjamin.  The Romans took the oft-conquered island of Sicily in the First Punic War, from 263 to 252 BC:

“Messena fell to the Romans in 263, the first of Sicily's cities to do so. ‘So the Carthaginian War had its beginning’ wrote Diodorus. As the Romans called the Carthaginians ‘Poeni,’ and as the Romans proved victorious, the Greek-named ‘Phoenicians’ came to be called ‘Punic’ and the Carthaginian War the Punic War. Doubtless the Roman soldiers were called all kinds of names as they spent the next twenty years slashing their way across Sicily. 

“From Messena the Romans proceeded, logically enough, to the Aeolian Islands. For a couple of centuries the people of the little town of Lipari had been living prosperously and quietly, but as the Romans drew closer the Aeolians allied themselves to the Carthaginians. General Hannibal won a victory here over the Roman fleet. In vain, for in 252 the Romans occupied the obsidian islet. 

“Lilibaeum's thwarting of Pyrrhus was a tiny hors d'oeuvre to the Carthaginians before the Romans swept down to devour them. For over two hundred years, ever since a treaty of 508 between Rome and Carthage, the two powers had observed an understanding with regard to the North African coast and nearby trade routes. Since then the military environment had changed in two relevant ways. First, in the Battle of Himera in 480 the Greeks had triumphed over the Carthaginians — true, that was two centuries before, but the Carthaginians had never regained their aura of invincibility. Second, the Romans had grown into a powerful nation; now they controlled virtually all the Italic peninsula. Their next logical move would be to cross the strait. Carthage, with a military presence on Sicily, was the most powerful city in the western Mediterranean, and Rome took that as a challenge. 

“From Messena the Roman legions spread relentlessly south and west. In 263 they made a puppet of Siracusae's ruler. The same year they conquered Katane, and then, moving westward into the interior, they won the alliance of Centuripe, and in 258 they sacked Enna. On the south coast, Akragas was now a town of the Carthaginians; the Romans besieged Akragas for six months in 262-61 and finally conquered the city. East of Akragas, the Romans in 258 stumbled on the largely destroyed Camarina, and with equipment supplied by Siracusae flattened what little was standing there. 

“The Romans, rapid and ruthless on land, recognized their inferiority to the Carthaginians on the sea. In 261 an opportunity came to the Romans and they seized it: they captured a Carthaginian ship (a quinquereme, with five levels of oarsmen) and had their carpenters duplicate it exactly, a hundred times ... in just a couple of months. Now the Romans had a fleet worthy of them. 

“On land the Romans continued their advance. Compared to their progressions in the east and south, they encountered greater resistance as they moved westward along the north shore, that is, as they moved closer to the Carthaginians. Still, the Romans conquered: in 252 Thermae Himerae and the following year Panormus, heretofore central to the Carthaginian defenses. In 250 the Romans arrived in great force at Lilibaeum and surrounded her by land and sea. Then they discovered that they absolutely could not breach that famous wall. 

Hannibal Crossing of the Alps

“The Romans established a naval blockade; which they maintained for a year until they lost ninety ships in a defeat up north and decided to leave Lilibaeum temporarily. Roman soldiers found it impossible to reach Lilibaeum by land because of the Carthaginian guerrillas in the interior; from 247 to 242 the Carthaginians were under the command of the skillful Hamilcar Barca from his nest in the hills northeast of Lilibaeum. The Romans renewed their blockade in 242, with two hundred ships, new or newly equipped. 

“The Carthaginians brought in reinforcements. The Romans may have had two hundred ships, but the Carthaginians had twice that number, which they deployed to the west and north of Lilibaeum. 

“Over the waters, dense with ships out to the Egadi Islands, the captains communicated with each other by using smoke signals. Although the Carthaginian ships were bigger and swifter than most of the Roman, the Carthaginians needed more room to maneuver. Bringing in their ships from the north, the Romans immobilized the Carthaginians between the Roman ships and the land. Most of the Carthaginian ships were sunk or captured in this Battle of the Egadi, which the Romans won on March 10, 241 B.C.

“Lilibaeum was now a Roman city. It was clear to all concerned, Romans and Carthaginians alike, that the sea too was now Roman, and therefore also the Sicilian shores where the Carthaginians had a few remaining strongholds. From their redoubt at Eryx, their leader Hamilcar Barca sued for peace. The ensuing treaty gave to Rome all the Carthaginian territory in Sicily and its minor islands, and huge reparations. The Romans had won all of Magna Graecia; here on the west coast of Sicily the Romans grasped the Mediterranean world.

The Carthaginians, now effectively dead as a people, wrote no history.”



Sandra Benjamin


Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History




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