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Polybius: the First Punic War


Map of ancient Sicily. Map design Jona Lendering.
(©**)
According to the Greek historian Polybius of Megalopolis (c.200-c.118), the First Punic War (264-241) between Carthage and Rome was "the longest and most severely contested war in history". And indeed, it lasted almost a quarter of a century and probably, a million people lost their lives. In the end, Rome had conquered the island of Sicily, and had become a Mediterranean superpower.

Polybius' World History was translated by W.R. Paton.

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Polybius. Museo nazionale della civiltą romana, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Polybius; cast from a lost monument in Cleitor (Greece) (Museo nazionale della civiltą romana, Rome) 

Book 1, chapter 10

[265 BCE] The Mamertines had previously, as I above narrated, lost their support from Rhegium and had now suffered complete disaster at home for the reasons I have just stated. Some of them appealed to the Carthaginians, proposing to put themselves and the citadel into their hands, while others sent an embassy to Rome, offering to surrender the city and begging for assistance as a kindred people.

The Romans were long at a loss, the succor demanded being so obviously unjustifiable. For they had just inflicted on their own fellow-citizens the highest penalty for their treachery to the people of Rhegium, and now to try to help the Mamertines, who had been guilty of like offense not only at Messana but at Rhegium also, was a piece of injustice very difficult to excuse.

But fully aware as they were of this, they yet saw that the Carthaginians had not only reduced Africa to subjection, but a great part of Iberia besides, and that they were also in possession of all the islands in the Sardinian and Tyrrhenian Seas. They were therefore in great apprehension lest, if they also became masters of Sicily, they would be most troublesome and dangerous neighbors, hemming them in on all sides and threatening every part of Italy. That they would soon be supreme in Sicily, if the Mamertines were not helped, was evident; for once Messana had fallen into their hands, they would shortly subdue Syracuse also, as they were absolute lords of almost all the rest of Sicily. 

The Romans, foreseeing this and viewing it as a necessity for themselves not to abandon Messana and thus allow the Carthaginians as it were to build a bridge for crossing over to Italy, debated the matter for long...

 




to book 1, chapter 11




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