This exhausting conflict was, according to Caven, a ‘contest in three rounds’ in which the Romans fought first for control of Sicily, then for the leadership of the western Mediterranean and finally to determine the survival or extinction of Carthage.
By 270 Rome had conquered Italy and organised it into a confederation of Roman citizens and Latin and Italian allies. Polybius says that the Romans ‘Once having made themselves masters of Italy applied themselves to the conquest of countries further afield’ . This combined with the fact that the most populated parts of Italy were along the western side where the Dominant power was Carthage made it inevitable that Rome’s first contact in the Mediterranean would be with Carthage.
The first of these three wars stemmed from a minor incident involving the town of Messana on the northeast tip of Sicily and the powerful city of Syracuse in the southeast of the island. The rest of the island was under Carthaginian influence. Although Syracuse and Carthage were on reasonably good terms at this stage the Carthaginians did not want to see Messana fall into Syracusian hands. This prompted the mamertines to be pushed out of Messana and become concerned that the Carthaginians might occupy Messana permanently. And so it was decided to seek an alliance with Rome which seemed ‘To offer better long term security than Carthage’
Although the relationship between Carthage and Rome at this point was cordial they decided to ally themselves with the Mamertines making themselves solely responsible for joining into a wider conflict with the Carthaginians. The acceptance of the mamertines into the Roman alliance forced the Syracusans and Carthaginians to co-operate in order to prevent Messana...