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The Mamertines (Latin : Mamertini, "sons of Mars", Greek : Μαμερτῖνοι) were mercenaries of Italian origin who had been hired from their home in Campania by Agathocles (361 – 289 BC), Tyrant of Syracuse and self-proclaimed King of Sicily. After Syracuse lost the Third Sicilian War, the city of Messana was ceded to Carthage in 307 BC. When Agathocles died in 289 BC he left many of his mercenaries idle and unemployed in Sicily. Most of them returned home but some, liking the climate and the prospect of adventure on a foreign island, remained. They played a major role in the lead up to the First Punic War.

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Mercenary Soldier who fights for hire

A mercenary, sometimes known as a soldier of fortune, is an individual who takes part in military conflict for personal profit, is otherwise an outsider to the conflict, and is not a member of any other official military. Mercenaries fight for money or other forms of payment rather than for political interests. In the last century, mercenaries have increasingly come to be seen as less entitled to protections by rules of war than non-mercenaries. Indeed, the Geneva Conventions declare that mercenaries are not recognized as legitimate combatants and do not have to be granted the same legal protections as captured soldiers of a regular army. In practice, whether or not a person is a mercenary may be a matter of degree, as financial and political interests may overlap, as was often the case among Italian condottieri.

Italy republic in Southern Europe

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a European country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Italian Alps and surrounded by several islands. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean sea and traversed along its length by the Apennines, Italy has a largely temperate seasonal climate. The country covers an area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi) and shares open land borders with France, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and the enclaved microstates of Vatican City and San Marino. Italy has a territorial exclave in Switzerland (Campione) and a maritime exclave in the Tunisian sea (Lampedusa). With around 60 million inhabitants, Italy is the fourth-most populous member state of the European Union.


In 280 BC, the Syracusans appealed to King Pyrrhus of Epirus for help against the Mamertines.

Pyrrhus of Epirus Epirot Illyrian military leader

Pyrrhus Ι was a Greek general and statesman of the Hellenistic period. He was king of the Greek tribe of Molossians, of the royal Aeacid house, and later he became king of Epirus. He was one of the strongest opponents of early Rome. Several of his victorious battles caused him unacceptably heavy losses, from which the term Pyrrhic victory was coined. He is the subject of one of Plutarch's Parallel Lives.

Epirus (ancient state) ancient Greek state

Epirus was an ancient Greek state, located in the geographical region of Epirus in the western Balkans. The homeland of the ancient Epirotes was bordered by the Aetolian League to the south, Thessaly and Macedonia to the east, and Illyrian tribes to the north. For a brief period, the Epirote king Pyrrhus managed to make Epirus the most powerful state in the Greek world, and his armies marched against Rome during an unsuccessful campaign in Italy.

Capture of Messana

The then-small band of desperados came across the walled Greek settlement of Messana (now Messina). Messana was built on a strategic location on the north-eastern tip of Sicily on the strait between Sicily and Italy. Together with the fort Rhegium on the toe of Italy, it was the crossing point between Italy and Sicily. Being a peaceful people, the inhabitants allowed the travelling mercenaries into their homes. After a time, the mercenaries became restless and plotted to capture the town. One night, the mercenaries betrayed their hosts and killed most of the population, who were unprepared. In this way, they claimed Messana for themselves. The surviving Messanians were thrown out and the property and women divided. After their victory, the mercenaries named themselves the Mamertines after the Oscan war-god Mamers. [1]

Messina Comune in Sicily, Italy

Messina is the capital of the Italian Metropolitan City of Messina. It is the third largest city on the island of Sicily, and the 13th largest city in Italy, with a population of more than 238,000 inhabitants in the city proper and about 650,000 in the Metropolitan City. It is located near the northeast corner of Sicily, at the Strait of Messina, opposite Villa San Giovanni on the mainland, and has close ties with Reggio Calabria. According to Eurostat the FUA of the metropolitan area of Messina has, in 2014, 277,584 inhabitants.

The Osci, were an Italic people of Campania and Latium adiectum during Roman times. They spoke the Oscan language, also spoken by the Samnites of Southern Italy. Although the language of the Samnites was called Oscan, the Samnites were never referred to as Osci, nor were the Osci called Samnites.

Mars (mythology) Roman god of war, and guardian of agriculture

In ancient Roman religion and myth, Mars was the god of war and also an agricultural guardian, a combination characteristic of early Rome. He was second in importance only to Jupiter and he was the most prominent of the military gods in the religion of the Roman army. Most of his festivals were held in March, the month named for him, and in October, which began the season for military campaigning and ended the season for farming.

Dominion over north-eastern Sicily

The Mamertines held the town of Messana for over 20 years. They changed it from being a bustling town of farmers and traders to a raiding base. The Mamertines became pirates on land and sea. Taking advantage of the peacefulness of the Sicilians, they looted the nearby settlements and captured unwary trade ships on the strait, carrying their plunder back to their base. They captured prisoners and demanded tribute. During this period, they struck coins on which their name were printed and placed images of their gods and goddesses. Their exploits made them rich and powerful. They began travelling further inland, even as far as Gela and demanded tribute. [1]

Gela Comune in Sicily, Italy

Gela, is a city and comune in the Autonomous Region of Sicily, the largest for area and population in the island's southern coast. It is part of the Caltanissetta province, being the only comune in Italy with a population and area that exceeds those of the province's capital. Founded by Greek colonists from Rhodes and Crete in 689 BC, Gela was the most influential polis in Sicily between the 7th and 6th centuries and the place where Aeschylus lived and died in 456 BC. In 1943 Gela was the first Italian beach reached by allies during the Invasion of Sicily from the allies.


The Mamertine presence did not go unchallenged forever. In around 270 BC, the Mamertine exploits came to the attention of Syracuse, by word of the refugees from the settlements. Hiero II, a tyrant of Syracuse, began to gather an army of citizens with which to rid the land of the destroyers of the peace and rescue his Greek kinsmen. Hiero met with the Mamertines when they were nearing Syracuse. Marching out his troops, he first sent his unruly mercenaries forward and allowed them to be butchered by the Mamertines. The faithless part of his army disposed of, Hiero marched his citizen soldiers back to the city where he drilled them to a better fighting condition. Leading his confident army north, he found the Mamertines again at the Longanus River on the plain of Mylae where he easily defeated them, and proclaimed himself king. [1] The Mamertines were not accustomed to large pitched battles and had become reckless after beating Hiero's mercenaries. In the battle, Hiero captured the Mamertine leaders and the remnants fled back to the safety of Messana. Hiero had restricted the Mamertine activity and placed them in a dire situation.

Hiero II of Syracuse 3rd-century BC Sicilian Greek ruler

Hiero II was the Greek Sicilian Tyrant of Syracuse from 270 to 215 BC, and the illegitimate son of a Syracusan noble, Hierocles, who claimed descent from Gelon. He was a former general of Pyrrhus of Epirus and an important figure of the First Punic War.

When Hiero returned to besiege their base (Messana) in 265 BC the Mamertines called for help from a nearby fleet from Carthage, which occupied the harbor of Messana. Seeing this, the Syracuse forces retired, not wishing to confront Carthaginian forces. Uncomfortable under the Carthaginian "protection," the Mamertines now appealed to Rome to be allowed into the protection of the Roman people. At first, the Romans did not wish to come to the aid of soldiers who had unjustly stolen a city from its rightful possessors. However, unwilling to see Carthaginian power spread further over Sicily and get too close to Italy, Rome responded by entering into an alliance with the Mamertines. In response, Syracuse allied itself with Carthage, imploring their protection. With Rome and Carthage brought into conflict, the Syracuse/Mamertine conflict escalated into the First Punic War.

Carthage archaeological site in Tunisia

Carthage was the center or capital city of the ancient Carthaginian civilization, on the eastern side of the Lake of Tunis in what is now the Tunis Governorate in Tunisia.

Roman Republic Period of ancient Roman civilization (509–27 BC)

The Roman Republic was the era of classical Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome's control expanded from the city's immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world.

First Punic War First war between the Roman Republic and Carthage, fought between 264 and 241 BCE

The First Punic War was the first of three wars fought between Ancient Carthage and the Roman Republic, the two great powers of the Western Mediterranean. For 23 years, in the longest continuous conflict and greatest naval war of antiquity, the two powers struggled for supremacy, primarily on the Mediterranean island of Sicily and its surrounding waters, and also in North Africa.


Once the scale of the conflict had escalated beyond them, the Mamertines were lost to the historical record and their fate is lost, swallowed up in the larger events of the Punic wars. After the First Punic War, however, their name was not quite forgotten in the ancient world since "Mamertine wine" from the vineyards of north-eastern tip of Sicily was still known and enjoyed in the 1st century. It was the favourite of Julius Caesar and it was he who made it popular after serving it at a feast to celebrate his third consulship.

Even centuries after the Mamertine occupation, the inhabitants of Messana were still called Mamertines.

In his novel Salammbô , Gustave Flaubert writes of the Greeks singing the 'old song of the Mamertines': "With my lance and sword I plough and reap; I am master of the house! The disarmed man falls at my feet and calls me Lord and Great King."

See also


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