Introduction to the Sicilian Wars Pt. 1

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circumnavigation / 123RF Stock Photo

Welcome to the opening intro article of the Sicilian Wars! Similar to my Greco-Persian Wars article series I will write a series of intro articles to get everyone started and help you understand a little more deeply the roots of the conflict that would erupt on this peaceful island in the middle of the Mediterranean. By necessity I will talk about several different civilizations as I piece together this picture of the past. But let us not waste any more time and explore immediately what would drive two races of people hailing from the eastern Mediterranean into a long and horrendous war over an island in the middle.

Sicily is a major island with quite a long history that many people aren’t fully aware of. When we think of the island we are reminded of classical Italy. The wine, olives, cheeses, beaches, sun and beautiful coastlines are just a few images you may picture upon hearing the name. While there was a long struggle between the Christians and Muslims over the island we’re going back to the day of the Carthaginian and Greek battleground. This segment of its history was called the Sicilian Wars. These wars primarily took place on Sicily but were driven largely by the ever expanding reach of both of these great trading cultures and could occasionally became entangled in the intrigues of foreign nations. Without further ado let’s delve right in.

Sicily is a large island, the largest in the Mediterranean, right off the southern end of Italy; the part usually called the boot due to its unique shape. Strategically Sicily mattered in this part of the Mediterranean for trade. Sure it was fertile and resource rich but that was only part of its attraction. This island lies right in the center of the middle of the Mediterranean. This becomes a larger problem when you realize that triremes, the most common ship, could only reliably be used when you were close to the shoreline. Both the Greeks and Carthaginians (the descendants of the Phoenicians who had settled northern Africa) wanted it to expand their trade routes. To do this they needed more cities across Sicily to serve as trading posts and supply stations as well as offer a variety of traveling routes. Eastern Sicily and southern Italy formed a collective community dubbed Magna Graecia or Great Greece by the Romans. The Greeks had settled the Mediterranean as well and this was one of the largest pockets of their civilization. They were so influential here that their culture would penetrate into central Italy and begin influencing culture there. So why were the Carthaginians so interested then?  

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1xpert / 123RF Stock Photo

Here we can see Sicily below Italy. It is closer to the Greek domain however if we view the world through the eyes of the Carthaginians it was a crucial link to expanding their economy.

Sicily is fairly close to the modern state of Tunisia. This wouldn’t have been a problem if it weren’t for the Carthaginians making it their homeland and the location of Carthage, their capital and namesake. By necessity, this also meant it was the linchpin in their trade network and thus Sicily would have made it far stronger. This trading network was essential to the economy, so much so that the sea, triremes, sailors, merchants and islands basically WERE the economy. Any competition or threat large enough would be met with a violent reaction to protect their interests. This would become the main issue over centuries of warfare and would spill into Corsica and Sardinia. This was because the triangle from the western Italian coast, the northern coast of Sicily and the eastern coasts of Corsica and Sardinia was another large trading area which the Carthaginians wanted as well. Join us again in the second edition as I talk about a time even further in to the past so we can have a clearer focus on how it reverberated into the present day.

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