X. AN AFRICAN SIROCCO.
All the time that the events that we have been giving our attention to were occurring - that is to say, ever since the foundation of Rome, another city had been growing up on the opposite side of the Mediterranean Sea, in which a different kind of civilization had been developed. Carthage, of which we have already heard, was founded by citizens of Phoenicia. The early inhabitants were from Tyre, that old city of which we read in the Bible, which in the earliest times was famous for its rich commerce. How long the people of Phoenicia had lived in their narrow land under the shadow of great Libanus, we cannot tell, though Herodotus, when writing his history, went there to find out, and reported that at that time Tyre had existed twenty-three hundred years, which would make its foundation forty-five hundred years ago, and more. However that may be, the purple of Tyre and the glass of Sidon, another and still older Phoenician city, were celebrated long before Rome was heard of. It was from this ancient land that the people of Carthage had come. It has been usual for emigrants to call their cities in a new land "new," (as Nova Scotia, New York, New England, New Town, or Newburg,) and that is the way in which Carthage was named, for the word means, in the old language of the Phoenicians, simply new city, just as Naples was merely the Greek for new city, as we have already seen.
Through six centuries, the people of Carthage had been permitted by the mother-city to attend diligently to their commerce, their agriculture, and to the building up of colonies along the southern coast of the Mediterranean, and the advantages of their position soon gave them the greatest importance among the colonies of the Phoenicians. There was Utica, near by, which had existed for near three centuries longer than Carthage, but its situation was not so favorable, and it fell behind. Tunes, now called Tunis, was but ten or fifteen miles away, but it also was of less importance. The commerce of Carthage opened the way for foreign conquest, and so, besides having a sort of sovereignty over all the peoples on the northern coast of Africa, she established colonies on Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, and other Mediterranean islands, and history does not go back far enough to tell us at how early a date she had obtained peaceable possessions in Spain, from the mines of which she derived a not inconsiderable share of her riches.
Perhaps it may be thought strange that Carthage and Rome had not come into conflict before the time of which we are writing, for the distance between the island of Sicily and the African coast is so small that but a few hours would have been occupied in sailing across. It may be accounted for by the facts that the Carthaginians attended to their own business, and the Romans did not engage to any extent in maritime enterprises. On several occasions, however, Carthage had sent her compliments across to Rome, though Rome does not appear to have reciprocated them to any great degree; and four formal treaties between the cities are reported, B.C. 509, 348, 306, and 279.
It is said that when Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, was about to leave Sicily, he exclaimed: "What a grand arena [Footnote: Arena in Latin meant "sand," and as the central portions of the amphitheatres were strewn with sand to absorb the blood of the fighting gladiators and beasts, an arena came to mean, as at present, any open, public place for an exhibition. To the ancients, however, it brought to mind the desperate combats to which the thousands of spectators were wont to pay wrapt attention, and it was a much more vivid word than it now is.] this would be for Rome and Carthage to contend upon!" It did not require the wisdom of an oracle to suggest that such a contest would come at some time, for the rich island lay just between the two cities, apparently ready to be grasped by the more enterprising or the stronger. As Carthage saw the gradual extension of Roman authority over Southern Italy, she realized that erelong the strong arm would reach out too far in the direction of the African continent. She was, accordingly, on her guard, as she needed to be.
At about the time of the beginning of the war with Pyrrhus, a band of soldiers from Campania, which had been brought to Sicily, took possession of the town of Messana, a place on the eastern end of the island not far from the celebrated rocks Scylla and Charybdis, opposite Rhegium. Calling themselves Mamertines, after Mars, one form of whose name was Mamers, these interlopers began to extend their power over the island. In their contests with Hiero, King of Syracuse, they found themselves in need of help. In the emergency there was a fatal division of counsel, one party wishing to call upon Rome and the other thinking best to ask Carthage, which already held the whole of the western half of the island and the northern coast, and had for centuries been aiming at complete possession of the remainder. Owing to this want of united purpose it came about that both cities were appealed to, and it very naturally happened that the fortress of the Mamertines was occupied by a garrison from Carthage before Rome was able to send its army.
The Roman senate had hesitated to send help to the Mamertines because they were people whom they had driven out of Rhegium, as robbers, six years before, with the aid of the same Hiero, of Syracuse, who was now besieging them. However, the people of Rome, not troubled with the honest scruples of the senate, were, under the direction of the consuls, inflamed by the hope of conquest and of the riches that they expected would follow success, and a war which lasted twenty-three years was the result of their reckless greed (B.C. 264).