The First Punic War: The Year 263 BCE


  • Successful Roman campaigns on Sicily by the consuls Manius Otacilius Crassus and Manius Valerius Maximus Messalla;
  • Alliance between Rome and King Hiero of Syracuse;

Now that order had been restored in Volsinii, the Romans could send both newly elected consuls to Sicily. Their names were Manius Otacilius Crassus and Manius Valerius Maximus Messalla. Both commanded a full consular army of some 20.000 men. Polybius claims the Roman legions at this time were composed of 4.000 foot soldiers and 300 horsemen. Each of the two consuls commanded two of the four legions that Polybius mentions, so that means that the rest of the two Roman armies was made up of troops provided by Rome’s Italian allies. In other words, these provided the majority, perhaps up to sixty percent, of the soldiers that fought for Rome on Sicily. It is necessary to stress once again just how dependent Rome was on her allies. However, it is also appropriate to remind ourselves that most of the allies were equipped and fought in much the same fashion as the citizen-legionaries. The vast majority would have spoken Latin as well.

The military situation

The year 263 BCE was very successful for the Romans. Polybius claims that on the arrival of the two consuls with their forces “most of the cities revolted from the Carthaginians and Syracusans and joined the Romans”. Diodorus Siculus adds that a total of 67 cities submitted to Roman military might. The attitude of these cities was purely pragmatic. According to historian Adrian Goldsworthy, “there is little sign of much affection for any of the sides in the conflict”. Cities that had chosen Rome’s side would easily defect to Carthage the next year and vice versa. Manius Valerius Maximus may have acquired his nickname Messalla for his actions on behalf of Messana this year. He would be granted a triumph for his victories upon his return to Rome.

The most important achievement of the Romans this year was the conclusion of an alliance with King Hiero of Syracuse. The king had begun to regret his alliance with Carthage, which had not brought him anything. When the consuls marched on Syracuse, Hiero decided to break his agreement with the Carthaginians and put his money on Rome. The Romans for their part were more than happy to make peace with the king and turn him into a friend and ally. Syracuse was the largest, wealthiest and most powerful city on the island and the Romans again suffered from many logistical problems during their campaigns. It was very dangerous to send supplies all the way from Italy, as Carthage still controlled the seas. The Romans needed a local ally that would provide their armies with the grain and fodder they needed. Syracuse would be just that ally.

Modern Syracuse. The island of Ortygia is visible to the south (photo: cc-by-2.0).

The Romans were in a good position to negotiate and apparently Hiero was very eager to make peace, perhaps because his position in Syracuse was not yet entirely secure. The Romans were prepared to sign a peace deal on the condition that the king paid a sum of 100 silver talents and released all Roman prisoners of war without ransom. These were probably the men captured during the confrontation near Messana or during Roman raids into Syracusan territory the previous year. The text of the peace treaty was sent to Rome and put before the popular assembly. Since it was a very good deal, the comitia centuriata decided to ratify the treaty. Rome had won herself a valuable ally: King Hiero would remain loyal to the Romans until his death in 215 BCE.




  • Adrian Goldsworthy, The Fall of Carthage, p. 74-75;
  • Richard Miles, Carthage must be destroyed, p. 174.


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