had free reign for several years in their newly claimed pocket of territory. After the Pyrrhic War ended in 275 BC, Rome was able to regain its bearings. Before the end of the decade Rome was able to retake Rhegium on the southwestern tip of Italy from Decius Vibellius and the hostile garrison. (Rhegium had been taken with the aid of the Mamertines and the city had quite friendly relations with Messana and its pursuits.) Rome may have received some aid from Syracuse by way of its new leader Hiero II.
Hiero had fought in the Pyrrhic War in Pyrrhus’ Sicilian campaign against the Carthaginians. After that conflict was over, Syracuse’s military establishment and the city proper had a falling out. Outside the city the army chose two leaders, one being an Artemidorus and also Hiero. After entering the city, Hiero was able to persuade the population over to his cause. Polybius has a glowing description of Hiero (though it may be a bit overdone as Hiero was ultimately to turn into a staunch Roman ally).
He was still quite young but naturally qualified to be a ruler and statesman of a kind… [Hiero] administered affairs with such mildness and magnanimity that the Syracusans, though by no means inclined to approve camp elections, on this occasion unanimously accepted him as their general. (Polybius 1.8)1
Once in a position of power Hiero knew that the immediate hazard to Syracuse was the Mamertine presence in Sicily. The Mamertines held control over many formerly Greek towns to go with Messana. (Syracuse also would naturally have thought that these belonged under its own possession as before.) In his first campaign the Mamertines met Hiero’s army in the field. Here Hiero was defeated, though the battle has come down to us as a defeat by design. Essentially Syracuse’s military force had a substantial mercenary element to it and they were noticeably creating more grumbling, trouble, and strife among the ranks than was expected of mercenaries. To Hiero it just wasn’t worth the chance of keeping difficult mercenaries around (look at what the Mamertines did). When Hiero and the Mamertines met for battle at the Cyamosorus River, Hiero sent his mercenary forces to engage and indicated that he was going to do a flanking maneuver with the rest of his (Syracusan) forces. However, he did not and used the collapse of the mercenary host to cover his withdrawal back to the protection of Syracuse. (It is possible that this has been spun to protect Hiero’s reputation, but I don’t see it as improbable to have dealt with some severely disaffected mercenaries in this way given the circumstances. Also, the prospect of not having to pay them would have weighed in favor of this decision.)
When he returned he remained in a powerful position (which is also why I believe the mercenaries were purposely lost and not just a cover up of a defeat). This was in part to his marriage before the aforementioned campaign. He married a certain Leptines daughter, Leptines being the most liked and influential man of the population. This way, when Hiero was out of the city proper, he was able to keep domestic policy under favorable conditions. Now, instead of relying too heavily on mercenary troops (though he still needed some), he began drilling and training the civilian militia of Syracuse to increase their discipline. A couple years later, probably in 265 (the year before the First Punic War broke out), Hiero set out on campaign again to once and for all liberate the Greek towns of Sicily from the Mamertines. This time Mamertine forces did not contest the Hiero’s movements and he was able to liberate Mylae, Halaesa, Abacaenum, and Tyndaris among others and bring them under Syracusan control.
Eventually the Mamertines had to fight Hiero in the field and this battle occurred by the Longanus River near Mylae. Hiero had by now command of 10,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry while the Mamertines had about 8,000 infantry. (Diodorus Siculus 22.13)2 In this confrontation the Mamertines were decisively defeated and their general Cios was captured but died of his wounds. The remaining forces were forced back to Messana. However, before Hiero could march upon Messana, Carthage decided to become involved in the situation.
The Carthaginians, who exercised control of western Sicily, most likely had been watching events play out between the Syracusans and Mamertines. Many Sicilian wars had had been fought in the past between Carthage and the Greeks for the control of Sicily and either would probably jump on the chance to eliminate the other if the opportunity arose. Carthage likely approved of the Mamertine presence by being a thorn in Syracuse’s side and divided the power in Sicily further. However, if Syracuse were to remove the Mamertine threat, Syracuse might also want to continue campaigning for the rest of Sicily. Realizing that the Mamertines were almost effectively dealt with a Carthaginian commander based in the islands of Lipara (an island chain just off the northern coast of Sicily) came to commend Hiero on his victory. This Hannibal, not Hannibal Barca but most likely Hannibal son of Gisgo, was in some way able to convince Hiero to not march upon Messana. It is not clear what would have persuaded Hiero to not finish of the Mamertines and the sources essentially relate that he was tricked into this course of action.
It has been put forward that Hannibal likely explained that Messana had just recently became an ally of Carthage or had just submitted under her protection. Upon hearing this, Hiero had no real chose but to not advance on Messana as there was no real way of Syracuse waging a war with Carthage at the present moment and did not wish to provoke Carthage into a war not on his own terms.
Hannibal was then able to enter Messana with a small force and enter the city’s citadel. With no real alternative Hiero withdrew back to Syracuse. At least for Hiero, even without the capture of Messana, the campaign had been a great success and combined with the victorious battle against the Mamertines the people of Syracuse declared Hiero the king of Syracuse. This was a title he would hold for about fifty years to come.
1. Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.
2. Diodorus Siculus. Library of History. Translated by Francis Walton. 1957.