SICILY. Messana. The Mamertinoi. Circa 275-264 B.C. Æ double unit. 9.18 gm. 20.5 mm. Laureate head of Ares right; spear head to left / Eagle standing left on thunderbolt, wings spread. HGC 2, 870. CNS I, 2. SNG ANS 401. Good Very Fine; attractive red-brown and green patina; good style, sharply struck and well centered. Rare.
The ancient city of Zankle, named for its sickle-shaped natural harbor, was a settlement of great antiquity on the northeast tip of Sicily. It was renamed Messana by Anaxilas, tyrant of Rhegion.
In about 288 B.C. a force of Oscan mercenaries, the Mamertinoi, attacked Messana and massacred the inhabitants. They ruled the city until the Romans won the island in the Punic Wars.
The tyrants of Sicily had always employed mercenaries, often hired in Campania and Central Italy. In a land famed for its sweeping landscapes, ideal for the breeding of strong horses, the emergent Campanian nobility developed their renowned cavalry. Carrying heavy javelins for skirmishing and swords for melee, they used speed, agility, and flexibility of tactics to inflict damage on more heavily armed and therefore more slowly moving opponents. When King Agathocles of Syracuse died, many of his strong young mercenaries refused to leave Sicily and captured the Greek city of Messana in circa 288. They adopted the name of their war god Mamers, Oscan for Mars, often fighting like pirates and plundering the neighboring districts. Their activities which finally engaged the Romans against the Carthaginians set off the First Punic War (264-241 B.C.).
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