by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar January 1st 2007
What is it Good For?
Catania and Palermo have been at loggerheads for so long nobody remembers how and when it started. The city-states of centuries ago have long since ceased to exist. Now nation sates incorporate them, but the rivalries continue, demanding an outlet. Football and its tribal following provide it. The city-state battles gave way to ultras organising battles and fighting them. They spilled out of stadiums and onto the streets.
In War by Other Means, we highlighted the origin of the long rivalry. A Hundred Year War had settled little, but weakened the city-states of Carthage and Siracusa. But the wars were far from over. Carthage never achieved its aim of subordinating all of Sicily to its will. Neither did Siracusa. Rome would achieve that feat and would subdue both Carthage and Siracusa in the process.
Messina had been overrun by mercenaries from Italy in 282 BC. The Marmerites, as they came to be known, were besieged by Siracusa and appealed to both Carthage and Rome for help. The Carthaginians arrived first and ejected the Siracusans. Undeterred the Romans arrived and took the city from the Carthaginians. This united the former enemies Carthage and Siracusa against Rome.
The Punic Wars Reach Sicily
In 264 BC the First Punic War began. The Carthaginian and Siracusan attack on Messina was repelled and Siracusa changed sides, choosing to become a vassal of Rome. Rome swiftly gained control of Katane, which was renamed Catina (Catania). Then it set its sights on Agrigento which fell in 262 BC.
The following year Hamilcar Barca – father of the legendary Hannibal – destroyed Erice to prevent it falling into Roman hands. He deported the population to Drepanon (Trapani). In 256 BC Rome launched an unsuccessful attack on Carthage itself. In 250 BC the Carthaginians destroyed Selinunte once and for all. The Romans had little interest in Selinunte and Drepanon. Segesta and Erice were a different matter. Due to their allegedly shared ancestry with Rome, these cities were treated with respect and reverence. They were lovingly restored. But first there was a war to fight.
Adherbal inflicted a naval defeat on the Romans in the waters close to Drepanon in 249 BC, but the Carthaginians were far from having everything their own way. Consul Lutatius Catulus would end the First Punic War eight years later with victory over the Carthaginian fleet at the Battle of Egadi Islands which was close to the west coast of Sicily. Carthage ceded Sicily to Rome along with other island states and had to pay a humiliating tribute to Rome.
It had little choice, but at least some Carthaginians refused to accept the hegemony of Rome. Siracusa had avoided conquest, but at a huge cost. The once proud Greek city-state was no more than a vassal of Rome. The Italian city-state was far from in full control of the island, but it had announced its arrival as a major power with the defeat of Carthage and humiliation of Siracusa. The emergence of Agrigento as a major player had been nipped in the bud.
The End of Carthage
Carthage had lost the First Punic War. The Tunisian city-state would never be the same again. Hamilcar Barca hated Rome with rare intensity – a passion he passed on to his young son Hannibal. The boy promised his father to hate Rome until his dying day – a promise that Hannibal kept. The powerful Barca clan set off in pursuit of new conquests. Hamilcar planned to rebuild the Carthaginian Empire by seizing other colonies and then recover lost territories from Rome.
He began this task in Spain. According to some he is the true founder of Barçelona and the city is named after him. The Spanish campaign would cost Hamilcar Barca his life. He was killed in battle in southern Spain by the Ibericos. Hamilcar was succeeded by his son-in-law Hasdrubal the Fair – founder of the strategic defensive strong-hold of Cartagena.
Hasdrubal consolidated the Carthaginian presence in Spain, but did little to further Hamilcar Barca’s long term plan to avenge the humiliation of the First Punic War. He favoured diplomacy and reached settlement with Rome regarding their boundaries in Spain. In 221 BC Hasdrubal the Fair was assassinated by a slave. He was succeeded by Hamilcar Barca’s son Hannibal, now deemed old enough to command his father’s forces – he had been 19 when Hamilcar was killed.
Hannibal had other ideas. In 218 BC he began the Second Punic War by setting out from Cartagena, conquering both Xàtiva and Sagunt on his travels, destroying the latter. Hannibal had a plan to cross the Alps into Italy, gathering supporters along the way to attack and destroy Rome. His best chance arrived after the masterful execution of his strategy at the Battle of Cannei in 216 BC, but rather than press on to Rome Hannibal sought assistance from Carthage that was not forthcoming.1
Among the Roman survivors at Cannei was Publius Cornelius Scipio. He would prove to be Hannibal’s nemesis. While Hannibal was occupied in Italy, Scipio was busy in Spain – a strategy that would not only end Punic control of Spain, but establish it as part of the Roman Empire. Scipio rebuilt Sagunt and Romanised it in the process. It was a strategy that would soon be used in Sicily as well.
Hannibal arrived in Siracusa in 213 BC. The following year Siracusa fell under Roman control. During the attack on Siracusa the great mathematician and physicist Archimedes was killed. Siracusa’s influence in Sicilian affairs was at an end. The Romans began to rebuild Sicily after its fall. Agriculture thrived under Rome’s policy. Carthaginian involvement in Sicily was at an end.
However, Rome’s regeneration policy was highly selective. The Greek city of Selinunte was never revived and nor was Drepanon. Segesta and Erice fared well due to their alleged foundation by refugees from the Trojan War. Both Selinunte and Drepanon had been cities allied to Carthage, although neither had a choice. However, Segesta’s alliance with Carthage that had resulted in the Greek city falling under Carthaginian control was forgiven and forgotten.
Siracusa too did not benefit as nearby Catina did. And in 202 BC the Second Punic War came to an end with Hannibal’s defeat at the Battle of Zama. Scipio had successfully used Hannibal’s own tactics against him. His grandson would lead Roman forces to victory in the Third Punic War. Carthage would be razed to the ground in 146 BC. Meanwhile, the city-state rivalries continued with new overlords, but rivalries simmered beneath the surface. Sooner or later they would erupt again.
So what has all this history got to do with football? In ancient times disputes or even rivalries between the city-states were settled on the battlefield. Now such rivalries between cities tend not to be resolved by resorting to war, however tempting that might be, but inter-city rivalries and even regional ones persist. They find an outlet in sport – especially the most popular sport in the world.
The tribal nature of sport allows geographic rivalries to thrive. The violence and jingoism of the city-states of the past is expressed in the sometimes violent loyalty to local teams today. And this trend can be seen on a regional basis as well. Marc Zoro says that he gets it everywhere he plays, especially in the north and centre of Italy. This suggests that regionalism plays a part in the abuse that Zoro has had to endure for three years. Zoro, after all plays for a Sicilian team.
1 Rome would not face such peril again until Arminius (Hermann) inflicted a disastrous defeat on Quintilius Varus at Kalkriese in 9 AD in Germany. That defeat cost the Emperor Augustus three legions and led to fears that Arminius would march on Rome itself – a threat that did not materialise as Arminius’ aim was to unite German tribes under his leadership rather than conquer Rome. In 21 AD Arminius was murdered by his own relatives after waging a successful guerrilla war for twelve years.