You are here

Sicily and the Second Punic War: The (Re)Organisation of Rome’s First Province

John Serrati

Ottawa University

The Second Punic War had a profound effect upon Sicily.  The kingdom of Hieron II was destroyed and Syracuse, the island’s largest urban centre, was sacked after a bitter Roman siege.  In the third century, the Romans did not have any means or processes by which they could simply setup an overseas province.  Indeed, a provincia at this time very much remained, primarily, a zone of military responsibility rather than a defined territory outside of Italy which was administered by an imperium-holding magistrate.  After the first conflict with Carthage, the Romans appear to treat Sicily as an extension of Italy, with cities bound to Rome by treaty and contributing men or, more often, ships as socii to a communal army.  The Hannibalic War, however, changed all of this.  After the final reconquest of the island in 210 BCE, Roman bureaucracy profoundly increased in Sicily with a twofold purpose.  Firstly, Sicily was a gateway between Rome and Carthage; the island facilitated access and acted as a supply conduit to both the Italian peninsula and North Africa.  Therefore, security was likely foremost in the Roman mind when dealing with Sicily in the late third and early second centuries.  All the same, grain was the island’s most important commodity, and Sicilian grain had been feeding Roman armies on campaign since the mid-third century.  The need of the legions for grain, however, was exacerbated substantially by the war with Hannibal.  Moreover, the war in Sicily from 214-210 BCE had redrawn the political map of the island, as former Roman allies were destroyed while other cities were rewarded for their loyalty.  These three elements, the need for security, the desire for grain, and the destruction of the Second Punic War, allowed the Romans to reset and reorganise their role in Sicily, as well as the role of Sicily itself within the Roman dominion.

Sicily was vital to the Romans as a point of supply, as a centre for controlling the western Mediterranean, and for keeping a close watch on Carthage.  Roman bureaucracy in Sicily increased as the island steadily became more important to the legions as a source of grain.  In the context of Sicily, security and the grain supply were interrelated, as the system of military and political administration that was put into place gave Sicily the stability that was necessary for the agricultural resources to be exploited.  This paper will explore the process which took Sicily first from newly conquered territory, to a zone of military occupation, and finally to an area of mostly administrative control which might properly be called a province.  This process will reveal how administration and taxation of conquered lands were not imposed from the centre, but instead either continued native practices already in place, or developed in response to local conditions.  Accordingly, many institutions that modern scholars associate with provincial governments - tithes, tributes, large bureaucracies, and such - evolved out of a series of ad hoc measures designed to meet immediate needs.  In this way, Sicily acts as a microcosm for the development of Roman overseas bureaucracy during the Republic, and serves as our most immediate example for the way in which the Second Punic War affected territories beyond Italy.

Session/Panel Title

Hannibal's Legacy

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy