We are now come to the time when Rome became mixed up in wars with nations beyond Italy. There was a great settlement of the Phoenicians, the merchants of the old world, at Carthage, on the northern coast of Africa, the same place at which Virgil afterwards described AEneas as spending so much time. Dido, the queen who was said to have founded Carthage when fleeing from her wicked brother-in-law at Tyre, is thought to have been an old goddess, and the religion and manners of the Carthaginians were thoroughly Phoenician, or, as the Romans called them, Punic. They had no king, but a Senate, and therewith rulers called by the name that is translated as judges in the Bible; and they did not love war, only trade, and spread out their settlements for this purpose all over the coast of the Mediterranean, from Spain to the Black Sea, wherever a country had mines, wool, dyes, spices, or men to trade with; and their sailors were the boldest to be found anywhere, and were the only ones who had passed beyond the Pillars of Hercules, namely, the Straits of Gibraltar, in the Atlantic Ocean. They built handsome cities, and country houses with farms and gardens round them, and had all tokens of wealth and luxury—ivory, jewels, and spices from India, pearls from the Persian Gulf, gold from Spain, silver from the Balearic Isles, tin from the Scilly Isles, amber from the Baltic; and they had forts to protect their settlements. They generally hired the men of the countries, where they settled, to fight their battles, sometimes under hired Greek captains, but often under generals of their own.
[Illustration: ROMAN SHIP.]
The first place where they did not have everything their own way was Sicily. The old inhabitants of the island were called Sicels, a rough people; but besides these there were a great number of Greek settlements, also of Carthaginian ones, and these two hated one another. The Carthaginians tried to overthrow the Greeks, and Pyrrhus, by coming to help his countrymen, only made them more bitter against one another. When he went away he exclaimed, “What an arena we leave for the Romans and Carthaginians to contend upon!” so sure was he that these two great nations must soon fight out the struggle for power.
The beginning of the struggle was, however, brought on by another cause. Messina, the place founded long ago by the brave exiles of Messene, when the Spartans had conquered their state, had been seized by a troop of Mamertines, fierce Italians from Mamertum; and these, on being threatened by Xiero, king of Syracuse, sent to offer to become subjects to the Romans, thus giving them the command of the port which secured the entrance of the island. The Senate had great scruples about accepting the offer, and supporting a set of mere robbers; but the two consuls and all the people could not withstand the temptation, and it was resolved to assist the Mamertines. Thus began what was called the First Punic War. The