Ancient History & Civilisation

THE ECONOMY OF THE SICILIAN WARS

By the 330s BC it may have looked as though the strategic ‘long game’ first initiated by the Magonids in Sicily had paid off. After all, there were few who did not now recognize the western half of the island as a zone of Carthaginian influence. Yet, despite all its impressive developments, questions must still remain concerning the true extent of Carthage’s hold on western Sicily. Particularly troublesome were the bands of mercenaries and buccaneers who had flocked to Sicily to fight for either side. After they had been paid and discharged from service, these mercenaries often became a real problem. Many had few prospects in their home states, and preferred to stay on the island and make new lives for themselves, often at the expense of its lawful inhabitants.137

There can also be little doubt that the military investment needed to protect the Carthaginian zone of influence was very considerable. The Carthaginian military authorities in Sicily found themselves having to mint vast amounts of high-value coinage in gold, silver and electrum (gold–silver alloy) to pay the wages of their mercenary armies.138 Also, issues of overvalued bronze coinage produced by both Syracuse and Carthage in the fourth century BC strongly indicate that continual warfare was an enormous drain on their financial resources.139

The importance to Carthage’s long-term economic interests of controlling the western ports; the shorter-term needs of the Carthaginian army; and the acquisitiveness and insecurity that provided the Sicilian Greek autocrats with the necessary motives and conditions to maintain their rule: all these ensured that the relentless cycle of Sicilian violence continued unabated. Through the enslaving of the defeated, the capturing of cities, and war reparations, conflict provided the funds to preserve the bloody status quo between Carthage and Syracuse on the island. The real victims were the Punic, indigenous and Sicilian Greek cities in whose name this bloody process was perpetuated. Such was the brutal economy of war.

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