Ancient History & Civilisation

PLUS ÇA CHANGE, PLUS C’EST LA MÊME CHOSE

In other ways, the First Punic War was less of a departure from the past than later Greek and Roman historians, aware as they were that it was merely the first of a sequence of clashes between Carthage and Rome, presented it. Telling local testimony has been recently provided by a series of bronze tablets which came to scholarly attention in rather murky circumstances in the early 1980s.54 All the inscriptions are connected to the inland Sicilian town of Entella, situated around 19 kilometres from modern Corleone. Although the script is Greek, the names of the citizens recorded on the tablets as a result of brutal turmoil during the Sicilian wars were clearly of Italian origin. In 404 the original male inhabitants of the city had been slaughtered by a group of Campanian mercenaries in the employ of the Carthaginians, who had then taken the city for themselves. The citizens of Entella mentioned on the tablets were their descendants. The tablets themselves record a series of decrees in which those who had helped the Entellans in their darkest hour were recognized and granted honorary citizenship of the city for themselves and their children. The decrees themselves were probably issued over a period of just thirty-six days sometime in the later stages of the First Punic War, to mark the refoundation of Entella after a disastrous interlude. Earlier in the conflict, the Entellans had allied themselves against the Carthaginians, who had subsequently attacked and captured the city. Many of its citizens, both male and female, had again been made captive or deported.

Among those honoured for helping the Entellans were a number of neighbouring cities which had provided military support, grain, refuge and, in some cases, ransoms for captives. There were also individuals such as a Mamertine and even a Roman official, Tiberius Claudius of Antium. It is noticeable that, even though Rome was soon to become the dominant power on the island, the tablets artfully construct a picture of this small Sicilian town as an independent city state making its own decisions and honouring its friends (among whom the Roman official is given no particular precedence). Indeed, the text suggests that we are in fact merely witnessing the fallout from the latest episode of the conflicts that had flared up on the island over the previous two centuries, with Entella having to deal with the usual brutal consequences of having to take sides in the war between two great powers. Little did the Entellans know that this episode marked the start of centuries of exclusively Roman domination.

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