Sicily is an island just off the Italian Peninsula, in the Mediterranean Sea.  There are a number of other islands in the Mediterranean, which were all under the control of Carthage in 264 BCE. Carthage also held territory in the western part of Sicily, but in the east there was the independent kingdom of Syracuse, which since 500 BC had often gone to war with Carthage.

At this time, the Roman Republic had expanded to rule most of Italy, and wanted to protect this territory.  They were comfortable for territory on Sicily to be ruled by several powers, but did not want the island to be completely controlled by any power that could pose a threat.

What happened in 264 BCE?

In 264 BCE, a conflict arose in Sicily when King Hieron II of Syracuse attacked the City of Messana (modern day Messina), on the side of the island closest to Italy, Roman territory.

The people of Messana sent messages to both Rome and Carthage asking for help against Syracuse’s invasion, but the Carthaginians arrived at Messana before the Romans.

The forces from Carthage took control of Messana, and King Hieron retreated. Once the Roman army arrived, they saw the Carthaginians occupying Messana. The Romans demanded that Carthage retreat, which the Carthaginians did. However, Carthage and Syracuse then became allies and declared war and launched an attack on Messana together.

The attack was unsuccessful, but the conflict continued. The following year, in 263 BCE, the Roman army moved into King Hieron of Syracuse’s territory, and he became their ally against Carthage. The conflict had begun to escalate between the two major powers for control of the whole island..