The Barbarians about Messana, called Mamertines, were giving much annoyance to the Greeks, and had even laid some of them under contribution. They were numerous and warlike, and therefore had been given a name which, in the Latin tongue, signifies martial. Pyrrhus seized their collectors of tribute and put them to death, then conquered the people themselves in battle and destroyed many of their strongholds.
Moreover, when the Carthaginians were inclined to come to terms and were willing to pay him money and send him ships in case friendly relations were established, he replied to them (his heart being set upon greater things) that there could be no settlement or friendship between himself and them unless they abandoned all Sicily and made the Libyan Sea a boundary between themselves and the Greeks.
But now, lifted up by his good fortune and by the strength of his resources, and pursuing the hopes with which he had sailed from home in the beginning, he set his heart upon Libya first; and since many of the ships that he had were insufficiently manned, he began to collect oarsmen, not dealing with the cities in an acceptable or gentle manner, but in a lordly way, angrily putting compulsion and penalties upon them. He had not behaved in this way at the very beginning, but had even gone beyond others in trying to win men's hearts by gracious intercourse with them, by trusting everybody, and by doing nobody any harm. But now he ceased to be a popular leader and became a tyrant, and added to his name for severity a name for ingratitude and faithlessness.
Nevertheless the Sicilians put up with these things as necessary, although they were exasperated; but then came his dealings with Thoenon and Sosistratus. These were leading men in Syracuse, and had been first to persuade Pyrrhus to come into Sicily. Moreover, after he had come, they immediately put their city into his hands and assisted him in most of what he had accomplished in Sicily. And yet he was willing neither to take them with him nor to leave them behind, and held them in suspicion. Sosistratus took the alarm and withdrew;
but Thoenon was accused by Pyrrhus of complicity with Sosistratus and put to death.1
With this, the situation of Pyrrhus was suddenly and entirely changed. A terrible hatred arose against him in the cities, some of which joined the Carthaginians, while others called in the Mamertines. And now, as he saw everywhere secessions and revolutionary designs and a strong faction opposed to him, he received letters from the Samnites and Tarentines, who had been excluded from all their territories, could with difficulty maintain the war even in their cities, and begged for his assistance.
This gave him a fair pretext for his sailing away, without its being called a flight or despair of his cause in the island; but in truth it was because he could not master Sicily, which was like a storm-tossed ship, but desired to get out of her, that he once more threw himself into Italy. And it is said that at the time of his departure he looked back at the island and said to those about him:
‘My friends, what a wrestling ground for Carthaginians and Romans we are leaving behind us!’ And this conjecture of his was soon afterwards confirmed.