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Sicilian Revolt – The Revolt Against the Second Triumvirate

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The Sicilian revolt was the Civil war between Sextus Pompey Magnus and the Second Triumvirate 43-36 BC. Sextus Pompey after the defeat at Munde took refuge in the lands of independent Iberian tribes. Having gathered a small fleet and detachment from the former soldiers of his father and brother, he began military operations in Spain.

After the assassination of Caesar, the consul Mark Antony, who was trying to get closer to the Pompeians in the Senate, made a proposal to call Sextus Pompey from Spain, pay him compensation for the loss of property of 50 million sesterces and appoint him commander of the Roman fleet, with the same powers, which once had his father.

Sextus, however, did not hurry to return to Italy. During the Mutina war, he broke through with his ships to Massalia, and, settling there, watched the development of events. After the defeat of Antony in the battles of Mutina, the Senate approved Pompey as commander of the fleet. When in August 43 BC Octavian’s troops occupied Rome, Sextus Pompey was, together with the assassins of Caesar, convicted under the law of Pedia. After assembling the fleet, he launched attacks on the coast, using pirate tactics. It is believed that in December 43 BC Pompey landed on the northern shore of Sicily and took the entire province under his control.

The War with Octavian

Octavian sent his legate Salvidien Rufa against Pompey, and himself moved to Regius to cross the strait. Pompey defeated the Salvidien ships in the battle of Scille. Octavian had to postpone the war with Pompey since Anthony called him to the Balkans against Brutus and Cassius. After the defeat of Republicans under Philip Cicero the Younger and some of the senators who did not want to surrender at the mercy of the winners, along with the squadron of Cassius Parma, took refuge in Sicily.

During the Peruzin war against Octavian, a coalition was formed between Antony and Sextus Pompey. The troops of Pompey landed in the south of Italy and besieged some cities, and the fleet captured Sardinia and Corsica. In Sardinia, two legions of Octavian, learning about the alliance of Antony and Pompey, went to the side of the latter. This success allowed to establish the sea blockade of Italy not only from the south and east but also from the west. The union with Antony did not last long, as he under the pressure of his army was forced to conclude an agreement with Octavian.

The situation in Italy after the war was very difficult. Triumvirs, who needed money, introduced more and more taxes, in particular a tax on slaves and inheritance. The fleet of Pompey disturbed the coast and prevented the delivery of bread. The delivery of bread from Africa also ceased. Disruptions to food caused price rises and dissatisfaction with the ruling regime, the popularity of Sextus Pompey, meanwhile, grew. Feeling lack of funds and fearing new riots, the triumvirs began to search for ways to an agreement with Pompey.  Having secured the agreement, Pompey, Antony, and Octavian made piece.

New fighting

The Puteoli agreement did not last long. Octavian regarded it as a temporary concession, necessary only in order to prepare for the resumption of the war. The motives of Sextus Pompey are not entirely understood. The formal reason for the break was the dispute with Antony because of the Peloponnese. Again, piracy and the naval blockade began. People openly resented, saying that the treaty did not bring peace, but only gave birth to the fourth tyrant. Octavian complained against Pompey. Having seized several robbers, he tortured them and then informed the people that they had been sent by Pompey and confessed in everything.

The resumption of war

Octavian sent ships and summoned Antony from Athens to negotiate a joint offensive with him. Antony refused to support him, urged him not to violate the treaty. Octavian strengthened the defense of the coast of Italy and ordered the construction of new ships in Ravenna and Ostia. Having lost a significant part of the fleet, Octavian could not continue the war at sea. He strengthened the garrisons of coastal cities and concentrated troops in southern Italy in order to counter the possible landing of Pompey’s troops.

The preparation of the new expedition took more than a year, as it was necessary to build a new fleet and train the team. The fleet of Pompey consisted of high-speed vessels and used pirate tactics in combat. The training of his crews was much higher than that of Roman recruits. To successfully combat such an opponent, Agrippa built larger and heavier ships, inferior to Sicilian in maneuverability, but capable of withstanding a battle against several galleys.  At the beginning of July 36 BC, the campaign began. It was planned to strike simultaneously from three sides.

Having easily captured the Aeolian Islands, Agrippa planned to attack Demohar, who was stationed at Milah with 40 ships, but Pompey guessed his intention and sent Apollofan with 45 ships to help, and he himself took another 70 from Messana. Having discovered three squadrons instead of one, Agrippa accepted the battle. In a stubborn battle, the fleet of Pompey lost 30 ships and sank five enemy ships. Praising his people for standing up against such powerful ships, Pompey said that it was more like storming a fortress than a sea battle.

Sicily

After the Battle of Milah, Pompey returned to Messana, and Agrippa took Tyndarids. Octavian with three legions landed in Sicily. Pompey with the army and navy came forward to meet him. Seeing the approaching enemy, Octavian left to command and he himself rushed to flee on the ships. Pompey overtook him and destroyed a significant part of the ships. Octavian himself barely managed to get on the Italian coast, accompanied by only one servant. Agrippa organized the crossing of troops across the strait.

September 3, 36 BC a battle took place at Navloch, remarkable for the massive use of various technical devices. Pompey’s forces consisted of about 180 ships, Agrippa was believed to have more ships. The Sicilian fleet was completely defeated. Agrippa had only three ships sunk, and Pompey 28. The rest were either burned, or captured, or crashed against rocks. Only 17 ships managed to escape. Pompey fled on a ship to Messana. His troops surrendered to Octavian.

Sources:

  • Mashkin NA The Principal of Augustus
  • Parfyonov VN Sextus Pompeii and Sicilians
  • Ferrero G. The greatness and fall of Rome. Volume III
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