Agathocles’ War against Carthage (c. 311–306 B.C.E.)PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Syracuse vs. Carthage
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Syracuse and northern Africa
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Carthage sought to block Syracuse’s territorial ambitions.
OUTCOME: Although triumphant in the war, Carthage limited its rule in Sicily to the region west of the Halycus River.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:Unknown
TREATIES: Treaty of 306 B.C.E. between Carthage and Syracuse
By means of a coup the oligarchical party of Syracuse established Agathocles (c. 360–289 B.C.E.) as tyrant of the Sicilian province in 317 B.C.E. A champion of Hellenism and an able military leader, Agathocles prosecuted a series of wars against the other Sicilian Greeks from about 316 to 313. These expanded his realm, giving him control of Messina and other Sicilian cities, but it also strained his formerly friendly relations with Carthage. Tension erupted into war in 311, when a group of Agathocles’ enemies persuaded Carthage that the tyrant was a threat to their Sicilian holdings.During the first months of the war, the Carthaginian leader Hamilcar Barca (d. 229/228 B.C.E.), who had been sent to Sicily with a large force, crushed Agathocles’ troops at Economus and laid siege to the city of Syracuse itself. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, Agathocles staged a remarkable escape from the besiegers by breaking through their blockade. He then carried the war into Africa, where for two years he harassed outlying Carthaginian possessions. At one point his forces threatened Carthage itself. A revolt at home forced Agathocles to return to Sicily, and he was unable to continue his African offensive. Although Carthaginian forces finally defeated him in 307, his earlier achievements in Africa led a circumspect Carthage to conclude a favorable peace with the Syracusan tyrant in 306, which actually served to enhance the security of Syracuse by restricting the Carthaginian rule in Sicily to the region west of the Halycus River. In about 304 Agathocles adopted the title of king of Sicily.
Further reading: Titus Livius Livy, War with Hannibal (New York: Viking Press, 1965); Henry Tillyard, Agathocles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908).