Then, still land-hungry, she stepped over into Sicily, invited by certain rascals in Messana, and light-heartedly challenged the Mistress of the Western Seas. At this point the stream is leaving Balbus's fields and Ahenobarbus's cattle, and coming to the broad waters, where the ships of the world ride in. The Punic War was not forced on Rome.
On the Italian and Sicilian coasts the Pompeian squadrons despatched thither after the victories of Dyrrhachium had achieved not unimportant successes against the ports of Brundisium, Messana and Vibo, and at Messana especially had burnt the whole fleet in course of being fitted out for Caesar; but the ships that were thus active, mostly from Asia Minor and Syria, were recalled by their communities in consequence of the Pharsalian battle, so that the expedition came to an end of itself.
For what meant it that, when the authorities of Messana, according to their usual custom, would have erected the cross behind their city on the Pompeian road, you ordered it to be set up on the side that looked toward the Strait?
A certain Gavius had given offense, how we know not, and had been confined in the disused stone quarries which served for the public prison of Syracuse. From these he contrived to escape, and made his way to Messana. Unluckily for himself, he did not know that Messana was the one place in Sicily where it would not be safe to speak against the governor.
Accounts of these occurrences arriving at Messana, Scipio, a few days after, passing over to Locri in a ship with six banks of oars, took cognizance of the cause of Pleminius and the tribunes.
When Caius Livius, commander of the Roman fleet, sailed with fifty decked ships from Rome, he went to Neapolis, where he had appointed the rendezvous of the undecked ships, which were due by treaty from the allies on that coast; and thence he proceeded to Sicily, where, as he sailed through the strait beyond Messana, he was joined by six Carthaginian ships, sent to his assistance; and then, having collected the vessels due from the Rhegians, Locrians, and other allies, who were bound by the same conditions, he purified the fleet at Lacinium, and put forth into the open sea.
Were they justified in abandoning Messana, and thereby surrendering the command of the last free passage between the eastern and western seas, and sacrificing the commercial liberty of Italy? It is true that other objections might be urged to the occupation of Messana besides mere scruples of feeling and of honourable policy.
But a division of the Carthaginian fleet stationed at Panormus blockaded the harbour of the island where the Roman vessels rode at anchor, and captured the whole squadron along with the consul without a struggle. This, however, did not deter the main fleet from likewise sailing, as soon as its preparations were completed, for Messana.
He issued his orders to Sopater, chief magistrate of the place, that the statue was to betaken to Messana. The proposition was received with shouts of disapproval. Verres paid a second visit to the town and at once inquired what had been done about the statue. He was told that it was impossible. The senate had decreed the penalty of death against any one that touched it.