Obol from Tarentum from c. 280-228 BCE | Photo: Baldwin's
In 282 BCE, Roman Republic was asked to intervene in the case of the Greek city of Thurii1, which was being raided by Lucanians and Brucians. When the Romans entered the bay of Tarentum, they regarded it as breaking the mutual agreement not to enter the bay with Roman ships.
Tarentum reacted quickly and destroyed the Roman ships, attacked Thurii and took Roman citizens prisoner.
Roman envoy Lucius Postumius Megellus (c. 345 – c. 260 BCE), a former consul from 305 BCE, was sent to Tarentum to conduct negotiations. He was to demand the release of the captured Romans and the release of the Tarenteans who had attacked. However, Roman’s demands were rejected, and he himself was insulted by a certain Philonides by pouring urine on and destroying his toga and mocking his Greek. The Roman was to say to the amused crowd about his clothes:
You will wash out this defilement with plenty of blood — you who take pleasure in this kind of jokes.
Postumius did not remove the pollution until he returned to Rome, where, upon hearing of the envoy’s treatment, it was decided to declare war on Tarentum in 282 BCE, which also caused the war with Pyrrhus.
In about 286 BCE Thurii asked for Roman protection in the region. This decision did not please Tarentum, who decided that the Greeks living in the city preferred support from the Romans than from other Greeks. Moreover, Taranto clearly perceived Rome's aspirations for hegemony on the Peninsula.
Appian of Alexandria, Roman history, III.7
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