Once Messina strait was very important for Rome. Not just because it was a merchant ship route for goods from Africa and middle-East but also because it was border between main land and Sicily – and the source for wheat in mainland Italy. First Creek cities and Carthage fought for dominance of Sicily and then Romans took it for themselves after first Punic war. After defeat of Pompeius the Great Sicily became a rebel island lead by Sextus Pompeius. Several years it was a stone in Octavian sandal because it controlled sea around western coast of Italy. If Sextus wanted he could prevent Rome to get wheat and bread – it was a serious threat for Octavian during second thriumvirate. And people of Rome were starving. Therefore Octavian made some deals with Sextus together with Antonius. Bu finally it was obvious that Sextus needed to be slain if he wanted to fight over leadership of Rome. So Octavian and Agrippa built three different fleet and even borrowed ships from Antonius – the leader of eastern Rome. And summer 37 BC Octavian attacked against Sextus – but he had hard luck. The western fleet was destroyed by storm and the eastern fleet was beaten by Sextus. Yes – Sextus has really talented sailors and officers and thei fleet was probably best at those times. Therefore Agrippa dug an artificial lake near Naples and started to exercise his men. He also developed totally new weapon – a harpax! It was a hook that was shot with catapult to attach enemy ship and with it’s wire harpax and ship could be dragged near that ship who shot harpax. So basically naval battle was changed to land battle. And in summer 36 BC Agrippa was ready. He met Sextus near Mylene near Messina and took his first little win. But the actual fight happened little bit later near Naulochus in Messina strait. First he met Sextus in negotiation and they agreed to fight with 300 ships both. We know that Agrippa had built larger ships which had more soldiers. Sextus on his side had smaller but very fast and easily controlled ships. But Sextus did not know about harpax. So when battle started Sextus believed his win. But then Agrippa took the new weapon on the stage. Ships of Sextus were hit by harpax-hooks and dragged beside enemy vessel and then slain at deck hand to hand fight. One by one Sextus lost his ships and most of his fleet was burned and sunk. Only few were captured. But in the end battle result was clear – Agrippa took total win. When Sextus understood he was beaten he fled from the scenery by some boats and continued his flee to Minor Asia. There Antonius men captured him and Sextus was executed – there ended the famous family of Pompeius.
After Agrippa’s win Sicily as again clear part of Rome. Third triumvirate – Lepidus – had come from northern Africa with his legions and already conquered south parts of Sicily. After destruction of Sextus fleet his land forces could no longer match for triumvirates troops. Also Octavian came from north and occupied northern Sicily and soon all Sicily was occupied. The last act happened now. Lepidus declared to be the sole leader of western Rome and he tried to took legions of Octavian. But he calculated wrong. Soldiers did not accept his point of view but instead favored Octavian. Maybe because many of them were veterans and they had always worshipped Julian family – because of Gaius Julius Caesar. So Octavian came and won all control. Lepidus was kicked out of triumvirate and sent to lonely island to prevent causing any other problems. Now things were clearer. There were only two warlords – Marcus Antony in east and Octavian in west – supported by Agrippa. This was the road to another great civil war.
One can only assume that some – or even many – sailors of Sextus fleet came soldiers to Octavian fleet. Maybe they were even one element in becoming battle of Actium which made Octavian the sole leader of Rome – the divine Augustus.
Of course it did not end here. Later Bysantine and Arabs took the Sicily and on other side of strait different armies stair each others. It took Normans to conquer Sicily again and unite it to south Italy. So actually beautiful Messina strait has been a border for different nations and civilizations – even though it is so narrow. Even today there is no bridge over strait. Some say it is difficult to build because actually Sicily is slowly moving further from mainland Italy. Probably the real reason is still differences in culture. Maybe living and culture is still too different in Messina and Reggio Calabria to be united. When I visited Messina I was told that people in Messina don’t want the bridge and same feelings are in Reggio Calabria on other side of strait. So still strait of Messina is border of different way of living as in Roman times.
Anyways I have always assumed that Messina strait is wide – at least it looks so in Map. But in reality it is only 2 km wide beside Messina. So you can see well over strait to other shore. Unbelievable !