MAMERTINI, or “children of Mars,” the name taken by a band of Campanian (or Samnite) freebooters who about 289 B.C. seized the Greek colony of Messana at the north-east corner of Sicily, after having been hired by Agathocles to defend it (Polyb. 1. 7. 2). The adventure is explained by tradition (e.g. Festus 158, Müller) as the outcome of a ver sacrum; the members of the expedition are said to have been the male children born in a particular spring of which the produce had been vowed to Apollo (cf. Samnites), and to have settled first in Sicily near Tauromenium. An inscription survives (R. S. Conway, Italic Dialects, 1) which shows that they took with them the Oscan language as it was spoken in Capua or Nola at that date, and the constitution usual in Italic towns of a free community (touta =) governed by two annual magistrates (meddices). The inscription dedicated some large building (possibly a fortification) to Apollo, which so far confirms the tradition just noticed. Though in the Oscan language, the inscription is written in the Greek alphabet common to south Italy from the 4th century B.C. onwards, viz. the Tarentine Ionic, and so are the legends of two coins of much the same date as the inscription (Conway, ib. 4). From 282 onwards (B. V. Head, Historia numorum, 136) the legend itself is Graecized (ΜΑΜΕΡΤΙΝΩΝ instead of ΜΑΑΜΕΡΤΙΝΟΥΜ) which shows how quickly here, as everywhere, “Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit.” On the Roman conquest of Sicily the town secured an independence under treaty (Cicero, Verr. 3. 6. 13). The inhabitants were still called Mamertines in the time of Strabo (vi. 2. 3).
See further Mommsen, C.I.L. x. sub loc., and the references already given. (R. S. C.)