The Strait of Messana in the Roman world: connectivity, space, and identity between Italy and Sicily (300 BCE – 400 CE)
The Strait of Messana separates Italy from Sicily by only a few kilometres of famously turbulent sea. During the Roman period, the Strait was at times described as a bridge and gateway to opportunity, a symbol of empire, and little more than a river easily forded. At others, it was an insurmountable divide, the most dangerous of all passages, and a hard boundary between Romans and non-Romans. In both contexts, the Strait continued to operate as an agent of connectivity, the crossroads of varied cultural groups from across the ancient Mediterranean, situated as it was between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas. Prior studies of the Strait and the major cities on its shores – Messana and Rhegium – have focused predominantly on pre-Roman histories and archaeology, while studies on wider processes in Roman Sicily and South Italy often put the Strait to one side due to a comparative lack of textual and archaeological evidence, or do not sufficiently consider the porous nature of the ‘boundary’ between Sicily and Italy. This thesis explores the tripartite nature of the Strait of Messana as bridge, division, and crossroads in the Roman period, arguing for the application of a globalising interpretative framework which prioritises emic perspectives in studies of space. It demonstrates how the Strait of Messana, as a geographical, rhetorical, and political space, facilitated, dictated, and at times restricted the socio-cultural transformations and processes taking place in Messana and Rhegium between 300 BCE and 400 CE and offers future studies in regional histories or identity studies a framework for studying identities across boundaries under the Roman Empire.