Category Archives: Greek
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Selinunte was one of the most important of the Greek colonies in Sicily, situated on the southwest coast of that island, at the mouth of the small river of the same name, and 6.5 km west of that of the Hypsas (the modern Belice River). It was founded, according to the historian Thucydides, by a colony from the Sicilian city of Megara, or Megara Hyblaea, under the conduct of a leader named Pammilus, about 100 years after the settlement of that city, with the addition of a fresh body of colonists from the parent city of Megara in Greece. The date of its foundation cannot be precisely fixed, as Thucydides indicates it only by reference to that of the Sicilian Megara, which is itself not accurately known, but it may be placed about 628 BCE. Diodorus places it 22 years earlier, or 650 BCE, and Hieronymus still further back, 654 BCE. The date from Thucydides, which is probably the most likely, is incompatible with this earlier epoch. The name is supposed to have been derived from quantities of wild celery (Ancient Greek: σέλινον (selinon)) that grew on the spot. For the same reason, they adopted the celery leaf as the symbol on their coins.
In 416 BCE, a renewal of the old disputes between Selinunte and Segesta became the occasion of the great Athenian expedition to Sicily. The Selinuntines were the first to call in the powerful aid of Syracuse, and thus for a time obtained the complete advantage over their enemies, whom they were able to blockade both by sea and land; but in this extremity the Segestans had recourse to the assistance of Athens. Though the Athenians do not appear to have taken any measures for the immediate relief of Segesta, it is probable that the Selinuntines and Syracusans withdrew their forces at once, as we hear no more of their operations against Segesta. Nor does Selinunte bear any important part in the war of which it was the immediate occasion. Nicias indeed proposed, when the expedition first arrived in Sicily (415 BCE); that they should proceed at once to Selinunte and compel that city to submit on moderate terms; but this advice being overruled, the efforts of the armament were directed against Syracuse, and the Selinuntines in consequence bore but a secondary part in the subsequent operations. They are, however, mentioned on several occasions as furnishing auxiliaries to the Syracusans; and it was at Selinunte that the large Peloponnesian force sent to the support of Gylippus landed in the spring of 413 BCE, having been driven over to the coast of Africa by a tempest.
The defeat of the Athenian armament apparently left the Segestans at the mercy of their rivals. They tried in vain to ease Selinuntine hostility by ceding without further contest the frontier district that was the original subject of dispute. The Selinuntines, however, were not satisfied with this concession, and continued to press them with fresh aggressions, leading the Segestans to seek assistance from Carthage. After some hesitation, Carthage sent a small force, with the assistance of which the Segestans defeated the Selinuntines in a battle. The Carthaginians in the following spring (409 BCE) sent over a vast army amounting, according to the lowest estimate, to 100,000 men, with which Hannibal Mago (the grandson of Hamilcar that was killed at Himera) landed at Lilybaeum, and from thence marched direct to Selinunte. The city’s inhabitants had not expected such a force and were wholly unprepared to resist it. The city fortifications were, in many places, in disrepair, and the auxiliary force promised by Syracuse and Agrigentum (modern Agrigento) and Gela, was not ready and did not arrive in time. The Selinuntines defended themselves with the courage of despair, and even after the walls were breached, continued the contest from house to house. However, the enemy’s overwhelming numbers rendered resistance hopeless, and after a ten-day siege the city was taken and most of the defenders put to the sword. According to sources, of the citizens of Selinunte 16,000 were slain, 5,000 made prisoners, and 2,600 under the command of Empedion escaped to Agrigentum. Shortly after, Hannibal destroyed the city walls, but gave permission to the surviving inhabitants to return and occupy it as tributaries of Carthage, an arrangement confirmed by the treaty subsequently concluded between Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, and the Carthaginians, in 405 BCE. In the interval a considerable number of the survivors and fugitives had been brought together by Hermocrates, and established within its walls. A considerable part of the citizens of Selinunte availed themselves of this permission, and that the city continued to subsist under the Carthaginian dominion; but a fatal blow had been given to its prosperity, which it undoubtedly never recovered.
The Selinuntines are again mentioned in 397 BCE as declaring in favor of Dionysius during his war with Carthage; but both the city and territory were again given up to the Carthaginians by the peace of 383 BCE (Id. xv. 17); and though Dionysius recovered possession of it by arms shortly before his death, it is probable that it soon again lapsed under the dominion of Carthage. The Halycus, which was established as the eastern boundary of the Carthaginian dominion in Sicily by the treaty of 383 BCE, seems to have generally continued to be so recognized, notwithstanding temporary interruptions; and was again fixed as their limit by the treaty with Agathocles in 314 BCE. This last treaty expressly stipulated that Selinunte, as well as Heracleia and Himera, should continue subject to Carthage, as before. In 276 BCE, however, during the expedition of Pyrrhus to Sicily, the Selinuntines voluntarily submitted to that monarch, after the capture of Heracleia. During the First Punic War we again find Selinunte subject to Carthage, and its territory was repeatedly the theater of military operations between the contending powers. But before the close of the war (about 250 BCE), when the Carthaginians were beginning to contract their operations, and confine themselves to the defense of as few points as possible, they removed all the inhabitants of Selinunte to Lilybaeum and destroyed the city.
September 2013, Canon G1 X and Canon S95
According to the tradition used in Virgil’s Aeneid, Segesta was founded jointly by the territorial king Acestes (who was son of the local river Crinisus by a Dardanian woman named Segesta or Egesta) and by those of Aeneas’ folk who wished to remain behind with Acestes to found the city of Acesta.The belief that the name of the city was originally Acesta or Egesta and changed to Segesta by the Romans to avoid its ill-omened meaning in Latin is disproved by coins showing that Segesta was indeed the earlier name. The population of Segesta was mixed Elymian and Ionian Greek, though the Elymians soon Hellenized and took on external characteristics of Greek life. Segesta was in constant conflict with Selinus (modern Selinunte), which probably tried to assure itself a port on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The first clashes were in 580-576 BC, and again in 454 BC, but later the conflict would have repercussions for all of Sicily.
In 415 BC Segesta asked Athens for help against Selinus, leading to a disastrous Athenian expedition in Sicily (415-413 BC). Later they asked Carthage for help, leading to the total destruction of the city of Selinus by the hands of Carthage. Segesta remained an ally of Carthage, it was besieged by Dionysius of Syracuse in 397 BC, and it was destroyed by Agathocles in 307 BC, but recovered. In 276 BC the city was allied with Pyrrhus, but changed side in 260 BC when it surrendered to the Romans. The city was not punished by the Romans for its long alliance with Carthage, but owing to the mythical common origin of the Romans and the Elymians (both descendants of refugees from Troy) it was granted the state of a “free and immune” city.
In 104 BC the slave rebellion led by Athenion started in Segesta. Little is known about the city under Roman rule, but it is probable that the population gradually moved to the port city of Castellammare del Golfo due to better trading opportunities. The city was destroyed by the Vandals.
The Greek theatre, very little is known about the city plan. Aerial photography indicates a regular city plan, built in part on terraces to overcome the natural sloping terrain. The current remains might be from the reconstruction after the destruction of the city by Agathocles.
On a hill just outside the site of the ancient city of Segesta lies an unusually well preserved Doric temple. It is thought to have been built in the 420’s BC by an Athenian architect and has six by fourteen columns on a base measuring 21 by 56 meters, on a platform three steps high. Several things suggest that the temple was never actually finished. The columns have not been fluted as they normally would have been in a Doric temple and there are still tabs present in the blocks of the base (used for lifting the blocks into place but then normally removed). It also lacks a cella and was never roofed over. The temple is also unusual for being a Hellenic temple in a city not mainly populated by Greeks. It can also be noted that this temple lacks any painted or sculptured ornamentation, altar, and deity dedication. This temple escaped destruction by the Carthaginians in the late 5th century.
Syracuse and its surrounding area have been inhabited since ancient times, as shown by the findings in the villages of Stentinello, Ognina, Plemmirio, Matrensa, Cozzo Pantano and Thapsos, which already had a relationship with Mycenaean Greece.
Syracuse was founded in 734 or 733 BC by Greek settlers from Corinth and Tenea, led by the oecist (colonizer) Archias. There are many attested variants of the name of the city including Συράκουσαι Syrakousai, Συράκοσαι Syrakosai and Συρακώ Syrako. A possible origin of the city’s name was given by Vibius Sequester citing first Stephanus Byzantius in that there was a Syracusian marsh (λίμνη) called Syrako and secondly Marcian’s Periegesis wherein Archias gave the city the name of a nearby marsh; hence one gets Syrako (and thereby Syrakousai and other variants) for the name of Syracuse, a name also attested by Epicharmus. The nucleus of the ancient city was the small island of Ortygia. The settlers found the land fertile and the native tribes to be reasonably well-disposed to their presence. The city grew and prospered, and for some time stood as the most powerful Greek city anywhere in the Mediterranean. Colonies were founded at Akrai (664 BC), Kasmenai (643 BC), Akrillai (7th century BC), Helorus (7th century BC) and Kamarina (598 BC).
The descendants of the first colonists, called Gamoroi, held power until they were expelled by the Killichiroi, the lower class of the city. The former, however, returned to power in 485 BC, thanks to the help of Gelo, ruler of Gela. Gelo himself became the despot of the city, and moved many inhabitants of Gela, Kamarina and Megera to Syracuse, building the new quarters of Tyche and Neapolis outside the walls. His program of new constructions included a new theatre, designed by Damocopos, which gave the city a flourishing cultural life: this in turn attracted personalities as Aeschylus, Ario of Metimma, Eumelos of Corinth and Sappho, who had been exiled here from Mytilene. The enlarged power of Syracuse made unavoidable the clash against the Carthaginians, who ruled western Sicily. In the Battle of Himera, Gelo, who had allied with Theron of Agrigento, decisively defeated the African force led by Hamilcar. A temple dedicated to Athena (on the site of today’s Cathedral), was erected in the city to commemorate the event
Syracuse grew considerably during this time. Its walls encircled 120 hectares (300 acres) in the fifth century, but as early as the 470’s BC the inhabitants started building outside the walls. The complete population of its territory approximately numbered 250,000 in 415 BC and the population size of the city itself was probably similar to Athens.
Gelo was succeeded by his brother Hiero, who fought against the Etruscans at Cumae in 474 BC. His rule was eulogized by poets like Simonides of Ceos, Bacchylides and Pindar, who visited his court. A democratic regime was introduced by Thrasybulos (467 BC). The city continued to expand in Sicily, fighting against the rebellious Siculi, and on the Tyrrhenian Sea, making expeditions up to Corsica and Elba. In the late 5th century BC, Syracuse found itself at war with Athens, which sought more resources to fight the Peloponnesian War. The Syracusans enlisted the aid of a general from Sparta, Athens’ foe in the war, to defeat the Athenians, destroy their ships, and leave them to starve on the island (see Sicilian Expedition). In 401 BC, Syracuse contributed a force of 3,000 hoplites and a general to Cyrus the Younger’s Army of the Ten Thousand.
Then in the early 4th century BC, the tyrant Dionysius the Elder was again at war against Carthage and, although losing Gela and Camarina, kept that power from capturing the whole of Sicily. After the end of the conflict Dionysius built a massive fortress on Ortygia and 22 km-long walls around all of Syracuse. Another period of expansion saw the destruction of Naxos, Catania and Lentini; then Syracuse entered again in war against Carthage (397 BC). After various changes of fortune, the Carthaginians managed to besiege Syracuse itself, but were eventually pushed back by a pestilence. A treaty in 392 BC allowed Syracuse to enlarge further its possessions, founding the cities of Adranon, Tyndarion and Tauromenos, and conquering Rhegion on the continent. In the Adriatic, to facilitate trade, Dionysius the Elder founded Ancona, Adria and Issa. Apart from his battle deeds, Dionysius was famous as a patron of art, and Plato himself visited Syracuse several times.
His successor was Dionysius the Younger, who was however expelled by Dion in 356 BC. But the latter’s despotic rule led in turn to his expulsion, and Dionysius reclaimed his throne in 347 BC. Dionysius was besieged in Syracuse by the Syracusan general Hicetas in 344 BC. The following year the Corinthian Timoleon installed a democratic regime in the city after he exiled Dionysius and defeated Hicetas. The long series of internal struggles had weakened Syracuse’s power on the island, and Timoleon tried to remedy this, defeating the Carthaginians in the Battle of the Crimissus (339 BC).
After Timoleon’s death the struggle among the city’s parties restarted and ended with the rise of another tyrant, Agathocles, who seized power with a coup in 317 BC. He resumed the war against Carthage, with alternate fortunes. He was besieged in Syracuse by the Carthaginians in 311 BC, but he escaped from the city with a small fleet. He scored a moral success, bringing the war to the Carthaginians’ native African soil, inflicting heavy losses to the enemy. The defenders of Syracuse destroyed the Carthaginian army which besieged them. However, Agathocles was eventually defeated in Africa as well. The war ended with another treaty of peace which did not prevent the Carthaginians from interfering in the politics of Syracuse after the death of Agathocles (289 BC). They laid siege to Syracuse for the fourth and last time in 278 BC. They retreated at the arrival of king Pyrrhus of Epirus, whom Syracuse had asked for help. After a brief period under the rule of Epirus, Hiero II seized power in 275 BC.
Hiero inaugurated a period of 50 years of peace and prosperity, in which Syracuse became one of the most renowned capitals of Antiquity. He issued the so-called Lex Hieronica, which was later adopted by the Romans for their administration of Sicily; he also had the theatre enlarged and a new immense altar, the “Hiero’s Ara”, built. Under his rule lived the most famous Syracusan, the mathematician and natural philosopher Archimedes. Among his many inventions were various military engines including the claw of Archimedes, later used to resist the Roman siege of 214 BC–212 BC. Literary figures included Theocritus and others.
Hiero’s successor, the young Hieronymus (ruled from 215 BC), broke the alliance with the Romans after their defeat at the Battle of Cannae and accepted Carthage’s support. The Romans, led by consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, besieged the city in 214 BC. The city held out for three years, but fell in 212 BC. The successes of the Syracusians in repelling the Roman siege had made them overconfident. In 212 BC, the Romans received information that the city’s inhabitants were to participate in the annual festival to their goddess Artemis. A small party of Roman soldiers approached the city under the cover of night and managed to scale the walls to get into the outer city and with reinforcements soon took control, killing Archimedes in the process, but the main fortress remained firm. After an eight-month siege and with parleys in progress, an Iberian captain named Moeriscus is believed to have let the Romans in near the Fountains of Arethusa. On the agreed signal, during a diversionary attack, he opened the gate. After setting guards on the houses of the pro-Roman faction, Marcellus gave Syracuse to plunder.
Though declining slowly through the years, Syracuse maintained the status of capital of the Roman government of Sicily and seat of the praetor. It remained an important port for trade between the Eastern and the Western parts of the Empire. After a period of Vandal rule, Syracuse and the island was recovered by Belisarius for the Byzantine Empire (31 December 535). From 663 to 668 Syracuse was the seat of Emperor Constans II, as well as metropolis of the whole Sicilian Church.
From 1895 to 1934 Paolo Orsi directed the museum, but the increasing number of finds made a new space necessary at the current location in the garden of the villa Landolina. The new museum space, designed by the architect Franco Minissi was inaugurated in January 1988, with two floors of 9,0002. Initially only one floor and a basement of 3,000 m2 containing an auditorium were open to the public. In 2006, a new exhibition area on the upper floor was inaugurated, dedicated to the classical period, but more space still remained unused. In 2014 a final expansion allowed the display of the Sarcophagus of Adelphia and other finds from the catacombs of Syracuse. The museum contains artefacts from the prehistoric, Greek and Roman periods found in archaeological excavations in the city and other sites in Sicily.
Sector A is dedicated to the prehistoric (Upper Palaeolithic-Iron Age) with a display of rocks and fossils which testify to the various animals found in Sicily in the Quaternary. It is preceded by a section which displays the geological characteristics of the Mediterranean Sea and the Iblean zone. In sector B, dedicated to the Greek colonies in Sicily from the Ionic and Doric period, it is possible to see the locations of the Greek colonies in Sicily and their respective mother cities. Also on display: a headless marble statue of a Kouros, found at Leontini from the fifth century BC. a bone kourotrophos, a headless female statue, holding two twins, which was found at Megara Hyblaea. votive statues of Demeter and Kore and a gorgon from the Doric colony at Megara Hyblaea a head of Augustus found at Centuripe. In sector C there are finds from the colonies of Syracuse: Akrai (664 BC), Kasmenai (644 BC), Camarina (598 BC), Eloro, as well as finds from other centres of eastern Sicily, Gela ed Agrigento. Sector D, located on the upper floor and inaugurated in 2006, contains finds from the Hellenistic and Roman periods. It contains two of the most celebrated pieces in the museum, the Sarcophagus of Adelphia and the Venus Anadiomene, also called Venus Landolina after the location of its discovery, found in Syracuse in 1804 and described by Bernabò Brea as “for the excellence of its sculpting, an exquisite treatment of the naked form, of incredibly liveliness and softness”. Moreover, a selection of coins from the numismatic cabinet of the piazza Duomo is on display.