Roman Amphitheater

1. Who you will meet:

Archias of Corinth founded the city of Syracuse in 733 BC.  If you visited the city around this time, you would meet Corinthian colonists.  You would probably run into other groups as well, namely the Sicels, Sicans, and Elymians, tribes that had lived on the island of Sicily since before the colonists arrived.  [1]

If you had plans to visit Syracuse, you could have timed it by the Tyrant you would most liked to have met.  The Tyrant Gelon assumed leadership of Syracuse in 485, proving himself to be a capable ruler.  Upon his death in 478, rule passed to his brother Hieron, who continued his brother’s work and allied Syracuse with Theron of Akragas.  This secured Sicily under the joint rule of Akragas and Syracuse.  Hieron was considerably less popular than Gelon, but an effective ruler nonetheless.  His brother, Thrasybulus, who assumed power in 647, was a terrible ruler, and was forcibly removed and summarily exiled within a year of coming to power.  Following this period, Syracuse saw an end to Dinomenid Tyranny, and entered into a brief age of democracy.[2]  Following the Sicilian Expedition in 413 BC, the city had another series of tyrants, including: Dionysius I, Dionysius II, Dion, Timoleon, and Agathocles.

 Fun Fact: The renowned mathematician, Archimedes, was born, and lived most of his life, in Syracuse. [3]


 2. How you will get there:

Syracuse is located on the eastern side of the island of Sicily.  Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and can be accessed by ship.  The Northeastern tip of the island is in very close proximity to the southern tip of Italy, making for easy access to and from the mainland.  The city has two harbors, useful for trade and travel.

Fun Fact: The island of the Cyclops, described in Homers The Odyssey, is remarkably similar to Sicily and the harbor at Syracuse.[4]


3. Why you would go there:

You might be going to Syracuse to see the Temple of Athena, which was commissioned by Gelon, first tyrant of Syracuse, in celebration of his victory against the Carthaginians in 480 BC.[5]   There was also a hero cult devoted to Gelon.

One of its most interesting features was the Fountain of Arethusa.  This freshwater spring, sacred to the goddess Artemis, acted as a mythological link between Sicily and Greece.  Another natural feature, the Ciane River, is linked to the goddess Persephone.[6]

City of Legend p.13

Decadrachm-featuring Arethusa design

If you happened to be Athenean, you might have come seeking aid against the Persians.  Or, you might also happen to be part of an invasion force, bent on besieging and conquering the city, in an attempt to enhance your position in the Peloponnesian War. In both cases, you would have been greatly disappointed.

 Fun Fact: The Temple of Athena at Syracuse stands to this day, and is used as a Christian chapel. [7]



Gelon I, Tyrant of Syracuse

 4. Gelon, Tyrant of Syracuse (485-478) 

Gelon, at the time tyrant of Gela, acquired the Syracusan colony in 485 BC.  He married Demarete, daughter of the tyrant Theron of Akragas.  In 480, he was victorious in a war against Carthage, which bolstered his support and power in Syracuse.  He is famous for rebuffing the Athenian delegation sent to seek his aid in their war against the Persians.[8]  As a ruler he organized games, attracted artists and poets, and built monuments.  Upon his death in 478, he was greatly mourned, and a Hero Cult was established in his honor.




5. Syracuse and the Peloponnesian War 

In 415 BC, you might have run into a host of Atheneans, bent on conquering Sicily.  The Athenians’ prime objective was to take Syracuse, but in 413, after a bitter siege, the Athenians withdrew from Syracuse.  One reason Syracuse was drawn into the conflict was its abundant grain supply.  Another reason was that Syracuse, as the largest and most influential city in Sicily, was a contender with Athens.  In 413, after a series of land and sea battles, the forces at Syracuse defeated the Athenians.  Athen’s defeat at Syracuse led inevitably to a Spartan victory, and its emergence as the leading power in Greece.[9]


6. What was Syracuse like? 

Syracuse was the chief city of Sicily.  It was named for the marshlands, or Syraco, that stood on the edges of the harbors.[10]  The city had many natural advantages.  Its freshwater springs and cultivable land made it attractive to Greeks used to the rock mainland.  It was easily defensible, and had two ports, which aided the city greatly during the Sicilian Expedition.

Temple of Athena

Temple of Athena

Its monuments included the Temple of Apollo, built in 565 BC, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, built in 550 BC, and the Temple of Athena, built in 480 BC. [11]

Also popular in Syracuse were the cults of Persephone and Demeter, goddesses of Spring and agriculture. [12]  The city also attracted and produced many artists, poets, and dramatists, including Pindar, Epicarmus, Aeschylus, Phromus, Bacchylides, and Simonides.[13]

 Fun Fact: Cicero described Syracuse as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all.”



7. Sources:

Bonna D. Wescoat and Lucia Trigilia. “Syracuse.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 10, 2013,

Crepeau, Bob. “Archimedes.” Archimedes of Syracuse [January 2006]: 1.

Dummett, Jeremy. Syracuse, City of Legends : A Glory of Sicily. London: I.B.Tauris, 2010.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, s. v. “Syracuse,” accessed April 09, 2013,

Herodotus. The Histories. Edited by A. D. Godley. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920.

Rhodes, P. J.. A History of the Classical Greek World : 478-323 BC. Chicester: Wiley, 2009.

Strabo. The Geography of Strabo. Loed Classical Library edition. 3 vols. 1924.*.html.

Thatcher, Mark, “Syracusan Identity Between Tyranny and Democracy,” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 55, no. 2 [December 2012]: 73-90.

Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Edited by Thomas Hobbes. London: Bohn, 1843.

[1] Jeremy Dummett, Syracuse, City of Legend: A Glory of Sicily,  (London: I.B. Tauris, 2010), 8.

[2] P. J. Rhodes, History of the Classical Greek World, (Chichester: Wiley, 2009), 82.

[3]  Bob Crepeau, “Archimedes,” Archimedes of Syracuse (January 2006).

[4] Dummet, Syracuse, City of Legend, 4

[5] Bonna D. Wescoat and Lucia Trigilia, Oxford Art Online, s. v. “Syracuse.”

[6] Dummet, Syracuse, City of Legend, 4

[7] Rhodes, History of the Classical Greek World, 219

[8] Herodotus The Histories VII.

[9] Rhodes, History of the Classical Greek World, 139-146

[10] Dummet, Syracuse, City of Legend, 6

[11] Wescoat and Trigilia, Oxford Art Online, s. v. “Syracuse.”

[12] Dummet, Syracuse, City of Legend, 161

[13] Dummet, Syracuse, City of Legend, 15

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