1902 Encyclopedia > Selinus


SELINUS (______), one of the most important of the Greek colonies in Sicily, near the rivers Hypsas and Selinus on the south-west coast, was founded, probably about 628 B.C., by colonists from Megara Hybkeain the east of Sicily and others from the parent city of Megara on the Saronic Gulf of Greece (see Thuc, vi. 4, vii. 57, and Strabo, vi. p. 272). The name of the city and the little river (see H in fig.) on which it stands was derived from the wild parsley (crekivov) which grew there in abundance (comp. vol. xvii. p. 639). Many autonomous coins of Selinus exist, dating from the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. The tetradrachms have on the obverse a youth, representing the river Selinus, sacrificing at an altar, and, in the field, a parsley leaf,— legend, _____ ; on the reverse, Apollo and Artemis in a biga,—legend, _____ (retrograde). Didrachms have a similar obverse with the river Hypsas,—legend, _____; reverse, Heracles slaying a bull, —_ legend, ______. As early as 580 B.C. the citizens of Selinus were at war with the adjoining people of Segesta, a non-Hellenic race who occupied the province north of Selinus; the success of the Segestans on this occasion was mainly owing to aid given them by colonists from Rhodes and Cnidus. Little is known about the early history of Selinus; but the city evidently grew rapidly in wealth and importance, and soon extended its borders 15 miles west-wards to the river Mazarus and eastwards as far as the Halycus (Diod., xiii. 54 ; Herod., v. 46). Thucydides (vi. 20) mentions its power and wealth and especially the rich treasures in its temples. From its early oligarchical form of government Selinus passed to a short-lived despotism under the tyrant Pithagoras, who was deposed soon after 510 B.C. In 480 B.C., when the Carthaginian Hamilcar invaded Sicily, the city took his side against their fellow Hellenes. In 416 B.C. a new dispute between Selinus and Segesta was eventu-ally the cause of the fatal Athenian expedition against Sicily, the Athenians acting as allies of Segesta and the Syracusans as allies of Selinus. The conclusion of this expedition (see SYRACUSE) left Segesta at the mercy of the Selinuntines, whose rapacity and cruelty soon brought about their own destruction, through the aid which the Segestans obtained from Carthage. In 409 B.C. Hannibal, with an overwhelm-ing force, took and destroyed the city, the walls of which were razed to the ground. He killed about 16,000 of the inhabitants, took 5000 prisoners, and only a remnant of 2600 escaped to Agrigentum (Diod., xiii. 54-59). The sur-vivors were afterwards allowed to return and to rebuild Selinus as a city subject to the Carthaginians, under whose yoke, in spite of their attempts to regain freedom, the Selinuntines remained till c. 250, the close of the First Punic War; after this the Carthaginians transferred the inhabitants of Selinus to Lilybseum, and completely destroyed the city (Diod. xxiv.). It was never rebuilt, and is mentioned by Strabo (vi. p. 272) as being one of the extinct cities of Sicily.

The ancient city occupied two elevated plateaus at the edge of the sea and also part of the surrounding plain. The western of these elevations formed the acropolis ; on the other was the agora. The walls of the acropolis can still be traced round the whole cir-cuit ; the only entrance was on the north-east. Remains also exist of long walls connecting the city and its port. The chief glory of Selinus was its double group of great temples,—three on the acropolis and three in the agora, one of which was the largest peripteral temple in the world. All are completely ruined, but the materials of each still remain almost perfect, though scattered in confused heaps of stone ; the extraordinary completeness of these fragments is owing to the fact that the site has never been occupied since the final transference of the inhabitants in 250 B.C., and thus the scattered blocks have never been taken as materials for later structures. Of all the six temples none are later than the 5th century B.C., and those on the acropolis probably date from about 628 B. c., soon after the first settlement. The sculptured metopes from three of the temples are among the most important examples of early Hellenic art (see ARCHAEOLOGY, vol. ii. p. 349, and Benndorf, Die Metopen von Selinunt). The buildings themselves are of the highest interest, being the earliest known examples of the Doric style, and differing in many important details from all other examples, even such early ones as the temples at Corinth and Syracuse.

The three temples on the acropolis (A, C, D in fig.) stand side by side, with their axes north-west to south-east; all are hexastyle and peripteral, with either thirteen or fourteen columns on the sides. Their stylobates have four high steps along the sides, with an easier approach of more steps at the north- west fronts. To the middle one of the three belong the very archaic metopes described in vol. ii. p. 349. All have a rather narrow cella with pronaos and opisthodo- mus. Their archaic peculiarities are the rapid diminution of the columns, the absence of entasis, the narrow mutules over the metopes, and especially a curious cavetto or necking under the usual hypo- traehelia. No other example of this feature was A, C, D,


Temples on acropolis. B, Small pro-
known till 1884, when style tetrastyle eedicula. E, F, G, Temples on
n, SpliliempTin nnrl Tir eastern «. «. Remains of buildings out-
JJr bcliliemann ana Ui sjde a lis walls. H RiVer Selinus. Dorpteld discovered a


similar Doric capital among the ruins of the citadel of Tiryns. The Tiryns capital dates probably from a little before 600 B.C. and appears to be nearly contemporary with that at Selinus. Between temples A and C are remains of a small prostyle tetrastyle eedicula (B) of the Doric order.4 The second group of three Doric temples (E, F, G) belongs to a rather later date,—probably 500 to 440 B.C. The first two (E and F) have very narrow cella?, so that they are pseudo-dipteral. They also are hexastyle, with fourteen columns on the sides. Though still early in detail, they are without the curious necking of the acropolis temples. The sculptured metopes of temple E are of extraordinary beauty and interest, and appear to date from the finest period of Greek art—the age of Phidias or perhaps that of Myron. The chief subjects are Zeus and Hera on Mount Olympus, Artemis and Actceon, and Heracles defeating an Amazon. They are of the noblest style, simple and highly sculp-turesque in treatment, and full of grace and expression. One remarkable peculiarity in their technique is that the nude parts of the female figures (heads, feet, and hands) are executed in white marble, while the rest of the reliefs are in the native grey tufa, which originally was covered with marble-dust stucco and then painted. The whole of the stonework of all the temples was treated in a similar way, and gives most valuable examples of early Greek coloured decoration. Recent excavations at Selinus have shown that in many cases the cornices and other architectural features were covered with moulded slabs of terra cotta, all richly coloured (see Dorpfeld, Die Verwendung von Terracotten, Berlin, 1881, and TERRACOTTA). The great temple of Zeus1 (G in fig.) was the largest peripteral temple of the whole Hellenic world, being almost exactly the same size as the enormous pseudo - peripteral Olym- peaeum at the neighbouring Agrigentum. It was octastyle, pseudo- dipteral, with seventeen columns on the sides, and measures 360 by 162 feet; the columns are 10 feet 7J inches at the base and were 48 feet 7 inches high. This gigantic building was never quite completed, though the whole of the main structure was built. Most of the columns still remain unfluted. In spite of the propor- tional narrowness of its cella, it had an internal range of columns, probably two orders high, like those within the cella at Pgestum. The axes of these last three temples have exactly the same inclina- tion as those on the acropolis. The great temple of Zeus possesses some of the curious archaisms of the acropolis temples, and, though never completed, it was probably designed and begun at an earlier date than the two adjacent buildings. These peculiarities are the ungracefully rapid diminution of the shaft and the cavetto under the necking of the capitals. The whole of these six massive build- ings now lie in a complete state of ruin, a work of evidently wilful destruction on the part of the Carthaginians, as the temple at Segesta, not many miles distant, has still every column and its whole entablature quite perfect; so it is impossible to suppose that an earthquake was the cause of the utter ruin at Selinus. Few or no marks of fire are visible on the stone blocks. (J. H. M.)


3 The stone of which all these temples were built came from a quarry a few miles north-west of Selinus (mod. Campobello). The ancient workings are very visible, and unfinished drums of columns and other blocks still exist in the quarry. It is a brown tufa-like stone.

4 Strange to say, Hittorff and Zanth (Architecture Antique de Sidle, Paris, 1870), in their elaborate work on this subject, restore this asdicula with a Doric entablature on Ionic columns ; a good many other similar absurdities occur in this richly illustrated work. More judgment is shown in Serradifalco's Antica Selinunio (Palermo, 1831-42), though it is not always accurate in measurements.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries