1902 Encyclopedia > Syracuse


SYRACUSE (Gk. Syrakosai, Syrakousai, Syrekousai; Lat. Syracusae; It. Siracusa), the chief Greek city of ancient Sicily and one of the earliest Greek settlements in the island (see SICILY, p. 15 above). The foundation legend takes several shapes (Thuc., vi. 3 ; Strabo, vi. 4, p. 269); but there is no reason to doubt that Syracuse was founded by Archias of Corinth as part of a joint enterprise together with Corcyra, and the received date 735 B.C. may pass as approximate.[813-1] The first settlement was on a small island, parted from the coast by a very narrow channel (for map, see pi. II.). It points southward, in front of a deep bay, which, with the opposite headland (Plemmyrium), it helps to shelter from the sea. This formed the Great Harbour; the Lesser Harbour of Laccius lay to the north of the island, between it and a peninsula of the mainland, with the open sea to the east and north. The peninsula consists of part of a hill which almost everywhere leaves some space between itself and the sea. To the west of the Great Harbour a marshy plain lies on each side of the river Anapus. On the south side of the river is a smaller hill. The coast of the island and of the peninsula is rocky. That of the harbour is for the most part flat, except part of the west and south sides and the headland opposite the island. From the island the city spread over the whole peninsula, while a detached suburb (Polichne) arose on the outlying hill beyond Anapus. The marshy ground between the two was not fit for building. All these additions have been gradually forsaken, and the modern town is confined to the island.

Island of Ortygia. The island was called Ortygia, a name connected with the Delian legend of Artemis (see Holm, Gesch. Sic., i. 886), but often simply the Island (Liv., xxv. 24, 30). Though the lowest part of the city, its position and strength made it the citadel, and it is therefore often spoken of by Diodorus and Plutarch as if it had been a real acropolis. It is famous for the fountain of Arethusa, connected in Greek legend with the river Alpheus in Peloponnesus.[813-2] The sweet water perished when an earth-quake brought in the sea in 1170.[813-3] At the time of the first settlement the island was held by Sicels; some have thought that a Phoenician element lingered on under both Sicels and Greeks. It is certain (Herod., vii. 166) that Syracuse and Carthage stood in relations to one another which were not usual between Greek and barbarian cities. It has also been thought from some legendary hints that Polichne was the original Syracuse, and that the plural form (Syrakousai [Gk]) arose from the union of Ortygia and Polichne. But the plural form is common enough in other cases. The chief evidence for the belief is that the great temple of Olympian Zeus stood in Polichne and that (Plut., Nic., 14) the register of Syracusan citizens was kept there.

Earliest historical period. Till the beginning of the 5th century B.C. our notices of Syracusan history are quite fragmentary. Almost the only question is whether, as some stray notices (Athen., i. 56; see Müller's Dorians, i. 161, Eng. tr.) might suggest, the primitive kingship was retained or renewed at Syracuse, as it certainly was in some other Greek colonies. A king Pollis is spoken of; but nothing is known of his actions. It is far more certain that Syracuse went through the usual revolutions of a Greek city. The descendants of the original settlers kept the land in their own hands, and they gradually brought the Sicel inhabitants to a state not unlike villainage. Presently other settlers, perhaps not always Greek, gathered round the original Syracusan people; they formed a distinct body, demos [Gk.] or plebs, personally free, but with an inferior political franchise or none at all. The old citizens thus gradually grew into an exclusive or aristocratic body, called ya^opoi or land-owners. We hear incidentally of disputes, seditions, and changes, among others the banishment of a whole gens (Thuc, v. 5; Arist., Pol., v. 3, 5, 4,1); but we have no dates or details till we have entered the 5th century B.C. In its external development Syracuse differed somewhat from other Sicilian cities. Although it lagged in early times behind both Gela and Acragas (Agrigentum), it very soon began to aim at a combination of land and sea power. Between 663 and 598 it founded the settlements of Acras, Casmense, and Camarina, of which the first was unusually far inland. The three together secured for Syracuse a continuous dominion to the south-east coast. They were not strictly colonies but outposts; Camarina indeed was destroyed after a revolt against the ruling city (Thuc, v. 1). That the inland Sicel town of Henna was ever a Syracusan settlement there is no reason to believe. Of this early time some architectural monuments still remain, as the two temples in Ortygia, one of which is now the metropolitan church, and the small remains of the Olym-pieum or temple of Zeus in Polichne,—all of course in the ancient Doric style.

The second period of Syracusan history, which roughly begins with the 5th century, is far better ascertained. It is a period of change in every way. The aristocratic com-monwealth becomes in turn a tyranny and a democracy; and Syracuse becomes the greatest Greek city in Sicily, the mistress of other cities, the head of a great dominion,— for a moment, of the greatest dominion in Hellas.

Gelon. Strange to say, all this growth begins in subjection to the ruler of another city. Hippocrates, tyrant of Gela, held the chief power in eastern Sicily at the beginning of the 5th century B.C. (498-491). He threatened Syracuse as well as other cities, and it was delivered only by the joint intervention of Corinth and Corcyra, and by the cession of the vacant territory of Camarina. In 485 the Syracusan demos [Gk.] or plebs joined with the Sicel serf population to drive out the gamoroi, the ruling oligarchs. These last craved help of Gelon, the successor of Hippocrates, who took possession of Syracuse without opposition, and made it the seat of his power. Syracuse now grew by the depopulation of other cities conquered by Gelon. He gave citizenship both to mercenaries (Diod., xi. 73) and to settlers from old Greece (Paus., v. 27, 16, 17; Pind., Olymp., vi.), so that Syracuse became a city of mingled race, in which the new citizens had the advantage. The town spread to the mainland: the new town of Achradina, with separate fortifications, arose on the eastern part of the adjoining peninsula (Diod., xi. 73), while Ortygia became the inner city, the stronghold of the ruler. Indeed in the form of unwalled suburbs the city seems to have spread even beyond Achradina (Diod,s xi. 61, 68, 72). Gelon's general rule was mild, and he won fame as the champion of Hellas by his great victory over the Carthaginians at Himera. He is said to have been greeted as king ; but he does not seem to have taken the title in any formal way.

Gelon's successors. Gelon's brother and successor Hiero (478-467) kept up the power of the city ; he won himself a name by his encouragement of poets and philosophers; and his Pythian and Olympian victories made him the special subject of the songs of Pindar. He appeared also as a Hellenic champion in the defence of Cumoe, and he attempted to found a Syracusan colony on the island of Aenaria, now Ischia. But his internal government, unlike that of Gelon, was suspicious, greedy, and cruel. After some family disputes the power passed to his brother Thrasybulus, who was driven out next year by a general rising (see SICILY, p. 16). In this revolution Thrasybulus and his mercenaries held the fortified quarters of Ortygia and Achradina; the revolted people held the unwalled suburbs, already, it is plain, thickly inhabited. Thrasybulus yielded to the common action of Siceliots and Sicels. Syracuse again became a free commonwealth, and, as the effect of the tyranny had been to break down old distinctions, it was now a democratic commonwealth. Renewed freedom was celebrated by a colossal statue of Zeus Eleutherius and by a yearly feast in his honour. But when the mercenaries and other new settlers were shut out from office[814-2] new struggles arose. The mercenaries again held Ortygia and Achradina. The people now walled in the suburb of Tyche to the west of Achradina (Diod., xi. 73). The mercenaries were at last got rid of in 461. Although we hear of attempts to seize the tyranny and of an institution called petalism, like the Athenian ostracism, designed to guard against such dangers, popular government was not seriously threatened for more than fifty years. The part of Syracuse in general Sicilian affairs has been traced in the article SICILY (q.v.) ; but one striking scene is wholly local, when the defeated Ducetius took refuge in the hostile city (451), and the common voice of the people bade " spare the suppliant." We have but one solitary notice of the great military and naval strength of Syracuse in 439 (Diod., xii. 30). Yet all that we read of Syracusan military and naval action during the former part of the Athenian siege shows how Syracuse had lagged behind the cities of old Greece, constantly practised as they were in warfare both by land and sea.

Athenian siege. The Athenian siege (415-413) is of the deepest importance for the topography of Syracuse, and it throws some light on the internal politics. Hermocrates, the best of counsellors for external affairs, is suspected, and seemingly with reason, of disloyalty to the democratic constitution. Yet he is, like Nicias and Phocion, the official man, head of a board of fifteen generals, which he persuades the people to cut down to three. Athenagoras, the demagogue or opposition speaker, has the best possible exposition of democratic principles put into his mouth by Thucydides (vi. 36-40). Through the whole siege[814-2] there was a treasonable party within the city, which—for what motive we are not told— kept up a correspondence with the besiegers.

The speech of Athenagoras is that of a very clever demagogue ; it sums up very forcibly all that can be said against oligarchy, and it may have been perfectly sincere. But his views were overruled, and preparation was made in earnest for the city's defence. When the Athenian fleet under Nicias and Lamachus was at Rhegium in Italy, the question for the commanders was whether they should seek to strengthen themselves by fresh alliances on the spot or strike the blow at once. Lamachus was for immediate action, and there can hardly be a doubt that Syracuse must have fallen before a sudden attack by so formidable an armament in the summer of 415. The Syracusans were neither at unity among themselves nor by any means adequately prepared for effectual defence. Through-out the whole struggle it is perfectly clear that they owed their final deliverance to the most extraordinary good fortune. Athens had the prize within her grasp, and she lost it wholly through the persistent dilatoriness and blundering of her general, the despond-ing, vacillating Nicias. It was at his advice that the summer and autumn of 415 were frittered away and the siege not begun till the spring of 414. By that time the Syracusans were both in better spirits and better prepared : their troops were better organized, and they had built a wall from the Great Harbour to Panagia so as to screen them from attack on the side of Epipote on the north-west. The effect of this was to bar the enemy's approach and push back his blockading lines, which had to be carried over an incon-veniently large extent of ground. The Syracusans had been at first thoroughly cowed ; but they were cowed no longer, and they even plucked up courage to sally out and fight the enemy on the high ground of Epipoke. They were beaten and driven back ; but at the suggestion of Hermocrates they carried a counter-work up the slope of Epipols, which, if completed, would cut in two the Athenian lines and frustrate the blockade. At this point Nicias showed considerable military skill. The Syracusans' work was destroyed by a prompt and well-executed attack ; and a second counter-work carried across marshy ground some distance to the south of Epipolse and near to the Great Harbour was also demolished after a sharp action, in which Lamaehus fell. However, the blockade on the land side was now almost complete, and the Athenian fleet had at the same time entered the Great Harbour. The citizens began to think of surrender, and Nicias was so confident that he neglected to push his advantages. He left a gap in his lines at the point where Epipolte slopes down to the sea, and he omitted to occupy an important position on its north-western ridge, known as Euryalus, a pass which commanded on this side the approach to the city from the interior.

The second act of the drama may be said to open with the irretrievable blunder of Nicias in letting the Spartan Gylippus first land in Sicily, and then march at the head of a small army, partly levied on the spot, across the island, and enter Syracuse by way of Epipolsa, through the Euryalus pass. Gylippus was felt to be the representative of Sparta, and of the Peloponnesian Greeks generally, and his arrival inspired the Syracusans with the fullest confidence. Just before his arrival a few ships from Corinth had made their way into the harbour with the news that a great fleet was already on its way to the relief of the city. The tables were now completely turned, and we hear of nothing but defeat and disaster for the besiegers till their final overthrow. The military skill of Gylippus enabled the Syracusan militia to meet the Athenian troops on equal terms, to wrest from them their fortified position on Plemmyrium, and to reduce them to such a plight that, as Nicias said in his despatch to Athens towards the close of 414, they were themselves besieged rather than besieging. In the spring of the following year Syracuse once again gave herself up for lost, when seventy-three warships from Athens, under Demosthenes, entered the harbour with a large force of heavy infantry and light troops. Demosthenes decided at once to make a grand attack on Epipolse, with a view to recovering the Athenian block-ading lines and driving the Syracusans back within the city walls. The assault was made by night, by the uncertain light of the moon, and this circumstance turned what was very nearly a successful surprise into a ruinous defeat. The affair seems to have been well planned up to a certain point, and well executed ; but the Athenian van, flushed with a first success, their ranks broken and disordered by a pursuit of the enemy over rough ground, were repulsed with great loss by a body of heavy armed Boeotians, and driven back in disorder. The confusion spread to the troops behind them, and the action ended in a wild flight through the narrow roads and passes of Epipoke. The army was now thoroughly out of heart, and Demosthenes was for at once breaking up the camp, embarking the troops, and sailing back to Athens. But Nicias could not bring himself to face the Athenian people at home, nor could he be prevailed on to retire promptly to some position on the coast, such as Catana or Thapsus, where the army would be at least able to maintain itself for a time. He dallied till the end of August, many weeks after the defeat, and on the 27th of that month was an eclipse of the moon, on the strength of which he insisted on a delay of almost another month. His fleet too lingered uselessly in the harbour, till, after a frantic effort to break out and a desperate conflict, it was utterly defeated and half destroyed. The broken and demoralized army, its ranks thinned by fever and sickness, at last began its hopeless retreat in the face of the numerous Syracusan cavalry, and, after a few days of dreadful suffering, was forced to lay down its arms. The Syracusans sullied the glory of their triumph by huddling their prisoners into their stone-quarries,—a living death, dragged out, for some of them at least, to the space of seventy days.

Diocles and Hermocrates. Her great deliverance and victory naturally stirred up the energies of Syracuse at home and abroad. Syracusan ships under Hermocrates now play a not unimportant part in the warfare between Sparta and Athens on the coast of Asia. Under the influence of Diocles the constitution became a still more confirmed democracy, some at least of the magistracies being filled by lot, as at Athens (Diod., xiii. 31, 35; Arist., Pol., v. 3-6). Diodes appears also as the author of a code of laws of great strictness, which was held in such esteem that later lawgivers were deemed only its expounders. There seems no reason to suppose, with Holm, an earlier lawgiver Diocles distinct from the demagogue; but the story of his death by his own hand to punish a breach of his own law is, we may suspect, a repetition of the story of Charondas (Diod., xiii. 33 ; cf. xii. 19). Under these influences Hermocrates was banished in 409 ; he submitted to the sentence, notwith-standing the wishes of his army. He went back to Sicily, warred with Carthage on his own account, and brought back the bones of the unburied Syracusans from Himera, but was still so dreaded that the people banished Diocles without restoring him. In 407 he was slain in an attempt to enter the city, and with him was wounded one who was presently to outstrip both rivals.

Dionysius tne Elder. This was Dionysius, son of another Hermocrates, and an adherent of the aristocratic party, but soon afterwards a demagogue, though supported by some men of rank, among them the historian Philistus (Diod., xiii. 91, 92). By accusing the generals engaged at Gela in the war against Carthage, by obtaining the restoration of exiles, by a variety of tricks played at Gela itself, he secured his own election, first as one of the generals, then as sole general (or with a nominal colleague) with special powers. He next, by another trick, procured from a military assembly at Leontini a vote of a bodyguard; he hired mercenaries and in 406-5 came back to Syracuse as tyrant of the city (Diod., xiii. 91-96). Dionysius kept his power till his death thirty-eight years later (367). But it was wellnigh overthrown before he had fully grasped it. His defeat before Gela (see SICILY, p. 18) was of course turned against him. His enemies in the army, chiefly the horsemen, reached Syracuse before him, plundered his house—he had not yet a fortress —and horribly maltreated his wife; but they took no political or military steps against himself. He came and took his vengeance, slaying and driving out his enemies, who established themselves at Aetna (Diod., xiii. 113). This revolution and the peace with the Carthaginians confirmed Dionysius in the possession of Syracuse, but of no great territory beyond, as Leontini was again a separate city. It left Syracuse the one great Hellenic city of Sicily, which, however enslaved at home, was at least independent of the barbarian. Dionysius was able, like Gelon, though with less success and less honour, to take up the part of the champion of Hellas.

Quarters of the city. During the long tyranny of Dionysius the city grew greatly in size, population, and grandeur. Plato says (Epist., vii.) that he gathered all Sicily into it. In fact the free Greek cities and communities, in both Sicily and southern Italy, were sacrificed to Syracuse ; there the greatness and glory of the Greek world in the West were concentrated. The mass of the population of Gela and Camarina in the disastrous year 405 had, at the prompting of Dionysius, taken refuge at Syracuse. Gela had in the previous year received the fugitive inhabitants of Acragas (Agrigentum), which had been sacked by the Carthaginians. Syracuse thus absorbed three of the chief Greek cities of Sicily. It received large accessions from some of the Greek cities of southern Italy, from Hipponium on its west and Caulonia on its east coast, both of which Dionysius captured in 389 B.C. There had also been an influx of free citizens from Rhegium. At the time of the Athenian siege Syracuse consisted of two quarters—the Island and the " outer city " of Thucydides, generally known as Achradina, and bounded by the sea on the north and east, with the adjoining suburb of Apollo Temenites farther inland at the foot of the southern slopes of Epipola;. With the vast increase in its population, it now grew into a city of four quarters. The suburb Temenites was expanded into Neapolis (New Town), spreading over the adjoining slopes. A district stretching down to the sea, to the north-west of Achra-dina, was taken in, and subsequently enlarged into a separate fortified town. Tyche (Tyche [Gk.]) was the name given to this quarter, according to Cicero (In Verr., iv. 52, 53) from an old temple of Fortune somewhere within its limits,—a fact which seems to indicate that the spot must have been inhabited in very early times. But of this Thucydides says nothing, and his silence on a point which would have naturally entered into his description of the Athenian blockading operations is somewhat perplexing. This quarter was in Cicero's time the most populous part of the entire city ; it was practically secured by the new city walls, which were drawn inland in a triangular form so as to enclose the hill of Epipolse, the apex of the triangle being the fortress of Euryalus, the remains of which are said to be the most perfect existing specimen of ancient fortification. Syracuse was now secure on the land side. The Island (Ortygia) had been provided with its own defences, converted in fact into a separate stronghold, with a fort to serve specially as a magazine of corn, and with a citadel or acropolis which stood apart, and might be held as a last refuge. Dionysius, to make himself perfectly safe, drove out a number of the old inhabitants and turned the place into barracks for his soldiers, lie himself living in the citadel. For any unpopularity he may have thus incurred he seems to have made up by his great works for the defence of the city ; these were executed under the direction of the most skilful engineers, and are said to have found employment for 60,000 men. The new lines covered an extent of 3 1/2 miles, and were constructed of huge well-cut blocks of stone from the neighbouring quarries. Each quarter of the city had its own distinct defences, and Syracuse was now the most splendid and the best fortified of all Greek cities. Its naval power, too, was vastly increased ; the docks were enlarged ; and 200 new warships were built. Besides the triremes, or vessels with three banks of oars, we hear of quadriremes and quinqueremes with four and five banks of oars,—larger and taller and more massive ships than had yet been used in Greek sea warfare. The fleet of Dionysius was the most pow-erful in the Mediterranean. It w-as doubtless fear and hatred of Carthage, from which city the Greeks of Sicily had suffered so much, that urged the Syracusans to acquiesce in the enormous expenditure which they must have incurred under the rule of Dionysius. Much too was done for the beauty of the city as well as for its strength and defence. Several new temples were built, and gymnasia erected outside the walls near the banks of the Anapus (Diod., xv. 13).

Dionysius the Younger. "Fastened by chains of adamant" was the boastful phrase in which Dionysius described his empire; but under his son the younger Dionysius, an easy, good-natured, unpractical man, a sort of cleverish dilettante, a reaction set in amongst the restless citizens of Syracuse, which, with its vast and mixed population, must have been full of elements of turbulence and faction. But the burdensome expenditure of the late reign would be enough to account for a good deal of discontent.

Dion. A remarkable man now comes to the front,—Dion, the friend and disciple of Plato, and for a time the trusted political adviser of Dionysius, whom he endeavoured to impress with a conviction of the infinite superiority of free and popular government to any form of tyranny or despotism. Dion's idea seems to have been to make Dionysius something like a constitutional sovereign, and with this view he brought him into contact with Plato. All went well for a time; but Dionysius had those about him who were opposed to any kind of liberal reform, and the result was the banishment of Dion from Syracuse as a dangerous innovator. Ten years afterwards, in 357, the exile entered Achradina a victor, welcomed by the citizens as a deliverer both of themselves and of the Greeks of Sicily generally. As yet, however, this was the only part of the city gained. A siege and blockade, with confused fighting and alternate victory and defeat, and all the horrors of fire and slaughter, followed, till Dion made himself master of the mainland city. Ortygia, however, was still held by Dionysius ; but, provisions failing, it also was soon surrendered. Dion's rule lasted only three years, for he perished in 354 by the hand of a Syracusan assassin. It was, in fact, after all his professions, little better than a military despotism. The tyrant's stronghold in the Island was left standing, and Dion actually opposed a proposal for its destruction. The man who won immense popularity by the proposal was murdered, and Dion seems to have been an accomplice in the crime.

Of what took place in Syracuse during the next ten years we know but little. The younger Dionysius came back and from his island fortress again oppressed the citizens; the plight of the city, torn by faction and conflicts and plundered by foreign troops, was so utterly wretched that all Greek life seemed on the verge of extinction (Plato, Epist., viii.). Sicily, too, was again menaced by Carthage.

Timoleon. Syracuse, in its extremity, asked help from the mother-city, Corinth; and now appears on the scene one of the noblest figures in Greek history, TIMOLEON (q.v.). To him Syracuse owed her deliverance from the younger Dionysius and from the rule of despots, and to him both Syracuse and the Sicilian Greeks owed a decisive triumph over Carthage and the safe possession of Sicily west of the river Halycus, the largest portion of the island. From 343 to 337 he was supreme at Syracuse, with the hearty goodwill of the citizens. The younger Dionysius had been allowed to retire to Corinth; his island fortress was destroyed and replaced by a court of justice. Syracuse rose again out of her desolation—grass, it is said, grew in her streets—and, with an influx of a multitude of new colonists from Greece and from towns of Sicily and Italy, once more became a prosperous city. Timoleon, having accomplished his work, accepted the position of a private citizen, though, practically, to the end of his life he was the ruler of the Syracusan people. After his death (337) a splendid monument, with porticoes and gymnasia surrounding it, known as the Timoleonteum, was raised at the public cost to his honour.

Agathocles. In the interval of twenty years between the death of Timoleon and the rise of Agathocles to power another revolution at Syracuse transferred the government to an oligarchy of 600 leading citizens. All we know is the bare fact. It was shortly after this revolution, in 317, that Agathocles with a body of mercenaries from Campania and a host of exiles from the Greek cities, backed up by the Carthaginian Hamilcar, who was in friendly relations with the Syracusan oligarchy, became tyrant or despot of the city, assuming subsequently, on the strength of his successes against Carthage, the title of king. Syracuse passed through another reign of terror; the new despot proclaimed himself the champion of popular government, and had the senate and the heads of the oligarchical party massacred wholesale. This man of blood seems to have had popular manners, and to have known how to flatter and cajole, for a unanimous vote of the people gave him absolute control over the fortunes of Syracuse. His wars in Sicily and Africa left him time to do something for the relief of the poorer citizens at the expense of the rich, as well as to erect new fortifications and public buildings; and under his strong government Syracuse seems to have been at least quiet and orderly. After his death in 289 comes another miserable and obscure period of revolution and despotism, in which Greek life was dying out; and but for the brief intervention of Pyrrhus in 278 Syracuse, and indeed all Sicily, would have fallen a prey to the Carthaginians.

Hiero II. A better time began under Hiero II., who had fought under Pyrrhus and who rose from the rank of general of the Syracusan army to be tyrant—king, as he came to be soon styled—about 270. During his reign of over fifty years, ending probably in 216, Syracuse enjoyed tranquillity, and seems to have grown greatly in wealth and population. Hiero's rule was kindly and enlightened, combining good order with a fair share of liberty and self-government, His financial legislation was careful and considerate; his laws1 as to the customs and the corn tithes were accepted and maintained under the Roman govern-ment, and one of the many bad acts of the notorious Verres, according to Cicero, was to set them aside (Cic, In Verr., ii. 13 ; iii. 8). It was a time too for great public works,— works for defence at the entrance of the Lesser Harbour between the Island and Achradina, and temples and gymnasia. Hiero through his long reign was the staunch friend and ally of Rome in her struggles with Carthage; but his paternal despotism, under which Greek life and civilization at Syracuse had greatly flourished, was unfortunately succeeded by the rule of a man who wholly reversed his policy.

Hieronymus. Hieronymus, the grandson of Hiero, thought fit to ally himself with Carthage; he did not live, however, to see the mischief he had done, for he fell in a conspiracy which he had wantonly provoked by his arrogance and cruelty. There was a fierce popular outbreak and more bloodshed : the conspirators were put to death and Hiero's family was murdered; whilst the Carthaginian faction, under the pretence of delivering the city from its tyrants, got the upper hand and drew the citizens into open defiance of Rome. Marcellus was then in command of the Roman ' army in Sicily, and he threatened the Syracusans with attack unless they would get rid of Epicycles and Hippocrates, the heads of the anti-Roman faction. Epicycles did his best to stir up the citizens of Leontini against Rome and the Roman party at Syracuse. Marcellus therefore struck his first blow at Leontini, which was quickly stormed; and the tale of the horrors of the sack was at once carried to Syracuse and roused the anger of its population, who could not but sympathize with their near neigh-bours, Greeks like themselves. The general feeling was now against any negotiations with the Roman general, and, putting themselves under Epicydes and Hippocrates, they closed their gates on him.

Siege by Marcellus. Marcellus, after an unsucessful attempt to negotiate, began the siege in regular form (214 B.C.) by both land and sea, establishing a camp on Polichne, where stood the old temple of Olympian Zeus; but he made his chief assault on the northern side and on the defences of Tyche, particularly at the Hexapylum, the entrance facing Megara and Leontini. His assault sea-wards was made mainly on Achradina, but the city was defended by a numerous soldiery and by what seem to have been still more formidable, the ingenious contrivances of Archimedes, whose engines dealt havoc among the Roman ships, and frustrated the attack on the fortifications on the northern slopes of Epipolae (Liv., xxiv. 34). Marcellus had recourse to a blockade, but Carthaginian vessels from time to time contrived to throw in supplies. At length treachery began to work within. Information was given him in the spring of 212 (two years from the commencement of the siege) that the Syracusans were celebrating a great festival to Artemis; making use of this opportunity, he forced the Hexapylum entrance by night and established himself in Tyche and on the heights of Epipolae. The strong fortress of Euryalus held out for a time, but, being now isolated, it soon had to surrender. The "outer" and the "inner city" of Thucydides still held out, whilst a Carthaginian fleet was moored off Achradina and Carthaginian troops were encamped on the spot. But a pestilence broke out in the autumn of 212, which swept them clean away, and thinned the Roman ranks. The ships sailed away to Carthage; on their way back to Syracuse with supplies they could not get beyond Cape Pachynus owing to adverse winds, and they were confronted by a Roman fleet. All hope for the city being now at an end, the Syracusans threw themselves on the mercy of Marcellus ; but Achradina and the Island still held out for a brief space under the Syracusan mercenaries, till one of their officers, a Spaniard, betrayed the latter position to the enemy, and at the same time Achradina was carried and taken. Marcellus gave the city up to plunder (Liv., xxv. 31), and the art treasures in which it was so rich— many of the choicest of them no doubt—wene conveyed to Rome. From this time art seems to have become quite fashionable in certain Roman circles. Archimedes perished in the confusion of the sack, while he was calmly pursuing his studies (Liv., xxv. 31).

Under Rome. Syracuse was now simply one of the provincial cities of Rome's empire, and its history is henceforward merged in that of Sicily. It retained much of its Greek character and many of its finest public buildings, even after the havoc wrought by Marcellus. Its importance and historic associations naturally marked it out as the residence of the Roman praetor or governor of Sicily. Cicero often speaks of it as a particularly splendid and beautiful city, as still in his own day the seat of art and culture (Tusc., v. 66 ; De Deor. Nat., iii. 81 ; De Rep., i. 21), and in his speeches against Verres (iv. 52, 53) he gives an elaborate description of its four quarters (Achradina, Neapolis, Tyche, the Island), or rather the four cities which composed it. It seems to have suffered in the civil wars at the hands of Sextus Pompeius, the son of the triumvir, who for a short time was master of Sicily ; to repair the mischief, new settlers were sent by Augustus in 21 B.C., and established in the Island and in the immediately adjoining part of Achradina (Strabo, vi. 270, ed. Kramer). It is in these districts that the remains of Roman works— of amphitheatres and other public buildings—are mainly to be traced. We hear nothing of any importance about Syracuse during the period of the empire. It had its own senate and its own magistrates. Caius Caligula restored its decayed walls and some of its famous temples (Suetonius, Caius, 21). Tacitus, in a passing mention of it (Ann., xiii. 49), says that permission was granted to the Syracusans under Nero to exceed the prescribed number of gladiators in their shows. Hence the city by that time must have been provided with an amphitheatre. In the 4th century it is named by the poet Ausonius in his Ordo Nobilium Urbium, chiefly, perhaps, on the strength of its historic memories.

Modern town. Modern Syracuse is confined to the island of Ortygia, and is only about 2 1/2 miles in circumference. The island is irregularly oval in shape, and extends from north to south on the east side of the fine natural harbour, the Porto Grande (Magnus Portus). On the north it is connected with the mainland by a dyke or narrow isthmus, and between the southern extremity and the opposite peninsula of Massolivieri, the ancient Plemmyrium, there is a stretch of 1300 yards, forming the entrance to the harbour. The approach to the town from the mainland is defended by a dilapi-dated citadel of the time of Charles V., and the southern extremity is occupied by a castle named after George Maniaces, the last Byzantine general by whom it was held in the 11th century before it fell into the hands of the Saracens. The town is further defended by walls with bastions. The streets are in general narrow, and their chief feature consists in their numerous convents with wooden-latticed windows. One tolerably wide and handsome street crosses the island from east to west. Besides the fortifications, the principal objects of interest are the cathedral of Santa Maria delle Colonne (the ancient temple of Minerva), adjoining which is the archiépiscopal residence ; the archaeological museum, the finest works preserved in which are a statue of Venus in Parian marble and a colossal head of Zeus ; and the fountain of Arethusa, which still bubbles up as clear and abundant as ever on the west side of the island. Its waters, however, are no longer drinkable, an earthquake in 1170 having allowed the sea water to become mingled with them. From the neighbourhood of this fountain a favourite promenade extends northwards along the shore of the Porto Grande.

Syracuse has been a place of little importance since the year 878, when it was destroyed by the Saracens under Ibrahim ibn Ahmed. Since that date the mainland portion of the city has never been rebuilt. Syracuse is the seat of an archbishop, and since 1865 has been the capital of a province, which takes its name from the town. The inhabitants manufacture drugs and other chemical articles, earthenware, &c, and carry on a considerable trade, principally in wine. In 1885 785 vessels of 21,818 tons entered the port and 778 vessels of 21,480 tons cleared. At Syracuse Admiral de Ruyter died in 1676 after his defeat by the French at Agosta. The population in 1881 was 21,157.

See Hare, Cities of Southern Italy and Sicily (London, 1883).


813-1 See Plut., Amat. Narr. 2.

813-2 See Pind., Nem., i.1, and the scientific discussions in Strabo, vi. 2, p. 270; also Pausanias, v.7, 2-4.

813-3 Hugo Falc., ed. Murat., vii. 362; Luma, Sicilia sotto Guglielmo il Buono, 117.

814-1 Diod., xi. 72; cf. Arist., Pol., v.3, 10, and Grote's note, v. 319.

814-2 The chief authorities for the siege are Thucydides (bks. vi. and vii.), Diodorus (bk. xiii), and Plutarch, Life of Nicias.

817-1 The laws of Hiero are often mentioned with approval in Cicero's Speeches against Verres.

817-2 Statues and pictures are particularized by Livy, xxv. 40.

817-3 The poets Theocritus and Moschus were Syracusans

817-4 Local self-government, in fact, like most of the Greek cities.

The above article was written by: Rev. W. J. Brodribb, G. G. Chisolm, etc.

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