Greek-roman period

Greek roman period (8th century BC)

Greek-roman period

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Greek roman period (8th century BC)

The Greeks came to Sicily looking for new lands and metals, and extended their own great civilization all over.
Their colonies were so prosperous that they were called Magna Graecia.
Magna means great, and probably the ancients meant that they became even greater than Greece itself.

The first Greek colony was Naxos, near to Taormina. It was founded by Greek Chalcidians from Eubea, in 735 B.C. From Naxos, they expanded to Catania, Messina and Cuma in Campania, from where they went to Naples.  In 733 B.C., some Corinthians also arrived in Syracuse.

Video about our Syracuse excursion

In 728 B.C. a few Megarians founded Megara Hyblea, North of Syracuse.
Later, they expanded to Selinunte.
In 688 B.C., Rhodians and Cretans founded the colony of Gela on the Southern coast. A hundred years later, from Gela they founded Akragas, Agrigento.

Video about our Agrigento Valley of Temples excursion

If you look at the map of Sicily, it is very easy to understand why Greeks extended to the East and Carthaginians to the West.
They both approached the island by sea. From the Ionian sea the Greeks came, as Greece is just on the other side of it.
From the South of Mediterranean Sea the Carthaginians came, as Africa is just 80 miles away.
Greeks and Carthaginians never stopped fighting among themselves, while the natives settled towards the more inland areas.


In 480 B.C. Syracuse and Agrigento combined and defeated the barbarian Carthaginians in the battle of Himera, a few miles away from Palermo.

In 409 B.C., the Carthaginians razed to the ground both Himera and Selinunte, and massacred a thousand people.
The poor Sicilians reacted against the different invaders, fighting without success. One of the many recorded insurrections was the rebellion of Sicilian Prince Ducezio, who tried to fight against the Greek oppression for more than ten years.
But he lost the battle against Syracuse and Agrigento. He offered his own life for the safety of the Sicilian people, and he was exiled to Greece in 446 B.C. Once more daring Prince Ducezio, came back to Sicily, pretending the oracle had ordered him to do so, but unfortunately he died.

For several centuries the Greek-Sicilian colonies were ruled by so-called "tyrants", a word which does not carry such a bad meaning in Greek. Some of the Tyrants were in fact very wise, but they were not able to make a common front against the Romans, who defeated both Greeks and Carthaginians. The opportunity for the Romans to get involved in Sicilian affairs came in 265 B.C., when the Mamertines of Messina asked for their help against Syracuse. And for the first time, Greeks and Carthaginians became allies against the Romans. In 264 B.C., the Roman Consul Appius Claudius liberated Messina, which became allied to Rome. But this was also the beginning of the three Punic wars between Rome and Carthage.

In 260 B.C. the Romans gained their first great victory at sea, at Milazzo. The Carthaginians, under the leadership of the great general Hamilcar Barca, went on fighting against the Romans for 23 years! Sicily of course was the battleground.
Erice was destroyed in turn by Hamilcar and by the Romans. The first Punic war ended in 241, when the Carthaginians were forced to ask the Romans for peace. And Sicily became the first Roman Province.



 Hamilcar went back to Carthage, but he never forgot the defeat he'd had to suffer.
From Africa he invaded Spain, waiting for the right moment to revenge himself.
With him was his famous son Hannibal, who swore, at the age of nine, eternal hatred against Rome. Hamilcar died in Spain in 229 B.C.

Ten years later, Hannibal conquered Sagunto, a small Spanish town allied to Rome. So, the second Punic war started. Hannibal very bravely crossed two ranges of mountains to get from Spain to Italy: first the Pyrenees, then the Alps. With an army of 20,000 soldiers, 6,00 horsemen and a few elephants, he came down to the plain of the Po river. He won several battles in Lombardy, in Emilia-Romagna and in Umbria, on the way to Rome. But he did not attack the Eternal City, and he went around it, all the way to the South.

In 216 he defeated the Romans at Canne, in Apulia. It was the most gigantic battle of ancient history: Hannibal with 45,000 men and the Romans with 86,000 men. Hannibal was the Napoleon of the moment.
He invented a very clever plan of operations, which was later studied by many Generals.
The Romans lost half of their army and it was the greatest disaster they ever suffered.

The Carthaginians went to take some rest in Capua, while awaiting new troops from Carthage. Here, the so-called "Capuan delights" made them weak.  Rome was frightened, but did not lose heart. Roman soldiers refused their pay, Roman ladies offered up their jewelry, and Roman people accepted very heavy taxations in order to pay for a new army.

 In Sicily, Syracuse was very impressed by Hannibal, who had gained victory after victory. In 215, Syracuse sent an embassy to Hannibal requesting to form an alliance with him, a serious mistake they had to pay for later. The Romans began to assault the various towns, this siege became famous when Archimedes set fire to the Roman fleet by focusing the sun’s rays, with a system of mirrors and lenses. When the Romans succeded in entering the town Archimedes did not hear a thing, so absorbed was he with his calculations. Against the will of Roman General Marcellus, a soldier killed him with his sword. After the town had fallen, 2,000 deserters were beheaded, according to the Roman law.

The Carthaginians came for help, but Hannibal did not have anybody to help him anymore. Not even his brother Hasdrubal, who was still in Spain. Actually, Hasdrubal came down from the North, but was killed by the Romans at the Metauro battle, in 207 B.C. This was the Roman revenge for their defeat in Canne. Hannibal started to retreat and very cleverly the Roman General Scipio went down to Africa to attack Carthage itself. Hannibal was quickly recalled to defend his town in Africa, but Scipio the African defeated him in 202 B.C. at Zama, near Carthage.

 At the end of the second Punic war, Rome was master of the Western Mediterranean sea.
Carthage had to yield all her fleet and all her Spanish possessions to the Romans. Moreover, she had to pay a lot of money and sign a treaty stating that she could not make any war without Roman permission. When Hannibal did not succeed in getting any help from the Macedonian King Philip V, Rome immediately attacked him too, and tried to restore freedom to Greek cities. In 196 B.C. Greece was declared independent. Meanwhile, Hannibal went for help to the King of Syria. The Romans were forced to attack him too and they defeated him twice.
The land was turned over to Pergamo and Rhodes by the Romans.

In 183 B.C. Hannibal was 77 years old. He did not want to be imprisoned by the hated Romans, and he committed suicide.
Carthage in the meantime was recovering. And when a Roman embassy with Censor Cato came back from Africa, Cato reported Carthage to be so beautiful and prosperous again, that he begun by saying the famous words: "Carthago delenda est!" he eventually came back with three figs and he warned the Romans that those beautiful figs were only three days away from Rome...
The third Punic war was on the way. The occasion this time was given by Numidian King Massinissa. He was a Roman ally, but he made several incursions into the Carthaginians’ territories. Carthage protested against the Romans without success and then declared war upon Massinissa. The treaty was broken. Carthage stated herself ready to give any satisfaction to Rome, who asked her to transfer the town inland. Of course the Carthaginians refused, and Rome sent an army of 80,000 men to Africa, under the command of Cornelio Scipio. He was defeated, and the land became a Roman province under the name of Africa.

The Greek theatre of Taormina. During the three Punic wars, Sicily became the granary of Rome, and it was governed by two Roman senators. Under Roman domination, began the latinization of the island. Several Emperors came to visit it, among them Emperor Hadrian who even climbed up Mount Etna. Beautiful villas were built, like "Villa del Casale" at Piazza Armerina. It was probably the property of a Roman Governor of 3rd century A.D., with marvellous mosaic floors, supposed to be the world’s largest.
Among the many scenes represented, the most popular one is the ladies in bikinis!Architectural activity included theatres, amphitheatres, aqueducts, bridges and roads. Sicily shared the destiny of the Roman Empire for more than 500 years. Then, the long list of invasions started again with the sack of Syracuse in 278 A.D., by the Franks.

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