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Greek settlers on Sicily

Thucydides. Mosaic from Jerash, now in the Altes Museum Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering. Thucydides; mosaic from Jerash (Altes Museum, Berlin) The Athenian historian Thucydides (c.460-c.395) wrote the History of the Peloponnesian War, which was fought between Athens and Sparta in the years 431-404. In books 6 and 7, he describes the Athenian expedition against Sicily in the years 415-413, an act of naked imperialism that ended in disaster. Of many Athenians only a few returned.

In his account of the Sicilian war, Thucydides inserts a history of Greek settlements on Sicily, probably based on the History of Sicily by Antiochus of Syracuse, which appeared shortly after 424. The list is very important, because it is one of the few accounts of Greek colonization. Archaeologists have often used the chronological information offered by Thucydides to date the oldest deposits at Sicilian sites, which were in turn used to establish a more or less accurate chronology of Greek ceramics (especially Corinthian style pottery).

Thucydides 6.1-5 is offered here in the translation by Richard Crawley.

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Sicily. Design Jona Lendering.

Thucydides 6.1

The same winter [416/415] the Athenians resolved to sail again to Sicily, with a greater armament than that under Laches and Eurymedon [1], and, if possible, to conquer the island. (Most of them were ignorant of its size and of the number of its inhabitants, Greek and barbarian, and of the fact that they were undertaking a war not much inferior to that against the Peloponnesians. [2]) For the voyage round Sicily in a merchant ship is not far short of eight days; and yet, large as the island is, there are only three kilometers of sea to prevent its being mainland.[3]

to part two


Note 1:
An earlier Athenian expedition to the far west.

Note 2:
The Peloponnesians are Sparta and its allies. Athens had been fighting against them from 431 to 421.

Note 3:
The Strait of Messina.

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