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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. (Go here for the beginning.)

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Sicily. Design Jona Lendering.

Thucydides 6.2

It was settled originally as follows, and the peoples that occupied it are these.

The earliest inhabitants spoken of in any part of the country are the Cyclopes and Laestrygones [1]; but I cannot tell of what race they were, or whence they came or whither they went, and must leave my readers to what the poets have said of them and to what may be generally known concerning them.

The Sicanians appear to have been the next settlers, although they pretend to have been the first of all and aborigines; but the facts show that they were Iberians, driven by the Ligurians from the river Sicanus in Iberia [2]. It was from them that the island, before called Trinacria [3], took its name of Sicania, and to the present day they inhabit the west of Sicily.

On the fall of Troy, some of the Trojans escaped from the Achaeans, came in ships to Sicily, and settled next to the Sicanians under the general name of Elymi; their towns being called Eryx and Egesta. With them settled some of the Phocians carried on their way from Troy by a storm, first to Libya, and afterwards from thence to Sicily.

The Siculians crossed over to Sicily from their first home Italy, flying from the Opicans, as tradition says and as seems not unlikely, upon rafts, having watched till the wind set down the strait [4] to effect the passage; although perhaps they may have sailed over in some other way. Even at the present day there are still Siculians in Italy; and the country got its name of Italy from Italus, a king of the Siculians.

These went with a great host to Sicily, defeated the Sicanians in battle and forced them to remove to the south and west of the island, which thus came to be called Sicily instead of Sicania, and after they crossed over continued to enjoy the richest parts of the country for near three hundred years before any Greeks came to Sicily; indeed they still hold the center and north of the island.

There were also Phoenicians living all round Sicily, who had occupied promontories upon the sea coasts and the islets adjacent for the purpose of trading with the Siculians. But when the Greeks began to arrive in considerable numbers by sea, the Phoenicians abandoned most of their stations, and drawing together took up their abode in Motya, Soloeis, and Panormus, near the Elymi, partly because they confided in their alliance, and also because these are the nearest points for the voyage between Carthage and Sicily.

to part three


Note 1:
Mythological nations, mentioned in Homer's Odyssey.

Note 2:
Of course, this can not be true. Many Greek and Roman writers accepted word similarities as evidence for migrations.

Note 3:
"The three-sided island": an Homeric name.

Note 4:
The Strait of Messina.

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