Casting Through Ancient Greece

38: The Greek Periphery, Sicily

September 10, 2021 Mark Selleck Season 1 Episode 38
Casting Through Ancient Greece
38: The Greek Periphery, Sicily
Show Notes Transcript

38: The Greek Periphery, Sicily

The prehistory of Sicily, well before the Greeks arrived is still to this day shrouded in some mystery. We are left with a written tradition from a number of Greek writer but they were writing about a past some thousand years before their time. Modern attempts at understanding this period are even debated, which leaves us with our best guesses based off of what is found in modern research and what the ancients say.

The Island of Sicily west of Greek lands would come into the Greek periphery as the Mediterranean was emerging out of the Dark Ages. Trade would once again begin to flow from the west as it had done during the Bronze Age to the Mycenaeans. Though, with the collapse of the Bronze Age much of this trade would be disrupted as various civilisations went into decline or disappeared completely.

Though, as trade began increasing, more Greek cities would have been setting up their own trading connections at Sicily. Eventually, the various Greek city states would send out expeditions to found colonies on the island. This would provide relief with the over population problem that was beginning to occur in some of the larger cities, while also opening up more markets to the Greek mainland.

The Greeks were not the only people present on Sicily, with it home to three separate indigenous cultures according to the written tradition. Also present was that of the Phoenicians, a civilisation originating in the Levant and the founders of the famous city of Carthage. They were also engaging in trade and establishing their own colonies. All these different peoples would for the most past during the 8th century BC, co-exist peacefully, but as time went on and more colonies emerged, interests would start to be encroached upon.

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Episode 38

The Greek Periphery: Sicily


“The first island we shall speak about will be Sicily, since it is both the richest of the islands and holds first place in respect of the great age of the myths related concerning it.”[1]

Diodorus of Sicily


Hello, I’m Mark Selleck and welcome back to Casting Through Ancient Greece, Episode 38: The Greek Periphery, Sicily 

We recently left the narrative of the series at the end of the Greek and Persian Wars, we then looked a little closer at the man who had been our main contemporary souse on the period, Herodotus. I feel we have covered both areas with a good amount of detail and I hope the journey so far has been an entertaining one to follow along with. At this point I want to now cast our way back a little to look at the wider Greek world, where we will focus on a few areas in more detail. The Greek world can be complicated to follow along with in a linear fashion due to it not being consigned to one geographical area. A great wealth of our knowledge does focus on the central Greek world that is told from a point of view with Athens and Sparta at the centre. This has come about through good reasons though, as they were the most powerful and influential Greek city states involved in the great events of the Classical Age. Though, we are now going to shift our focus to the periphery of the Greek world, not all of it, but to a few regions that will come to take on more importance as the narrative of the central Greek world continues. We will look back into the earliest known histories of these regions and bring them up to a point where we left the central Greek world. We will look at them in their own right, in how they would develop over the ages and what was taking place within them. We will also see how they would interact with central Greece as their interests and circumstances would see them become part of the Greek world.

I have drawn out a rough outline of the areas I would like to cover in this survey of the Greek Periphery over the next few episodes. I want to begin in the west in what the Romans would later call Magna Graecia, or greater Greece, encompassing the many Greek city states that would dot southern Italy, with a greater focus on the island of Sicily. Here we will spend the next 2 episodes, where we will also look at the peoples that would develop in the Levant, but who would come to have much interaction in the Greek world, the Phoenicians. They would become intertwined in the trading activities and colonies of the Greeks with the development of their own networks and colonies. We will then head north of central Greece, looking at the lands that seemed to host a great number of different tribes loosely connected, but often waring against one another. These would be the lands of Macedonia and Thrace, with a connection to the other Greeks from previous Indo-European migrations that had filtered down through these lands. Macedon in its later times would come to control the Greek world and spread it further than ever before thanks to Alexander the Great and his campaign east. We will then end with a region that has featured in our story so far, this being Ionia, along the Anatolian coast. Though, we will have a greater focus on their development through colonisation from Greek lands, their history in their own context and a focus on one of the most important Ionian cities, Miletus.

With this survey of the periphery done we will then be in a good position to pick back up the narrative where we left the Greeks having defeated the Persian invasions. This, opening a new era in Greek history where decisions and events would see the Greek world advance towards a disastrous war within itself. But let’s now begin our look at the wider Greek world with our look west at Sicily.   



Sicily and southern Italy would become ingrained into the Greek world as the Greeks were emerging out of the dark ages and into the Archaic Age. With the increases in population on the mainland and many cities inability to provide for such growth, a popular solution was to send out expeditions to establish new colonies in other lands. Sicily and the areas around would be one of the earliest places to see these colonies develop and over the next couple of centuries it would also see one of the highest concentrations of Greek colonies. Many of the mother cities in Greece would be able to draw ties to the colonies dotted throughout. It was also clear that trade had been taking place even earlier during Mycenaean times with much Mycenaean pottery found in Bronze Age settlements on the island. These connections stretching back to a time of Bronze and Heroes would also see Sicily enter into a deep remembered past recounted through Greek Mythology.   

It was here that one version of the story of how the seasons came about would develop. It would be told that it was in Sicily that Persephone, goddess of spring and nature, would by abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld. Her mother Demeter, goddess of the harvest and agriculture would search for her daughter everywhere and in her search the earth would be neglected with its crops failing to grow. Once learning of her fate and the cries from the hungry people of the earth, Zeus would be convinced to intervene, forcing his brother Hades to return Persephone. Before returning her Hades would trick her into eating a number of pomegranate seeds, a condition of her release had been that she did not taste the food of the underworld. The amount of seeds she ate would see her having to return to the underworld for a period of time, the winter months.[2]

In the Odyssey, Odysseys encounter with Polyphemus the cyclopes took place on Sicily, where he would use trickery to escape. Polyphemus would hurl 3 great boulders at the fleeing Odysseys and his men which now lay off the east coast north of Syracuse, known as the rocks or islands on the Cyclopes. It could even be argued that Polyphemus the cyclopes, a giant, one eyed monster and son of Poseidon the earth shaker, was looking back to a connection with the natural world. Polyphemus being Mount Etna the Volcano on the island. The connection with Sicily and Odysseus would continue with his close shave with the sea monster Charybdis and Scylla as his ship passed through the straits of Messina, the narrow stretch of water separating Sicily from southern Italy.

Here we can see some deep rooted connections to the Island of Sicily and the Greeks with it intertwined with many aspects of their traditional tales of the long remembered past. Now, let more on to looking at the physical island of Sicily and the early signs of human habitation.


I think we might begin with what the Greek historian Polybius writes in his histories in the 2nd century BC of the island in his time. 

“Sicily, then, lies towards Southern Italy very much in the same relative position as the Peloponnese does to the rest of Greece. The only difference is that the one is an island, the other a peninsula; and consequently, in the former case there is no communication except by sea, in the latter there is a land communication also. The shape of Sicily is a triangle, of which the several angles are represented by promontories: that to the south jutting out into the Sicilian Sea is called Pachynus; that which looks to the north forms the western extremity of the Straits of Messene and is about twelve stades from Italy, its name is Pelorus; while the third projects in the direction of Libya itself, and is conveniently situated opposite the promontories which cover Carthage, at a distance of about a thousand stades: it looks somewhat south of due west, dividing the Libyan from the Sardinian Sea, and is called Lilybaeum.[3]

Further to what Polybius writes, Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean with much of its interior dominated by hilly terrain. From here a number of rivers begin and most flow out into the sea at the southern coastline.  At the north of the island the mountain ranges are an extension of the Apennines throughout the Italian peninsular. The Island of Sicily itself has as one of its most notable landmarks the active volcano Mount Etna on the eastern coast at over 3.300 meters in height. Surrounding the island are a number of other much smaller islands with a number also exhibiting volcanic activity. Being in the Meditereanean, the climate experienced on the island is very similar to that of Greece, with mild wet winters and hot dry summers. 


So, with the physical world of Sicily looked at, lets now turn to the human world of the island and where humans seem to enter the picture. 

As with the early habitation of any land the details are extremely murky and only based off of very limited Archaeological evidence. Though with that said it seems the very first signs of human habitation seem to date back to over 500,000 years ago on the island, but these humans were not Homo Sapiens, our closest relative. This period in Sicily’s past has much debate around what was happing and when things were happing, but for now it appears some type of human species had existed deep in its past before the emergence of Homo Sapiens.

Fast forward a few hundred thousand years and we are faced with a theory that explains the habitation of the island by modern human beings, but this is also hotly debated. This revolves around what is known as the Aurignacian period, explaining the dispersal of Homo Sapiens throughout Europe. This is supposed to have taken place between around 40,000 BC to 20,000 BC and connects to the out of Africa theory that saw Homo Sapiens emerge onto the world stage. This period would see these population come into contact with another of our distant relatives, the Neanderthals. The Neanderthals were the dominate human species through Europe and the Near East before Homo Sapiens arrive. This 20,000 year period is then sought to explain the disappearance of the Neanderthals and replacement by Homo Sapiens. The general theory here, being that Homo Sapiens had a greater ability to organise in larger social groups which eventually overwhelmed the smaller groups of Neanderthals. Though, it appears this was done through a mixture of violent and peaceful means like with later movements of peoples throughout history. To this day we have evidence of interbreeding between the two groups as the majority of people with a European or Near eastern origin retain somewhere around 3% Neanderthal DNA. Anyway this migration of modern humans through Europe is then thought to have spread from mainland Europe and then to the islands of the Mediterranean, with Sicily perhaps being one of the first. 

Some cave art found at the Addaura caves at the north of the island, just outside modern day Palermo seem to connected to this migration period. This art has been connected to the same culture that did the famous rock art at the Lascaux in France. There are many examples of this culture throughout Europe with it being known collectively as Magdalenian. The example of Sicily is thought to date right at the end of this period, somewhere around 11,000 BC. The art depicts various different animals as well as a scene of over a dozen people appearing to be a part of some sort of ritual sacrifice. The majority of the people are in dance like poses while 2 are bound and appear to be overseen by shamans.

Though its not until later that we start to get names of different cultural groups in the literary tradition that are thought to have inhabited Sicily. With much of this coming from the ancient writers, Thucydides, Strabo and Diodorus to name a few. 

Early settlements:

The earliest of these people that can be pointed to are thought to be the Sicani. Thucydides talks of them being the earliest known race to inhabit the island but he also talks of an earlier people originally occupying Sicily but he can’t point to who they actually were. He says;

“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; but I cannot tell of what race they were, or from where they came or to where they went, and must leave my readers to what the poets have said of them and to what may be generally known concerning them”.[4]

He then continues on with how the Sicani or Sicanians came to occupy Sicily;

“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. [5]

Its also worthwhile to note although Thucydides has them originating in Iberia, it has often also been proposed in modern times that the Sicani may well have been an Illyrian tribe originally from the Balkan’s area north of Greek lands. This also fits in with migrations of Indo-Europeans that were taking place although different areas. It can’t be shown that the Sicani were of Indo-European origin since their langue has yet to be classified but they well could have been displaced by Indo-European migrations into their original home lands. 

We must also point out that even in ancient times, Historians were not in agreement on the origins of the Sacani as we can see from what Diodorus writes; 

“We must now write briefly about the Sicani who were the first inhabitants of Sicily, in view of the fact that certain historians are not in agreement about this people. Philistus,18 for instance, says that they removed from Iberia and settled the island, having got the name they bore from a certain river in Iberia named Sicanus, but Timaeus adduces proof of the ignorance of this historian and correctly declares that they were indigenous; and inasmuch as the evidences he offers of the antiquity of this people are many, we think that there is no need for us to recount them”.

So, at the present time it appears the Sicani are the first defining group of peoples we can point to on the earliest habitation of a culture on Sicily, but they would not be the only peoples to occupy the island more would follow.

Another people that we hear of are known as the Elymi, now if you’re trying to wrap your head around the time frame here, things are very murky. Although it appears the Sicani may have come to the island around this 11,000 or so period, it isn’t sure when the Elymi arrived. The Archaeological record can’t even distinguish between the two peoples, with them appearing to be culturally the same. What dose distinguish them is what appears in the literary tradition and this appears to be around the end of the Bronze Age, perhaps the 12th century BC. We find Thucydides saying;

“On the fall of Ilium, 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. With them settled some of the Phocians carried on their way from Troy by a storm, first to Libya, and afterwards from there to Sicily”.[6]

This fits in with the common theme in epic poetry of Aeneas and the surviving Trojans of having sailed from Troy and settling in Italy. We find Virgil in the opening of the Aeneid having Aeneas and his men beginning on Sicily after their escape from Troy. Though, interestingly they would leave, be blown by a storm to Libya before eventually arriving in Italy.[7] The Aeneid also features a number of the creatures associated with Sicily such as the Cyclopes, Charybdis and Scylla that are found in Homers tale the Odyssey, but it must be noted Virgil was writing some 700 to 800 years after Homer and nearly 400 years after Thucydides. It has been often pointed out the Aeneid was Rome’s attempt to show they have a history stretching as far back as the Greeks origins. It does seem a firm tradition of the origins of the various Italian tribes existed in a literary sense before the emergence of the later Roman poetry. Although, it isn’t known for certain where Thucydides got his information on the different peoples, it has been assumed to be from the historian, Antiochus of Syracuse who wrote History of Sicily, as this has been his source on other matters regarding Sicily. Very little is known about Antiochus and only fragments of his works remain, though he had the reputation of producing accurate histories and was thought to be writing around 420 BC.   

The Elymi would end up settling the north west of Sicily establishing two main cites called Erxy and Egesta. We don’t hear of any wars between them and the Sicani, but again the archaeological record is unable to separate them from the Sicani in the late Bronze Age. Though, with the development of the Iron Age a noticeable shift toward Greek culture would develop here in the north west. Though, there would be another 3rd major group of peoples that would end up settling Sicily right at the end of the Bronze Age in the Aegean. This group was known as the Sicels and lets see what Thucyidedes says of them;

“The Sicels crossed over to Sicily from their first home Italy, fleeing from the Opicans, as tradtion says and as seems not unlikely, upon rafts, having watched till the wind steadied down the strait to make the passage; although perhaps they may have sailed over in some other way”.[8]

It is hard to pin point when the Sicels first arrived on the island of Sicily, with some evidence suggesting it being at the start of the Iron age around the 11th to 10th century. Suggestions also have the Sicels introducing iron to Sicily and therefore bring it into the Iron Age. Though, there is also the theory that the Sicels were part of the group known as the “Sea Peoples” that Egypt talks of invading their lands at the end of the Bronze Age. The name the Egyptians use is Shekelesh[9] which has been connected to the Sicels of Sicily. If this is the case then it would show the Sicels had been established on Sicily before around 1200 BC, though obviously a great many still remained on the island since they would become the dominate group to inhabit Sicily into the Iron Age. What has also been suggested is that the Sicels were of Indo-European origins, which would have most likely seen their linguistic origins at least stretching as far back as 3000 BC to the Danube Valley or Carpathian Basin. These areas had been the result of earlier migrations from the east, with these areas moving forward being seen to give rise to a number of languages that would develop throughout Europe.[10] 

With the arrival of the Sicels we hear through both Thucydides and Diodorus that wars had erupted between the them and the Sicanians. These wars would end up resulting in the boarders that the Greeks were aware of once they arrived on Sicily with their colonies later. Thucydides says of the Sicels;

“These went with a great host to Sicily, defeated the Sicanians in battle and forced them to withdraw to the south and west of the island, which thus came to be called Sicily instead of Sicania”.[11]

Diodorus is then pretty much in agreeance on this point when he says;

“And since the Siceli steadily grew more avaricious and kept ravaging the land which bordered on theirs, frequent wars arose between them and the Sicani, until at last they struck covenants and set up boundaries, upon which they agreed, for the territory.”[12]


Though having gone through all that we have said above with regards to the three separate groups, there is another thought that has developed and become popular in more recent times. This basically looks at all three of these groups essentially being the same people arriving around the time that the Sicani arrived, perhaps 1600 BC. This would then have seen an indigenous culture present on the island before their arrival as Thucydides suggests. It is then thought that rather than separate migrations resulting in different cultures, it was outside influences that saw different cultures develop. The original Sicani culture being merged with outside contacts which would see a new recognisable culture develop. These outside influences may have only had a connection to one part of the island which is why three distinct cultures would emerge. The limited amount of DNA evidence that has come from different areas of the island has probably helped give rise to this theory as there doesn’t appear to be differences between the groups from a DNA perspective. Having said this, it doesn’t completely replace what the ancient writers have said about the various Sicilian groups. It just questions the origins of each group, rather than arriving separately from different regions, the cultures developed internally within the original Sicani culture. One could still even argue that the cultures had arrived from different lands at different times, but the people that would become tied to them had always inhabited the island.

But again with much of the early history of Sicily the details are very hazy and much debate still takes place around these matters. Our earliest knowledge about these people’s origins comes from Greek writers who were writing about Sicily well after the establishment of them. Eventually the Greeks themselves would come to Sicily and would establish their own colonies. As things stood just before the Greeks arrival, the Siciels occupied the more prosperous eastern parts of Sicily, the Sicani the central parts, while the Elymians had their cities in the west.     


As we have seen so far, much of the early history before the Greeks arrived on Sicily is still surrounded in some mystery and debated to this day. The scripts that the early cultures of Sicily used have yet to be deciphered in any meaningful way. Though, even what had been recorded is not guaranteed to give us the information we are looking for. Even when looking at the Mycenaean’s on Greece we are only left with administrative documents such as inventories. With the arrival of Greek colonists to the island things would change, the Greeks had begun using their newly created script to record much more than lists of inventories. Homer is thought to have had his epics poems recorded around the 8th century BC. The Greeks would record their exploits and what they encountered as they went west. This would then be transmitted over time and space in a language that most of the Greek world could understand. We then find much of the information being reproduced by the later geographers and historians, of whom, some of their works survive to this day. 

Now when we talk of Greek colonies heading out to settle Sicily it wasn’t like they were arriving for the first time. Trade and perhaps even populations from Mycenaean Greek lands have had a connection to the island previously. The archaeological record has shown that Mycenaean culture has had some influence within the indigenous populations during the Bronze Age. Also, for the Greeks a few hundred years later to send out colonists they would have most likely been aware of Sicily and its lands to have even considered to engage in such an under taking. It is even quite possible with the re-emergence out of the dark ages, trade would have been taking place between the two regions. 

So why were the Greeks beginning in the 8th century, looking to establish colonies on Sicily? We briefly looked at this question way back towards the start of the series when doing our episode on the Archaic period. But it won’t hurt to refresh ourselves on the motivations for cities in Greek lands to send out colonies. After the collapse of Mycenaean Greece which was a part of the wider Bronze Age collapse, the once prosperous kingdoms had gone into decline. Most being abandoned and vanishing from the historical record. Culturally, Greek lands seems to have gone into a regression which has in some part seen this period as a dark age. Though as the generations past, the dispersed settlement and populations of the dark age period began to go through a recovery. The number of settlements began to increase and of more importance on our question, these settlements were now rapidly increasing in population. We have spoken previously on how Greek lands were not the most suited to large agricultural use, due to hilly terrain and poor soil conditions. Various larger settlements would have found a point where it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep their populations fed, with trade between other settlements for gains also not sufficient in meeting their requirements. It was unlikely that other settlements were in a position where they could produce a surplus to trade with.

Although it seems many cities that were emerging in the archaic period were engaging in trade with ports in other lands, this was not matching the level of population increase in many areas. It has been assumed that the exercise in establishing colonies was to tap into trade networks in other regions. Though, with it evident that the Greeks were already trading with many of these regions before establishing their colonies this would not be the only reason. In the short term this departure of a body of citizens would relieve pressure on the supply and demand within a city. This also worked when political troubles were at hand with in some cases, groups would be exiled to stabilise the political landscape. In the long term these new colonies would help in tapping into new markets while also potentially allowing a surplus of agricultural goods to build up since the sites for colonisation were usually chosen for their suitability in this field. This would then allow for a level of increased trade to occur with the Metropolis, or Mother city, once the colony was established. Although these colonies would be for all intense and purposes, become their own independent city, they still retained a connection to their mother cities and were expected to side with them in times of war. Though, as generations would pass a number would see this connection become weaker, which would lead to tensions, which we will see as the series continues. So, now that we have given ourselves a quick refresher let’s move onto the initial wave of Greek colonisation that would take place on Sicily.        

Greek Colonisation.   

We saw back when looking at the dark age and archaic age. That the island of Euboea off of the eastern coast of Attica seemed to have been the first region that was beginning to prosper after the Bronze Age collapse. It would be from here in the early 8th century BC that the first recorded colonies would be established as they would have been the first to experience a rapid growth in population. The first colonies to be successfully set up were in the Chalcidice and Southern Italy. With these first colonises it wasn’t long before the first expedition would be sent with Sicily as their intended target. Perhaps they had heard through their past trading connections to the island or through their southern Italian colonies of the agricultural potential. We find Diodorus recounting a poem that encapsulated the reputation of the island;

“Within this island all things grow.

Without the help of seed or plough,

As wheat and barley, with the fine,

From whence proceeds both grapes and wine,

Which with sweet showers from above 

Are brought to ripeness by great Jove.”[13]   

It would be in the year 734 that the first expedition from the city of Chalcis on Euboea would sail west towards Sicily. They would also be joined by another group from the island of Naxos, it not being uncommon for multiple cities to be a part of the same expedition. It was also normal practice for the expedition to have a leader who would be chosen by those involved, with Theocles of Chalcis leading this first journey to Sicily. The leader would generally provide a point of authority for the journey and the initial establishment of the colony. Once set up it would common for the new colony to take on a system of leadership and government similar to what was in place in the mother city. This probably being the case since it was the system the colonists would have been use to and therefore would have provided the most stable system while developing the new colony.

Theocles would end up leading his expedition to a small promontory created by lava flow from Mount Etna on the eastern coast. The colony that would be established here was called Naxos, after part of the expedition. One wonders the importance the role the element from Naxos played in the expedition since the site would be named after them, not the Euboeans, who provided the leadership and who also feature as the main element within Thucydides account.[14] Another question that has arisen, is whether this was the intended site for the colonists to have landed and established their settlement, as the area around doesn’t appear to be the most conducive for cultivation. Also, it seems to be quite a distance from other existing colonies in southern Italy which could have provided support during the colony’s establishment. Perhaps one reason for this was that they were not sailing into a vacuum, there was an indigenous population that already existed on the island. They established the city where they could, we don’t hear of any other attempts settle anywhere else initially but we do hear that once established force was used to expand and found new cities from the position of Naxos. Thucydides says;

“Meanwhile Thoucles and the Chalcidians set out from Naxos and in the fith year after the foundation of Syracues, and drove out the Sicels by arms and founded Leontini, and afterwards, Catana”.[15]     

Both of these locations were further down the eastern coast, with Leotini slightly inland, as well as, both being much more suited to agricultural activity. In my mind how this unfolded shows that the initial expedition had to settle for whatever land they could without provoking the local population. Though, once established and had consolidated themselves they were now in a position to where they could challenge for much better lands.  

So these were the early activities of the first colony to be established, but as I have already alluded to there would be more. A year after Thoucles’ expedition, another had been sent, but this time from the City of Corinth, located on the isthmus that connected the Peloponnese to the rest of Greece. They would land on the eastern coast also, but further south, where they would establish the colony of Syracuse. This city would become the dominate Greek city on the island as time passed, but for now we are just going to mention it in passing as Syracuse will play a bigger role in our next episode. 

In 729 BC we hear of yet more colonies being established, with the city of Megara setting out to establish the colony of Megara Hyblaea just north of Syracuse. We also hear of more colonists coming from Chalcis on Euboea who would establish the cities Zancle, later known as Messina and Rhegium, later Reggio. These cities would dominate the straits of Messina with one on the Sicilian side and the other on southern Italy. By 688 Rhodes and Crete would also establish a joint colony on the southern coast which would be called Gela, named after the river it was built along. Around this point would mark the end of the first wave of Greek colonisation to have swept into Sicily, Though, as we can see the Euboeans seem to have been the most active in establishing colonise in this first wave. This would not continue though, as we briefly covered some time ago, the cities on Euboea would begin to decline after the Lalintine war of the 7th century and other cities would continue to colonise Sicily in their place as new waves would come. For now though, the Greeks had established themselves only the eastern coast, also where much of the most suitable land for farming was. 

Tradition of locals and Greeks getting along?

We have seen with the examples we have spoken about that there appears to have been force used when establishing some of the colonies. In the literary tradition we also get a picture of the Sicels living peacefully alongside the Greek settlers. Though, this idea seems to be more pronounced when looking at the Greek colonies with Ionian connections, the Dorians are seen as using force more freely. This really is a generalised point of view, as with most migrations of people, there would have been circumstances that would have seen force as a viable option in being used, while in others more peaceful arrangements would have taken place. Perhaps the view of a peaceful co-existence came about after a number of colonies were already established and tensions during the initial colonisation period had died down.

Phoenicians in trading settlement before Greek’s arrival?  

Another detail we need to address briefly, is the fact that it appears the Greeks were not the only people looking to establish trade and eventually colonies on Sicily. The peoples known as the Phoenicians, originally from the lands around the Levant, had also been active throughout the Mediterranean. They would create a great many trading ports and colonies throughout the 8th and 7th century also, with the city of Carthage, being the most famous. We will be looking a little closer at the Phoenicians in our next episode as we set the scene for the conflicts that would erupt in and around Sicily as the Greeks became more established. For now though I just want to address the fact that they had also been establishing trading ports on Sicily, with it even thought they may have been present before the Greek colonies arrived. They would also establish colonies as time moved on around when the Greeks were, though they would be for the most part situated near the north west of the island. We can also see Thucydides addressing the Phoenicians presence on Sicily, where he says;

“There were also Phoenicians who occupied promontories upon the sea coasts and nearby islands for the purpose of trading with the Sicels. But when the Hellenes began to arrive in considerable numbers the Phoenicians abandoned most of their stations, and drawing together took up their abode in Motya, Solontum, and Panormus, near the Elymi, partly because they trusted their alliance with them, and also because these are the nearest points for the voyage between Carthage to Sicily”.[16]

Like I said we will look closer at the Phoenicians and Carthage in our next episode, as they would become the major opponent of the Greek city states that were developing in Sicily. I had planned to look at the Phoenicians in a separate episode but the Greeks and themselves become intertwined as the story moves forward in Sicily, so I though we would deal with them in the contexts of events as they unfolded in and around Sicily.


So, as we have seen this episode, the early history of what was happening in Sicily before the Greeks and the arrival of writing, has been a challenge to pin down with any certainty. Much of what we have talked about in this phase is still debated today. Though, we started to get a somewhat clearer picture as the Greeks began their expeditions with the aim of colonising distant lands. Sicily had been a target during this first wave of colonisation during the 8th and 7th centuries due to the known richness of its soil and potential for agriculture. Greeks from various different city states from the mainland would come to take advantage of the fertile lands while also solving the problems of over population at home. As time would move on more Greek settlers would arrive in Sicily, bolstering already established cities or intending to found new colonise. A number of the Greek Sicilian cities would also begin setting out to established new colonies themselves throughout the island, some venturing further west.

Next episode we will be turning to these activities, where we will see the further growth and development of the Greeks throughout Sicily. This would end up giving rise to the name later given to the island, Magna Graecia, Greater Greece. Though as we have seen the Greeks were not operating in a vacuum, there were others present on the island. As the Greek population grew and expanded, they would come into closer contact with the Phoenicians that were also trading and establishing cities in the region. For much of this earlier period the two managed to avoid conflict, but with the growth that would occur, interests would start to be encroached upon. We will also see a political trend begin to emerge within the Greek cities of Sicily. Much like the mainland of Greece, the cities of Sicily would also start to see the emergence of the political figure of the Tyrant during this period, though it would appear the constant threat of conflict and invasion from Carthage would provide extra motivation for these tyrannies to stay in place. I plan to continue on the development of the Greeks in Sicily covering these aspects and taking us up to the end of the period that the Greek and Persian wars were happing within Greece itself. As we will see one of the major battles that would take place in Sicily during this time could possibly have connections to Xerxes invasion of Greece in 480BC.

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For our next fortnights episode, we will be either releasing an interview I will be doing with Myke Cole, the author of The Bronze Lie, Shattering the Myth of Spartan warrior Supremacy. Or we will be moving on with part 2 of our look at Sicily with Episode 39: Sicily, Conflict and Tyrants. This will come down to when I am able to do the interview. until then take care and I look forward to bring you the next release.

[1] Diodorus 5.2
[2] Ovid, Metamorphoses 340-570
[3] Polyibius, Histories 1.42
[4] Thucydides, 6.2
[5] Thucydides, 6.2.2
[6] Thucydides, 6.2.3
[7] Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 1
[8] Thucydides, 6.2.4
[9] Great Karnack Inscription
[10] The Horse, The Wheel and Language, David W Anthony p344
[11] Thucydides, 6.2.5
[12] Diodorus 5.6.4
[13] Diodorus 5.2
[14] Thucydides 6.3
[15] Thucydides 6.3
[16] Thucydides 6.2