Casting Through Ancient Greece

39: Sicily, Conflict & Tyrants

October 08, 2021 Mark Selleck Season 1 Episode 39
Casting Through Ancient Greece
39: Sicily, Conflict & Tyrants
Show Notes Transcript

39: Sicily, Conflict & Tyrants

The wave of Greek colonisation taking place in the 8th and 7th centuries wouldn’t be the end of the Greeks seeking to establish new cities. More expeditions would be sent out from the Greek mainland, while the original Greek colonies of Sicily would also start establishing their own colonies. The eastern, southern and northern coasts would be the target for many of these expeditions, with the east seeing the largest concentration of Greeks.

As the colonies on Sicily began to mature and grow, political developments would follow a familiar path as to many of the mother cities. The political figure of the tyrant would emerge, not surprisingly, since most colonies would adopt a similar form of government to what had been in place from their metropolis’.

This ever-increasing growth of Greek colonies would also start to see conflict develop in and around Sicily. The Phoenicians had been present in the region for as long as the Greeks and had been engaging in trade. One of their colonies, Carthage was also now developing into a power in its own right and would take the lead in opposing the Greeks expansions.

By the end of the 6th century Carthage had secured much of its trade interests in the region with them at the head of an alliance including many of the Phoenician colonies of Africa, Sicily and Iberia. Though, the Greeks were firmly established on Sicily and in the region. Political developments would continue to evolve, as well as expansion, and with it, the inevitable conflict as the 6th century turned into the 5th century. 

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Episode 39

Sicily: Conflict and Tyrants


 Hello, I’m Mark Selleck and welcome back to Casting Through Ancient Greece, Episode 39, Sicily: Conflict and Tyrants.

“A fable, to give an example, is that of Stesichorus concerning Phalaris, or that of Aesop on behalf of the demagogue. For Stesichorus, when the people of Himera had chosen Phalaris dictator and were on the point of giving him a body-guard, after many arguments related a fable to them: “A horse was in sole occupation of a meadow. A stag having come and done much damage to the pasture, the horse, wishing to avenge himself on the stag, asked a man whether he could help him to punish the stag. The man consented, on condition that the horse submitted to the bit and allowed him to mount him javelins in hand. The horse agreed to the terms and the man mounted him, but instead of obtaining vengeance on the stag, the horse from that time became the man's slave. So then,” said he, “do you take care lest, in your desire to avenge yourselves on the enemy,
 you be treated like the horse. You already have the bit, since you have chosen a dictator; if you give him a body-guard and allow him to mount you, you will at once be the slaves of Phalaris.”

From Aristotles, Rhetoric 


Last episode we began our small digression to look at the wider Greek world with our first stop the island of Sicily. We tried to look back as far as we could into the deep history well before the Greeks arrival. This whole period of prehistory though, was very difficult to understand with any sort of certainty. The indigenous cultures of the island either didn’t leave any sort of information that allows us to get an idea of who they really were, or the scripts that some had used have not been deciphered in any meaningful way. We found even the literary tradition that was passed down to us by the Greeks may not be giving us the full picture on the origins of the original peoples to occupy Sicily. With tradition and the Greeks past experiences of the island in their deep remembered past probably playing a role in how these were recorded.

With the emergence out of the Dark Ages and into the rebirth of the Archaic Age, the Greeks were reengaging in trade with the island, with evidence of trading settlement having been established. Though, as the populations on the Greek mainland were exploding, it was becoming more difficult to support the booming growth of the larger settlements and cities. A solution that would emerge was that of colonising other lands which were potentially more suited to agricultural activity. Sending these expeditions out to found new cities would also in the short term alleviate some of the pressures of supply for the city.

We saw Sicily would become a target for colonisation during the first wave of expeditions to be sent out with the eastern coast of the island seeing the founding of many new Greek cities. When the Greeks arrived, they had found three separate indigenous cultures that they could identify. The Sicels occupying the east of the island, where they were looking to settle. The Sicani in the centre, who they saw as being the earliest of the cultures. While the Eylmi would have cities in the North East, and who the Greeks saw as having a connection to the Trojans. 

Also on and around the Island, the Greek colonists found the Phoenicians to be engaging in trade, with their own trading settlements on the coast and the smaller islands. We saw that supposedly the Phoenicians would end up consigning their settles to the west once the Greek colonies arrived, apparently due to their tighter connections to the Elymi. In this early stage we saw only minimal competition and hostility recorded but things would change with the arrival of yet more Greeks into the area, interests would overlap and competition for land and trade would become more prevalent.     

This episode we will turn to the next phase of colonisation, where we will see the conflict between the Greeks, the Phoenicians and the local population emerge. We will also see the City of Carthage become more involved in the area contending with the increased competition due to the Greeks expanding throughout the region       


The Bronze Age collapse during the 12th century BC had seen the disappearance of a number of civilisations and the weakening of others. The information we have has shown that this effected the areas of the Aegean, the Near East, down the Levant and to Egypt. The collapse may well have been more far reaching but the information further afield is far more limited to understand how it affected other regions. One region that was to feel the effects of the Bronze Age collapse, was that of the Levant, around where we find modern day Lebanon. Before the ill effects had taken hold, the area was dominated by the Canaanites, though it appears there were cities that were described as Phoenician dotted around in the region. The origins of the Phoenicians are still debated today, we find Herodotus telling us they came from Bahrain and had their origins in the Persian Gulf.[2] While a more popular view today which points to genetic research has them emerging from the Canaanite civilisation that collapsed at the end of the Bronze Age.

The Phoenician cities of the Levant such as Byblos, Sidon and Tyre would prosper during the late Bronze Age due to their trading connections. This also made them attractive targets of the larger Empires who wanted to tap into these trade routes, such as Egypt and the Hittites. We even find when Egypt held influence within the lands the cities were left to mostly govern themselves and were favoured by Egypt, due to the wealth they were generating for them. But the larger powers that had always had interests directed at the Levant would soon decline or completely disappear leaving a power vacuum. The Phoenician cities along the coast were able to weather the collapse of the Bronze Age much better than most. Perhaps them being individual cities rather than empires with more far-reaching connections had seen them become less affected. Also, their reputation as merchants and trading hubs may have seen them recover much quicker, with the collapse of the trade to the larger empires. 

After the Bronze Age collapse the Phoenicians would emerge in the Levant as a distinct civilisation who would be responsible for connecting the far-reaching trade routes. This would see their mercantile activities grow even further. With the onset of the Iron Age in the 10th century, they would venture further afield, sailing out westward into the Mediterranean, where they would begin setting up ports and markets to engage in the trade networks from the west. As the generations past these activities would go from strength to strength and the Phoenicians would also receive the reputation as the ablest seafarers of their time. Herodotus reports that they were the first to circumnavigate Africa. A report he disbelieves due to a line he gives. 

“They mentioned something else which I do not find credible, though someone else may; that when they were sailing around Libya, the sun was on their right side as they went”. [3]

Though, with our understanding of the world today, being south of the equator would make this fact he reports entirely correct, something he would have been unaware of.  

The Phoenicians would also begin establishing colonies throughout the Mediterranean where the city of Carthage on the coast of Tunisia would be one of the most famous. It’s thought that it began as a trading hub for tin from Iberia and other goods, but would grow with its importance attracting many to the site. In later times Carthage would prosper to where it would create its own empire including parts of North Africa, Sardinia, Malta, Southern Iberia and Sicily. The establishment of Carthage appear to have taken place fairly early on in the Phoenicians expeditions deep into the Mediterranean. There are reports of its founding as early as 1200 BC before the date given for the Trojan War by Philistos of Syracuse. But most modern historians seem to think the date given by Timaeus of Sicily of 814 BC to be far more accurate.[4] 

Just before wrapping up our brief background of the Phoenicians, I just want to address what is meant by the term Phoenician. They would not come to represent a single identity of people, but rather they came to be known due to the identified civilisation. As we saw they emerged from the cities dotted along the Levant, with it still not certain if they originated elsewhere or grew out of the past Canaanite civilisation. Though, as their trading activities spread and they began establishing colonies, the civilisation would be dotted throughout a vast expanse of geography and include many different groups of people. The Phoenicians would not be bound by a race or ethnicity but rather a vast array of people connected by a shared identified civilisation. It could even be argued that this view of a Phoenician people is somewhat artificial also, more a convenient means for us to label a historical group. To the Peoples we associated as the Phoenicians this connection would have probably been far more fluid.   

So here we have our brief look at the Phoenicians, buts what is important for us as we move forward is to see how they were just as active in setting up trade networks in the Mediterranean as the Greeks. The Greeks and the Phoenician would have been actively engaging with one another in these activities with them both present through many of the trading settlements throughout the Mediterranean. For us more importantly we saw how the Phoenicians we active in Sicily while the Greeks were, while their colony of Carthage would come to exert more influence into the region. We saw how there seemed to be a relatively peaceful co-existence between all the groups, but as we will see this would not continue with the growth and foundation of yet more colonies.    

An explosion of Colonies  

Last episode we left the Greek colonising activities toward the beginning of the 7th century BC which matched the end of the first wave of migrations. We will now pick up the further establishment of colonies by the Greeks which would see the region dotted with Greek cities as the generations past. By the mid-7th century BC, it would appear the Greeks of Sicily had noticed the growth of the Phoenician cities on the island also. As we saw they were situated towards the north west of the island. We now see the Greek cities were beginning to take measures in responding to this growth. The city of Himera on the northern coast would be established by the cities of Zancle and Syracuse. While on the southern coast the city of Selinus would be founded by Megara Hyblaea around the same time or possibly a little later. Both of the locations of these new cities seemed like odd choices for new colonies if we look at them from an agricultural point of view. But it is suggested they served more strategic purposes, though they would have also alleviated some pressure on the mother cities due to the prosperous growth they were experiencing. These two cities appear to be a sort of attempt at laying claim to territory in Sicily in answer to the growth of the Phoenician cities. The two cities were established as far west as possible without encroaching on Phoenician territory, this then left all the land east of these cities free for the Greeks to colonise. 

With the onset of the 6th century the Greeks would continue their founding of new cities, with a number appearing along the southern coast line. With the cities of Camarina, Akrages and Heraclea Minoa all being founded to take advantage of the fertile lands in the region. The various mother cities on the mainland had relied on grain imports to keep their societies functioning and would continue to do so. The Greeks of Sicily on the other hand were now becoming extremely active in the grain export market. This would have assisted the mainland to some degree but the Sicilian cities were also now growing in wealth and prosperity in their own right.

Initial tensions:  

One might expect with the founding of these cities right on the door step of Phoenician influence, that tensions and conflict would arise. Though, there doesn’t appear to be anything of the sort taking place, well at least in the first few decades. In fact, there has been evidence that good trading relations between the Greek and Phoenicians were taking place. Even the Elymi population in the north west were on friendly terms, with the city of Segesta adopting many Greek cultural elements, such as the alphabet and architecture. It would appear that the resources and real estate was still able to support the level of expansion taking place on Sicily for now. Conflicts would come about in the region but it would not be on the island of Sicily where they would first develop, but on the southern coast of modern-day France.

Around 600 BC colonists from Phocaea on the Ionian coast of Anatolia would venture out and found the city of Massalia, they themselves originally a colony founded by Athens. This would see them covering quite some distance from their mother city, we even find Herodotus saying;

“Now the Phocaeans were the first of the Hellenes to make long sea voyages; they are the ones who opened up the Adriatic, Tyrrhenia, Iberia and Tartessos to the Hellenes”.[5] 

Thucydides mentions that in the process of founding Massalia that they fought the Carthaginians in a naval action where they would be victorious and successful in setting up the colony.[6] Though, this is as far as the detail goes on the engagement with Carthage here. It is probably more likely that this battle took place during the subsequent expansion activities we will get to.

We also hear through both Herodotus and Justin that the Phocaeans had developed a friendly relationship with a king in Iberia neighbouring the region they were settling.[7] Herodotus says it was Tartessos further south[8], but it was probably true that they had set up friendly contacts with a number of regions and kingdoms along the southern French and Iberian coast. Justin’s story tries to give us more detail explaining that these friendly relations didn’t last as the King had been forewarned to be cautious of Massalia’s growing power and that they would eventually make his region subject to themselves. Though, this story appears to be reasoning to explain the colony’s coming actions of expanding in the region, attempting to show they were provoked rather than being the ones to destabilise the region. 

At any rate the Massalians began founding new colonies along the coast of southern France. It is then though that their attempt at building a stronghold on the mouth of the River Rhone directly threatened Carthaginian interests, with this perhaps being one trade route that they obtained their tin from. This may well be the catalyst for the battle Thucydides talks about that I brought up just before. The Massalians, after being victorious then continued on establishing more colonies which now began stretching down the coast of Iberia. Many of these sites appear to have been originally Phoenician but with further aggressive expansion activities, we hear that in a space of 50 years the Phoenicians east of Gibraltar met their end.[9] The Massalians would appear to be the first Greek colony that engaged in conflict while attempting to found colonies, but they would not be the only ones.    

We now start to see conflict appear on Sicily itself into the period where the Greek colonies were backfilling the line east of Himera and Selinus. Greeks from the islands of Rhodes and Cnidus attempted to settle near Lilybaeum just south of the important Phoenician city of Motya. I have put a map up of all of the cities on Sicily, on the episode page on the website to help with where in relation they all are to each other. This was a step to far, the Greeks were now encroaching on Phoenician territory and interests. It is very difficult to draw out the details here, but it appears a war had developed with a number of events being connected. The Greeks having establishing as far west as they could had consolidated their positions and may now have been taking the next step which involved a more aggressive policy to gain more land west. The Greek city of Selinus had gone to war against the Elymi city of Segesta in an attempt to push their influence further west. Meanwhile the attempt at Lilybaeam around the same time would see the Greeks appear on the western coast in Phoenician controlled lands. An alliance between the Phoenicians and Elymi would be formed and would go on to capture the site of Lilybaeum from the Greek colonists. After this failed Greek incursion west no real attempt would be made on the western part of Sicily by the Greeks for the next century. What would take place now were campaigns directed at the local Sicanians, with the first to be conducted by one of the first Tyrants to emerge in Sicily.

The First Tyrants      

We have seen in the series so far how tyrants had emerged on the Greek mainland, where we paid particular focus on Athens and their first encounters with tyranny. Though the first known tyranny to emerge in Greek lands was in the city state of Corinth, as you may recall from our last episode of Sicily, was the mother city of the colony of Syracuse. These tyrannies would take hold in a number of the mainland Greek cities from about the mid-7th century and through the 6th century. They had developed due to the growing gap between the wealthy few in the ruling classes and the majority of the people at the mercy of how they saw fit to govern. It is thought that this ever-widening gap between the aristocracy and the people was also coupled with the growing importance of the people in the defence of the city state. A change in warfare had been unfolding throughout this period which would see more people becoming essential to the security of the polis ruled by the few. What this meant, was there were now far more people that were politically relevant to the polis but it had not translated in any meaningful way into the governing apparatus. This would see discontent grow with the main population, if someone could harness this discontent, they could gain popular support and lead in their own right. This is essentially how a tyrant came to power, they were almost always from the aristocratic class and for whatever reason they would break away from the ruling elite to attempt to govern in their own right with the backing of the majority of the people. They would address the grievances and promise to give more say to the people, in return they would have the support of the people.   

It probably isn’t surprising to learn that tyrannies would also develop in Sicily, after all the colonists had originated in many of these cities that would experience tyrannies. The aristocratic nature of the governments of these polies was a major factor in seeing discontent grow to where a tipping point would be reached. As we pointed out last episode, these colonies that were established on Sicily would more often than not adopt these aristocratic forms of government of their metropolis. These expedition leaders were usually themselves from the same ruling class and would have established a similar form of government in the new city. This would have seen these leaders remain in the position of society they were used to while also giving the new city a stable political foundation to establish itself on, in effect keeping the status quo. Though, like the Greek cities back on the mainland they would not be immune to the same circumstances and shortcomings experienced there.  

Political discontent appears to have developed fairly early on in some colonies in Sicily. We hear Thucydides telling us about civil war that had developed in Syracuse and the defeated party had been exiled. These exiles would be a part of the expedition to found the colony of Himera in the north along with the colonists of Zancle.[10]  

Though it wouldn’t be until 571 BC that we get our first account of a tyrant emerging in Sicily. It must be noted there is evidence of earlier tyrannies emerging but we have no real account or details of them. This Tyranny we hear of would develop in the colony of Akragas only ten years after its establishment. We hear through Aristotle that a man named Phalaris was entrusted with an important position which involved building the temple of Zeus and he used his power to enact a tyranny.[11] There are reports that he armed salves and foreigners to establish his tyranny, supposedly the people that would have been conducting the works he was in charge of. Though, we also hear that he had sided with the people against the aristocracy leading to his tyranny. Once the city was under his control, we hear that it would prosper with many public works being undertaken. This is about the extent of what we know about Phalaris’ public polices, though there are two more colourful aspects of his time as tyrant that we get more a picture of. Apparently, he was quite a cruel man, well to his opponents anyway. You may have heard of the bull of Phalaris or the brazen bull. I will read to you one story of the bull recounted by Diodorus;

“The sculptor Perilaüs made a brazen bull for Phalaris the tyrant​ to use in punishing his own people, but he was himself the first to make trial of that terrible form of punishment. For, in general, those who plan an evil thing aimed at others are usually snared in their own devices.  

This Phalaris burned to death Perilaüs, the well-known Attic worker in bronze, in the brazen bull. Perilaüs had fashioned in bronze the contrivance of the bull, making small sounding pipes in the nostrils and fitting a door for an opening in the bull's side; and this bull he brings as a present to Phalaris. And Phalaris welcomes the man with presents and gives orders that the contrivance be dedicated to the gods. Then that worker in bronze opens the side, the evil device of treachery, and says with inhuman savagery, "If you ever wish to punish some man, O Phalaris, shut him up within the bull and lay a fire beneath it; by his groanings the bull will be thought to bellow and his cries of pain will give you pleasure as they come through the pipes in the nostrils." When Phalaris learned of this scheme, he was filled with loathing of the man and says, "Come then, Perilaüs, do you be the first to illustrate this; imitate those who will play the pipes and make clear to me the working of your device." And as soon as Perilaüs had crept in, to give an example, so he thought, of the sound of the pipes, Phalaris closes up the bull and heaps fire under it.”[12]

Another aspect that comes down to us is that he was a very effective general and had many military successes. As we saw after the initial failed attempts by the Greeks to expand west, focus had turned against the indigenous Sicilian tribes. Phalaris’s campaigns were one of the first that saw great gains at the expense of the Siciels. The influence of Akragas, which was on the southern coast, would extend through central Sicily and right up to the outskirts of Himera on the northern coast. Aristotle tells us that he was elected, for all intense and purposes, tyrant of Himera also[13]. The Suda lexicon which we have referred to a number of times records he became tyrant of all of Sicily.[14]  This perhaps a little bit of an exaggeration. Though as we have seen all too often with notable men, for better or worse, throughout Greek history, Phalaris would eventually meet his downfall. We hear that he was overthrown and he himself would become the final victim of the Brazen bull.

Further expansions 

Although the Greeks ambitions on the western part of Sicily had died down during this period, there were still other areas the various Greek colonies were expanding into. We already looked at the Massalians expansion, which would continue and Phalaris’ very successful campaign in Sicily. Though there were other regions that were experiencing the influx of Greeks, giving many of the Phoenician colonies the sense of being surrounded by this ever-growing presence. The same motivations continued around expeditions being sent from Greek lands, though we also see other factors contributing to the influx. We have previously looked at the Lydian Empire and rise of Persia, where we saw the Lydian’s[15] and then the Persians subjugating the Ionian cities along the Anatolian coast.[16] In the mid-5th century The Phocaeans who had previously founded Massalia, abandoned their city in Anatolia after being besieged by the Persians. Herodotus tells us; 

“…they dropped a lump of iron into the sea, and swore never to return to Phocaea until the lump should reappear.”[17]    

So, we now also see Greeks fleeing the spread of the Persian Empire and looking to remain free with their colonies west seeming to present the best option. We hear most fled to the colony of Alalia on modern day Corsica where they would become very successful in the field of piracy.

Events over in Anatolia would also see the Phoenician colonies in and around Sicily left to fend for themselves. The same Persian expansions that saw the Greeks of Phocaea abandon their city and head west, were also tying up the various mother cities of the various Phoenician colonies. The Phoenicians of the Levant would become subject to the Persian Empire and would form the backbone to the Persian fleet. The situation developing as it was around Sicily in the 6th century would see the Phoenician colonies be absorbed one by one if they did not take measures to answer the growing presence of the Greek colonies in the region. A response would develop to this growing threat in the form of an alliance between the various Phoenician colonies headed by Carthage who had been growing steadily in power and influence in the region over time. 


As we already touched on Carthage had begun as a trading settlement that quickly developed into a colony, first established by the Phoenician city of Tyre towards the end of the 9th century BC. Many of the Phoenician colonies throughout the Mediterranean remained fairly small in population. Though, Carthage would find itself in a position on the trade route connecting the Levant, Iberia and out the straits of Gibraltar, where it would prosper. Trade would be at the heart of Carthage’s success. We also get an anecdote from Herodotus on how they would conduct business in a fair and equitable manner. This also highlights how far their trade network stretched out through the Pillars of Heracles.

“Another story is told by the Carthaginians. There is a place in Libya, they say, where men live beyond the Pillars of Heracles; they come here and unload their cargo; then, having laid it in order along the beach, they go aboard their ships and light a smoking fire. The people of the country see the smoke, and, coming to the sea, they lay down gold to pay for the cargo, and withdraw from the wares. Then the Carthaginians disembark and examine the gold; if it seems to them a fair price for their cargo, they take it and go away; but if not, they go back aboard and wait, and the people come back and add more gold until the sailors are satisfied. In this transaction, it is said, neither party defrauds the other: The Carthaginians do not touch the gold until it equals the value of their cargo, nor do the people touch the cargo until the sailors have taken the gold”.[18]

Carthage’s prosperity would also attract other merchants looking to take advantage of the growing wealth and opportunity the city had to offer. With various other peoples from around the region converging on Carthage further adding to his size and wealth. This would see the city open to cultural influences from various places especially those that they would have been engaging in constant trade with. Egyptian and Greek influences would be two that could be seen to be at work when it came to shrines, temples and various types of art.  

It is thought that Carthage had begun with a system of monarchy in place to govern the city, but during their growth they appear to have switched to a similar system to what we have seen in many of the Greek city states, with an oligarchic system in place, although writers seem to still refer to their leaders as kings and dynasties ruling. Powerful families would come to dominate politics with an aristocratic class developing at the top of society. Carthaginian society would have been somewhat similar to what could be found in many of the Greek cities. A Greek merchant stopping off in port would probably have easily recognised the various classes present in the city. The nobles of Carthage would have only made up a small percentage of the population, while that majority of the people encountered would have been the merchant and lower classes as well as a sizeable population of slaves. The only aspect that would have stood out was the cosmopolitan nature of the city with it attracting so much trade from west out in coastal areas along the Atlantic. As well as the busy central Mediterranean markets and east to the coasts of the Levant and Anatolia. 

With Carthage developing as one of the leading trading cities in the Mediterranean they would have been aware of the importance of the trade networks they controlled. Also, they would have been seeking to gain more influence further afield to continue the growth of the city. This growth along with the influx of new colonies would have seen competition increase with it more important than ever to protect their interests. We already saw some early tensions develop because of this with the Initial expansion activities of the Phoceans. This first recorded conflict had failed to stop Greek expansion into areas of their interests. Now though, diplomacy and a renewed conflict would ensure around the vital region of Sicily.

Carthage’s 1st campaign on Sicily        

As I already mentioned the various Phoenician colonies in and around Sicily had been left isolated by their mother cities as the Greek colonies grew in the region. Since the metropolises of Tyre, Sidon and the other Phoenician cities in the Levant were now becoming subject to the Persian Empire, another power would need to take the lead in checking the Greeks growth. Carthage would step into this role, but rest assured it was not for any aulteristic reasons, they were looking to protect their own interests more than anything. They would first begin by creating an alliance with other Phoenician cities in Africa. A leader in Carthage had emerged named Malchus around the same time Cyrus of Persia was actively expanding his empire in the mid-6th century. We hear through the historian Justin, that he achieved great exploits against the Africans.[19] Though, it is unsure if this was in military matters or on the diplomatic front. The Libyans were the closest neighbours with any influence, and previously Carthage had paid a rent to them for the land Carthage stood on. It becomes clear that Carthage had stopped paying the rent around this time, perhaps now in a much more powerful position militarily to where they could refuse demands. The Libyans would not become subject to Carthage for some time yet, so its hard to see this as a successful military campaign. The other, or perhaps additional great deed, may be in reference to the alliance Carthage was able to establish in Africa that it was at the head of. Whatever Malchus’s successes were they had cemented his authority in Carthage where noble families, clans or factions were often bitter rivals, much like their Greek counterparts. With this consolidation he could now turn Carthage’s attention to matters further afield, in and around Sicily.    

Carthage didn’t attack the Major Greek colonies that we know of, but focused on the western Phoenician controlled part of the island. Here we can probably see Carthage securing their trade networks. All of the Phoenician and Elmyi settlements would come under some form of Carthaginian control or influence, some willingly, while force was needed to convince others. We even hear that the Greek city of Selinus, which had been established on the southern coast right up to Phoenician territory, was forced into an alliance with Carthage. 

We get no real details on the campaign in Sicily apart from Justin’s line “Malchus and his army campaigned long and successfully in Sicily and subdued part of it”.[20] It has often been assumed from this brief description that Carthage ruled part of the island. But as the historian Dexter Hoyos points out in his book, Carthage’s Other Wars, later evidence from these cities fails to show they were now ruled by another city. The control that Carthage obtained in the Phoenician region of the island was perhaps more around obtaining agreements from these cities that would benefit Carthage.[21] It’s thought that their strength would have encouraged them to take place, as well as the isolated position the cities found themselves in, in the face of aggressive Greek expansions. 

After the successes on Sicily, Malchus now turned his attention to Sardinia and was probably involved in a naval engagement against the Phoceans we spoke of having made their home on Corsica. The Carthaginians along with the Etruscans, up in Italy, who had formed an alliance, outnumbered the Greeks with 120 ships pitted against 60. We hear from Herodotus that Phocaea was victorious in the engagement, but won what he calls a Cadmean victory.[22] The concept of this term being more familiar with us today in the term a Pyrrhic victory, where the cost of victory came at great losses. Phocaea, although victorious were in no position to continue military operations and were forced to abandon Alalia, their colony on Corsica, where they then fled to Southern Italy.  The Etruscans would take Corsica while Carthage would focus on Sardinia. Here though, Malchus’ successes would come to an end, with the Sardinians putting up a strong resistance and defeating the Carthaginian expedition. The defeat here would see fortunes at home also turn against Malchus, though he would march on Carthage to reclaim his position. He was able to take Carthage and would eliminate a number of his opponents, though, the people seeing him to be a bit too ambitious, accused him of engineering a coup and had him executed. This now opened up Carthage for a new ruling clan to take control, though the focus on their interests overseas would continue.

Into the late 6th century Carthage would continue to combat the competition of the trade networks, where they would now exert control and influence over many of the Phoenician cities along the coast of Iberia. While a number of Greek cities in eastern Iberia would suffer destruction at the hands of the Carthaginians. As the 6th century was coming to a close the Carthaginians had vastly increased their influence in the western Mediterranean and in doing so they had made their interests more secure than before. Though, as we will see next episode this would not be the end of the campaigning in and around Sicily. 

Before finishing up this episode I want to end with the story about another Greek expedition that was looking to establish itself in Sicily and the Mediterranean and would also cause friction with Carthage. This took place at the end of the 6th century and would be led by a figure we have talked about before back when looking at the Greeks preparations before the second Persian invasion. This was the Spartan prince Dorieus who was the brother of Leonidas, Cleombrotus and half-brother of Cleomenes. Dorieus had been passed over for the kingship in Sparta in favour of Cleomenes and with this slight he set off never to return to Sparta. His first stop was in Libya where he founded the colony of Cinyps. This colony was further west than any other Greek colony that had been established in Africa and would be seen as a threat to Phoenician and Carthaginian territory. An allied force made up by Carthaginians and Libyans would end up attacking the colony and driving the settlers out.[23] This would end up with the Greeks and Carthaginians agreeing to a frontier separating the two. 

This set back didn’t stop Dorieus and his followers, he next moved onto Sicily being convinced of advice from an oracle. The region he would attempt to seize and establish his own colony in was on the Phonecian controlled west coast, with the Elmyi city of Eryx the target. Dorieus and his followers also had a justification that they would point to for their campaign. The city was one of the sites visited by Heracles in his 12 labours and where he defeated an Elymian king in a wrestling match. Supposedly Heracles left the city with it in the hands of the locals, but once his decendants returned it would become theirs. As we have seen in the series the Dorian Spartans had claimed they were descended from the Heraclide, with Heracles the originator. Unfortunately for Dorieus, the Carthaginians, Phoenicians and Elmyi had formed an alliance and were able to easily defeat the settlers. Dorieus was killed in the battle with his surviving followers making for Heraclea Minoa where they would take control.

I just want to close the chapter on Dorieus and his attempts at establishing colonies with the remarks Herodotus makes in his Histories.

“So perished Dorieus. Had he only put up with having Cleomenes as his king, and stayed in Sparta, he would have become king himself, since Cleomenes did not reign for very long and died without having a son.”[24]  



This roughly brings us up to the point in Sicily’s history where over across the Aegean in Anatolia the Ioian revolt was just about to break out, and the beginnings of the Greek and Persian Wars. We have covered in general, activities that were taking place in and around Sicily from the point of view of the Greeks, Phoenicians and Carthaginians. Many of the events during this period can become a little confusing in the chronology of what was taking place but hopefully I have put forward the events in a coherent manner. 

I know I had made it known that I had intended to spend 2 episodes on Sicily but as you can see we still have another 20 years or so history on the island to look at. So, like with what happened with my episodes on Plataea, we shall have ourselves a trilogy on Sicily. This third episode will see us focus on the period of time during Greek and Persian Wars where the development of the Greek cities would continue, firstly with a new round of Greek expansion. This will see us looking at yet more Greek tyrants emerge throughout Sicily with us focusing on one of the most powerful tyrants to yet emerge in Sicily, Gelon. This will also see us look at the establishment of Syracuse as the most powerful Greek city on the island. Finally, we will then turn to a new campaign mounted by Carthage against the Greeks on Sicily which would result in the battle of Himera, this then taking us up to a point where we left events over in the Aegean.    


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I hope you can join me next time for Episode 40, Sicily, Syracuse & the battle of Himera


[1] Aristotle, Reh 2.20
[2] Herodotus 1.1
[3] Herodotus 4.42
[4] Dionysius of Halicarnassus 1.74
[5] Herodotus 1.163
[6] Thucydides 1.13
[7] Justin 43.4
[8] Herodotus 1.63
[9] Jeff Champion, The Tyrants of Syracuse p10-11
[10] Thucydides 6.5
[11] Aristotle 5. Io
[12] Diodorus Siculus IX 18-19
[13] Aristotle, Rhetoric ii, 20
[14] Suda phi,43
[15] Herodotus 1.28
[16] Herodotus 1.141
[17] Herodotus 1.165
[18] Herodotus 4.196
[19] Justin 18.7
[20] Justin 18.7
[21] Dexter Hoyos, Carthage’s Other wars p37
[22] Herodotus 1.166
[23] Herodotus 5.42
[24] Herodotus 5.48