The Info List - Sicilian Wars

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The SICILIAN WARS, or GRECO-PUNIC WARS, were a series of conflicts fought between Ancient Carthage
Ancient Carthage
and the Greek city-states led by Syracuse, Sicily
, over control of Sicily
and the western Mediterranean between 600-265 BC.

Carthage's economic success, and its dependence on shipping to conduct most of its trade (for the empire's southern border was surrounded by desert), led to the creation of a powerful navy to discourage both pirates and rival nations. They had inherited their naval strength and experience from their fore-bearers, the Phoenicians , but had increased it because, unlike the Phoenicians, the Punics did not want to rely on a foreign nation's aid. This, coupled with its success and growing hegemony, brought Carthage into increasing conflict with the Greeks, the other major power contending for control of the central Mediterranean.

The Greeks, like the Phoenicians, were expert sailors who had established thriving colonies throughout the Mediterranean. These two rivals fought their wars on the island of Sicily, which lay close to Carthage. From their earliest days, both the Greeks and Phoenicians had been attracted to the large island, establishing a large number of colonies and trading posts along its coasts. Small battles had been fought between these settlements for centuries.

No Carthaginian records of the war exist today because when the city was destroyed in 146 BC by the Romans , the books from Carthage's library were distributed among the nearby African tribes. None remain on the topic of Carthaginian history. As a result, most of what we know about the Sicilian Wars
Sicilian Wars
comes from Greek historians.


* 1 Background

* 1.1 Carthaginian hegemony

* 1.2 Greater Greece outside mainland Greece

* 1.2.1 Carthage joins the fight

* 1.3 Sicilian Greek tyrants

* 1.3.1 Dorian Greeks become dominant in Sicily
* 1.3.2 Ionian Greeks call on Carthage

* 2 The First Sicilian War (480 BC) * 3 The Second Sicilian War (410 BC–340 BC) * 4 The Third Sicilian War (315–307 BC) * 5 Aftermath * 6 Notes


The Phoenicians had established trading posts all over the coast of Sicily
after 900 BC, but had never penetrated far inland. They had traded with the Elymians , Sicani and Sicels and had ultimately withdrawn without resistance to Motya , Panormus and Soluntum in the Western part of the island when the Greek colonists arrived after 750 BC. These Phoenician cities remained independent until becoming part of the Carthaginian hegemony some time after 540 BC.


Carthage created her hegemony in part to resist Greek encroachments in the established Phoenician sphere of influence. Phoenicians initially (750–650 BC) did not resist the Greek colonists, but after the Greeks had reached Iberia sometime after 638 BC, Carthage emerged as the leader of Phoenician resistance. During the 6th century BC, mostly under the leadership of the Magonid dynasty, Carthage established an empire which would commercially dominate the Western Mediterranean until the 1st century BC. The Phoenicians in Sicily
and the Elymians had united to defeat the Greeks of Selinus and Rhodes near Lilybaeum in 580 BC, the first such recorded incident in Sicily. The next known Greek incursion took place 70 years later.


The Greek-colonized zone encompassing Sicily
and Southern Italy came to be known as Magna Graecia . The Greeks living in this area behaved pretty much like the mainland Greeks, expanding their political and commercial domain at the expense of their neighbors while keeping the feud between the Ionians
and the Dorians
alive. In Sicily, the Ionian Greeks on the whole had friendly relations with native Sicilians and the Phoenicians, but the Dorian Greek colonies were comparatively more aggressive, expanding inland from the coast at the expense of the natives to expand their domain. Conflicts among the Greek colonies and between the natives and Greeks had erupted, but these were mostly localized affairs. Trade also flourished between the natives, the Greeks and the Phoenicians, and the Greek colonies became prosperous. This prosperity enabled some of the Greek cities to start to expand their territories again, ultimately leading to the events known as the First Sicilian War.

Carthage Joins The Fight

The Carthaginian Malchus is said to have "conquered all Sicily" and sent captured booty to Tyre some time after 540 BC, which probably meant that Motya, Panormus and Solus had fallen under Carthaginian control. The growth of Selinus and Himera
during this period indicates the Carthaginians and Greeks did not confront one another at this time. Thirty years later Prince Dorieus , having lost the Spartan throne, showed up to colonize Eryx – after being expelled from Libya by Carthage in 511 BC following a three-year struggle.

Carthage aided Segesta
to defeat the expedition of Dorieus in 510 BC – Greek survivors then founded Heraclea Minoa . Sicilian Greeks (probably the cities of Akragas, Gela
and Selinus) fought an undated war of revenge against Carthage, which led to the destruction of Minoa and a treaty which brought economic benefits for the Greeks. An appeal for aid to avenge the death of Dorieus was ignored by mainland Greece, even by the brother of Dorieus Leonidas of Sparta, famous for his role at Thermopylae in 480 BC. This episode possibly demonstrated the futility of opposing Carthage by single Greek cities or the unreliability of aid from mainland Greece, a situation that would change with the rise of the Greek tyrants in Sicily. Two Greeks from Gela
, Cleander and Gelo, had been involved in this war and they would become the catalysts of the events that followed.


While the events in western Sicily
played out and Carthage remained engaged in Sardinia, most of the Greek colonies in Sicily
fell under the rule of tyrants. The tyrants of Gela, Akragas and Rhegion , successfully expanded their respective dominions at the expense of native Sicilians and other Greek cities between 505 and 480 BC, with the Dorian city of Gela
being the most successful.

Dorian Greeks Become Dominant In Sicily

Cleander of Gela
(505-498 BC) and his brother Hippocrates (498-491) successfully took over both Ionian and Dorian Greek territory, and by 490 BC, Zankle , Leontini , Catana , Naxos , besides neighboring Sicel lands and Camarina had fallen under Gelan control. Gelo
, successor of Hippocrates, captured Syracuse in 485 BC and made the city his capital. By using ethnic cleansing, deportation and enslavement, Gelo transformed the former Ionian cities into Dorian ones and made Syracuse the dominant power in Sicily. Meanwhile, Akragas had successfully taken over Sikan and Sicel lands under the tyrant Theron of Acragas (488-472 BC). To forestall any conflicts between Akragas and Syracuse, Gelo
and Theron married into each other's families, creating a united front against the Sicels and Ionian Greeks of Sicily. The major part of the resources and manpower of Greek Sicily was thus concentrated in the hands of these two aggressive tyrants, a threat to all other Sicilian powers.

Ionian Greeks Call On Carthage

To counter this Doric threat, Anaxilas of Rhegion from Italy, who had captured Zankle from Gelo
in 490 BC, allied himself with Terrilus, the tyrant of Himera
, and married his daughter. Himera
and Rhegion next became allies of Carthage, the nearest foreign power strong enough to provide support. Selinunte
, a Doric city whose territory bordered Theron's domain, also became a Carthaginian ally – perhaps the fear of Theron and the destruction of Megara Hyblaea (mother city of Selinus) by Gelo
in 483 BC, had played a part in this decision. Thus, three blocs of power were delicately balanced in Sicily
by 483 BC – Ionians
dominating the north, Carthage the west, Dorians
the east and south. The Sicels and Sikans, sandwiched in the middle, remained passive, but the Elymians joined the Carthaginian alliance.


Carthage responded to the call for aid by Terrilus, tyrant of Himera, after Theron deposed him in 483 BC to set up an expedition to Sicily. Carthage could not ignore this imminent threat because the Gelo-Theron alliance was about to take over the whole of Sicily, and Hamilcar was a guest friend of Terrilus.

Carthage may have also chosen this time to attack because a Persian fleet attacked mainland Greece in the same year. The theory that there was an alliance with Persia is disputed, because Carthage neither liked foreign involvement in their wars, nor wanted to contribute to foreign wars, unless they had strong reasons to do so. But because control of Sicily
was a valuable prize for Carthage and because Carthage fielded its largest military force to date, under the leadership of the general Hamilcar, Carthage was eager for war. Traditional accounts give Hamilcar's army a strength of 300,000 men; this number seems unlikely because, even at its peak, the Carthaginian Empire would have only been able to muster a force of about 50,000 to 100,000 men. If Carthage had allied with Persia, they might have supplied Carthage mercenaries and aid, which the Persians undoubtedly had, but there is no evidence to support this cooperation between the Carthaginians and the Persians.

En route to Sicily, however, the Punic fleet suffered losses, possibly severe, due to poor weather. After landing at Ziz, the Punic name for Panormus , modern-day Palermo, Hamilcar was then decisively defeated by Gelo
at the Battle of Himera
, which was said to have occurred on the same day as the Battle of Salamis
Battle of Salamis

Hamilcar was either killed during the battle or committed suicide in shame. The loss caused changes in the political and economic landscape of Carthage, the old government of entrenched nobility was ousted, replaced by the Carthaginian Republic. The king still remained, but he had very little power and most power was entrusted to the Council of Elders. Carthage paid 2,000 talents as reparations to the Greeks, and did not intervene in Sicily
for 70 years.

In Sicily, Carthage lost no territory and the Greeks gained none. Syracuse did not attack Rhegion or Selinus, allies of Carthage. The booty from the war helped to fund a public building program in Sicily, Greek culture flourishing as a result. Trading activity saw the prosperity of the Greek cities increase and the wealth of Akragas began to rival that of Sybaris. Gelo
died in 478 BC and, within the next 20 years, the Greek tyrants were overthrown and the Syracuse-Akragas alliance fragmented into 11 feuding commonwealths under oligarchs and democracies. Their bickering and future expansionist policies led to the Second Sicilian war.


While the Greek cities in Sicily
bickered and prospered for 70 years after Himera, Carthage had conquered the northern fertile half of modern-day Tunisia
, and strengthened and founded new colonies in North Africa, such as Leptis and Oea
, modern Tripoli
. Carthage had also sponsored the journey of Mago Barca (not to be confused with Mago Barca , Hannibal
Barca\'s brother) across the Sahara Desert to Cyrenaica
, and Hanno the Navigator 's journey down the African coast. However, the Iberian colonies had seceded in that year with the help of the Iberians, cutting off Carthage's major supply of silver and copper.

In Sicily, Dorian-Greek Selinus and Ionian-Greek (former Elymian) Segesta
renewed their rivalry. Selinus encroached on Segestan land and defeated the Segestians in 416 BC. Carthage turned down their plea for help, but Athens
responded to the Segestan plea and the Sicilian Expedition sent by Athens
was destroyed in 413 BC by the joint effort of the Sicilian cities with Spartan aid. Selinus again defeated Segesta
in 411 BC. This time Segesta
submitted to Carthage, and a Carthaginian relief force sent by Hannibal
Mago helped Segesta
defeat Selinus in 410 BC. Carthage sought to end the matter diplomatically while assembling a larger force.

After a round of diplomacy involving Carthage, Segesta, Selinus, and Syracuse failed to bring about a reconciliation between Segesta
and Selinus, Hannibal
Mago set out for Sicily
with a larger force. He succeeded in capturing Selinus after winning the Battle of Selinus , then destroyed Himera
after winning the Second Battle of Himera despite Syracusan intervention. Hannibal
did not press on to attack Akragas or Syracuse, but returned triumphantly to Carthage with the spoils of war in 409 BC.

While Syracuse and Akragas, the strongest and richest cities of Sicily, took no action against Carthage, the renegade Syracusan general Hermocrates raised a small army and raided Punic territory from his base Selinus. He managed to defeat the forces of Motya and Panormus before losing his life in a coup attempt in Syracuse. In retaliation Hannibal
Mago led a second Carthaginian expedition in 406 BC.

This time, however, the Carthaginians met with fierce resistance and ill-fortune. During the Siege of Akragas the Carthaginian forces were ravaged by plague, and Hannibal
Mago himself succumbed to it. Himilco, his successor, captured and sacked Akragas, then captured the city of Gela
, sacked Camarina and repeatedly defeated the army of Dionysius I , the new tyrant of Syracuse. The plague struck the Carthaginian army again, and Himilco agreed to a peace treaty that left the Carthaginians in control of all the recent conquests, with Selinus, Thermae, Akragas, Gela
and Camarina as tributary vassals. Carthaginian power was at its peak in Sicily.

By 398 BC, Dionysius had consolidated his strength and broke the peace treaty, commencing the Siege of Motya and capturing the city. Himilco responded decisively, leading an expedition which not only reclaimed Motya, but also captured Messina. Ancient catapult used in the siege of Motya

Finally, he laid siege to Syracuse itself after decisively defeating the Greeks in the naval Battle of Catana . The siege met with great success throughout 397 BC, but in 396 BC plague again ravaged the Carthaginian forces, and they collapsed. Carthage lost her new Greek conquests but retained control over the western territories and the Elymians. No treaty was signed between the belligerents to signal the end of the war.

Dionysius soon rebuilt his power and sacked Solus in 396 BC. He was engaged in eastern Sicily
during 396-393 BC, including the Siege of Tauromenium (394 BC) . At this time, Carthage was occupied in Africa dealing with a rebellion. In 393 BC, Mago, successor of Himilco, led an attack on Messina, but was defeated near Abacaenum by Dionysius. Reinforced by Carthage, Mago led another expedition through central Sicily, but ran into trouble near the River Chrysas . Dionysius also faced difficulties of his own, and a peace treaty was concluded that basically ensured Carthage and Syracuse left each other alone in their respective spheres of influence.

Dionysius opened hostilities again in 383 BC. Mago allied with the Italiot league led by Taras and landed in force at Bruttium, forcing Syracuse into a two front war. Details of the first four years of campaigns are sketchy, but in 378 BC Dionysius defeated Mago in Sicily in the Battle of Cabala . Carthage, also faced with rebellions in Africa and Sardinia, sued for peace. Dionysius asked Carthage to evacuate all Sicily, so war was again renewed, and Himilco, son of Mago, destroyed the Syracusan army at the Battle of Cronium in 376 BC. The subsequent peace treaty forced Dionysius to pay 1000 talents as reparations and left Carthage in control of Western Sicily.

Dionysius again attacked Punic possessions in 368 BC, and laid siege to Lilybaeum. The defeat of his fleet forced him to call off the war and his death in 367 BC ensured a peace of 22 years between Carthage and Syracuse. Dion of Syracuse made peace with Carthage, and Carthage retained her Sicilian possessions west of the Halcyas and Himeras rivers.

Carthage became embroiled in Syracusan politics in 345 BC, and her forces managed to enter the city at the invitation of one of the political contenders. The commander Mago bungled the affair, retreated to Africa and killed himself to escape punishment. Timoleon assumed power in Syracuse in 343 BC and started raiding Carthaginian possessions in Sicily. The Carthaginian expedition to Sicily
was destroyed in the Battle of the Crimissus in 341 BC. The following peace treaty left Carthage in control of territories west of the Halcyas river.


In 315 BC Agathocles , the tyrant of Syracuse, seized the city of Messana, present-day Messina
. In 311 BC, he invaded the last Carthaginian holdings on Sicily, which broke the terms of the current peace treaty, and he laid siege to Akragas . Hamilcar, grandson of Hanno the Navigator , successfully led the Carthaginian counterattack. He defeated Agathocles in the Battle of the Himera
River in 311 BC. Agathocles had to retreat to Syracuse while Hamilcar won control over the rest of Sicily. In the same year, he laid siege to Syracuse itself. Carthaginian hoplite (4th century BC)

In desperation, Agathocles secretly led an expedition of 14,000 men to the mainland of Africa, hoping to save his rule by leading a counterstrike against Carthage itself. In this, he was successful: Carthage was forced to recall Hamilcar and most of his army from Sicily
to face the new and unexpected threat. The two armies met in the first Battle of White Tunis outside Carthage. The Carthaginian army, under Hanno and Hamilcar, was defeated. Agathocles and his forces laid siege to Carthage, but its impregnable walls repulsed him. Instead, the Greeks contented themselves with occupying Northern Tunisia
until they were defeated two years later in 307 BC. Agathocles himself escaped back to Sicily
and negotiated a peace treaty with the Carthaginians, which maintained Syracuse as a stronghold of Greek power in Sicily
despite its loss of much of its power and of the strategic city of Messana .


After Agathocles sued for peace, Carthage enjoyed a brief, unchallenged period of control of Sicily, which ended with the Pyrrhic War . The Sicilian Pyrrhic expedition, the second phase of the Pyrrhic War (280-265 BC), which ultimately led to the Punic Wars
Punic Wars
, can be considered the ultimate part of the Greek-Punic wars, though they are not generally considered such. Pyrrhus of Epirus arrived in Sicily
to rescue the island from the Carthaginians. He conquered Palermo
, Eryx and Iaitias but the Lilybaeum siege failed. So he returned in Italy. Rome, despite its close proximity to Sicily, was not involved in the Sicilian Wars
Sicilian Wars
of the 5th and 4th centuries BC because of its preoccupation with its liberation from the Etruscans during the 5th century BC and its conquest of Italy proper during the 4th century BC. However, Rome's later involvement in Sicily
ended the indecisive warfare on the island.


* ^ Thucydides VI.2.6 * ^ Freeman, Edward A., History of Sicily, Volume 1, pp. 283–297 – public domain book * ^ Markoe, Glenn E., "Phoenicians", pp. 54–55 ISBN 0-520-22614-3

* ^ Diodorus Siculus IV.23 * ^ Freeman, Edward A., History of Sicily, Volume 2, p. 97-100 * ^ Baker, G.P., Hannibal, p. 15 * ^ Freeman, Edward A., History of Sicily, Volume 2, pp. 130-31 – public domain book * ^ Herodotus, VII.163 * ^ Herodotus, 7.166

* v * t * e

Ancient Greek wars


* Trojan War
Trojan War


* First Messenian War * Lelantine War * Second Messenian War * First Sacred War * Sicilian Wars


* Greco-Persian Wars * Aeginetan War
Aeginetan War
* Wars of the Delian League * First Peloponnesian War * Second Sacred War * Samian War * Second Peloponnesian War * Phyle Campaign * Corinthian War * Boeotian War
Boeotian War

* Wars of the Theban hegemony

* Theban–Spartan War

* Social War (357–355 BC) * Third Sacred War * Foreign War * Rise of Macedon * Wars of Alexander the Great


* Lamian War * Wars of the Diadochi * Seleucid–Mauryan war * Pyrrhic War * Syrian Wars * Pyrrhus\' invasion of the Peloponnese * Chremonidean War * Seleucid–Parthian wars * Cleomenean War * War against Lyctus * Social War (220–217 BC) * First Macedonian War * Cretan War * Second Macedonian War * Roman–Seleucid War * Aetolian War * War against Nabis * Galatian War * Third Macedonian War * Maccabean Revolt
Maccabean Revolt
* Fourth Macedonian War * Achaean War * Mithridatic Wars (First , Second , Third ) * Final War of the Roman Republic


* v * t * e

Ancient Roman wars


* Roman–Etruscan Wars * Roman-Aequian wars * Roman–Latin wars * Roman–Hernician wars * Roman-Volscian wars * Samnite Wars * Pyrrhic War * Punic Wars
Punic Wars
(First , Second , Third ) * Illyrian Wars (First , Second , Third ) * Macedonian Wars (First , Second , Third , Fourth ) * Roman–Seleucid War * Aetolian War * Galatian War * Roman conquest of Hispania ( First Celtiberian War , Lusitanian War , Numantine War , Sertorian War , Cantabrian Wars
Cantabrian Wars
) * Achaean War * Jugurthine War * Cimbrian War * Servile Wars (First , Second , Third ) * Social War * Sulla\'s civil wars (First , Second ) * Mithridatic Wars (First , Second , Third ) * Gallic Wars
Gallic Wars
* Caesar\'s invasions of Britain * Caesar\'s Civil War * End of the Republic (Post-Caesarian , Liberators\' , Sicilian , Perusine , Final )


* Germanic Wars (Teutoburg , Marcomannic , Alemannic , Gothic , Visigothic ) * Wars in Britain * Wars of Boudica
* Armenian War * Civil War of 69 * Jewish–Roman wars
Jewish–Roman wars
* Domitian\'s Dacian War * Trajan\'s Dacian Wars * Parthian Wars * Persian Wars * Civil Wars of the Third Century * Wars of the Fall of the Western Roman Empire