By  Periklis Deligiannis

segestaA pure Greek-type temple in Segesta (main temple of the city).


In 580 BC the Selinuntians finally resigned from claiming the disputed land from Gela (in which land, Acragas was founded) in exchange for aid by Dorian settlers coming from Rhodes and the Anatolian Greek colony Cnidos (Knidos), who arrived in western Sicily through Gela. Pentathlos, the leader of the Rhodian and Cnidian colonists, was a Cnidian like most of his men.

Athena Promachos1

A beautiful reenactment of Archaic Greek hoplites by the Spanish Historical Association Athena Promakhos (copyright: Anna Belen Rubio). Note the double crest of two snakes facing each other on the Corinthian helmet of the hoplite on front, and his arm-protector with the sculpted emblem of  Gorgo (gorgonion). The same gorgonion emblem  is depicted in his Argive shield.  The two snakes facing each other are sculpted in his bell-type cuirass as well.  In the Orient, the hoplites were known as brazen (bronze) warriors.  The Siciliot and Italiot Greek warriors did not differ from those of mainland Greece.

The Selinuntians used the Cnidian and Rhodian reinforcements in their ongoing war against the Elymians and the Phoenicians. They helped them to establish a new Greek colony at Cape Lilybaion (Latin Lilybaeum), just 10 kilometers south of Motya. They were trying to establish a new Doric power against Motya (the main Punic colony on the island) and Carthage, while they would deal with the subjugation of Segesta which resisted stubbornly their expansion. The Selinuntians, Cnidians and Rhodians joined forces against the Elymi, Sicilian-Phoenicians and Carthaginians.

Diodorus Siculus states that the main battle between the two blocs took place near Lilybaeum, obviously in the hinterland between Selinus (Selinunte) and Segesta. Pentathlos was killed; the Greeks were defeated (580/576 BC) and immediately after, the Elymi and the Carthaginians attacked Lilybaion and drove off from there the Cnidians and Rhodians. This defeat is seen as a highly negative event for the Siciliot Greeks because it meant the loss of Lilybaion which was a superb base for trade and campaigning to the western Mediterranean. If the Greeks had maintained it, they would protect the route of colonization to the western Mediterranean and sooner or later they would conquer the excised from Carthage, Sicelo-Phoenician cities. By doing so they would control the trade routes to Etruria and Spain but also to Carthage herself, having already under their control the Strait of Messina. The port of Lilybaion remained under Punic control and two centuries later, the Motyans founded a new colony there.


Map of  ancient Sicily.

The Carthaginians and Elymians did not proceed to attack Selinus and Himera in order to regain the territories lost to them during the 7th century BC. Carthage was fighting the Libyans and other indigenous peoples of the western Mediterranean and did not want to be involved simultaneously in a long war in Sicily. This situation enabled the Greeks of Selinus and Himera to stabilize their settlement in western Sicily. Their cities were strengthened and developed, thereby in a few decades it was impossible for the Carthaginians to drive off the Greek ethnic element from the region. It seems that the Carthaginians lost this unique opportunity presented to them after Pentathlos’ defeat near Lilybaeum. Some reports of Hecataeus of Miletus, who probably drew data from the work of Stisichoros of Sicily which “yielded” the Phoenician cities Motya and Panormos to the territory of the Dorian mythical hero Heracles (Hercules), clearly reflect a new attempt by the Greeks to occupy western Sicily. The mythological yield of the Phoenician colonies to the state of Heracles was the “historical background” of the Greek claims in the region. It was a known practice of those Greek colonists claiming territory for colonization or annexation.
In the more likely, the Himeraians this time led a new joint Siciliot Greek campaign for the conquest of the region, which was again halted by the Carthaginian and Elymian forces. The Carthaginians ultimately resumed the offensive led by general Malkhos. Shortly before 550 BC they invaded the territory of Selinus and defeated its army in battle, rather outside the city walls, causing heavy losses to the Greeks. However the invaders withdrew their army once more without besieging the city. Selinus was already too strong for the Carthaginians. The latter considered their victory in battle enough, and they did not want to risk in front of the Selinuntian walls. Theron of Miltiades, a citizen of Selinus, benefited from the Punic victory becoming tyrant of the city but soon he was overthrown by his fellow-citizen Pythagoras who occupied his place. The Carthaginians simultaneously threatened Acragas and Himera in order to reduce the Greeks in central Sicily as well. But the Punic forces were defeated by Falares, the strong tyrant of Acragas, and were driven back.

Tempio E  Selinute

The temple E of Selinus.

In conclusion, during the period 580-507 BC bloody conflicts occurred in western Sicily. On the other hand, the hostility did not interrupt trade and cultural contacts between the rivals. Selinus was conducting intensive trade with Carthage because of its geographical position which made him the closest Greek city to the Phoenician metropolis in Africa. Finally the Selinuntians realized that enmity with the Carthaginians were detrimental to their economy and survival. Around 506/5 BC a compromise between Selinuntians, Himeraians, Phoenicians/Carthaginians and Segestians/Elymians took place due to their exhaustion from the long wars and the need to promote trade.

Selinus was obliged to abandon its expansionist policy in western Sicily and accordingly the Carthaginians and the Segestians abandoned their expansionist policy in the Greek territories. Additionally the Segestians were Hellenized rapidly under the Selinuntian cultural influence, resulting in the late 5th century BC to the fact Segesta resembling to a pure Doric city while her residents were not even Greeks. However the Greek language (Megarian dialect) had begun to spread rapidly among the Segestians, thereby in the Hellenistic Period everybody spoke Greek and only a small part of them were bilingual, keeping their old Elymian language as well. In addition to it, many Greeks had settled in the city exacerbating her Hellenization. On the other hand, Eryx (the other major Elymian city-state) was Phoenicianized through close contact with Carthage and other Punic cities. Because of these developments, it is nowadays often Eryx to be mistakenly considered a Phoenician colony and Segesta to be considered a Greek one, while in reality both cities were of indigenous origin.

Periklis Deligiannis


(1) Diodorus Siculus: HISTORICAL LIBRARY

(2) Herodotus: Histories