Sicilian Wars

B.C. 493 to 340
Carthage — versus — Sicilian Greeks

First Carthaginian Invasion — 492-474 B.C.     The Sicilian Expedition — 415-413 B.C.     
Second Carthaginian Invasion — 409-379 B.C.     Third Carthaginian Invasion — 345-340 B.C.    

By the fifth century, the Island of Sicily had been colonized by numerous Greek city states, most of which were ruled by petty tyrants. The next few centuries involved numerous wars between the city-states, and several attempts of the Carthaginians of Africa to take over the island. These wars were related to each other, because the conflicts between the city-states often resulted in the invitation of a foreign power to come and intervene on behalf of the weaker party. All of these conflicts, both domestic and foreign, are therefore referred to as the 'Sicilian Wars', and although the main battles of significance involved the repulsion of the Carthaginian menace, the wars cannot be understood simply as a united Greek front against a foreign invader.

Gelon and the First Carthaginian Invasion : 492-474 B.C.

Gelon at Himera
The most important tyrant in Sicily during the early fifth century BC was Gelon, tyrant of Syracuse. He came to power after his predecessor, Hippocrates of Gela defeated Syracuse at the battle of Helorus. Shortly afterward Gelon rose to power he made Syracuse the foremost city in Sicily by moving the populations of conquered regions into the city.

The reign of Gelon coincided with the time of the great Persian invasion of Greece, and ambassadors from Athens had approached Gelon with a request for ships to join the Greek navy. The request was fortunately declined because shortly thereafter, a great force of Carthaginians was summoned by the tyrant of Himera to assist him in defense of the city. The Carthaginian invasion was massive, but the Syracusans, led by Gelon routed the invaders. Syracuse was now the prominent Greek city in the region. Gelon's brother Hieron I succeed him and his reign marks the height of the first Syracusan tyranny. He moved the citizens of Catana to Leontini and resettled Catana with his mercenaries. He then defeated the Etruscans, who were besieging the Italian Greek city of Cumae in a naval battle (474 BC).

DateBattle Summary
492 BC  
Battle of Helorus (Second Carthaginian Invasion ) Gela victory
Fought B.C. 492, between Hippocrates, Tyrant of Gela, and the Syracusans, The Syracusans were totally routed, and were so weakened by this defeat, that Syracuse fell an easy prey to Gelon, Hippocrates' successor, in the following year.
480 BC  
Battle of Himera (Liberation of Syracuse ) Syracuse victory
Fought 480 B.C., between the Syracusans and Agrigentines, 557,000 strong, under Gelon, Tyrant of Syracuse, and the Carthagians, said to number 300,000, under Hamilcar. The Carthagians were totally routed and Hamilcar was slain.
474 BC  
Battle of Cumae (First Carthaginian Invasion ) Syracuse victory
Fought B.C. 474, between the fleet of Hiero, tyrant of Syracuse, and the Etruscan fleet, which was investing the Greek colony of Cumae. The Etruscans were routed, and from this defeat dates the rapid decline of the Etruscan power.

Short Biography
Hippocrates of Gela Tyrant of Gela. Conquered Syracuse in B.C. 492.
Gelon Tyrant of Syracuse who succeeded Hippocrates. Defeated the Carthaginians at Himera in B.C. 480.
Hiero I Succeeded brother Gelon as tyrant of Syracuse. Defeated the Etruscans and relieved the Siege of Cumae.
Hamilcar of Himera Carthaginian general who killed himself after his defeat to Syracuse at Himera.

Story Links
Book Links
Lord of Syracuse  in  Helmet and Spear  by  Alfred J. Church
Greek Colonies: The Tyrants  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan

The Sicilian Expedition (Peloponnesian War) : 415-413 B.C.

Siege of Syracuse
In the 460's Tyrants were expelled from the cities of Acragas, Himera, and Syracuse, and democracies were established, but their mercenary armies continued to harass the cities. As Syracuse because stronger, the cities surrounding her became fearful and made alliances with Athens for protection. Shortly after the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War on mainland Greece, Syracuse and the surrounding cities of Naxos, Catana, Segesta and Leontini commenced hostilities (427 BC).

The allies prepared to call upon Athens for aid, but peace was declared in time to prevent escalation. In 416 B.C. however, Segesta, one of the allied cities of Sicily, called upon Athens for aid and the war-party in Athens took the opportunity to launch an enormous expedition to conquer Syracuse. The campaign ended in utter disaster for Athens. Her navy was utterly destroyed and the devastating defeat proved to be the turning point in the Peloponnesian War.

DateBattle Summary
415 BC  
Siege of Syracuse (Thirty Year Truce ) Syracuse victory
Siege was laid to this city by the Athenians, under Alcibiades, Lamachus and Nicias, who with a fleet of 134 galleys, took possession of the harbour and effected a landing in the autumn of 415 B.C. Alcibiades was soon recalled, and Lamachas killed in a skirmish, while Nicias proved weak and incompetent. The siege works were not pressed and in the following year, Gylippus of Sparta succeeded in getting through the Athenian lines, and bringing a considerable force to the aid of the Syracusans, capturing at the same time the advanced positions of the besiegers. Early in 413, Demosthenes arrived from Athens, with a fleet of 93 triremes, and made a desperate attempt to recover the lost ground. He was, however, totally defeated, and in a series of sea-fights which followed, the Athenian fleet was completely destroyed. This disaster forced the Athenians to raise the siege, and was, in addition, a death-blow to the naval supremacy of Athens.

Short Biography
Nicias After death of Pericles, emerged as leader of peace party. Led disastrous Sicilian Expedition.
Gylippus Lead the resistance in Syracuse that defeated Athenian forces during Peloponnesian War.

Story Links
Book Links
Fatal Expedition  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Statesman and Citizen in  Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition  by  Alfred J. Church
At Syracruse in  Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition  by  Alfred J. Church
Greek Colonies in Italy  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Alcibiades  in  Famous Men of Greece  by  John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
Alcibiades, and the War between Athens and Sparta in  Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men  by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Nicias  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Siege of Syracuse  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Sicilian Expedition  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan

Book Links
Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition  by  Alfred J. Church

Dionysius I and the Second Carthaginian Invasion : 409-379 B.C.

Dionysius I
After the victory over Athens, Syracuse made democratic reforms. Later the Greek colonies of Segesta, and Selinus made war, and Segesta called in the Carthaginians for help. The Carthaginian invaders sacked Selinus and Himera (409 BC), and three years later, also defeated Acragas. The invaders now had strong foothold in Sicily and this caused turmoil throughout the island.

As a consequence, Dionysius I, a general in the Syracuse army who had risen from the lower ranks made himself tyrant. He made a temporary peace with Carthage, and distributed the land of the oligarchs to the poor. He then conquered the neighboring cities of Catana (403 BC), Naxos, Leontini (400 BC), and Rhegium (396 BC). After these successes he launched an offensive against Motya, the main Carthage stronghold on Sicily, and conquered the city, but failed to dislodge them from Sicily. He then attempted to expand his power into southern Italy by launching a campaign against the Italians and won a victory at Elleporus (389 BC).

The Carthaginians, who had not launched an attack against Sicily for over ten years, now attacked Catana and defeated the Syracusans in a naval engagement in 387 BC. They then commenced a siege of Syracuse, and Dionysius was compelled to call on Sparta for Naval support. The siege was finally resolved when a plague broke out, and Dionysius launched a successful attack on the Carthage stronghold. Eight years later however, the Carthaginians returned, prevailed against the Syracusans and forced Dionysus to accept unfavorable terms.

DateBattle Summary
409 BC  
Siege of Selinus (Second Carthaginian Invasion ) Carthagians victory
This city was besieged by the Carthaginians, 100,000 strong, under Hannibal, B.C. 409. An attempt by the Syracusans, under Diocles, to relieve came too late, for after resisting stubbornly for nine days, the garrison, hopelessly outnumbered, were overpowered; and the place stormed and sacked, all the survivors being carried off into captivity.
409 BC  
Siege of Himera (Second Carthaginian Invasion ) Carthagians victory
This place was besieged by the Carthaginians, under Hannibal, B.C. 409. A first assault was repulsed, and Diocles arriving in the harbour with 25 ships, rescued half the inhabitants. Three days later he returned for the remainder, but too late, for before he could reach the harbour the breach was stormed. The town was sacked, and 3,000 prisoners were sacrificed to appease the shade of Hamilcar, who had fallen in the battle of 480.
406 BC  
Siege of Acragas (Second Carthaginian Invasion ) Carthagians victory
This fortress was besieged B.C. 406 by the Carthaginians under Hannibal, the garrison being commanded by Dexippus the Spartan. Early in the siege a pestilence in the Carthaginian camp carried off Hannibal, who was succeeded by his cousin, Himilco. A relieving army of 35,000 Syracusans, under Daphnaeus fought a pitched battle with the Carthaginians under the walls of the city, and succeeded in seizing and holding one of their camps, but shortly afterwards dissensions broke out in the garrison, and many of the foreign mercenaries deserting, the citizens, after a siege of eight months, left the place en masse. The Carthaginians at once occupied the fortress.
398 BC  
Siege of Motya (Second Carthaginian Invasion ) Syracuse victory
This city, the chief stronghold of the Carthaginians in Sicily, was besieged by Dionysius of Syracuse, with 83,000 men, B.C. 398. Having built a mole to connect the mainland and the island on which Motya stood, he erected thereon his new engines of war, the catapults, used for the first time in this siege. He also built large moving towers to enable him to cope with the lofty defenses of the place, and by these devices succeeded in effecting an entrance. Every house, however, was in itself a small fortress, and after days of street fighting, which cost the assailants a heavy price, the city was still unsubdued. At last by a night surprise he mastered the quarter which still held out, and the inhabitants were massacred or sold as slaves.
396 BC  
Siege of Rhegium (Second Carthaginian Invasion ) Syracuse victory
This city was besieged in 396 B.C. by a Syracusian force under Dionysius I. The tyrant of Syracuse took the city, and sold its inhabitants into slavery.
389 BC  
Battle of Elleporus (Third Carthaginian Invasion ) Syracuse victory
Fought B.C. 389, between the Sicilians, 23,000 strong, under Dionysius of Syracuse, and the Italiots, 17,000 strong, under Heloris. Dionysius attacked the Italiot vanguard, under Heloris himself, on the march, and the Italiot army, coming into action in detachments, was beaten piecemeal, and finally routed with heavy loss. The survivors, 10,000 in number, surrendered, and were allowed to go free. Heloris was slain.
387 BC  
Battle of Catana (Second Carthaginian Invasion ) Carthagians victory
Fought B.C. 387 between 200 Syracusan galleys under Leptines, and a vastly superior Carthaginian fleet. The Syracusans were utterly routed, partly owing to their inferior numbers, but also in part to the bad generalship of Leptines, who dispersed his ships too widely, allowing them to be overwhelmed in detail. The victors at once entered upon the siege of Syracuse.
387 BC  
Siege of Syracuse (Second Carthaginian Invasion ) Sicilian Greeks victory
Syracuse was again besieged, B.C. 387, by about 80,000 Carthaginians,under Himilco, aided by a powerful fleet, and defended by Dionysius, with about an equal number of troops. A fleet of 30 Lacedaemonian triremes arrived to the succour of the Syracusans, and meanwhile a pestilence had carried off thousands in the besiegers' camp. At this juncture Dionysius decided on a joint sea and land attack upon the Carthaginians, which was completely successful. Leptinus, with 80 galleys, surprised the Carthaginian fleet while the crews were ashore, and completely destroyed it, while Dionysius stormed Himilco's defenses,and utterly routed the besiegers, Himilco and his principal officers escaping from Sicily, and leaving the army to its fate.
379 BC  
Battle of Cabala (Second Carthaginian Invasion ) Sicilian Greeks victory
Fought B.C. 379, between the Syracusans under Dionysius, and the Carthaginians under Mago. The latter were totally defeated and Mago slain.
379 BC  
Battle of Cronion (Second Carthaginian Invasion ) Carthagians victory
Fought B.C. 379 between the Syracusans under Dionysius, and the Carthaginians. The Syracusans were defeated, with enormous loss, and Dionysius forced to accept unfavourable terms of peace.

Short Biography
Diocles Syracusan General who resisted Carthage at the battles of Selinus and Himera.
Dionysius the Elder From humble origins, arose to become Tyrant of the city of Syracuse.

Story Links
Book Links
Storm from Africa  in  Helmet and Spear  by  Alfred J. Church
Dionysius the Tyrant  in  Helmet and Spear  by  Alfred J. Church
Dion  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman

Timoleon and the Third Carthaginian Invasion : 345-340 B.C.

In 366 BC Dionysius I died and his son Dionysius II succeeded under the regency of his uncle Dion. Dion was deposed in 366 BC but returned in 357 BC and ruled as a tyrant for three years until he was murdered, at which point Dionysius II returned to power, but was a far less forceful administrator than his father. Things remained so chaotic that the Carthaginians planned another attack on Syracuse, and made an alliance with Hicetus, tyrant of Leontini. The Syracusans sought help from Timoleon of Corinth. With a large fleet of Greeks, he landed some miles from Syracuse and met the forces of Hicetus at the battle of Adranum (344 BC). Many Sicilian towns then surrendered to him, including Syracuse.

Shortly after his nearly bloodless conquest of Syracuse however, an enormous force of Carthaginians arrived. Timoleon met them at the Crimisus river, and with only a fraction of the forces, vanquished the Carthaginians and then negotiated a permanent peace. In spite of this overwhelming victory, he did not set himself up as a tyrant, but rather tore down the citadel in Syracuse and set up democratic reforms. He then expelled tyrants from all the neighboring cities, and liberated all of Greek Sicily.

DateBattle Summary
344 BC  
Battle of Hadranum (Rise of Gelon ) Timoleon victory
Fought B.C. 344, between Timoleon, the deliverer of Sicily, with 2,000 followers, and Hicetas, Tyrant of Leontini, with 10,000 men. The two had been summoned to the assistance of the rival factions in Hadranum, and Hicetas, who arrived first, was resting his men under the walls, when he was surprised by Timoleon, and totally routed. This was Timoleon's first exploit, and Hadranum became his headquarters.
340 BC  
Battle of Crimisus (First ) Timoleon victory
Fought June B.C. 340, between 10,000 Sicilians under Timoleon, and 70,000 Carthaginians, including the "Sacred Band" of 2,500 Carthaginian citizens of good birth, under Hamilcar and Hasdrubal. Timoleon attacked the Carthaginians while they were crossing the Crimisus, and routed and dispersed the Sacred Band before the main army had crossed. A heavy storm of rain in the faces of the Carthaginians came to the aid of the Sicilians, and after a severe struggle, they gained a signal victory, and the Carthaginians fled, leaving 10,000 dead in the field, and 15,000 prisoners. Many more were drowned in their endeavour to recross the river.

Short Biography
Timoleon Liberated the entire island of Syracuse from Tyrants and Carthaginians.
Hicetas Tyrant of Leontini who was allied with the Carthaginians.

Story Links
Book Links
Deliverer from Corinth  in  Helmet and Spear  by  Alfred J. Church
Man Who Saved Sicily  in  Tales of the Greeks: The Children's Plutarch  by  F. J. Gould
Civil War in Syracuse  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Timoleon  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Timoleon  in  Stories from Greek History  by  Ethelwyn Lemon
Timoleon Sends Dionysius to Corinth  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Battle of Crimisus  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Timoleon, the Favorite of Fortune  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris

Image Links

Timoleon holding the ford of the Crimessus.
 in Helmet and Spear

The Surprise at Himera
 in Greatest Nations - Greece

Timoleon and the Eagles
 in Stories from Greek History

Timoleon setting sail for Sicily
 in Plutarch's Lives W. H. Weston