The History of Sicily

The Second Sicilian War

In 415 B.C. hostilities developed between Selinus and Segesta (cities in western Sicily) , with the latter appealing to Athens for help. Technically still at war with Sparta (the Peloponnesian War lasted from 431-404), the Athenians were convinced that they would gain power in Sicily. However, they expanded their scope beyond simply helping Segesta to controlling the entire island.

They began by attacking Siracusa, but the Siracusans appealed to Sparta and Corinth. Siracusa held out against the Athenian onslaught for two years and, at times, internal dissension threatened to force the city’s capitulation. In the end, however, the Corinthian navy bottled up the Athenian fleet in Siracusa’s harbor and annihilated it. The Athenian army was also soundly defeated, with 7000 of its men captured and its commanders executed.

In 410 B.C. Selinus and Segesta were again at each other’s throats, but this time Segesta appealed to Carthage, which attacked and destroyed Selinus in 409. The Carthaginians then attacked Akragas, which appealed to Siracusa. However, the Akragans hardly put up a fight and the city was emptied, its population being removed to what is now Lentini by the victorious Carthaginians.

A rising star among the Siracusan military was Dionysius, a young man who had fought at Akragas and who became the commander of his city’s forces. After having defeated Gela, the Carthaginians were ready to move west to Siracusa. For an unkown reason, however, they moved back to Africa, after which Siracusa and Carthage signed an agreement recognizing the latter’s official standing on the island and her control over Segesta, Akragas, and Gela. Meanwhile, Dionysius became the “tyrant” of Siracusa, and he extended his sway over many other Sicilian and southern Italian cities.

In 398 B.C., Dionysius broke the treaty with Carthage by attacking and taking Motya. The Carthaginians then moved east to Messina and south to Siracusa, laying siege to the city. Only an outbreak of plague saved Siracusa, and the boundaries that existed before 398 were reestablished. However, hostilities broke out again but, in 368, upon the death of Dionysius, a period of peace ensued with Carthage retaining her western possessions.


Elymian Temple , Greek Style, Segesta