Following the battle of Alalia which took place in 540 BC, which we saw in a previous article, the rivalry between the Greek cities and Carthage for the control of the Mediterranean and in particular of Sicily intensified. This antagonism will lead, in 480 BC, to what will later be called the first Greco-Punic war. It will oppose Carthage to the Greeks of Syracuse.

Tensions between the Phoenician-Punics and the Greeks were not recent when the first Greco-Punic war broke out in 480 BC. A hundred years earlier, in 580, before the battle of Alalia, the Phoenicians, ancestors of the Punics, allied themselves with the Elymes, Greeks from Troyes occupying Sicily at the time to counter the advance of the Greeks coming from Rhodes. You should know that at that time, the Greek cities were independent of each other and that it was therefore common to see them confront each other. Nor was it unusual to see them seek the help of foreign powers in their internal quarrels. Be that as it may, the alliance concluded between the Elymes and the Phoenicians won in 580 BC. JC the battle of Lilybée -today Marsala-, against the Greeks of Rhodes. This put an end for a time to the ambitions of the Greek cities vis-à-vis Sicily. The Phoenician cities of Sicily, they remained independent until around 540 BC. JC., but they ended up being conquered by the nascent Carthaginian empire which, following the fall of Tire is, as we saw in a previous article had become the leader of the Phoenician world. In 510 BC. JC., the Carthaginians had once again to counter an attempt to expand the Greek cities led by the Spartan Dorieus, the brother of Leonidas. Arrived in the region of Mount Eryx, Dorieus was attacked by the Carthaginians, who killed him and the majority of his companions in 510 BC The Greek survivors of this battle joined three Greek cities of Sicily, Akragas, Selinunte and Gela pushing them to rise against Carthage. But the cities of mainland Greece ignored their call for help and Carthage was thus easily able to quell the rebellion.

The passage of the Greek cities of Sicily from democracy to tyranny

Between 505 and 480 BC. JC, most Sicilian Greek cities, perhaps because of external events, changed forms of government from democracy to tyranny. This mode of government making it easier to have an expansionist policy, the Dorian Greek cities, such as Gela, Akragas and Rhegion, took the opportunity to increase their territory. Gela in particular, under the leadership of Cleandre (505-498 BC) then of Hippocrates (498-491 BC) took control of Zancle, Leontinoi, Naxos, Catana and Camarina. Gélon, Cleandre’s successor, captured Syracuse in 485 and made it his capital. For its part, the city of Akragas, conquered, under the tyrant Théron (488-472), the cities of Sikan and Sicel. Through a series of marriages, Gelon and Théron entered into an alliance and prevented any conflict of interest between their cities. This expansionism of the Greeks in Sicily as well as the absence of tensions between the Greeks Gelon and Théron worried Carthage for its own possessions on the island. This had the consequence of pushing it to embark on the first Greco-Punic war.

The First Greco-Punic War

In 480 BC, hoping to take advantage of the difficulties of continental Greece which was then facing the Persians and thus ensuring that the Greek cities would not come to support those of Sicily, the Carthaginians decided to launch an expedition. After a difficult journey and losses caused by unsanitary water, the Carthaginians led by Hamilcar landed at Ziz, near present-day Palermo. They were crushed by Gelon during the battle of Himère in 480 BC during which Hamilcar was killed. The Carthaginians then prepared to face an invasion on their own soil but Gelon agreed to negotiate a treaty. Carthage paid two thousand talents of silver in reparations, but apart from Himera, already occupied, no territory was exchanged and Carthage’s allies were not attacked. The consequences of this defeat were twofold. In Carthage, the defeat led to the fall of the old monarchy which was replaced by the Carthaginian republic while Syracuse, ruled by Gelon, became a major Greek center during the following years…


Photography :
Gelon, King of Syracuse
Source of the photograph: