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Dionysius I

(c. 430—367 bc)


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Of Syracuse, born c.430 bc, son of Hermocritus, a well-to-do Syracusan; wounded (408) in Hermocrates' attempted coup; secretary to the generals (406), he distinguished himself in the campaign against Carthage for possession of Akragas. By unscrupulous demagogy he secured the dismissal of the generals and his own election as general plenipotentiary (a title he may have used until 392), obtained a bodyguard, occupied and fortified the citadel (Ortygia), and assumed control of the state. With a large allied army, he failed to raise the siege of Gela (405), but crushed a revolt of the aristocracy (confiscating their properties), and concluded the Peace of Himilco, which stripped Syracuse of her possessions. Besieged in Ortygia by the rebellious Syracusans (404–3), he came to terms with them (less the exiled aristocracy), giving them, although disarmed, a measure of autonomy. After subjugating eastern Sicily (south of Messana (mod. Messina) with a mercenary army (402–399), he prepared for war with Carthage, fortifying Epipolae, amassing war-material, building a huge fleet, rearming the Syracusans, hiring mercenaries, and forming matrimonial alliances with Syracuse (Andromache, sister of Dion) and Locri Epizephyrii in south Italy (Doris). He invaded the Carthaginian province (397) and stormed Motya (Mozia), but (396) retired before Himilco to Syracuse; here, following the defeat of his navy off Catana (Catania), he was besieged until 395, when, with some Corinthian and Spartan aid, he overthrew Himilco's plague-stricken forces. He restored his east Sicilian empire (incorporating Messana), attacked Rhegium (Reggio) and countered a new Carthaginian threat (395–2); but when the Syracusan army mutinied, he concluded a peace with Carthage (392) that recognized his suzerainty of eastern Sicily. He again attacked Rhegium (390) and starved it into surrender (387), allied himself with the Lucanians, crushed the forces of the Italiot League on the Eleporus (Galliparo) (389), and incorporated Iapygia (southern Calabria) in his empire. The year 388 witnessed the fiasco of Dionysius' Delphic embassy. In 387 he helped Sparta to impose the King's Peace on Greece; and in 386 a palace conspiracy (probably) led to the banishment of some of his courtiers, including his brother Leptines (later recalled) and the historian Philistus. To improve his supply of silver, timber, horses, and mercenaries, he extended his power into the Adriatic, founding colonies and establishing friendly relations with the Senones. He raided Pyrgi (384), the port of Etruscan Caere. The chronology and details of his greatest war (383–probably 375), against the Italiots and allied Carthage, are unclear, owing to a failure in the transmission of Diodorus Siculus' text (15. 15–17, 24). Attacking Thurii, he lost his fleet in a storm, but he gained Croton. In Sicily he routed the Carthaginians at Cabala but was totally defeated at Cronium (Leptines was killed), and made a peace that established the Halycus (Platani) as the common frontier. He sent expeditions to Greece (369, 368), to assist Sparta against the Boeotians; and Athens, hitherto hostile, voted him a crown and (368) conferred her citizenship on him and his sons. He again invaded western Sicily (368) and besieged Lilybaeum (Marsala), but his fleet was captured at Drepana (Trapani) and he concluded an armistice. At the Lenaea festival at Athens in 367 his play, The Ransom of Hector, won the prize, and a mutual defence treaty was negotiated, whose ratification was perhaps prevented by his death.

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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