On the east coast of Sicily, was founded by the Corinthians, c.734 bc. See colonization, greek. The original foundation lay on the island of Ortygia, with an abundant spring (Arethusa) and flanked by two fine natural harbours, but almost immediately, as shown by the distribution of 8th‐cent. pottery, the settlement spread up to 1 km. (over ½ mi.) inland on the adjacent mainland (Achradina); the two were joined by an artificial causeway. Its early government was aristocratic, the gamoroi forming an élite whose lands were worked by unfortunate native. Prosperity in the Archaic period is attested by colonies (see colonization, greek) at Camarina and elsewhere, as well as by architectural remains: temples of Apollo, Olympian Zeus, and Athena, and an Ionic temple (see orders) of unknown dedication, all belong to the 6th cent. Defeated by Hippocrates tyrant of Gela, the gamoroi were expelled in a democratic revolution. Gelon espoused their cause, making himself tyrant of the city, of whose empire he thus became the founder. After Gelon's death (478/7), his brother Hieron 1 I confirmed Syracusan primacy and added cultural splendour: Aeschylus, Simonides, and Pindar all spent time at his court. After the battle of Himera (480) he rebuilt the temple of Athena, the shell of which still stands, within the cathedral of Syracuse. The city expanded northwards and westwards from Achradina.
Soon after Hieron's death (466) Syracuse regained democratic freedom but lost her empire. The democracy operated through an assembly and council (boule); annual strategoi (‘generals’), whose number varied, formed the chief executive. For a short time a device resembling ostracism, called petalismos, sought to check abuses of power. In 412, after Athens' defeat, the democracy became more complete, but Dionysius 1 I soon established his tyranny, preserving nevertheless the accepted organs of the constitution.
The post‐466 democracy had difficulties with the tyrants' ex‐soldiers and new citizens, and faced wars with Acragas and with the Sicels. But these were surmounted, as later were the wars with Athens (427–424 and 415–413), in which the statesmanship of Hermocrates was influential, as was the military leadership of the Spartan Gylippus, 414–413. After 406 Carthage was the chief enemy. Dionysius I fought four Carthaginian wars, and more than once the Syracusans were hard pressed. But the early 4th cent. was a period of great prosperity, and it was now that the enormous girdle of fortifications, 27 km. (17 mi.) long, were built to include the plateau of Epipolae (to the north of the city) within the defended area. Rigorously but astutely guided by its tyrant, Syracuse now controlled most of Sicily and much of southern Italy. Dionysius 2 II enjoyed ten peaceful years before Dion challenged his rule (356); thereafter Syracusan affairs became increasingly anarchic, and the city's power and population declined. Timoleon of Corinth restored the situation, introducing a moderately oligarchic government, but after 20 years it was overthrown by Agathocles, who made himself first tyrant (317) and later king (305/4).
At Agathocles' death (289) a further period of instability ensued. Conflict with the Mamertines in Messana produced a new leader, who as Hieron 2 II led Syracuse into a prosperous Indian summer, when the city became a significant intellectual and artistic centre. The economy prospered, with commercial contacts in both the eastern and western Mediterranean as well as with Carthage; and ambitious building projects included the great theatre, one of the largest in the Greek world, a grandiose Π‐shaped stoa above the theatre, and a gigantic altar to Zeus Eleutherius. By now, however, Syracusan independence existed by courtesy of the Romans, and when in 215 Hieron's successor preferred Carthage to Rome, its end was at hand. After a long siege (213–211), in which Archimedes played a substantial part, Claudius Marcellus 1 plundered the city.
Subjects: Classical Studies — History.