The Greek settlement on Sicily

Ancient Greek settlement in Sicily has left it's traces on almost the entire island. Many archaeological sites and monumental remains testify the Greek migration westward, originating in the Greek poleis of the mother country. Sicily was not unkown territory for the Greeks, the first merchants to reach Sicily came from the island of Euboia on their way to Ischia (Pithekoussai) and Cuma. It is therefore not suprising that the first to settle on Sicily were the Chalcidians (from Chalcis on the island of Euboia) in the eighth century BC.

The Greek settlement of Sicily

The first Greek settlements in Sicily were founded by the Chalcidians in the second half of the eighth century BC. These first settlements are Zancle (Messina) and Naxos near Taormina, both strategic for the navigation through the Street of Messina. After that Leontinoi adn Katane (Catania) were founded, both on the plain of Catania, a fertile lowland suitable for agriculture. And while the foundation of Naxos would have been peaceful, it seems that for the foundation of Leontinoi the Sicels were driven out by force 1. From Zancle a subcolony was founded at Himera, the most westerly settlement of the Greeks on the north coast of Sicily 2.

The success of the Chalcidians encouraged further settlement. Syracuse was founded by a group of Corinthians after the Sicels were expelled from the island Ortygia. Syracuse would become the mightiest of the Greek poleis on Sicily. On the initiative of Syracuse a number of secondary settlements were founded, like Kamarina and Akrai, what gave the polis the control over most of southern Sicily. The Sicels were expelled or enslaved 3.

Around 728 BC Greeks from Megara founded the town of Megara Hyblaia, but the settlement was squeezed between Katane, Leontinoi and Syracuse. Within a hundred years a group from Megara Hyblaia founded the western most settlement of the Greeks on the south coast of Sicily, Selinunte. In this initiative participated also agroup of Greeks from the mother town Megara 4.

The last settlements were founded by Greeks from Rhodos and Crete. First they founded Gela and later from Gela they founded the town of Akragas (Agrigento) in 580 BC 5. The colonies of Himera, Selinunte and Akragas were nearest to the Phoenician settlements of Motya, Panormus (Palermo) and Soleis (Solunto), later under Carthaginian rule, and brought the Greeks in contact with the Elymians and Sicans. In particular Selinunte found itself in a favourable position for trade with western Sicily and North-Africa 6.


1 Finley 1989, p 28; Dreher 2010, p 13-15; La Torre 2011, p 36-37, 40-42
2 Dreher 2010, p 16; La Torre 2011, p 44
3 Finley 1989, p 31-32; Dreher 2010, p 15; La Torre 2011, p 46-48
4 Finley 1989, p 33; Dreher 2010, p 16-17; La Torre 2011, p 48-50
5 Finley 1989, p 33; Dreher 2010, p 18; La Torre 2011, p 58,59
6 Finley 1989, p 33


1. Dreher, M. 2010, La Sicilia Antica, Bologna
2. Finley, M.I. 1989, Storia della Sicilia Antica, Roma

Last updated 08/08/2016
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