|Summary:||Wealthy colony on the SW coast of Sicily|
The city was the westernmost colony in Sicily. The acropolis occupies a low hill along the southern coast of the island, with harbors on either side — the western one formed by the mouth of the river Selinus (modern Modione) and the eastern one by the river Calici (modern Cotone). Neither river is much more than a marsh today. The city extended northwards onto the hill now known as the Manuzza, and to the east onto ridge occupied by three great Doric temples, and was surrounded by fertile agricultural land.
A native Sican settlement had occupied the site of the later Archaic cemetery to the NE, and coexisted with the Greek settlement in its early years. Corinthian pottery of the mid-seventh century as been found on the necropolis (which lay on either side of the river Selinus, extending up to 5 km. from the town) and at the sanctuaries, and there are some traces of temple building in the seventh century as well (Temples X and Y on the acropolis).
A Greek grid-planned town on the Manuzza hill to the north of the acropolis is conspicuous in aerial photographs, and has recently been partly excavated.
A major sanctuary dedicated to the Chthonic deities Demeter, Zeus and Hekate was situated on the west bank of the river Selinus (the Sanctuary of Demeter Malophoros). On the acropolis were four large Doric temples, two of the sixth century, two of the fifth, and a small shrine. None of these has been securely attributed to specific deities, but are identified by letters (Temples A, C, D, and O; Shrine B). Defensive walls girded the acropolis, most of whose standing remains can be dated to the late sixth or early fifth centuries B.C. To the north of the city lay a small Archaic temple and altar.
On the plateau to the east of the city, across the Calici river, were three more sixth-century Doric temples, Temples E, F, and G (also known as R, S and T respectively). The material remains are impressive, particularly the stone metopes and terracotta gorgoneia from Temple C (now in the Palermo Museum) and the massive, unfinished Temple G, attributed to Apollo and one of the largest Greek temples ever attempted.
The city was destroyed by Carthaginians in 409 BC (
Thucydides asserts that Selinus was founded in 628/7 BC, one hundred years after the foundation of her metropolis, Megara Hyblaea in western Sicily (
As a rule, a defensible island, promontory or escarpment was the most common site for a new colony, but Selinus had only a fairly low fortified hill (although in antiquity the acropolis was probably more like a peninsula since the harbors on either side extended much further inland than they do today). Pammilos could have chosen a more defensible site with better harbors and with equally fertile land to the east, so it is a puzzle why this site was chosen Similar questions are asked of the site of Himera on the north coast of Sicily, which was founded three years after Selinus according to Diodorus (
However, there is evidence of mostly amicable relations between the colonists of Himera and Selinus and the Punic colonists to their west. A metrical epitaph for a fallen Greek (Selinuntine?) dated to the first half of the fifth century has been unearthed in Motya, which had a sizable Greek element (
Selinus could also have been founded to open commercial contacts with the native Elymi in the northeast corner of the island (at sites such as Segesta). In support of this, Early Corinthian pottery has been found at the Elymian town of Segesta and at a Selinuntine sanctuary to Herakles up the Hypsas river near Poggioreale (close to Elymian Entella), and the pottery can be dated as early as any found at Himera or Selinus. Fostering good relations with the neighboring peoples, Sicans, Elymi, and Phoenicians, would have allowed the Selinuntines to become prosperous through agriculture and commerce while occupying a not particularly strong site, similar to the position of their metropolis (Megara and Hyblon,
Pammilos as oikist would have overseen the division of the land into kleroi (allotments) of relatively equal size or value for each colonist. He would also have set aside land for the gods in sacred precincts, where monumental stone temples would later be built. Cult practice in these precincts probably reflects the continuity of institutions from the original mother city to later colonies. Demeter and her daughter Persephone (possibly worshipped in Selinus as Pasikrateia, "all-powerful",
Also within the precinct wall was a shrine to her consort, Zeus Meilichios, whom farmers would invoke with chthonic Demeter at the time of sowing. Subterranean Zeus was dreadful and beneficent — he offered purification after blood-feud and ensured the growth fo crops. His epithet ("Gentle One") may be a euphemism in the way that the treacherous Black Sea was called the Euxine ("Kind to Travelers"), or it may indicate his role in appeasing the dead. Inscribed stelai, sometimes with two heads sculpted at the top, were dedicated to Meilichios — perhaps remnants of primal aniconic stone-worship (cf.
The colossal Temple X, on the acropolis south of Temple C, and the smaller Temple Y (from which some decoration survives — metopes and cornice decoration) were leveled to their foundations by the sixth century, when Selinus undertook an impressive series of temple-building projects, the first of which was Temple C (mid-sixth century; see
Not much later are Temple D on the acropolis and Temple F (S) on the eastern plateau (both second half of the 6th century BC). Both are about the same width as temple C; both are hexastyle, and both have narrow cellas, but they are not as elongated as Temple C. The sculptured metopes of Temple F have survived. This temple also has enigmatic intercolumnar screen walls.
The massive Temple G (T), dedicated to Apollo, was begun not much later on the eastern plateau, the first colossal temple in the West to vie with the great Ionic temples of Asia Minor. It measures some 50.1 x 110.36 m. Like the Ionic temples, it is octastyle (8 columns on the fronts). The work was begun on the east side in the lh century, and moved slowly west, until finally the west side was nearing completion in the fifth century BC; different parts of the temple thus show markedly different styles. The interior was so vast that it was probably never intended to be roofed. The ambitious project was abandoned some time before (or because of) the Carthaginian attack of 409 BC, and column drums of matching proportions have been left half-carved in the quarries 9 km to the northwest at Cusa/Campobello.
While work on Temple G was in progress, the Selinuntines began Temples A and O on the acropolis and Temple E (R) on the eastern plateau (ca. 480 BC, after the defeat of Hamilcar at Himera). The temples exhibit a more developed Doric style, with the spacing between columns contracting as they reached the corners. The sculptured metopes of Temple E were made of limestone covered with plaster, but with marble inserts for heads, hands and feet of female figures ("acrolithic" sculpture). The ruins of Temple F have been restored, while Temples A and O were joined together in the medieval period and rebuilt as a fortified tower.
Pammilos would have erected at least a wooden palisade on the acropolis, and this was replaced by stone fortifications, much of which survives. Most of the remains of the extensive circuit wall can be dated to the late 6th/early 5th c. BC, with evidence of repairs made by Hermocrates ca. 408 BC. The fortifications and gate complex at the northern end of the acropolis, leading out to the Manuzza hill and residential quarter, are particularly impressive.
See especially recent articles in