View from the castle with Syracuse Harbor in distance, looking SE, Castle ...

Overall view of the castle with S wall of Epipolae Gateway in foreground, ...

Small room inside the keep against S wall, from N, Castle of Euryalus, Syr...

West end of the temple, from W, Temple of Apollo, Syracuse

Middle western ditch, from S, Castle of Euryalus, Syracuse

North peristyle of the temple, from NW, Duomo (Cathedral) of Ortygia, Temp...

Summary: The richest Greek city of Sicily and a western rival of Athens.
Type: Fortified city and port
Region: Sicily







The city of Syracuse is located at the SE corner of Sicily and included the offshore island of Ortygia. Ortygia, which forms the N arm of the natural harbor at Syracuse, was a naturally defensible site with a source of fresh water. It was the position first occupied by the Greek colonists who fortified it, laid out a linear grid pattern of streets, and constructed their earliest sanctuaries, including temples of Athena and Apollo. The narrow island remained a citadel of the city even after it was joined to the mainland at ca. 550 B.C.

In addition to the large deep harbor (Great Harbor) S of the island, the construction of moles formed a small second harbor N of the island. These facilities made Syracuse one of the principal ports of the western Mediterranian. On the mainland W of Ortygia, and extending to the N, was the commercial and administrative center of Syracuse, the district of Achradina. The agora, shops, and public buildings were in this area adjoining the quays and dry docks of the harbors.

West of Achradina was the district of Neapolis, where the theater, ampitheater, and many of the major monuments were located. Northwest of Achradina and Neapolis was the residential district of Tyche. The slopping terrain of the Tyche district reached up to the plateau of Epipolae, which was a largely undeveloped area of the city. This high ground was, for stratigic reasons, included within the city's defensive walls which extended far to the W, to the fortress of Euryalos. The well-designed fortress was constructed as an independent strong point at the northwestern extreme of the city's defenses where the only level approach to the Epipolae plateau is located. The latest city walls of Syracuse extended for ca. 31 km and were built by Dionysios at the beginning of the 4th century B.C. A major sanctuary of Olympian Zeus is also located at Syracuse, ca. 3 km S of the city, on the banks of the Cyane river.


In 734 B.C. Corinthians, led by Archias, overcame a local Sicel settlement on the island of Ortygia and established the colony of Syracuse. The island, forming the N side of the Great Harbor and with its own source of fresh water, the spring of Arethusa, remained the citadel of Syracuse. The city, however, soon extended to the mainland, and in the mid 6th century B.C., Ortygia was connected to the mainland by a causeway.

In the course of the 5th century B.C. the wealth, cultural development, and political power of Syracuse rivalled Athens itself. In 485 B.C., Gelon, the tyrant of Gela, who had gained control over most of Sicily, seized Syracuse and made it his capital. In 480 B.C. Gelon led the Greeks in a victory over the Carthaginians at Himera. Gelon's brother, who succeeded him, defeated the Etruscians in a naval battle in 474 B.C. and ensured the dominance of Syracuse over the entire southwestern Mediterranian basin.

In 415-413 B.C. Syracuse was victorious in a war with Athens. Between 410 and 397 B.C. Syracuse was again victorious over the Carthaginians and renewed its claim to supremacy in the western Mediterranian.

In the middle of the 4th century B.C., however, Carthage again invaded Sicily and threatened Syracuse. In 344 B.C., the Corinthian Timoleon was sent to Sicily at the request of the Greek cities there in order to repel the Carthaginians. Timoleon took possession of Syracuse and led the Sicilian Greeks to victory in 339 B.C. Timoleon rebuilt the Greek cities and established democratic governments in each. Syracuse continued to better the Carthaginians in battle and in the 3rd century B.C. became allied with Rome. Later the city attempted to reject the alliance and at ca. 212 B.C., after a two year siege, the Romans conquered Syracuse. The Roman plunder and looting of art from Syracuse is said to have created the first appreciation of Classical Greek art in Rome. Syracuse declined under Roman rule and was finally destroyed by the Saracens in A.D. 878.


Sources Used:

PECS, 871-874; Macadam 1981, 203-220

Other Bibliography:

F.S. Cavallari et al., Topografia Archeologica di Siracusa (1883); Appendice alla topografia di Siracusa (1891); Syracuse, the fairest Greek city: ancient art from the Museo archeologico regionale 'Paolo Orsi' (Bonna Wescoat, ed.; Rome, 1989); E.A. Freeman, The History of Sicily I-IV (1891-1894); R. Koldewey and O. Puchstein, Die Griechischen Tempel in Unteritalien und Sicilien (1899); G.E. Rizzo, Il teatro greco di Siracusa (1933); K Fabricius, Klio 28 (1932); Wickert, RE IV A (1932) 1478; H.P. Drögemüller, Syrakus. Zur Topographie und Geschichte einer griechischen Stadt, Beihefte sum Gymnasium 6 (1969).