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SELINUS (Selinunte) Trapani, Sicily.

An ancient city on the S coast of Sicily, ca. 12 km S of Castelvetrano and approximately 40 km W of Sciacca. The river Modione (Selino) forms its W border, the river Cottone (Calici) its E border. The city had for the S part of Sicily the same function that Himera had for the N: it was an outpost of Greek civilization against W Sicily which was inhabited by Phoenicians and Elymi. It was founded by the Megarians who had arrived a century earlier from Megara Nysaia in Greece, and had founded Megara Hyblaia in the vicinity of modern Augusta. The location was selected for its strategic position: a hill jutting into the sea between two rivers, both of which were ideal for debarkation and provided excellent penetration routes toward the interior.

The colonists from Megara Hyblain were led by the oikistes Pammylos, who came expressly for this assignment from the mother city in Greece (Thuc. 1.24.2; Diod. 13.59.4). Disagreement in the sources on the foundation date (Thuc. 628-627 B.C.; Diod. 651 B.C.) has been settled by recent studies and excavations which specify that Selinus was founded 651-650 B.C. The colonists almost certainly found the territory occupied by small settlements of indigenous populations, perhaps of Sikan origin; recent finds indicate the presence of such settlements at least as early as the beginning of the Bronze Age.

On the strength of its position, Selinus rapidly became a large and powerful city and the major protagonist in the history of W Sicily, from the 6th c. until its destruction in 409 B.C. It soon promoted a movement of expansion to the N, which caused inevitable conflict with the Elymi of Segesta and the Phoenicians of Motya. This expansion, perhaps during a later phase, pointed also toward the E, where the colony of Herakleia Minoa was founded (Her. 5.46). Despite its frequent struggles with the Elymi and the Phoenicians in Sicily, Selinus almost always managed to stay on good terms with Carthage. This permitted long periods of peace and the attainment of extraordinary prosperity, such as it must have enjoyed after Pentathlos' expedition (580 B.C.) and until the first battle of Himera (480 B.C.). Building activity in this period outstripped that in every other Greek city in Sicily, and at Olympia the city erected a treasury containing a chryselephantine statue of Dionysos (Paus. 6.19.6).

Selinus maintained good relationships with Carthage even after the first battle of Himera when the Carthaginians were defeated by Syracuse and Akragas. It even housed Giskon, whose father Hamilcar had died at Himera (Diod. 13.43.5). However, this friendship with Carthage did not prevent Selinus from espousing the Greek cause on occasion (Diod. 11.68.1) for although the aristocratic party promoted the alliance with Carthage, the democratic party favored alliance with the Greeks. These two parties, alternating in political power presumably account for the city's shifts in international policy.

In 409 B.C. Selinus was destroyed by Carthage (Diod. 13.54-59) in a battle that marked the end of the city's power. The Syracusan general Hermokrates tried to recapture it soon afterwards, and for this purpose hastily rebuilt the city walls (Diod. 13.63.3), but he failed. From then on Selinus lived poorly under Carthaginian political control until, during the first Punic war, in the middle of the 3d c. B.C., it was again destroyed and definitely abandoned. Small groups of people settled there both in Christian-Byzantine times and in the Arab period; afterwards the name itself was lost, and the site came to be known as Casale degli Idoli or Terra di Pulci. The site was identified by Fazello (De Rebus Siculis [Palermo 1558] 146ff).

The archaeological investigation of Selinus began during the early 1800's when the three famous metopes were found in the area of Temple C. Since that time investigation has continued but no excavation has been carried out in the area of the ancient city. The city as a whole comprises the following zones: A) the acropolis; B) the ancient city; C) Temples on the E hill; D) Malophoros Sanctuary; E) the necropoleis.

A) The acropolis. The Megarian colonists leveled the hill before building the first structures and surrounding them with a circuit wall of which traces have been found. Later on (perhaps late 6th-early 5th c. B.C.), building on the acropolis was augmented and surrounded by the fortifications that are still visible today, including the sloping stretch near the modern entrance to the ruins. After the defeat in 409 B.C., the surviving inhabitants retreated within the acropolis. To this last phase (4th-3d c. B.C.) belong the houses visible today as well as the urban system, which probably utilized some of the earlier streets or repeated the alignment of some earlier buildings, but the city plan at present evident on the acropolis should, as a whole, be attributed to the Carthaginian phase of the city. The structures belonging to this period present all the characteristics of Punic settlements at that time: ladder masonry, sacred areas of the Punic type in every block, symbols of Tanit on the house floors, coins and movable objects found on the dirt-paved streets and in the houses; an earlier building was perhaps dismantled and its material re-employed in the new constructions.

Since the acropolis is still largely unexcavated, it is difficult to distinguish clearly between what predated and what followed the Carthaginian occupation. Starting from the S, the first identifiable structure is Temple O, of which only the foundations remain. It is quite similar, even in dimensions, to Temple A a short distance to the N; it is hexastyle with pronaos and opisthodomos in antis. Temple A is peripteral, with 6 by 14 columns; its stylobate measures 40.23 by 16.23 m. It can be dated, together with Temple O, between 490 and 480 B.C. On the E side the altar connected with the temple has recently been uncovered; both temples were utilized as a fortress during the mediaeval period; to this purpose they were joined, and could provide a well-fortified tower projecting on the S side.

On the axis of Temple A, 34 m to the E, lies a T-shaped structure fronted by a porch (13.1 x 5.6 m); it is a propylon leading into the sacred area of Temples A and O and dates after 480 B.C.

Crossing the road that runs E-W, one enters an area containing the ruins of perhaps the earliest sacred buildings on the acropolis, with the exception of the small Temple B, perhaps dedicated to Empedokles, the Akragan philosopher and scientist who, according to Diogenes Laertius (8.70), had drained the Selinuntine marshes. It is a small building (8.4 x 4.6 m) of the Hellenistic period (perhaps as early as the 4th c.), a tetrastyle prostyle aedicula with pronaos and cella located on a natural rise of the terrain and accessible on the E by means of nine steps. Its entablature carried traces of color.

Temple C, built on the highest point of the acropolis during the first half of the 6th c. B.C., 15 hexastyle peripteral with 17 columns on the sides; 14 columns of the N side were re-erected in 1925-26 together with portions of the entablature. The early date of this building is attested not only by its very elongated plan, but also by the fact that monolithic columns were at first employed on the S and E sides; moreover the columns taper from bottom to top. The stylobate measures 63.7 x 24 m; the cella building comprised an adyton, a long and narrow cella, and a pronaos. The triglyph frieze carried carved metopes and was surmounted by a cornice revetted with polychrome terracotta slabs; two gorgoneia, also of painted terracotta, decorated both pediments of the temple, one of which has been reconstructed at full scale in the Palermo Museum. On the temple roof, the ridge pole was covered by the kalypteres also of polychrome terracotta. Of the two large altars the earlier lies to the SE; the later is in front of the temple to the E. The area in front of Temple C must have been the Hellenistic agora. Just to the N is Temple D, built around the middle of the 6th c. B.C. It is hexastyle peripteral, with 13 columns on the sides and a stylobate of 56 by 24 m. Its plan includes a prostyle porch, pronaos, cella, and adyton. Near the SE corner are the remains of a sacrificial altar, diagonal to the temple axis. Not far from the NE corner of Temple D are the foundations of a rectangular structure whose early archaic date can be inferred from its very elongated plan.

The whole acropolis is surrounded by walls that represent the largest fortification complex in the whole of Greek Sicily, second only to the Euryalos castle in Syracuse. Since the walls of Selinus have never been studied in their entirety, the following description is based on superficial observation. Various repairs can easily be recognized, and the most important are the work of Hermokrates; to his rebuilding also should be attributed the two round towers on the N and W, which reused materials from earlier temples. Blocks from the same buildings were, however, reused in several other places and in greatest number within the small N chambers. This demonstrates that at least some temples had collapsed after the battle in 409, a fact hinted at by Diodoros' description of the battle itself (13.54-59). Only two gates survive, the one to the W and the more important one on the N side, which connected the acropolis with the city. There are many postern gates, both on the E and W sides, several of them blocked. Several square towers dot the circuit of the walls on all sides; one of them has recently yielded two archaic metopes probably reused by Hermokrates.

B) Ancient city. To the N of the acropolis, on the hill called Manuzza, stood the city proper, also surrounded by walls of which only traces remain; its street pattern has recently been identified through aerial photography. There have been no excavations.

C) Temples on the E Hill. At a certain moment in the city's history, for reasons as yet unknown, the Selinuntines built three temples on the hill to the W of the city and acropolis, beyond the river Cottone. These must have been built about the middle of the 6th c. B.C. since this is the date given to the earliest of the three temples, Temple F. This building, the smallest of the three, has a stylobate measuring 61.83 by 24.43 m and lies between the other two. It was hexastyle with 14 columns on the sides; its plan includes a pronaos, cella, and adyton, but no opisthodomos. Its metopes, like all the others, are now in the Palermo Museum.

To the S lies Temple E; it belongs to the best phase of Doric construction, the phase that is usually called developed Doric and is generally dated 480-460 B.C. It is hexastyle peripteral with 15 columns to the side and was probably set within a temenos, as suggested by a recently discovered wall. Its plan comprises pronaos, cella, adyton, and opisthodomos in antis, its stylobate measures 67.82 by 25.33 m; in the adyton stands the base for the cult statue of the patron deity, probably Hera. The pronaos frieze carried sculpted metopes, four of which are in the Palermo Museum. The building has been recently restored.

Temple G is one of the largest temples of antiquity: its stylobate measures 110.36 by 50.10 m and its columns are 16.27 m high with a diameter of 3.41 m. The building was never completed, probably because it was still unfinished at the time of the city's destruction in 409 B.C.; it must have been started at the beginning of that century. Either because the length of the period it was under construction allowed for various changes and modernizations or because its proportions favored the expression of the architects' imagination, this temple presents peculiarities not found in other Doric temples. It was hypaethral since the central nave was left unroofed; the vast cella had three doors corresponding to the three inner naves formed by two rows of ten monolithic columns in two tiers. The stone to build this temple came from the quarries of Cusa, which are ca. 9 km NW of Selinus as the crow flies. These quarries are still in the condition in which they were when the work was suspended and one finds there some partly cut column drums that correspond in dimensions to the columns of Temple G; the stone, moreover, is the same.

D) Sanctuary of the Malophoros. Scarcely more than a km separates the acropolis and the city from this structure, which lies to the W beyond the river Modione (Selinos). The dedication of the sanctuary is indicated by various inscriptions and by several thousand terracotta statuettes depicting a goddess with a pomegranate. The sanctuary is quadrangular (50 x 60 m) with a precinct wall encompassing several interior structures. The main building is shaped like a megaron and is dedicated to the major divinity, the Malophoros, perhaps to be equated with Demeter; in front of it lies a large rectangular altar. Within the peribolos is a smaller shrine dedicated to Zeus Meilichios where the famous twin stelai depicting a god and a goddess were uncovered; they belong to the Punic phase. There is also a Hekataion. This is obviously a sanctuary dedicated to the chthonian deities. The temenos was entered through the propylaia, which seem to have been remodeled during the Punic period; at that time the sanctuary was still in use, and even later, during the Byzantine phase, when the main megaron was adapted to a new function. The earliest evidence from this site goes back to the middle of the 7th c. B.C., and is thus contemporary with the earliest finds from the acropolis at Selinus, but here the aspect both of the buildings and of the divinities worshiped suggest that this sanctuary served not only for Greek Selinus but also for other neighboring centers inhabited by peoples of different origins.

Near the sanctuary a spring, which is still flowing, may have been the reason for the erection of the temenos in this area.

E) Necropoleis. The cemeteries attributed to Selinus lie E and W of the river Modione. Those to the E are the necropoleis of Galera-Bagliazzo and Buffa; those to the W, Manicalunga-Timpone Nero, Bresciana, and Pipio. There are several tens of thousands of graves, both cremation and inhumation: built graves, tile graves (a cappuccina), earth cists. The cemeteries E of the Modione may be dated as early as the mid 7th c. B.C.; those to the W, no earlier than the 6th. The latter extend as far as 5 km from the city, with the added obstacle of the river crossing and therefore may belong to another settlement not yet found.

This was the only Greek city of Sicily to have decorated its temples with sculptures (Palermo Museum). They belong to at least four periods, extending from the end of the 7th to the middle of the 5th c. B.C. Although they are all Classical Greek sculptures, certain aspects are obviously local and prevent exact classification within any of the known categories. A clear example of what might be called Sicilian, is the bronze statue of the so-called Ephebe, which dates to the beginning of the 5th c. B.C.

It has been hazarded that the temples were dedicated to the following divinities: Shrine of the small metopes to Apollo, Leto, and Artemis. For the three temples replacing this small temple—Temple C to Apollo, Temple A to Leto, and Temple O to Artemis; Temple G is attributed to Zeus; Temple F to Athena; Temple E to Hera, and Temple D to Aphrodite.

Selinus had its own mint and some coins carry the device of the wild celery, which gave the city its name.


M. Santangelo, Selinunte (1961) (J. M. Bovio) with previous bibliographyMPI; EAA 7 (1966)MPI; E. Gabrici, “Studi archeologici selinuntini,” MonAnt 43 (1956)MPI; G. Vallet & F. Villard, “La date de fondation de Selinonte: les données archéologiques,” BCH (1958) 16ffI; A. Di Vita, “Le stele puniche del recinto di Zeus Meilichios a Selinunte,” Atti del Convegno di Studi Annibalici (1964) 238ff; id., “Per l'architettura e la urbanistica di età greca arcaica: la stoà del temenos del tempio C e lo sviluppo programmato di Selinunte,” Palladio (1967) 3ffPI; C. Kerényi, “Le divinità e i templi di Selinunte,” Kokalos 12 (1966) 3ff; V. Tusa, “Aree sacrificali a Selinunte e a Solunto,” Mozia, II (1966) 143ffPI; id., “Le divinità e i templi di Selinunte,” Kokalos 13 (1967) 186ff; id., “Due nuove metope arcaiche da Selinunte,” ArchCl 21 (1969) 153ffI; id., “Tombe della necropoli di Selinunte,” Sicilia Archeologica 11 (1970) 11ffI; id. “Le necropoli di Selinunte,” Odéon (1971) 177ffPI; D. White, “The post-classical cult of Malophoros at Selinus,” AJA 71 (1967) 335ffI.


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