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ERBESSUS or HERBESSUS (Ἐρβησσός, Pol., Steph. B. sub voce Ptol.; Ἑρβησσός, Diod.; Herbessus, Liv., Cic., Plin.: Eth. Ἐρβησσῖνος, Philist. ap. Steph. B. sub voce Herbessensis), the name of two cities in Sicily. It has been frequently attempted to limit the name of Erbessus to the one, and Herbessus to the other; but this distinction cannot be maintained, and the aspirated or unaspirated forms appear to be used indis criminately.


A town or fortress not far from Agrigentum, which was made use of by the Romans during the siege of that city, B.C. 262, as a place of deposit for their provisions and military stores. (Pol. 1.18.) At a later period of the siege, Hanno the Carthaginian general made himself master of the place, and was thus enabled to reduce the Romans to great difficulties by cutting off their supplies. (Pol. 1. c.) But after the fall of Agrigentum the Carthaginians were no longer able to maintain possession of Erbessus, which was abandoned by the inhabitants, probably from fear of the Roman vengeance. (Diod. 23.9. p. 503.) These are the only notices which appear to refer to the town in question; it was probably a place of inferior importance, and a mere dependency on Agrigentum. Its exact site cannot be determined; but Fazello is probably right, in regard to its general position, in placing it near the upper course of the Halycus.


A city in the E. of Sicily, on the confines of the territories of Leontini and Syracuse. It was evidently a place of more importance than the preceding one, and may therefore be fairly assumed to be the place meant where no further designation is added. It is first mentioned in B.C. 404 as a city of the Siculi, which had furnished assistance to the Carthaginian army during the siege of Syracuse, and was in consequence one of the first places against which Dionysius turned his arms after the conclusion of peace with Carthage. (Diod. 14.7.) But the sudden defection of his own troops recalled him in haste to Syracuse; and some years after we find Erbessus still maintaining its independence, and concluding a treaty with Dionysius. (Id. ib. 78.) No further notice of it is found till the time of Agathocles, when it was occupied by that tyrant with a garrison, which in B.C. 309 was expelled by the citizens with the assistance of the Agrigentines and their allies under Xenodicus. (Id. 20.31.) In the Second Punic War Erbessus is again mentioned; it was the place to which Hippocrates and Epicydes fled for refuge from Leontini, and from whence they succeeded in exciting the defection first of the Syracusan force sent against them, and ultimately of the city itself. (Liv. 24.30, 31; Paus. 6.12.4.) Erbessus on this occasion espoused the Carthaginian alliance, but was soon recovered by Marcellus. (Id. 35.) We have no account of its fortunes under the Roman rule, but it was probably a mere dependency of Syracuse, as the name is not once mentioned by Cicero. The Herbessenses, however, reappear in Pliny as an independent community; both he and Ptolemy place them in the interior of the island, but afford no further clue to the position. (Plin. Nat. 3.8. s. 14; Ptol. 3.4.13; Philist. ap. Steph. B. sub voce

From the passages of Diodorus and Livy it is clear that Erbessus was situated inland from Syracuse, and not very remote from Leontini: hence the site suggested by Fazello at a place called Pantalica, opposite to Sortino, about 16 mile W. of Syracuse, is at least a plausible conjecture. The site in question is now wholly desolate, and retains no ruins, but presents a curious assemblage of subterranean dwellings excavated in the cliffs of solid but soft calcareous rock, similar to those in the Val d'Ispica near Modica. The date of these excavations is very uncertain, though they are generally regarded as of great antiquity. (Fazell. de Reb. Sic. 10.2. p. 454; Amic. Lex. Top. Sic. vol. ii. p. 176.) [E.H.B]

hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.7
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.12.4
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.8
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 31
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 30
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.4
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