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GELA (Γέλα: Eth. Γελῷος, Eth. Gelensis: Terranova), one of the most important Greek cities of Sicily, situated on the S. coast of the island, between Agrigentum and Camarina, and at the mouth of the river of the same name. It was founded, as we learn from Thucydides, forty-four years after the foundation of Syracuse, or B.C. 690, by a joint colony of Cretans and Rhodians under the guidance of Antiphemus of Rhodes and Entimus of Crete. The Rhodian colonists came, for the most part, from Lindus; hence the spot on which the new city was first built obtained the name of Lindii, by which it continued to be known in the days of Thucydides, though the city itself acquired that of Gela, from the river of that name on the banks of which it was situated. (Thuc. 6.4; Hdt. 7.153; Schol. ad Pind. Ol. 2.16; Diod. [p. 1.984]8.25. Exc. Vat. p. 11; Callim. ap. Schol. Pind. l.c.; Verg. A. 3.702; Sil. Ital. 14.218.) Like most of the Greek colonies in Sicily, we have very little information as to its history for nearly two centuries after its foundation. Some obscure notices of its struggles with the barbarians of the interior (Paus. 8.46.2; Schol. Pind. l.c.), and of internal dissensions between conflicting factions, in one of which Telines, the ancestor of Gelon, bore a conspicuous part (Hdt. 7.153), are all that we hear of it during this period. But the fact that in B.C. 582 the Geloans were able to found the powerful colony of Agrigentum, may be taken as a proof that they themselves, at that period, were in a flourishing condition. The new colony, indeed, rapidly outstripped its parent city, and rose for a time, under Phalaris, to be the most powerful state in Sicily [AGRIGENTUM]: but Gela subsequently obtained its turn of prosperity, if not of supremacy, under the rule of Hippocrates. The form of government at Gela had at first been oligarchical, as was the case with most of the Greek cities in Sicily (Arist. Pol. 5.12); and this constitution continued till it was subverted by Cleander, who raised himself to de. spotic power. We have scarcely any information concerning the circumstances of his reign; but we know that he ruled seven years (B.C. 505--498), and transmitted the sovereign power, without opposition, to his brother Hippocrates, who, during a reign of about the same duration (B.C. 498--491), raised Gela to a pitch of power and prosperity far surpassing what it had previously attained, and even extended his dominion over a great part of Sicily. He successively reduced Leontini, Callipolis, and Naxos under his yoke, took the city of Zancle, which he made over to the Samians [MESSANA], and waged successful war against the Syracusans themselves, who were compelled to purchase peace by the cession of Camarina. (Hdt. 7.153, 154.) At the death of Hippocrates (B.C. 491) Gelon succeeded to the sovereign power, and rapidly followed in the same career of successful aggrandisement; till, in B.C. 485, he succeeded in making himself master of Syracuse itself. [GELON, Biogr. Dict.] But this event, which seemed likely to raise Gela to the position of the first city in Sicily, became, on the contrary, the cause of its decline. Gelon from this time despised his native city, and directed all his efforts to the aggrandisement of his new capital, with which object he even compelled half of the inhabitants of Gela to migrate to Syracuse. (Hdt. 7.156.) His successor Hieron also appears to have driven a large number of the citizens of Gela into exile: but after the expulsion of Thrasybulus (B.C. 466) all these returned to their native city, and Gela not only became itself repeopled; but was able to settle a fresh colony at Camarina, which had been rendered desolate by Gelon. (Diod. 11.76.) The period which followed, from the restoration of its liberty to the Carthaginian invasion (B.C. 466--406), seems to have been one of great prosperity for Gela, as well as for the rest of Sicily. The Geloans appear to have adhered uniformly to the same line of policy with the other Doric cities in the island: and hence they were among the first to promise their support to the Syracusans on the approach of the Athenian expedition (B.C. 415). Immediately after the arrival of Gylippus, the Geloans sent a small body of troops to his support, and, after the first successes of the Syracusan arms, they furnished a more considerable force of 600 troops, with a squadron of five ships. (Thuc. 7.33, 58; Diod. 13.4, 12.)

A few years later the great Carthaginian invasion brought destruction on Gela, as it had previously done on Himera, Selinus, and Agrigentum. After the capture of the last city (B.C. 406), the Geloans afforded a temporary refuge to its inhabitants, and treated them with the utmost kindness: at the same time they urgently applied to the Syracusans for assistance; but Dionysius, who was at that time just rising to power, though he visited Gela, and brought about a democratic revolution in the city, took no further steps for its protection. (Diod. 13.89, 93.) The next spring (B.C. 405) the Carthaginians appeared before Gela, and laid siege to the city, which was a place of no natural strength, and not well fortified; notwithstanding which, the inhabitants made a gallant resistance, and were able to repulse all the attacks of the enemy till the arrival of Dionysius at the head of a large army to their relief. But that general, having been defeated in his first attack on the Carthaginian camp, renounced all further efforts, and compelled the Geloans to follow the example of the Agrigentines, and abandon their city with their wives and families. The unhappy exiles withdrew to Leontini, while Gela itself was plundered and laid waste by the Carthaginians. (Diod. 13.108-111, 113.)

By the peace which Dionysius soon after concluded with Himilco, the Geloans were permitted to return to their own city, on condition of not restoring its fortifications, and of paying tribute to Carthage (Diod. 13.114), and there is no doubt that they availed themselves of these terms; but Gela, though repeopled, never rose again to its former prosperity. In B.C. 397 the citizens gladly declared themselves free from the Carthaginian yoke, and joined Dionysius in his expedition against the western cities of Sicily (Id. 14.47): and, notwithstanding the various vicissitudes of fortune that marked the wars between the Syracusan despot and the Carthaginians, they sueceeded in maintaining their independence of the latter people, which was secured to them by the treaty of B.C. 383 (Id. 15.17). Of their subsequent fortunes we hear nothing for some time; but they are mentioned as among the first to join the standard of Dion, when he landed in Sicily, B.C. 357 (Plut. Dion. 26), and, after the victory of Timoleon (B.C. 338), Gela, which was at that time in a very decayed state, was replenished with a fresh body of colonists, composed in part of her old inhabitants, with the addition of new settlers from the island of Ceos. (Plut. Tim. 35.) This colony appears, for a time, to have restored Gela to a tolerable degree of prosperity; and it figures in the wars of Agathocles as an independent city, possessing considerable resources. But a severe blow was again inflicted on it by that tyrant, who, in B.C. 311, being apprehensive of its defection to the Carthaginians, contrived to introduce a body of troops into the city, and massacred above 4000 of the principal citizens. (Diod. 19.71, 107.) By this means he established his power there for the time, and after his great defeat at Ecnomus he took refuge with the remains of his army at Gela, where he was able to defy the arms of the Carthaginians. (Id. 19.110.) But in B.C. 309, when the Agrigentines, under Xenodicus, raised the standard of independence, and proclaimed the freedom of the separate cities, the Geloans were. the first to join them, and took an active part in their enterprise. (Id. 20.31.) Gela appears to have, at this time, recovered a considerable degree of power and prosperity, but we hear nothing more of it during [p. 1.985]the time of Agathocles, and when its name next occurs we find it subject to the rule of Phintias, the despot of Agrigentum, who, with the view of augmenting the city that he had lately founded near the mouth of the Himera and called after his own name [PHINTIAS], not only removed thither the inhabitants of Gela, but demolished the walls and houses of the older, city. (Diod, 22.2. Exc. Hoesch. p. 495.)

It is evident that Gela. never recovered from this blow: we find, indeed, incidental mention of its being gain, devastated soon after by the Mamertines (Diod. 23.1. Exc. H. p. 501); but in the First Punic War no notice occurs of the city, though the territory is mentioned on one occasion in connection with Phintias (Diod. 24.1. Exc. H. p. 508). Under the Roman rule, however, the “Gelenses” certainly existed as a separate community (Cic. Ver. 3.43), and the statement of Cicero, that after the capture of Carthage Scipio restored to them the statues that had been carried off from their city (Verr. 4.33), would seem to prove that the latter was then still in existence. Strabo, indeed, tells us that Gela was in his day uninhabited (vi. p. 272), and associates its fame with those of Callipolis and Naxos, as cities that had wholly disappeared; but his expressions must not be construed too literally, and the name is still found both in Pliny and Ptolemy. (Plin. Nat. 3.8. s. 14; Ptol. 3.4.15.) But it was probably at this period a. poor and decayed place, and no subsequent trace of it is found

The site of Gela has been the subject of much controversy in modern times, many local writers contending for its position at the. modern Alicata, at the mouth. of the river Salso, while Cluverius, who has been generally followed by the most recent authorities, places it at Terranova, about 18 miles further E., and at the mouth of the river now known as the Fiume di Terranova. All arguments derived from the statements of ancient writers are in favour of the latter view, which may, indeed, be considered as clearly established: the only evidence in favour of Alicata is the fact (in general, certainly a strong one) that an honorary inscription with the name of the Geloans has been found there. But as the ruins still visible near Alicata are in all probability those of Phintias, a city which was peopled with the inhabitants of Gela, it is easy to understand how such an inscription (which is of small dimensions) may have been transported thither. No doubt exists that Terranova occupies an ancient site; we learn from a. writer of the 13th century, that it was founded by the Emperor Frederic II., “super ruinis deletae atque obrutae urbis” (Guido Columna, cited by Fazello): and the remains of an ancient temple are still visible. there, of which the massive basement was preserved in the days of Fazello; and one column remained standing as late as the visit of D'Orville (1727), but is now fallen and half buried in the sand. Numerous coins and painted vases have been brought to light by excavations on the site. (Fazell. de Reb. Sic. 5.2. p. 232.; Cluver. Sicil. pp. 199, 200; D'Orville, Sicula, pp. 111--132; Smyth, Sicily, p. 196; Biscari,. Viaggio in Sicilia, p. 111; Siefert, Akragas u. s. Gebiet., pp. 47, 48.)

The situation of Terranova, on a slight eminence, a little more than a mile from the sea, precisely corresponds with the. account given by. Diodorus of the operations of Dionysius' when he attacked the Carthaginian camp, from which it is evident that, although situated near the sea-coast, it was sufficiently distant. from it to admit of the passage of one division of the army between., the. walls and the sea; (Diod. 13.109, 110.) No importance can be attached to the circumstance that Ptolemy reckons Gela among the inland towns of Sicily, as he includes in the. same category Phintias and Camarina, both of which were situated almost close to the coast.

The position of the city of Gela being ascertained, that of the river follows it. This can be no other than the one now called Fiume di Terranova, from its flowing by the walls of that town, which rises in the neighbourhood of Piazza, about 25 miles N. of Terranova. It still retains the character of a violent and impetuous torrent, alluded to by Ovid (Ov. Fast. 4.470); but has little water in the dry season. Ancient grammarians derive, the name of the river (from which that of the city was taken) from a Siculian word, ψέλα, signifying cold or frost, evidently connected with the Latin gelu. (Steph. B. sub voce Suid. s. v.; Etym. Magn. s. v.) An absurd story is, however, related by the same authorities, which, would derive the name of the city from ψελάω. The river-god Gelas is represented on most of the coins of the city, under the usual form of a bull with a human head: on one of them he bears the title of ΣΩΣΙΠΟΑΙΣ, a strong instance of that veneration for rivers which appears to have particularly characterised the Greeks of Sicily.

To the west of Gela extended a broad tract of plain, between the mountains and the sea, but separated from the last by an intervening range of hills. This is the Γελὧον πέδιον of Diodorus and the CAMPI GELOI of Virgil Aen. 3.701). It is still, as in ancient times, one of the most fertile corngrowing tracts in the whole of Sicily; whence Gela is termed, by the author of an ancient epigram, πυρύφορος, “the wheat-bearing” (Epigr. ap. Anon. Vit. Aesch.). According to an earlier writer (Amphis, ap. Athen. 2.67), it was renowned for the excellence of its lentils (φακῆ). We learn also from Pliny (31.7. s. 39, 41), that its territory produced abundance of salt.

Gela was the birth-place of Apollodorus, a comic poet of some note, who is frequently confounded with his more celebrated namesake of Carystus. (Suid. s. v. Ἀπολλόδωρος; Athen. 3.125.) It was also the place to which Aeschylus retired when driven from Athens, and where he was soon after killed by a singular accident (B.C. 456). The Geloans paid great respect to his memory, and his tomb was still visible there in after-ages. [AESCHYLUS, Biogr. Dict.] We learn from Pausanias that they had a treasury at Olympia, in which they dedicated valuable offerings. (Paus. 6.19.15.) The same author alludes to some statues, the reputed work of Daedalus, which had formerly existed at Gela, but had disappeared in the time of the historian. (Id. 9.40.4.) A colossal statue of Apollo, which stood outside the town, was carried off by the Carthaginians, in B.C. 405, and sent to Tyre, where it still remained when that city was taken by Alexander the Great. (Diod. 13.108.)

It is certain that Gela, in the days of its power and prosperity, possessed an extensive territory; though we have no means of fixing its exact limits. It was probably separated from that of Agrigenturn on the W. by the river Himera: of its extent towards the interior we have no account; but the name of a station given in the Itineraries as “Gelasium Philosophianis,” seems to prove that this point (which apparently coincided with the modern town of Piazza, [p. 1.986]about 24 miles from Terranova) must have been comprised in the territory of Gela.



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  • Cross-references from this page (29):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.76
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.110
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.111
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.113
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.114
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.12
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.89
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.93
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.108
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.109
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.4
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.153
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.154
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.156
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.19.15
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.46.2
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.33
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 3.702
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 31.7
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.8
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.4
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.58
    • Plutarch, Timoleon, 35
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 2.67
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.107
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.71
    • Ovid, Fasti, 4
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.4
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 3
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