previous next


HI´MERA (Ἱμέρας), the name of two rivers in Sicily, the one flowing to the N. into the Tyrrhenina Sea, the other to the S. coast of the island, but which, by a strange confusion, were regarded by many ancient writers as one and the same river, which is in consequence described as rising in the centre of the island, and flowing in two different directions, so as completely to divide Sicily into two parts. It is singular that, if we may believe Vibius Sequester, this absurd notion is as old as the time of Stesichorus, who was himself a native of Himera. Mela is, however, the only one of the ancient geographers who adopts it. (Mel. 2.7.17; Solin. 5.17; Vib. Sequest. p. 12; Sil. Ital. 14.233; Antig. Caryst. 133; Vitr. 8.3.7.


The southern and most important river of the name, is certainly the one now called the Fiume Salso, one of the most considerable streams in Sicily, which rises in the Monti di Madoniu, the Nebrodes Mons of the ancients, and flowing nearly due S. enters the sea at Alicata (Phintias). In the upper part of its course it is composed of two branches, running nearly parallel with one another; the one now called the Fiume Grande rising near Gangi, the other, called the Fiume di Petralia, from the town of the same name: it is only after the junction of the two that it obtains the name of Fiume Salso. It is impossible to say which of the two branches was regarded by the ancients as the true Himera; but in either case that river has a course of above 50 miles from N. to S., and its sources are not above 15 miles from the N. coast of the island. Hence the expression of Polybius and Livy, that the Himera nearly divides the whole of Sicily into two parts, is by no means inaccurate. (Pol. 7.4; Liv. 24.6.) But it is evidently this circumstance, coupled with the fact that there was another river of the same name flowing into the Tyrrhenian Sea, which gave rise to the fable above noticed. Strabo, who does not notice the southern Himera, applies (evidently by mistake) very nearly the same words as Polybius to the northern river of the name. (Strab. vi. p.266.) Diodorus notices the brackish quality of the waters of the Himera, which gives rise to its modern name of Fiume Salso: this is caused by the junction of a small stream near Caltanisetta, that flows from the salt mines in that vicinity. (Diod. 19.109; Smyth's Sicily, p. 198.) Solinus erroneously ascribes this quality to the northern Himera (Solin. 5.17); while Vitruvius rightly attributes it to the southern river only (8.3.7).

Historically, the southern Himera is remarkable for the great battle fought on its banks between Agathocles and the Carthaginians, in which the latter obtained a complete victory, B.C. 311. (Diod. 19.107-110.) The scene of this action was a short distance from the mouth of the river, the Carthaginians occupying the hill of Ecnomus, while Agathocles was encamped on the left bank. [ECNOMUS] At a much earlier period, B.C. 446, it witnessed a defeat of the Agrigentines by the Syracusans (Diod. 12.8); and, again, in the Second Punic War, B.C. 212, became the scene of an action between Marcellus and the Carthaginian forces under Hanno and Epicydes of Syracuse, in which the latter were defeated and driven to take shelter within the walls of Agrigentum. (Liv. 25.40, 41.) By the treaty concluded with Carthage by Hieronymus of Syracuse, it was agreed to divide the whole of Sicily between the two powers, so that the river Himera should be the boundary of their respective dominions. (Polyb, 7.4; Liv. 24.6.) [p. 1.1069]But this arrangement was never actually carried into effect. Ptolemy correctly places the mouth of the southern Himera to the E. of the emporium of Agrigentum (Ptol. 3.4.7): he is the only one of the geographers who mentions both rivers of the name. An inscription recorded by Torremuzza, containing a dedication ΑΣΚΑΗΠΙΩ KAI IMEPA ΠΟΤΑΜΩ, must, from its being found at Caltanisetta, refer to the southern Himera. (Castell. Inscr. Sicil. p. 4; Boeckh. C. I. no. 5747.)


The northern Himera, a much less considerable stream than the preceding, is uniformly described as flowing by the city to which it gave its name (Plin. Nat. 3.8. s. 14; Steph. B. sub voce Ἀκράγας; Vib. Sequest. p. 11); and Pindar speaks of the great victory of Gelon (which we know to have been fought in the immediate vicinity of the city) as gained “upon the banks of the fair waters of the Himera” (Pyth. 1.153). Hence its identification is necessarily connected with the determination of the site of that city, a question still the subject of dispute. Cluverius, and those who have followed him in placing Himera itself in the immediate neighbourhood of Termini, and on the left bank of the river which flows by that town, have, in consequence, assumed the stream just mentioned (now called the Flume di Termini, or, in the upper part of its course, the Fiume S. Lionardo) to be the ancient Himera. Fazello, on the contrary, identifies the latter with the river now called the Fiume Grande, which rises in the Madonia mountains near Polizzi, and flows into the sea about 8 miles E. of Termini. The arguments in favour of the latter view are certainly very strong. 1. Strabo, in giving the distances along the N. coast of Sicily, reckons 18 miles from Cephaloedium (Cefalù) to the mouth of the Himera, and 35 from thence to Panormus. The first distance is overstated, the true distance to the mouth of the F. Grande being only 15 miles; the latter just about right if we follow the windings of the coast whereas, if we place the Himera beyond Termini, both distances are equally wrong. 2. Ptolemy distinctly places the mouth of the river Himera between Thermae (Termini) and Cephaloedium, and, therefore, to the east of the former city. (Ptol. 3.4.3.) This is assumed by Cluverius to be a mistake of Ptolemy, and it must be admitted that many such mistakes occur in that author's description of Sicily; but still there is no occasion to multiply them unnecessarily. Lastly, if the northern Himera be recognised in the Fiume Grande,--the sources of which neat Polizzi are in the very same group of mountains with, and a very short distance from, those of the Finme di Petralia, one branch of the southern Himera,--the notion of these being one and the same river becomes in some degree intelligible; while it is difficult to conceive how such a notion should have arisen, if the head waters of the two were separated by an interval of many miles. The other arguments connected with the site of the city, are considered in that article. Theocritus more than once alludes to the river Himera as a celebrated Sicilian stream; but in such general terms as to afford no indication which of the two rivers he means: the Scholiast, however, understands him to refer to the northern Himera. (Theocr. 5.124, 7.75; Schol. ad . loc.) [E.H.B]

hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.8
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 8.3.7
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.8
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 6
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 25, 40
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 25, 41
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.107
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.109
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.110
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.4
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: