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LEONTI´NI

Eth. LEONTI´NI (Eth. Λεοντῖνοι: Eth. Λεοντῖνος: Eth. Leontinus), a city of Sicily, situated between Syracuse and Catana, but about eight miles from the sea-coast, near a considerable lake now known as the Lago di Lentini. The name of Leontini is evidently an ethnic form, signifying properly the people rather than the city itself; but it seems to have been the only one in use, and is employed both by Greek and Latin writers (declined as a plural adjective1), with the single exception of Ptolemy, who calls the city Λεόντιον or Leontium. (Ptol. 3.4.13.) But it is clear, from the modern form of the name, Lentini, that the form Leontini, which we find universal in writers of the best ages, continued in common use down to a late period. All ancient writers concur in representing Leontini as a Greek colony, and one of those of Chalcidian origin, being founded by Chalcidic colonists from Naxos, in the same year with Catana, and six years after the parent city of Naxos, B.C. 730. (Thuc. 6.3; Scymn. Ch. 283; Diod. 12.53, 14.14.) According to Thucydides, the site had been previously occupied by Siculi, but these were expelled, and the city became essentially a Greek colony. We know little of its early history; but, from the strength of its position and the extreme fertility of its territory (renowned in all ages for its extraordinary richness), it appears to have early attained to great prosperity, and became one of the most considerable cities in the E. of Sicily. The rapidity of its rise is attested by the fact that it was able, in its turn, to found the colony of Euboea (Strab. vi. p.272 ; Scymn. Ch. 287), apparently at a very early period. It is probable, also, that the three Chalcidic cities, Leontini, Naxos, and Catana, from the earliest period adopted the same line of policy, and made common cause against their Dorian neighbours, as we find them constantly doing in later times.

The government of Leontini was an oligarchy, but it fell at one time, like so many other cities of Sicily, under the yoke of a despot of the name of Panaetius, who is said to have been the first instance of the kind in Sicily. His usurpation is referred by Eusebius to the 43rd Olympiad, or B.C. 608. (Arist. Pol. 5.10, 12; Euseb. Arm. vol. ii. p. 109.)

Leontini appears to have retained its independence till after B.C. 498, when it fell under the yoke of Hippocrates, tyrant of Gela (Hdt. 7.154): after which it seems to have passed in succession under the authority of Gelon and Hieron of Syracuse; as we find that, in B.C. 476, the latter despot, having expelled the inhabitants of Catana and Naxos from their native cities, which he peopled with new colonists, established the exiles at Leontini, the possession of which they shared with its former citizens. (Diod. 11.49.) We find no special mention of Leontini in the revolutions that followed the death of Hieron; but there is no doubt that it regained its independence after the expulsion of Thrasybulus, B.C. 466, and the period which followed was probably that of the greatest prosperity of Leontini, as well as the other Chalcidic cities of Sicily. (Diod. 11.72, 76.) But its proximity to Syracuse became the source of fresh troubles to Leontini. In B.C. 427 the Leontines found themselves engaged in hostilities with their more powerful neighbour, and, being unable to cope single-handed with the Syrasans, they applied for support not only to their Chalcidic brethren, but to the Athenians also, who sent a fleet of twenty ships to their assistance, under the command of Laches and Charoeades. (Thuc. 3.86; Diod. 12.53.) The operations of the Athenian fleet under Laches and his successors Pythodorus and Eurymedon were, however, confined to the part of Sicily adjoining the Straits of Messana: the Leontines received no direct support from them, but, after the war had continued for some years, they were included in the general pacification of Gela, B.C. 424, which for a time secured them in the possession of their independence. (Thuc. 4.58, 65.) This, however, did not last long: the Syracusans took advantage of intestine dissensions among the Leontines, and, by espousing the cause of the oligarchy, drove the democratic party into exile, while they adopted the oligarchy and richer classes as Syracusan citizens. The greater part of the latter body even abandoned their own city, and migrated to Syracuse; but quickly returned, and for a time joined with the exiles in holding it out against the power of the Syracusans. But the Athenians, to whom they again applied, were unable to render them any effectual assistance ; they were a second time expelled, B.C. 422, and Leontini became a mere dependency of Syracuse, though always retaining some importance as a fortress, from the strength of its position. (Thuc. 5.4; Diod. 12.54.)

In B.C. 417 the Leontine exiles are mentioned as joining with the Segestans in urging on the Athenian expedition to Sicily (Diod. 12.83; Plut. Nic. 12) ; and their restoration was made one of the avowed objects of the enterprise. (Thuc. 6.50.) But the failure of that expedition left them without any hope of restoration ; and Leontini continued in its subordinate and fallen condition till B.C. 406, when the Syracusans allowed the unfortunate Agrigentines, after the capture of their own city by the Carthaginians, to establish themselves at Leontini. The Geloans and Camarinaeans followed their example the next year: the Leontine exiles of Syracuse at the same time took the opportunity to return to their native city, and declare themselves independent, and the treaty of peace concluded by Dionysius with Himilco, in B.C. 405, expressly stipulated for the [p. 2.159]freedom and independence of Leontini. (Diod. 13.89, 113, 114; Xen. Hell. 2.3. 5) This condition was not long observed by Dionysius, who no sooner found himself free from the fear of Carthage than he turned his arms against the Chalcidic cities, and, after reducing Catana and Naxos, compelled the Leontines, who were now bereft of all their allies, to surrender their city, which was for the second time deserted, and the whole people transferred to Syracuse, B.C. 403. (Id. 14.14, 15.) At a later period of his reign (B.C. 396) Dionysius found himself compelled to appease the discontent of his mercenary troops, by giving up to them both the city and the fertile territory of Leontini, where they established themselves to the number of 10,000 men. (Id. 14.78.) From this time Leontini is repeatedly mentioned in connection with the civil troubles and revolutions at Syracuse, with which city it seems to have constantly continued in intimate relations; but, as Strabo observes, always shared in its disasters, without always partaking of its prosperity. (Strab. vi. p.273.) Thus, the Leontines were among the first to declare against the younger Dionysius, and open their gates to Dion (Diod. 16.16; Plut. Dion. 39, 40). Some years afterwards their city was occupied with a military force by Hicetas, who from thence carried on war with Timoleon (Ib. 78, 82); and it was not till after the great victory of the latter over the Carthaginians (B.C. 340) that he was able to expel Hicetas and make himself master of Leontini. (Ib. 82; Plut. Tim. 32.) That city was not, like almost all the others of Sicily, restored on this occasion to freedom and independence, but was once more incorporated in the Syracusan state, and the inhabitants transferred to that city. (Diod. 16.82.)

At a later period the Leontines again figure as an independent state, and, during the wars of Agathocles with the Carthaginians, on several occasions took part against the Syracusans. (Diod. 19.110, 20.32.) When Pyrrhus arrived in Sicily, B.C. 278, they were subject to a tyrant or despot of the name of Heracleides, who was one of the first to make his submission to that monarch. (Id. 22.8, 10, Exc. H. p. 497.) But not long after they appear to have again fallen under the yoke of Syracuse, and Leontini was one of the cities of which the sovereignty was secured to Hieron, king of Syracuse, by the treaty concluded with him by the Romans at the commencement of the First Punic War, B.C. 263. (Id. xxiii. Exc. H. p. 502.) This state of things continued till the Second Punic War, when Leontini again figures conspicuously in the events which led to the fall of Syracuse. It was in one of the long and narrow streets of Leontini that Hieronymus was assassinated by Dinomenes, B.C. 215 (Liv. 24.7; Plb. 7.6); and it was there that, shortly after, Hippocrates and Epicydes first raised the standard of open war against Rome. Marcellus hastened to attack the city, and made himself master of it without difficulty; but the severities exercised by him on this occasion inflamed the minds of the Syracusans to such an extent as to become the immediate occasion of the rupture with Rome. (Liv. 24.29, 30, 39.) Under the Roman government Leontini was restored to the position of an independent municipal town, but it seems to have sunk into a state of decay. Cicero calls it “misera civitas atque inanis” (Verr. 2.66); and, though its fertile territory was still well cultivated, this was done almost wholly by farmers from other cities of Sicily, particularly from Centuripa. (Ib. 3.46, 49.) Strabo also speaks of it as in a very declining condition, though the name is still found in Pliny and Ptolemy, it seems never to have been a place of importance under the Roman rule. (Strab. vi. p.273; Mel. 2.7.16; Plin. Nat. 3.8. s. 14; Ptol. 3.4.13.) But the great strength of its position must have always preserved it from entire decay, and rendered it a place of some consequence in the middle ages. The modern city of Lentini, which preserves the ancient site as well as name, is a poor place, though with about 5000 inhabitants, and suffers severely from malaria. No ruins are visible on the site ; but some extensive excavations in the rocky sides of the hill on which it stands are believed by the inhabitants to be the work of the Laestrygones, and gravely described as such by Fazello. (Fazell. de Reb. Sic. 3.3.)

The situation of Leontini is well described by Polybius: it stood on a broken hill, divided into two separate summits by an intervening valley or hollow; at the foot of this hill on the W. side, flowed a small stream, which he calls the LISSUS now known as the Fiume Ruina, which falls into the Lake of Lentini, a little below the town. (Pol. 7.6.) The two summits just noticed, being bordered by precipitous cliffs, formed, as it were, two natural citadels or fortresses; it was evidently one of these which Thucydides mentions under the name of PHOCEAE which was occupied in B.C. 422 by the Leontine exiles who returned from Syracuse. (Thuc. 5.4.) Both heights seem to have been fortified by the Syracusans, who regarded Leontini as an important fortress ; and we find them alluded to as “the forts” (τὰ φρούρια) of Leontini. (Diod. 14.58, 22.8.) Diodorus also mentions that one quarter of Leontini was known by the name of “The New Town” ( Νέα πόλις, 16.72); but we have no means of determining its locality. It is singular that no ancient author alludes to the Lake (or as it is commonly called the Biviere) of Lentini, a sheet of water of considerable extent, but stagnant and shallow, which lies immediately to the N. of the city. It produces abundance of fish, but is considered to be the principal cause of the malaria from which the city now suffers. (D'Orville, Sicula, p. 168 ; Smyth's Sicily, pp. 157, 158.)

The extraordinary fertility of the territory of Leontini, or the LEONTINUS CAMPUS, is celebrated by many ancient authors. According to a tradition commonly received, it was there that wheat grew wild, and where it was first brought into cultivation (Diod. 4.24, 5.2); and it was always regarded as the most productive district in all Sicily for the growth of corn. Cicero calls it “campus ille Leontinus nobilissimus ac feracissimus,” “uberrima Siciliae pars,” “caput rei frumentariae;” and says that the Romans were accustomed to consider it as in itself a sufficient resource against scarcity. (Cic. Ver. 3.18, 44, 46, pro Scaur. 2, Phil. 8.8.) The tract thus celebrated, which was known also by the name of the LAESTRYGONII CAMPI [LAESTRYGONES], was evidently the plain extending from the foot of the hills on which Leontini was situated to the river Symaethus, now known as the Piano di Catania. We have no explanation of the tradition which led to the fixing on this fertile tract as the abode of the fabulous Laestrygones.

Leontini was noted as the birthplace of the celebrated orator Gorgias, who in B.C. 427 was the head of the deputation sent by his native city to [p. 2.160]implore the intervention of Athens. (Diod. 12.53; Plat. Hipp. Maj. p. 282.)

COIN OF LEONTINI.

[E.H.B]

1 Polybius uses the fuller phrase τῶν Λεοντίνων τόλις (7.6).

hide References (34 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (34):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.72
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.76
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.53
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.54
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.113
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.114
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.89
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.14
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 16.16
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.49
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.83
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.58
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 16.82
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.154
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.86
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.50
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.65
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.3
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 2.3.5
    • Polybius, Histories, 7.6
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.8
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 29
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 39
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 7
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 30
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.58
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.4
    • Plutarch, Nicias, 12
    • Plutarch, Timoleon, 32
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 4.24
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 5.2
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.110
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 20.32
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.4
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