previous next


SEGESTA (Σέγεστα, Αἴγεστα: Eth.Σεγεσταῖος, Eth. Σεγεστανός, Eth. Segestanus: Ru. near Calatafimi), a city of Sicily in the NW. part of the island, about 6 miles distant from the sea, and 34 W. of Panormus. Its name is always written by the Attic and other contemporary Greek writers EGESTA (Ἔγεστα: Eth. Ἐγεσταῖος, Thuc. &c., Eth. Ἀιγεσταῖος,), and it has hence been frequently asserted that it was first changed to Segesta by the Romans, for the purpose of avoiding the ill omen of the name of Egesta in Latin. (Fest. s.v. Segesta, p. 340.) This story is, however, disproved by its coins, which prove that considerably before the time of Thucydides it was called by the inhabitants themselves Segesta, though this form seems to have been softened by the Greeks into Egesta. The origin and foundation of Segesta is extremely obscure. The tradition current among the Greeks and adopted by Thucydides (Thuc. 6.2; Dionys. A. R. 1.52; Strab. xiii. p.608), ascribed its foundation to a band of Trojan settlers, fugitives from the destruction of their city; and this tradition was readily welcomed by the Romans, who in consequence claimed a kindred origin with the Segestans. Thucydides seems to have considered the Elymi, a barbarian tribe in the neighbourhood of Eryx and Segesta, as descended from the Trojans in question; but another account represents the Elymi as a distinct people, already existing in this part of Sicily when the Trojans arrived there and founded the two cities. [ELYMI] A different story seems also to have been current, according to which Segesta owed its origin to a band of Phocians, who had been among the followers of Philoctetes; and, as usual, later writers sought to reconcile the two accounts. (Strab. vi. p.272; Thuc. l.c.) Another version of the Trojan story, which would seem to have been that adopted by the inhabitants themselves, ascribed the foundation of the city to Egestus or Aegestus (the Acestes of Virgil), who was said to be the offspring of a Trojan damsel named Segesta by the river god Crimisus. (Serv. ad Aen. 1.550, 5.30.) We are told also that the names of Simois and Scamander were given by the Trojan colonists to two small streams which flowed beneath the town (Strab. xiii. p.608); and the latter name is mentioned by Diodorus as one still in use at a much later period. (Diod. 20.71.)

It is certain that we cannot receive the statement of the Trojan origin of Segesta as historical; but whatever be the origin of the tradition, there seems no doubt on the one hand that the city was occupied by a people distinct from the Sicanians, the native race of this part of Sicily, and on the other that it was not a Greek colony. Thucydides, in enumerating the allies of the Athenians at the time of the Peloponnesian War, distinctly calls the Segestans barbarians; and the history of the Greek colonies in Sicily was evidently recorded with sufficient care and accuracy for us to rely upon his authority when he pronounces any people to be non-Hellenic. (Thuc. 7.57.) At the same time they appear to have been, from a very early period, in close connection with the Greek cities of Sicily, and entering into relations both of hostility and alliance with the Hellenic states, wholly different from the other barbarians in the island. The early influence of Greek civilisation is shown also by their coins, which are inscribed with Greek characters, and bear the unquestionable impress of Greek art.

The first historical notice of the Segestans transmitted to us represents them as already engaged (as early as B.C. 580) in hostilities with the Selinuntines, which would appear to prove that both cities had already extended their territories so far as to come into contact with each other. By the timely assistance of a body of Cnidian and Rhodian emigrants under Pentathlus, the Segestans at this time obtained the advantage over their adversaries. (Diod. 5.9.) A more obscure statement of Diodorus relates that again in B.C. 454, the Segestans were engaged in hostilities with the Lilybaeans for the possession of the territory on the river Mazarus. (Id. 11.86.) The name of the Lilybaeans is here certainly erroneous, as no town of that name existed till long afterwards [LILYBAEUM]; but we know not what people is really meant, though the presumption is that it is the Selinuntines, with whom the Segestans seem to have been engaged in almost perpetual disputes. It was doubtless with a view to strengthen themselves against these neighbours that the Segestans took advantage of the first Athenian expedition to Sicily under Laches (B.C. 426), and concluded a treaty of alliance with Athens. (Thuc. 6.6.) This, however, seems to have led to no result, and shortly after, hostilities having again broken out, the Selinuntines called in the aid of the Syracusans, with whose assistance they obtained great advantages, and were able to press Segesta closely both by land and sea. In this extremity the Segestans, having in vain applied for assistance to Agrigentum, and even to Carthage, again had recourse to the Athenians, who were, without much difficulty, persuaded to espouse their cause, and send a fleet to Sicily, B.C. 416. (Thuc. 6.6; Diod. 12.82.) It is said that this result was in part attained by fraud, the Segestans having deceived the Athenian envoys by a fallacious display of wealth, and led them to conceive a greatly exaggerated notion of their resources. They, however, actually furnished 60 talents in ready money, and 30 more after the arrival of the Athenian armament. (Thuc. 6.8, 46; Diod. 12.83, 13.6.)

But though the relief of Segesta was thus the original object of the great Athenian expedition to Sicily, that city bears little part in the subsequent operations of the war. Nicias, indeed, on arriving in the island, proposed to proceed at once to Selinus, and compel that people to submission by the display of their formidable armament. But this advice was overruled: the Athenians turned their [p. 2.949]arms against Syracuse, and the contest between Segesta and Selinus was almost forgotten in the more important struggle between those two great powers. In the summer of B.C. 415 an Athenian fleet, proceeding along the coast, took the small town of Hyccara, on the coast, near Segesta, and made it over to the Segestans. (Thuc. 6.62; Diod. 13.6.) The latter people are again mentioned on more than one occasion as sending auxiliary troops to assist their Athenian allies (Thuc. 7.57; Diod. 13.7); but no other notice occurs of them. The final defeat of the Athenians left the Segestans again exposed to the attacks of their neighbours the Selinuntines; and feeling themselves unable to cope with them, they again had recourse to the Carthaginians, who determined to espouse their cause, and sent them, in the first instance, an auxiliary force of 5000 Africans and 800 Campanian mercenaries, which sufficed to ensure them the victory over their rivals, B.C. 410. (Diod. 13.43, 44.) But this was followed the next year by a vast armament under Hannibal, who landed at Lilybaeum, and, proceeding direct to Selinus, took and destroyed the city. (Ib. 54--58.) This was followed by the destruction of Himera; and the Carthaginian power now became firmly established in the western portion of Sicily. Segesta, surrounded on all sides by this formidable neighbour, naturally fell gradually into the position of a dependent ally of Carthage. It was one of the few cities that remained faithful to this alliance even in B.C. 397, when the great expedition of Dionysius to the W. of Sicily and the siege of Motya seemed altogether to shake the power of Carthage. Dionysius in consequence laid siege to Segesta, and pressed it with the utmost vigour, especially after the fall of Motya; but the city was able to defy his efforts, until the landing of Himilco with a formidable Carthaginian force changed the aspect of affairs, and compelled Dionysius to raise the siege. (Id. 14.48, 53--55.) From this time we hear little more of Segesta till the time of Agathocles, under whom it suffered a great calamity. The despot having landed in the W. of Sicily on his return from Africa (B.C. 307), and being received into the city as a friend and ally, suddenly turned upon the inhabitants on a pretence of disaffection, and put the whole of the citizens (said to amount to 10,000 in number) to the sword, plundered their wealth, and sold the women and children into slavery. He then changed the name of the city to Dicaeopolis, and assigned it as a residence to the fugitives and deserters that had gathered around him. (Diod. 20.71.)

It is probable that Segesta never altogether recovered this blow; but it soon resumed its original name, and again appears in history as an independent city. Thus it is mentioned in B.C. 276, as one of the cities which joined Pyrrhus during his expedition into the W. of Sicily. (Diod. 22.10. Exc. H. p. 498.) It, however, soon after fell again under the power of the Carthaginians; and it was probably on this occasion that the city was taken and plundered by them, as alluded to by Cicero (Verr. it. 33); a circumstance of which we have no other account. It continued subject to, or at least dependent on that people, till the First Punic War. In the first year of that war (B.C. 264) it was attacked by the consul Appius Claudius, but without success (Diod. 23.3. p. 501); but shortly after the inhabitants put the Carthaginian garrison to the sword, and declared for the alliance of Rome. (Ib. 5. p. 502; Zonar. 8.9.) They were in consequence besieged by a Carthaginian force, and were at one time reduced to great straits, but were relieved by the arrival of Duilius, after his naval victory, B.C. 260. (Pol. 1.24.) Segesta seems to have been one of the first of the Sicilian cities to set the example of defection from Carthage; on which account, as well as of their pretended Trojan descent, the inhabitants were treated with great distinction by the Romans. They were exempted from all public burdens, and even as late as the time of Cicero continued to be “sine foedere immunes ac liberi.” (Cic. Ver. 3.6, 4.33.) After the destruction of Carthage, Scipio Africanus restored to the Segestans a statue of Diana which had been carried off by the Carthaginians, probably when they obtained possession of the city after the departure of Pyrrhus. (Cic. Ver. 4.33) During the Servile War also, in B.C. 102, the territory of Segesta is again mentioned as one of those where the insurrection broke out with the greatest fury. (Diod. 36.5, Exc. Phot. p. 534.) But with the exception of these incidental notices we hear little of it under the Roman government. It seems to have been still a considerable town in the time of Cicero, and had a port or emporium of its own on the bay about 6 miles distant (τὸ τῶν Αἰγεστέων ἐμπόριον, Strab. vi. pp. 266, 272; Σεγεστανῶν ἐμπόριον, Ptol. 3.4.4). This emporium seems to have grown up in the days of Strabo to be a more important place than Segesta itself: but the continued existence of the ancient city is attested both by Pliny and Ptolemy; and we learn from the former that the inhabitants, though they no longer retained their position of nominal independence, enjoyed the privileges of the Latin citizenship. (Strab. l.c.; Plin. Nat. 3.8. s. 14; Ptol. 3.4.15.) It seems, however, to have been a decaying place, and no trace of it is subsequently found in history. The site is said to have been finally abandoned, in consequence of the ravages of the Saracens, in A.D. 900 (Amico, ad Fazell. Sic. 7.4. not. 9), and is now wholly desolate; but the town of Castella Mare, about 6 miles distant, occupies nearly, if not precisely, the same site as the ancient emporium or port of Segesta.

The site of the ancient city is still marked by the ruins of a temple and theatre, the former of which is one of the most perfect and striking ruins in Sicily. It stands on a hill, about 3 miles NW. of Calatafimi, in a very barren and open situation. It is of the Doric order, with six columns in front and fourteen on each side (all, except one, quite perfect, and that only damaged), forming a parallelogram of 162 feet by 66. From the columns not being fluted, they have rather a heavy aspect; but if due allowance be made for this circumstance, the architecture is on the whole a light order of Doric; and it is probable, therefore, that the temple is not of very early date. From the absence of fluting, as well as other details of the architecture, there can be no doubt that it never was finished,--the work probably being interrupted by some political catastrophe. This temple appears to have stood, as was often the case, outside the walls of the city, at a short distance to the W. of it. The latter occupied the summit of a hill of small extent, at the foot of which flows, in a deep valley or ravine, the torrent now called the Fiume Gaggera, a confluent of the Fiume di S. Bartolomeo, which flows about 5 miles E. of Segesta. The latter is probably the ancient Crimisus [CRIMISUS], celebrated for the great victory of Timoleon over the Carthaginians, while the Gaggera must probably be the stream called by Diodorus (xx 71) the Scamander [p. 2.950]Two other streams are mentioned by Aelian (Ael. VH 2.33) in connection with Segesta, the Telmessus and the Porpax; but we are wholly at a loss to determine them. Some vestiges of the ancient walls may still be traced; but almost the only ruins which remain within the circuit of the ancient city are those of the theatre. These have been lately cleared out, and exhibit the praecinctio and sixteen rows of seats, great part in good preservation. The general form and arrangement are purely Greek; and the building rests at the back on the steep rocky slope of the hill, out of which a considerable part of it has been excavated. It is turned towards the N. and commands a fine view of the broad bay of Castella Mare. (For a more, detailed account of the antiquities of Segesta. see Swinburne's Travels, vol. ii. pp. 231--235; Smyth's Sicily, pp. 67, 68; and especially Serra di Falco, Antichità della Sicilia, vol. i. pt. ii.) Ancient writers mention the existence in the territory of Segesta of thermal springs or waters, which seem to have enjoyed considerable reputation (τὰ θερμὰ ὕδατα Αἰγεσταῖα, Strab. vi. p.275; θερμὰ λουτρὰ τὰ Ἐγεσταῖα, Diod. 4.23). These are apparently the sulphureous springs at a spot called Calametti, about a mile to the N. of the site of the ancient city. (Fazell. Sic. 7.4.) They are mentioned in the Itinerary as “Aquae Segestanae sive Pincianae” (Itin. Ant. p. 91); but the origin of the latter name is wholly unknown.

The coins of Segesta have the figure of a dog on the reverse, which evidently alludes to the fable of the river-god Crimisus, the mythical parent of Aegestus, having assumed that form. (Serv. ad Aen. 1.550, 5.30; Eckhel, vol. 1.234.) The older coins (as already observed) uniformly write the name ΣΕΓΕΣΤΑ, as on the one annexed: those of later date, which are of opper only, bear the legend ΕΓΕΣΤΑΙΩΝ (Eckhel, l.c. p. 236).



hide References (18 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (18):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.82
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.83
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.43
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.44
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.6
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.7
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.2
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.46
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.57
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.8
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.6
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.62
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.8
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 4.23
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 5.9
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 20.71
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 2.33
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.4
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: