1. Son of Deinomenes, tyrant of Gela, and afterwards of Syracuse.
He was descended from one of the most illustrious families in his native city, his ancestors having been among the original founders of Gela, and having subsequently held an important hereditary priesthood. (Hdt. 7.153
.) Gelon himself is first mentioned as one of the body-guards in the service of Hippocrates, at that time tyrant of Gela, and distinguished himself greatly in the wars carried on by that monarch, so as to be promoted to the chief command of his cavalry. On the death of Hippocrates, the people of Gela rose in revolt against his sons, and attempted to throw off their yoke. Gelon espoused the cause of the young princes, and defeated the insurgents; but took advantage of his victory to set aside the sons of Hippocrates, and retain the chief power for himself, B. C. 491. (Hdt. 7.154
; Schol. ad Pind. Nem.
He appears to have held undisturbed rule over Gela for some ears, until the internal dissensions of Syracuse afforded him an opportunity to interfere in the concerns of that city.
The oligarchical party (called the Geomori, or Gamori) had been expelled from Syracuse by the populace, and taken refuge at Casmenae. Gelon espoused their cause, and proceeded to restore them by force of arms. On his approach the popular party opened the gates to him, and submitted without opposition to his power (B. C. 485). From this time he neglected Gela, and bent all his efforts to the aggrandisement of his new sovereignty; he even destroyed Camarina (which had been rebuilt by Hippocrates not long before), in order to remove the inhabitants to Syracuse, whither he also transferred above half of those of Gela.
In like manner, having taken the cities of Euboea and the Hyblaean Megara, he settled all the wealthier citizens of them at Syracuse, while he sold the lower classes into slavery. (Hdt. 7.155
; Thuc. 6.4
By these means Syracuse was raised to an unexampled height of wealth and prosperity, and Gelon found himself possessed of such power as no Greek had previously held, when his assistance was requested by the Lacedaemonians and Athenians against the impending danger from the invasion of Xerxes.
He offered to support them with a fleet of 200 triremes, and a land force of 28,000 men, on condition of being entrusted with the chief command of the allied forces, or at least with that of their fleet.
But both these proposals being rejected, he dismissed the envoys with the remark, that the Greeks had lost the spring out of their year. (Hdt. 7.157
; Timaeus, Frag.
87, ed. Paris, 1841.)
There is some uncertainty with regard to the conduct that he actually pulsued.
According to Herodotus, he sent Cadmus of Cos with a sum of money to await at Delphi the issue of the approaching contest, and should it prove unfavourable to the Greeks, to make offers of submission to the Persian monarch.
But the same historian adds, that the Sicilian Greeks asserted him to have been actually preparing to join the allied armament when he was prevented by the news of the Carthaginian invasion of Sicily (Hdt. 7.163
), and this appears to have been also the account of the matter given by Ephorus (ap. Schol. ad Pind. Pyth.
The expedition of the Carthaginians is attributed by the lastmentioned historian (l.c.
), as well as by Diodorus (11.1
), to an alliance concluded by them with Xerxes : Herodotus, with more probability, represents them as called in by Terillus, tyrant of Himera, who had been expelled from that city by Theron of Agrigentum.
The circumstances of their expedition are variously related, and may be suspected of much exaggeration (see Niebuhr, Lect. on Rom. Hist.
vol. i. p. 105, ed. Schmitz), but the leading facts are unquestionable. The Carthaginian general Hamilcar arrived at Panormus with an army, as it is said, of 300,000 men, and advancing without opposition as far as Himera, laid siege to that place, which was, however, vigorously defended by Theron of Agrigentum. Gelon had previously formed an alliance and matrimonial connection with Theron, having married his daughter Demarete (Schol. ad Pind. Ol.
2.1, 29) : no sooner, therefore, did he hear of his danger than he advanced to his succour at the head of a force of 50,000 foot and 5000 horse.
In the battle that ensued the Carthaginians were totally defeated, with a loss, as it is pretended, of 150,000 men, while nearly the whole of the remainder fell into the hands of the enemy as prisoners. Hamilcar himself was among the slain, and a few ships, which had made their escape with a number of fugitives on board, perished in a storm, so that scarcely a messenger returned to bear the disastrous news to Carthage. (Hdt. 7.165
; Diod. 11.20
; Ephorus, apud Schol. Pind. Pyth.
1.146; Polyaen. 1.27.2
This victory was gained, according to the accounts reported by Herodotus, on the very same day as that of Salamis, while Diodorus asserts it to have been the same day with Thermopylae : the exact synchronism may in either case be erroneous, but the existence of such a belief so early as the time of Herodotus must be admitted as conclusive evidence of the expedition of the Carthaginians having been contemporary with that of Xerxes; hence the battle of Himera must have been fought in the autumn of 480 B. C. (Comp. Aristot. Poet. 23.3
So great a victory naturally raised Gelon to the highest pitch of power and reputation : his friendship was courted even by those states of Sicily which had been before opposed to him, and, if we may believe the accounts transmitted to us, a solemn treaty of peace was concluded between him and the Carthaginians, by which the latter repaid him the expenses of the war. (Diod. 11.26
; Timaeus, apud Schol. Pind. Pyth.
A stipulation is said by some writers to have been inserted that the Carthaginians should refrain for the future from human sacrifices, but there can be little doubt that this is a mere fiction of latertimes. (Theophrast. ap. Schol. Pind. l.c. ;
p. 175, de ser. Num. vind.
p. 552.) Gelon applied the large sums thus received, as well as the spoils taken in the war, to the erection of several splendid temples to adorn his favoured city, at the same time that he sent magnificent offerings to Delphi, and the other sanctuaries in Greece itself. (Diod. 11.26
; Paus. 6.19.7
; Athen. 6.231
He seems to have now thought himself sufficiently secure of his power to make a show of resigning it, and accordingly presented himself unarmed and thinly clad before the assembled army and populace of Syracuse.
He then entered into an elaborate review of his past conduct, and concluded with offering to surrender his power into the hands of the people--a proposal which was of course rejected, and he was hailed by the acclamations of the multitude as their preserver and sovereign. (Diod. 11.26
; Polyaen. 1.27.1
; Ael. VH 6.11
He did not, however, long survive to enjoy his honours, having been carried off by a dropsy in B. C. 478, only two years after his victory at Himera, and seven from the commencement of his reign over Syracuse, (Diod. 11.38
; Arist. Pol.
5.9 ; Schol. ad Pind. Pyth.
1.89; Plnt. de Pyth. Orac.
It appears from Aristotle (Aristot. Pol. 5.10
; see also Schol. ad Pind. Nem.
9.95) that he left an infant son, notwithstanding which, according to Diodorus, he on his deathbed appointed his brother Hieron to be his successor.
We know very little of the internal administration or personal character of Gelon : it is not unlikely that his brilliant success at Himera shed a lustre over his name which was extended to the rest of his conduct also.
But he is represented by late writers as a man of singular leniency and moderation, and as seeking in every way to promote the welfare of his subjects; and his name even appears to have become almost proverbial as an instance of a good monarch. (Diod. 11.38
; Plut. Dion.
5, de ser. Num. vind.
He was, however, altogether illiterate (Ael. VH 4.15
); and perhaps this circumstance may account for the silence of Pindar concerning his alleged virtues, which would otherwise appear somewhat suspicious.
But even if his good qualities as a ruler have been exaggerated, his popularity at the time of his death is attested by the splendid tomb erected to him by the Syracusans at the public expense, and by the heroic honours decreed to his memory. (Diod. 11.38
.) Nearly a century and a half afterwards, when Timoleon sought to extirpate as far as possible all records of the tyrants that had ruled in Sicily, the statue of Gelon alone was spared. (Plut. Tim. 23
Concerning the chronology of the reign of Gelon see Clinton (F. H.
vol. ii. p. 266, &c.), Pausanias (6.9.4
), Dionysius (7.1
), and Niebuhr (Rom. Hist.
vol. ii. p. 97, note 201).
The last writer adopts the date of the Parian chronicle, which he supposes to be taken from Timaeus, according to which Gelon did not begin to reign at Syracuse until B. C. 478; but it seems incredible that Herodotus should have been mistaken in a matter of such public notoriety as the contemporaneity of the battle of Himera with the expedition of Xerxes.