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SEGESTA Trapani, Sicily.

In the NW part of the island on Monte Barbaro near modern Calatafimi, the principal city of the Elymi. Still almost totally unknown, this ethnic group, together with the Phoenicians, were in possession of W Sicily until the island was unified under Roman control around the middle of the 3d c. B.C. Thucydides (6.2) says that the Elymi were Trojans who escaped their city's destruction, fled to Sicily, and there fused with the Sikans whom they found in the area; they were later joined by some Phokaians. Thucydides' largely legendary narrative reflects a cultural truth in that, as recent studies seem to confirm, it appears increasingly probable that the Elymi came from the W Mediterranean. That Monte Barbaro was previously inhabited is attested by some prehistoric remains; these have been found in the area of the theater, specifically in the cavea, under which, at the time of construction, a cave, perhaps with religious connotations, was carefully preserved with its prehistoric material.

Segesta occupies a prominent place in the history of ancient Sicily since some of its political maneuvers gave rise to two episodes with important consequences: the Athenian expedition to Sicily, and the war between Greeks and Carthaginians in 409 B.C. Throughout its entire existence Segesta may have been in constant conflict with Selinus, which probably sought an outlet on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The first encounters between Segesta and Selinus can probably be dated to 580-576 B.C. (Diod. 5.9); the same source (Diod. 11.86) relates another episode of this struggle in 454. Within the framework of this conflict, falls the episode of 415 B.C. when Segesta asked for Athenian help and succeeded in promoting the disastrous expedition to Sicily (Thuc. 6.6; Diod. 12.82). Shortly afterwards Segesta asked for Carthaginian help (Diod. 13.43), provoking the war that brought about the destruction of Selinus, Akragas, Gela, and Himera in 409 B.C.

At the time of Dionysios' first campaign into W Sicily (397 B.C.), Segesta was allied with the Carthaginians (Diod. 14.48); it was later allied with Agathokles, who in 307 B.C. destroyed it and changed its name to Dikaiopolis, as if to stress the justice he believed himself to be bringing. Not long afterwards Segesta resumed its former name and alliance with the Carthaginians, but shifted to the Roman side at the beginning of the first Punic war (Diod. 13.5). It was heavily besieged by the Carthaginians, but since the war ended in Roman victory, Segesta was rewarded: it became a city libera et immunis (Cic. Verr. 3.6.13) and obtained vast territories, including possibly those of Eryx.

Probably during the Roman period the city was moved N, near modern Castellammare, in the vicinity of sulphur springs where Roman remains have been found. This new Segesta is reputed to have been destroyed by the Vandals. At the site of the ancient city on Monte Barbaro, no excavation has been conducted. The exact location of the necropolis is unknown, with the exception of a few Hellenistic graves (3d c. B.C.) found at the foot of Monte Barbaro, on the SW side. In recent years many sherds have been found on the NE slopes, presumably thrown down from the ancient city above. They include local incised and painted ware as well as Greek imports. Some of the Greek sherds carry graffiti in Greek script but in a language which may derive from an Anatolian source; it must be the Elymian language, which hitherto has been known only through faint traces of inscriptions on coins. On this same side of the mountain some rock-cut niches have been found; they are obviously connected with a cult. In front of them ran a rock-cut road which led from the city on the summit to an area now called Mango at the foot of the mountain, where a large sanctuary has recently been identified. The sanctuary consists of a temenos (83.4 x 47.8 m) which has not yet been entirely excavated but which contains several structures, including an archaic Doric temple (6th c. B.C.), rebuilt during the following century. These two centuries represent the life-span of the sanctuary itself.

Certain clues suggest that, after the city's destruction by Dionysios, it was probably rebuilt, like Soloeis, according to the Hippodamian system. Unlike Soloeis, however, Segesta would have been rebuilt on the same site as the earlier town, as is attested by the two roads previously mentioned which connect the sanctuary with the plateau on Monte Barbaro. The city was surrounded by a double circuit of walls, which are still visible in a few stretches including a gate and some towers. The walls were presumably erected at various times.

The two best-known monuments are the theater and the so-called temple. The former is within the city, at the extreme NE tip of the plateau from which one enjoys a vast view expanding as far as the gulf of Castellammare. The theater is usually dated to the middle of the 3d c. B.C., but it may be earlier, that is, contemporary with the reconstruction of the city, which must have occurred during the previous century. It is surrounded by a high circular wall which has both a delimiting and a retaining function and includes two high analemmata parallel to the stage building; the lower koilon comprises 20 rows of steps divided into seven cunei; the upper koilon above the diazoma is no longer preserved. The stage building is flanked by paraskenia, according to the stage type prevalent in Sicilian Hellenistic theaters; worthy of note are the two poorly preserved statues of Pan, which functioned as telamones in the paraskenia.

The so-called temple, outside the city walls to the W, is a peristyle of the Doric order, with 6 columns on the facade and 14 on the sides, all unfluted; it is generally dated to the last third of the 5th c. B.C. This building has always been considered an unfinished temple, but it has recently been suggested on rather good grounds that the building was conceived solely as a Greek Doric peristyle meant to delimit a space within which the non-Greek population of Segesta would have practiced an open-air cult on a temporary altar according to the Oriental custom. This peristyle rises outside the city walls, to the W.

Segesta had a mint that was among the most notable of ancient Sicily.


R. van Compernolle, “Ségeste et l'Hellenisme (1st part),” Phoibos 5 (1950-51) 183ff; V. Tusa, “Aspetti storico-archeologici di alcuni centri della Sicilia Occidentale, I,” Kokalos 3 (1957) 79ff; II, Kokalos 4 (1958) 151ffMPI; A. Burford, “Temple building at Segesta,” CQ 11 (1961) 87ffI; S. Stucchi, “Alla ricerca della cella del tempio di Segesta,” Studi in onore di F. Fasolo (1961) 13ffI; V. Tusa, “Il santuario arcaico di Segesta,” Atti del VII Congresso Internazionale di Arch. Class., 2 (1961) 3 lffPI; id. “La questione degli Elimi alla luce degli ultimi rinvenimenti archeologici,”Atti e Memorie del I° Congresso Internaz. di Micenologia (1968) 1197ffI; R. Ambrosini, “Italica o anatolica Ia lingua dei graffiti di Segesta?” Studi e Saggi linguistici 8 (1968) 160ff; M. Lejeune, “Observations sur l'epigraphie élyme,” REL (1970) 133ff.


hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.86
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.82
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.43
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.5
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.48
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.2
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.6
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 5.9
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