The Greek in Sicily

Song: Occhi blu (Blu eyes) 

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   According to Tucidides, the Calcidian, led by Teocles, were the first to immigrate in Sicily founding, around 735 B.C., the first Greek colony called Naxos. Little time after that came the Corinthian founding Syracuse near the marshy land of Siraca (from which the name of Syracuse). A people come from Crete founded Gela near the Gela River, from which the new town took name and then Agrigento, around 580 B.C, called Akragas, which the poet Pindaro called “The most beautiful city of the mortals”. Zancle changed its name to Messena in 491 B.C., because it was occupied by a people come from Messena in Greece, now under the rule of Spartans, their enemies, that fled to find freedom. The Siculi inhabitants of the oriental part of Sicily, rebelled to this invasion of strangers, but they were subdued due to the arms and war skill superiority of the Greeks.

   Sicily had been object of more than one immigration, but none, to date, had been hostile to the inhabitants. The Phoenician had come, building only some commercial bases to be near and work better with the Mediterranean countries and with the people of Sicily. But while the goal of the Phoenicians was commercial, never thinking of colonization, the Greeks came with other ideas in mind. They came to Sicily, took the land of the inhabitants of the oriental part of Sicily and homestead it, making it their homeland. They were more interested to the island for their personal benefit and economic and political freedom. These Greek immigrants were not rich and, chased away form their original homeland by political corruption, tax overburden and tyranny of their governments, that were cutting into the people freedom and family fabric, wanted to make a better life for themselves. 

   Soon even in Sicily they created powerful City-States, as in Greece, and started to fight each other trying to subdue one another to gain more power. Because of all these arthritis and fights, legislation was born to defend the weak against the powerful, and we will find all this first in the civil revolutions, and then in the large body of law emitted by Caronda, who legislated against deserters, false witnesses and other crimes while taking an interest toward the welfare of children, especially the orphans. Caronda was the first Chief executive in history, who made obligatory for the State to pay for the education of poor children.

   Many Greek leaders were tyrannical toward their own people, but not all of them. Many fought for democracy and some fought to keep Sicily independent from the Carthaginians and later from the Romans. Gelon of Syracuse and Tehron from Agrigento can be called the saviors of the western civilization when they in 480 B.C. defeated the Carthaginians at Imera, forcing them, with the peace treaty, to abandon the horrible tradition to sacrifice to the gods their first born male at the age of ten, while later Geron of Syracuse stopped the Etrurian expansion with the battle at Cuma. Even so, the Greeks treated badly the original inhabitants of Sicily, in particular the Siculi, keeping them as slave and taking the right of life and death over them. In time the Siculi grew so tired of the intolerable situation and led by Ducetius, rebelled and fought the Greeks, with success, for twenty years, that is up to 446 B.C., when, finally the Greeks having defeated the Siculi, took Ducetius prisoner and sent him to Corinth in exile.

   During the Peloponnesian war, Athens moved against Sicily, but it was soundly defeated by the Greeks-Sicilioti, as they came to be known, in 415 B.C., and their admiral Nicia, taken prisoner and sentenced to death, killed himself in prison. Among the Greeks-Sicilioti were many men of great valor and great mind. Archimedes of Syracuse left great knowledge in mathematic and physic, which not even time can delete: the principles he discovered are still being used to day. The philosopher and mathematician Empedocles of Agrigento, who is said to have perished in the Etna volcano for his curiosity to want to know what made that mountain so active. Archestratus, philosopher and poet, who wrote the fist cookbook, called: “ The good Taste”. The poet Pindaros was born in Sicily and Stesicorus one of the greatest “Sicilioti” poets, who was taken as a role model by the famous Latin poet Virgilius, and Timeus of Taormina one of the greatest historian of Sicily.

   Other great feats did the “Siciulioti”, like Dionysus I who defeated the Carthaginians in open sea, becoming the master of the Mediterranean Sea and building colonies even in “Magna Grecia”(Southern Italy). The “Sicilioti” shine in Sicily as a light in the night, be it for culture, politics, legislation and power and they became the greatest power of the Mediterranean. Even so they did not have the concept of the State-Nation. They came to Sicily looking for a better land to cultivate, for a friendlier land and when they succeeded and became well off, organized themselves in City-States, started to fight each other, ignoring the Siculis, the Sicanis, the Elimians and the Phoenicians. They always thought in an individualistic way and never thought of getting together and forming one Sicily, with one language and one government.

   As long the Siculis, the Sicanis, the Elimians and the Phoenicians were there, it could not be done, because too many languages and too many ways of thinking were in play. The Greeks with their political experience, civilization and social custom, were one people, ideal to change and make one united country, but all they did instead was to copy the system of the old country where they came from. People undervalue the unity that is the amalgam which keeps a country together and its people almost invincible. The Greeks believed they belonged to one race; they had a common language and literature; they worshipped the same gods, the Persians were their common enemy threatening their freedom. Still these ties were not strong enough to overcome two factors: Local patriotism and geographical conditions, which nurtured political divisions.

   In time the “Sicilioti” (the Greeks of Sicily) became so wealthy, to take everything for granted. Living in luxury, as that was the last day of their lives, the civil, political and moral corruption were very acute.  Together with the fact that they did not think to make of Sicily a unified country, after the rebellion of the Siculis, that started in 466 B.C. and ended in 446 B.C., with the defeat of Ducetius, the Greek power started to give signs of collapsing. The political weakness brought to the rebellion of the Mamertins who took over Messina, bringing the Romans to Sicily and the end of the Greek-Siclioti hegemony.