The Battle of Himera and Syracuse were described at a bilingual Italian/English excursion in Delphi in a recent summer excursion. Images of the Latomies (stone quarry caves) carved by Carthaginian prisoners seen during a previous Arba Sicula tour with Dr. Gaetano Cipolla and Dr. Florence Russo were remembered.
“The Battle of Himera (480 BC) supposedly fought on the same day as the more famous Battle of Salamis or Battle of Thermopylae saw the Greek forces of Gelon, King of Syracuse, and Theron, tyrant of Agrigentum defeat the Carthaginian force of Hamilcar the Magonid.”1 “The Battle of Himera, which for many years to come eliminated the Eastern and African threat to Sicily and the West, was rightly recognized at the time for what it was – a brilliant victory that rivalled that of Salamis.”2
We had a vibrant guide, Diana Mazza, a Sicilian/Irish, with a gift for story telling. She made the history of the Latomie alive. We visited the Latomie del Paradiso limestone stone quarry in early June. The gardens had lemon trees and oleanders. “Ancient historians believe one million persons were used as a power to create them through ancient times. Gelon of Syracuse took 20, 000 slaves and put them to work in quarry. This is how Syracuse became bigger and bigger. The Carthaginians built the Temple of Athena in 7-10 years. The Carthaginian made Syracuse great. Syracuse used five quarries with prisoners of war. They never saw sunlight. They worked in layers underground. Once thrown into the latomies, a person never came out. The Greeks used slaves. Sometimes the prisoners became free. Demareta, wife of Gelon, tyrant (absolute ruler) of Syracuse, pleaded with him setting the slaves free.”
Diana continued the story by saying Demareta and Gelon said to the Carthaginian slaves “You built this temple (of Athena). Go back to your families. Stop sacrificing your first born child. They went home to Carthage and stopped sacrificing their first born children. They sent silver to Demareta. The finest coins ever made are by Syracuse.” I saw the coins Diana described at the “The Europe of Greece: Colonies and Coins from the Alpha Bank Collection” at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki in 2015. She made a historical fact interesting by describing it in an interesting, accurate story.
“The Orecchio di Dionisio (Ear of Dionysius) is in the shape of an outer ear. It has extraordinary acoustic qualities. Legend recounts that the tyrant of Syracuse shut his enemies in this cave and listened to their conversations from outside.”3
The history of the Latomie del Paradiso is connected with Gelon’s victory at Himera that changed the course of history. We owe a debt to the Greek colony of Syracuse that is practically unknown in mainstream education. “The battle was significant because of the timing and location of the event. There is little doubt that if Hamilcar (Carthaginian commander) had managed to defeat the large Sicilian force of Gelo and Theron, he could have conquered the entire island of Sicily if he so wished. The Greek states on the mainland would have been unable to send troops due to their own war with the Persians. If, as many historians believe, the Persian and Carthaginian armies were in contact with each other, a defeat at Himera for Gelo could have led to a two pronged attack on the Greek mainland by the Persian and the Carthaginians, and perhaps to the eventual demise of Greek civilization. But by defeating Hamilcar in 480 BC, Gelo managed to keep Sicily free from Carthaginian invasion for the next seventy years.” Syracuse saved western civilization.”4
“The Greeks considered the island a promised land and once they established themselves as Sicilians they outdid their brothers in the grandeur of their achievements.”5 A scholar on a recent Hellas FM radio program, based in Long Island City, New York, believes “the Italians are our first cousins.” Our guide Antony’s reference of Syracuse and the Battle of Himera at Delphi invoked my visit to the latomies, amazing man made stone quarries.
- Casa Editrice Bonechi, “Art and History Sicily” (Centro Stampa Editoriale Bonechi: Italy, 1989), p.99.
- Gaetano Cipolla, “What Makes a Sicilian?” (LEGAS: Canada, 2001), p. 4.
https://goo.gl/photos/SebxDdfCDkFmarXdA – photo album
https://books.google.com/books?id=-THqBQAAQBAJ&pg=PT28&lpg=PT28&dq=did+cathaginians+give+up+human+sacrifice+after+battle+of+himera?&source=bl&ots=sDiHjfpW7V&sig=Hi2oXOWkKqpoa_7eiG20itV_YJQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi45aDI8-XRAhUCQyYKHYUjDHsQ6AEIIzAB#v=onepage&q=did%20cathaginians%20give%20up%20human%20sacrifice%20after%20battle%20of%20himera%3F&f=false- Carthaginians giving up human sacrifice
https://books.google.com/books?id=byvPAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA258&lpg=PA258&dq=demareto+coin+of+syracuse&source=bl&ots=hCRhFoP5b1&sig=W7uZvds01puujndMtXljt6NJ-SA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjh1YTOw-bRAhUGOyYKHSt7Cq4Q6AEINDAE#v=onepage&q=demareto%20coin%20of%20syracuse&f=false – Demareto coins the finest in the ancient world