Selinunte (Greek: polytonic|Σελινοῦς;
Latin: Selinus) is an ancient Greek archaeological site situated on the south coast of Sicilybetween the valleys of the rivers Beliceand Modionein the province of Trapani.
The archaeological site contains five temples centered on an
acropolis. Of the five temples, only temple E, the so-called "Temple of Hera" has been re-erected.
Selinus was one of the most important of the Greek colonies in Sicily, situated on the southwest coast of that island, at the mouth of the small river of the same name, and 6.5 km west of that of the Hypsas (the modern
Belice River). It was founded, as we learn from Thucydides, by a colony from the Sicilian city of Megara, or Megara Hyblaea, under the conduct of a leader named Pammilus, about 100 years after the settlement of that city, with the addition of a fresh body of colonists from the parent city of Megarain Greece. (Thuc. vi. 4, vii. 57; Scymn. Ch. 292; Strabovi. p. 272.) The date of its foundation cannot be precisely fixed, as Thucydides indicates it only by reference to that of the Sicilian Megara, which is itself not accurately known, but it may be placed about 628 BCE. Diodorusindeed would place it 22 years earlier, or 650 BCE, and Hieronymusstill further back, 654 BCE; but the date given by Thucydides, which is probably entitled to the most confidence, is incompatible with this earlier epoch. (Thuc. vi. 4; Diod. xiii. 59; Hieron. "Chron." ad ann. 1362; Clinton, "Fast. Hell." vol. i. p. 208.) The name is supposed to have been derived from the quantities of wild parsley(polytonic|σελινὸς) which grew on the spot; and for the same reason a leaf of this parsley was adopted as the symbol of their coins.
Selinus was the most westerly of the Greek colonies in Sicily, and for this reason was early brought into contact and collision with the Carthaginians and the native Sicilians in the west and northwest of the island. The former people, however, do not at first seem to have offered any obstacle to their progress; but as early as 580 BCE we find the Selinuntines engaged in hostilities with the people of
Segesta(a non-Hellenic city), whose territory bordered on their own. (Diod. v. 9). The arrival of a body of emigrants from Rhodesand Cniduswho subsequently founded Lipara, and who lent their assistance to the Segestans, for a time secured the victory to that people; but disputes and hostilities seem to have been of frequent occurrence between the two cities, aud it is probable that in 454 BCE, when Diodorus speaks of the Segestans as being at war with the Lilybaeans (modern Marsala) (xi. 86), that the Selinuntines are the people really meant. The river Mazarus, which at that time appears to have formed the boundary between the two states, was only about 25 km west of Selinus; and it is certain that at a somewhat later period the territory of Selinus extended to its banks, and that that city had a fort and emporium at its mouth. (Diod. xiii. 54.) On the other side its territory certainly extended as far as the Halycus(modern Platani), at the mouth of which it had founded the colony of Minoa, or Heracleia, as it was afterwards termed. (Herod. v. 46.) It is evident, therefore, that Selinus had early attained to great power and prosperity; but we have very little information as to its history. We learn, however, that, like most of the Sicilian cities, it had passed from an oligarchy to a despotism, and about 510 BCE was subject to a despot named Peithagoras, from whom the citizens were freed by the assistance of the Spartan Euryleon, one of the companions of Dorieus: and thereupon Euryleon himself, for a short time, seized on the vacant sovereignty, but was speedily overthrown and put to death by the Selinuntines. (Herod. v. 46.) We are ignorant of the causes which led the Selinuntines to abandon the cause of the other Greeks, and take part with the Carthaginians during the great expedition of Hamilcar, 480 BCE; but we learn that they had even promised to send a contingent to the Carthaginian army, which, however did not arrive till after its defeat. (Diod. xi. 21, xiii. 55.) The Selinuntines are next mentioned in 466 BCE, as co-operating with the other free cities of Sicily in assisting the Syracusans to expel Thrasybulus ("Id." xi. 68); and there is every reason to suppose that they fully shared in the prosperity of the half century that followed, a period of tranquillity and opulence for most of the Greek cities in Sicily. Thucydides speaks of Selinus just before the Athenian expedition as a powerful and wealthy city, possessing great resources for war both by land and sea, and having large stores of wealth accumulated in its temples. (Thuc. vi. 20.) Diodorus also represents it at the time of the Carthaginian invasion, as having enjoyed a long period of tranquillity, and possessing a numerous population. (Diod. xiii. 55.)
In 416 BCE, a renewal of the old disputes between Selinus and Segesta became the occasion of the great Athenian expedition to Sicily. The Selinuntines were the first to call in the powerful aid of Syracuse, and thus for a time obtained the complete advantage over their enemies, whom they were able to blockade both by sea and land; but in this extremity the Segestans had recourse to the assistance of Athens. (Thuc. vi. 6; Diod. xii. 82.) Though the Athenians do not appear to have taken any measures for the immediate relief of Segesta, it is probable that the Selinuntines and Syracusans withdrew their forces at once, as we hear no more of their operations against Segesta. Nor does Selinus bear any important part in the war of which it was the immediate occasion.
Niciasindeed proposed, when the expedition first arrived in Sicily (415 BCE); that they should proceed at once to Selinus and compel that city to submit on moderate terms (Thuc. vi. 47); but this advice being overruled, the efforts of the armament were directed against Syracuse, and the Selinuntines in consequence bore but a secondary part in the subsequent operations. They are, however, mentioned on several occasions as furnishing auxiliaries to the Syracusans; and it was at Selinus that the large Peloponnesian force sent to the support of Gylippuslanded in the spring of 413 BCE, having been driven over to the coast of Africa by a tempest. (Thuc. vii. 50, 58; Diod. xiii. 12.)
The defeat of the Athenian armament left the Segestans apparently at the mercy of their rivals; they in vain attempted to disarm the hostility of the Selinuntines by ceding without further contest the frontier district which had been the original subject of dispute. But the Selinuntines were not satisfied with this concession, and continued to press them with fresh aggressions, for protection against which they sought assistance from Carthage. This was, after some hesitation, accorded them, and a small force sent over at once, with the assistance of which the Segestans were able to defeat the Selinuntines in a battle. (Diod. xiii. 43, 44.) But not content with this, the Carthaginians in the following spring (409 BCE) sent over a vast army amounting, according to the lowest estimate, to 100,000 men, with which
Hannibal Mago(the grandson of Hamilcar that was killed at Himera) landed at Lilybaeum, and from thence marched direct to Selinus. The Selinuntines were wholly unprepared to resist such a force; so little indeed had they expected it that the fortifications of their city were in many places out of repair, and the auxiliary force which had been promised by Syracuse as well as by Agrigentum (modern Agrigento) and Gela, was not yet ready, and did not arrive in time. The Selinuntines, indeed, defended themselves with the courage of despair, and even after the walls were carried, continued the contest from house to house; but the overwhelming numbers of the enemy rendered all resistance hopeless; and after a siege of only ten days the city was taken, and the greater part of the defenders put to the sword. Of the citizens of Selinus we are told that 16,000 were slain, 5,000 made prisoners, and 2,600 under the command of Empedionescaped to Agrigentum. (Diod. xiii. 54-59.) Shortly after Hannibal destroyed the walls of the city, but gave permission to the surviving inhabitants to return and occupy it, as tributaries of Carthage, an arrangement which was confirmed by the treaty subsequently concluded between Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, and the Carthaginians, in 405 BCE. ("Id." xiii. 59, 114.) In the interval a considerable number of the survivors and fugitives had been brought together by Hermocrates, and established within its walls. ("Id." 63.) There can be no doubt that a considerable part of the citizens of Selinus availed themselves of this permission, and that the city continued to subsist under the Carthaginian dominion; but a fatal blow had been given to its prosperity, which it undoubtedly never recovered.
The Selinuntines are again mentioned in 397 BCE as declaring in favour of Dionysius during his war with Carthage (Diod. xiv. 47); but both the city and territory were again given up to the Carthaginians by the peace of 383 BCE ("Id." xv. 17); and though Dionysius recovered possession of it by arms shortly before his death ("Id." xv. 73), it is probable that it soon again lapsed under the dominion of Carthage. The Halycus, which was established as the eastern boundary of the Carthaginian dominion in Sicily by the treaty of 383 BCE, seems to have generally continued to be so recognised, notwithstanding temporary interruptions; and was again fixed as their limit by the treaty with
Agathoclesin 314 BCE. ("Id." xix. 71.) This last treaty expressly stipulated that Selinus, as well as Heracleia and Himera, should continue subject to Carthage, as before. In 276 BCE, however, during the expedition of Pyrrhus to Sicily, the Selinuntines voluntarily submitted to that monarch, after the capture of Heracleia. ("Id." xxii. 10. Exc. H. p. 498.) During the First Punic Warwe again find Selinus subject to Carthage, and its territory was repeatedly the theater of military operations between the contending powers. ("Id." xxiii. 1, 21; Pol. i. 39.) But before the close of the war (about 250 BCE), when the Carthaginians were beginning to contract their operations, and confine themselves to the defence of as few points as possible, they removed all the inhabitants of Selinus to Lilybaeum and destroyed the city. (Diod. xxiv. 1. Exc. H. p. 506.)
It seems certain that it was never rebuilt. Pliny indeed, mentions its name ("Selinus oppidum", iii. 8. s. 14), as if it still existed as a town in his time, but
Strabodistinctly classes it with the cities which were wholly extinct; and Ptolemy, though he mentions the river Selinus, has no notice of a town of the name. (Strab. vi. p. 272; Ptol. iii. 4. § 5.) The Thermae Selinuntiae (at modern Sciacca), which derived their name from the ancient city, and seem to have been much frequented in the time of the Romans, were situated at a considerable distance, 30 km, from Selinus: they are sulphureous springs, still much valued for their medical properties, and dedicated, like most thermal waters in Sicily, to San Calogero. At a later period they were called the Aquae Labodes or Larodes, under which name they appear in the Itineraries. (Itin. Ant. p. 89; Tab. Peut.)
Modern situation and ruins
By the 19th century, the site of the ancient city was wholly desolate, with the exception of a solitary guardhouse, and the ground for the most part thickly overgrown with shrubs and low brushwood; but the remains of the walls could be distinctly traced throughout a great part of their circuit. They occupied the summit of a low hill, directly abutting on the sea, and bounded on the west by the marshy valley through which flows the river Madiuni, the ancient Selinus; on the east by a smaller valley or depression, also traversed by a small marshy stream, which separates it from a hill of similar character, where the remains of the principal temples are still visible. The space enclosed by the existing walls is of small extent, so that it is probable the city in the days of its greatness must have covered a considerable area without them: and it has been supposed by some writers that the present line of walls is that erected by Hermocrates when he restored the city after its destruction by the Carthaginians. (Diod. xiii. 63.) No trace is, however, found of a more extensive circuit, though the remains of two lines of wall, evidently connected with the port, are found in the small valley east of the city. Within the area surrounded by the walls are the remains of three temples, all of the
Doric order, and of an ancient style; none of them were standing until the temple designated "Temple E" was re-erected in the 20th century, but the foundations of them all remain, together with numerous portions of columns and other architectural fragments, sufficient to enable one to restore the plan and design of all three without difficulty. The largest of them is 70 m long by 25 m broad, and has 6 columns in front and 18 in length, a very unusual proportion. All these are hexastyleand peripteral. Besides these three temples there is a small temple or Aedicula, of a different plan, but also of the Doric order. No other remains of buildings, beyond mere fragments and foundations, can be traced within the walls; but the outlines of two large edifices, built of squared stones and in a massive style, are distinctly traceable outside the walls, near the northeast and northwest angles of the city, though their nature or purpose is unclear.
But much the most remarkable of the ruins at Selinus are those of three temples on the hill to the east, which do not appear to have been included in the city, but, as was often the case, were built on this neighbouring eminence, so as to front the city itself. All these temples are considerably larger than any of the three above described; and the most northerly of them is one of the largest of which we have any remains. It had 8 columns in front and 17 in the sides, and was of the kind called pseudo-dipteral. Its length was 110 m, and its breadth 55 m, so that it was actually longer than the great Temple of Olympian Zeus at Agrigentum, though not equal to it in breadth. From the columns being only partially fluted, as well as from other signs, it is clear that it never was completed; but all the more important parts of the structure were finished, and it must have certainly been one of the most imposing fabrics in antiquity. Only three of the columns are now standing, and these imperfect; but the whole area is filled up with a heap of fallen masses, portions of columns, capitals, and other huge architectural fragments, all of the most massive character, and forming, as observed by Swinburne, one of the most gigantic and sublime ruins imaginable. The two other temples are also prostrate, but the ruins have fallen with such regularity that the portions of almost every column lie on the ground as they have fallen; and it is not only easy to restore the plan and design of the two edifices, but it appears as if they could be rebuilt with little difficulty. These temples, though greatly inferior to their gigantic neighbour, were still larger than that at Segesta, and even exceed the great temple of Neptune at
Paestum; so that the three, when standing, must have presented a spectacle unrivalled in antiquity. All these buildings may be safely referred to a period anterior to the Carthaginian conquest (409 BCE), though the three temples last described appear to have been all of them of later date than those within the walls of the city. This is proved, among other circumstances, by the sculptured metopes, several of which have been discovered and extricated from among the fallen fragments. Of these sculptures, those which belonged to the temples within the walls, present a very peculiar and archaic style of art, and are universally recognised as among the earliest extant specimens of Greek sculpture. (They are figured by Müller, "Denkmäler", pl. 4, 5, as well as in many other works, and casts of them are in the British Museum.) Those, on the contrary, which have been found among the ruins of the temple on the opposite hill, are of a later and more advanced style, though still retaining considerable remains of the stiffness of the earliest art. Besides the interest attached to these Selinuntine metopes from their important bearing on the history of Greek sculpture, the remains of these temples are of value as affording the most unequivocal testimony to the use of painting, both for the architectural decoration of the temples, and as applied to the sculptures with which they were adorned. A very full and detailed account of the ruins at Selinus is given in the Duke of Serra di Falco's "Antichità Siciliane", vol. ii., which contains a detailed plan of the site. A more general description of them will be found in Swinburne's "Travels", vol. ii. pp. 242-45; Smyth's "Sicily", pp. 219-21; and other works on Sicily in general. A plan is also presented in Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.
The coins of Selinus are numerous and various. The earliest, as already mentioned, bear merely the figure of a parsley-leaf on the obverse. Those of somewhat later date represent a figure sacrificing on an altar, which is consecrated to
Aesculapius, as indicated by a cock which stands below it. The subject of this type evidently refers to a story related by Diogenes Laertius(viii. 2. § 11) that the Selinuntines were afflicted with a pestilence from the marshy character of the lands adjoining the neighboring river, but that this was cured by works of drainage, suggested by Empedocles. A figure standing on some coins is the river-god Selinus, which was thus made conducive to the salubrity of the city.
* [http://thepeoplesrepublicofselinunte.blogspot.com Selinunte's Blog]
* [http://www.selinunte.net The archaeological park of Selinunte]
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