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Heraclea Minoa

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Heraclea Minoa

Heraclea Minoa
Ἡράκλεια Μινῴα (Ancient Greek)
Eraclea Minoa (Italian)
The remains of a house in Heraclea Minoa
Heraclea Minoa is located in Italy
Heraclea Minoa
Shown within Italy
Location Cattolica Eraclea, Province of Agrigento, Sicily, Italy
Type Settlement
Founded Middle of the 6th century BC
Abandoned Beginning of 1st century AD
Periods Archaic Greek to Roman Imperial
Cultures Greek, Roman
Site notes
Condition Ruined
Ownership Public
Management Soprintendenza BB.CC.AA. di Agrigento
Public access Yes
Website Area Archeologia e Antiquarium Eraclea Minoa (Italian)

Heraclea Minoa (Ancient Greek: Ἡράκλεια Μινῴα; Italian: Eraclea Minoa; Hêrakleia Minôia: Eth. Rhachlôtês, Heracliensis) was an ancient Greek city, situated on the southern coast of Sicily at the mouth of the river Halycus (modern Platani), 25 km west of Agrigentum (Acragas, modern Agrigento). Its ruins are now found near a modern town of the same name in the comune Cattolica Eraclea in Italy. Archaeological finds suggest that it was founded in the middle of the 6th century BC, and was abandoned around the beginning of the 1st century AD.

It was at first an outpost of the Greek colony of Selinus (modern Selinunte), then overthrown by Carthage, later a border town of Agrigentum. It passed into Carthaginian hands by the treaty of 405 BC, was won back in 397 BC by Dionysius in his first Punic war,[1] but recovered by Carthage in 383 BC. It was here that Dion landed in 357 BC, when he attacked Syracuse. The Agrigentines won it back in 309 BC, but it soon fell under the power of Agathocles. It was temporarily recovered for Greece by Pyrrhus in 277 BC.

Two legends

Its two names were connected with two separate mythological legends in regard to its origin. The first of these related that Heracles, having vanquished the local hero Eryx in a wrestling match, obtained thereby the right to the whole western portion of Sicily, which he expressly reserved for his descendants.[2] He did not, however, found a town or settlement; but, somewhat later, Minos, king of Crete, having come to Sicily in pursuit of Daedalus, landed at the mouth of the river Halycus, and founded there a city, to which he gave the name of Minoa; or, according to another version of the story, the city was first established by his followers, after the death of Minos himself. Heraclides Ponticus adds, that there was previously a native city on the spot, the name of which was Macara.[3] The two legends are so distinct that no intimation is given by Diodorus of their relating to the same spot, and we only learn their connection from the combination in later times of the two names.

6th century BC

There is no account of its founding, but archaeological finds suggest a date in the mid 6th century BC.[4] The first written mention of the city represents it as a small town and a colony of the Greek settlement of Selinus, bearing the name of Minoa.[5] It was in this state when (c. 510 BC) Dorieus the Spartan (brother of Cleomenes I) came to Sicily, with a large body of followers, with the intent of reclaiming the territory which had belonged to his ancestor Heracles. But having engaged in hostilities with the Carthaginians and Segestans, he was defeated and slain in a battle in which almost all his leading companions also perished. Euryleon, the only one of the chiefs who escaped, made himself master of Minoa, which now, in all probability, obtained for the first time the name of Heraclea.[6] This is not, indeed, expressly stated by Herodotus, who gives the preceding narrative, but is evidently implied in his statement at the beginning of it, that Dorieus set out for the purpose of founding Heraclea, combined with the fact that Diodorus represents him as having been its actual founder.[7] Hence there seems no reason to suppose (as has been suggested) that Heraclea and Minoa were originally distinct cities, and that the name of the one was subsequently transferred to the other. From the period of this new settlement it seems to have commonly borne the name of Heraclea, though coupled with that of Minoa for the sake of distinction.[8]

5th–4th century BC

Diodorus tells us that the newly founded city of Heraclea rose rapidly to prosperity, but was destroyed by the Carthaginians, through jealousy of its increasing power.[9] When this took place is uncertain. It was probably related by Diodorus in his 10th book, which is now lost. He makes no mention of any such event during the First Sicilian War (480 BC) when it might otherwise be supposed to have occurred.[10] An inscription from the temple of Athena Lindia of Lindos on Rhodes attests the dedication of an ivory palladium as spoils from an undated victory of the Agrigentines over Minoa.[11]

The absence of all notice of Heraclea during the subsequent century, and the wars of Dionysius I of Syracuse with the Carthaginians,[12] suggests that either it did not then exist, or must have been in a very reduced condition. However the territory of Heraclea Minoa fell under Carthaginian control as a result of the treaty of 405 BC.[13] The next mention of it (under the name of Minoa), when Dion landed there in 357 BC, represents it as a small town in the Agrigentine territory, but still subject to Carthage.[14] Hence it is probable that the treaty between Dionysius and the Carthaginians which had fixed the Halycus as the boundary of the latter, had left Heraclea, though on its southeast bank, still in their hands: and, in accordance with this, we find it stipulated by the similar treaty concluded with them by Agathocles (314 BC), that Heraclea, Selinus, and Himera should continue subject to Carthage, as they had been before.[15]

3rd century BC

From this time Heraclea reappears in history, and assumes the position of an important city; though we have no explanation of the circumstances that had raised it from its previous insignificance. Thus we find it, soon after, joining in the movement originated by Xenodicus of Agrigentum, 309 BC, and declaring itself free both from the Carthaginians and Agathocles; though it was soon recovered by Agathocles, on his return from Africa in 305 BC.[16]

In 278 BC, during the expedition of Pyrrhus, it was once more in the hands of the Carthaginians, and was the first city taken from them by that monarch as he advanced westward from Agrigentum.[17] In like manner, in the First Punic War, it was occupied by the Carthaginian general Hanno, when advancing to the relief of Agrigentum, at that time besieged by the Roman armies, 260 BC.[18]

Again, in 256 BC, it was at Heraclea that the Carthaginian fleet of 350 ships was posted for the purpose of preventing the passage of the Roman fleet to Africa, and where it sustained a great defeat from the Roman consuls Regulus and Manlius.[19] It appears, indeed, at this time to have been one of the principal naval stations of the Carthaginians in Sicily; and hence in 249 BC we again find their admiral, Carthalo, taking his post there to watch for the Roman fleet which was approaching to the relief of Lilybaeum.[20]

At the close of the war Heraclea, of course, passed, with the rest of Sicily, under the Roman dominion; but in the Second Punic War it again fell into the hands of the Carthaginians, and was one of the last places that still held out against Marcellus, even after the fall of Syracuse.[21]

Roman period

We hear but little of it under the Roman dominion; but it appears to have suffered severely in the First Servile War (134–132 BC), and in consequence received a body of fresh colonists, who were established there by the praetor Publius Rupilius; and at the same time the relations of the old and new citizens were regulated by a municipal law, which still subsisted in the time of Cicero.[22] In the days of the great orator, Heraclea appears to have been still a flourishing place;[23] but it must soon after have fallen into decay, in common with most of the towns on the southern coast of Sicily.[24]

It is not mentioned by Pliny.[25] However it is one of three south coastal Sicilian cities mentioned by the 1st century AD Roman geographer Mela[26] and also by the 2nd century AD Greek geographer Ptolemy.[27] The latter author is the last who mentions the name of Heraclea; it appears to have certainly disappeared before the age of the Roman Itineraries.


Ongoing excavations at the theater

The location of Heraclea Minoa was first identified by the 16th century historian Tommaso Fazello. It was situated a few hundred yards to the southeast of the mouth of the river Platani (the ancient Halycus), atop the conspicuous promontory now called Capo Bianco, with gently sloping sides down to the Platani valley to the north, and sheer white cliffs to the ocean on the south side. This is evidently the one called by Strabo, in his description of the coasts of Sicily, the Heraclean promontory[24] which he correctly gives as 20 miles distant from the port of Agrigentum.

In Fazello's time, the foundations of the walls could be distinctly traced, and, though no ruins remained standing, the whole site abounded with remains of pottery and brickwork. An aqueduct was then also still visible between the city and the mouth of the river; but its remains have since disappeared.[28]

In the early 20th century, a mid-6th-early 5th century BC necropolis was discovered. A large-scale excavation by Professor Ernesto de Miro begun in 1950, uncovered late 4th–late 1st century BC dwellings and a late 4th century BC theater.[4] The absence of Arretine ware at the site, strongly suggests that the city was abandoned by the beginning of the 1st century AD.[29]


  1. ^ Perry, pp. 191–192.
  2. ^ Diodorus, 4.23; Herodotus, 5.43; Pausanias, 3.16.4–5.
  3. ^ Diodorus, 4.79, 16.9.4; Heraclides Ponticus, 29.
  4. ^ a b Wilson, p. 219.
  5. ^ Herodotus, 5.46.
  6. ^ Herodotus, 5.42–46.
  7. ^ Diodorus, 4.23.
  8. ^ Hêrakleian tên Minôan, Polybius, 1.25.9; Heraclea, quam vocant Minoam, Livy. 24.35.
  9. ^ Diodorus, 4.23.3.
  10. ^ Diodorus, 11.20–23.
  11. ^ Lindos Chronicle (Blinkenberg, Lindos II, Inscriptions, #2, Col C, line 56ff) [1].
  12. ^ For example Heraclea is not mentioned in Diodorus' account of the peace treaty of 405 BC, 13.114.1
  13. ^ Diodorus, 13.114.1; Perry, pp. 172–178.
  14. ^ Diodorus, 16.9; Plutarch, Dion 25.
  15. ^ Diodorus, 19.71, Booth, p. 379
  16. ^ Diodorus, 20.56, Booth, p. 457; Perry, pp. 317–319, p. 330.
  17. ^ Diodorus, 22.10, Booth, p. 516; Perry, p. 341.
  18. ^ Diodorus, 23.8, Booth, p. 520, 521.
  19. ^ Polybius, 1.25–28, 30; Zonaras, 8.12.
  20. ^ Polybius, 1.53.
  21. ^ Livy, 24.35, 25.27, 40, 41.
  22. ^ Cicero, In Verrem, 2.50 (123–125).
  23. ^ Cicero, In Verrem, 5.33 (86), 5.49 (129).
  24. ^ a b Strabo, 6.2.
  25. ^ Pliny, 3.14 (8).
  26. ^ Describing the southern cost, Mela writes: Inter Pachynum et Lilybaeum, Acragas est, et Heraclea, et Thermae, 2.7.16.
  27. ^ Ptolemy, 3.4.6.
  28. ^ Fazello, 6.2; William Henry Smyth Sicily, p. 216; Biscari, Viaggio in Sicilia, p. 188.
  29. ^ Wilson, p. 220.


  • Biscari, Principe di, Viaggio per le Antichità della Sicilia, Palermo, 1817
  • Cicero, Marcus Tullius, The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero, C. D. Yonge (translator), B. A. London. George Bell & Sons, York Street, Covent Garden. 1891. 4 volumes.
  • Diodorus Siculus. Diodorus Siculus: The Library of History. Translated by C. H. Oldfather. Twelve volumes. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, Ltd. 1989. Vol. 2. Books 2.35–4.58. ISBN 0-674-99334-9. Vol. 7. Books 15.20–16.65. ISBN 0-674-99428-0. Vol. 10. Books 19.66–20. ISBN 0-674-99429-9.
  • Diodorus Siculus, The Historical Library of Diodorus The Sicilian. Translated by George Booth, Printed by W. McDowall for J. Davis. 1814. Vol 2.
  • Fazello, Tommaso, De Rebus Siculis Decades Duae, Palermo, 1558
  • Herodotus; Histories, A. D. Godley (translator), Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920; ISBN 0-674-99133-8. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Livy; Ab Urbe Condita ("From the Founding of the City (Rome)"). c. 59 BC–AD 17. (Latin)
  • Livy; History of Rome, Rev. Canon Roberts (translator), Ernest Rhys (editor); (1905) London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd.
  • Perry, Walter Copland, Sicily in Fable, History, Art, and Song Macmillan and Co., Limited. London. 1908.
  • Mela, De situ orbis
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece. W. H. S. Jones (translator). Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. (1918). Vol. 2. Books III–V: ISBN 0-674-99207-5.
  • Pliny the Elder; The Natural History (eds. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A.) London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. (1855). Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Plutarch; Plutarch's Lives: Volume II, Arthur Hugh Clough (editor), John Dryden (translator). Modern Library; Modern Library Paperback Ed edition (April 10, 2001). ISBN 0-375-75677-9.
  • Polybius; Historiae, Theodorus Büttner-Wobst after L. Dindorf. Leipzig. Teubner. 1893-. (Latin)
  • Polybius; Histories, Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (translator); London, New York. Macmillan (1889); Reprint Bloomington (1962).
  • Ptolemy, Geographia
  • Smith, William; Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography: "Heracleia", London (1867)
  • Strabo, Geography, translated by Horace Leonard Jones; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, Ltd. (1924). Vol. 3, Books 6–7 ISBN 0-674-99201-6.
  • Wilson, R.J.A. and Leonard, A. Jr., "Field Survey at Heraclea Mino (Agrigento), Sicily", Journal of Field Archaeology, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Summer, 1980), pp. 219–239.
  • Zonaras, Joannes. Extracts of History.

External links

  • Official website (Italian)
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