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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites


  A Greek city founded in 689 B.C. by colonists from Rhodes and Crete led by Antiphemos and Entimos. It occupied part of a long and low sandy hill parallel to the seashore, which was already inhabited by Early Bronze Age Sikanian villagers during the second millennium B.C. The city acropolis developed near the source of the river Gelas after which the new colony was named. After long struggles against the indigenous populations to secure possession of the fertile inland plain, the Geloans began a policy of commercial and political penetration along the coast and toward the interior of the island. In 582 B.C. they founded Akragas and extended their domination to a large part of central and S Sicily. Under the tyrant Hippokrates, at the beginning of the 5th c. B.C., Gela's power reached also into E Sicily, up to the straits of Messina. Hippokrates was succeeded by Gelon, who moved to Syracuse in 483 B.C. and defeated the Carthaginian army in the battle of Himera in 480 B.C. Under the rule of Gelon's successors, the Deinomenids, Gela's political importance declined although it remained an artistic and cultural center. The tragic poet Aeschylos spent his last years in Gela, dying there in 456 B.C. And in 424 B.C. was convened there the peace congress in which the Syracusan Hermokrates, in the face of the threatening Athenian power, proclaimed the autonomy of the Sicilian colonies. In 405 B.C., despite the help of Dionysios of Syracuse, Gela was conquered and completely destroyed by the Carthaginian army led by Himilco. The city remained uninhabited for many years. It was rebuilt and repopulated with new colonists after 338 B.C. by the Corinthian Timoleon, who restored peace and democracy in Sicily. After a period of prosperous tranquility Gela was again conquered by the new tyrant of Syracuse, Agathokles, who in 311-310 B.C. used Gela as his military base against the Carthaginians. After 310 B.C. the city shrank to the W part of the hill, and at an undetermined date between 285 and 282 B.C. was destroyed by the Akragan tyrant Phintias, who transferred its population into the new city of Phintias (Licata). The hill of Gela remained deserted until 1233, when Frederik II of Swabia built on the ancient ruins the fortified city that was first called Herakleia and later Terranova until 1927, when the original name was restored.
  Excavations in 1900 brought to light large sections of the Greek necropoleis and the remains of two temples on the acropolis. In 1948 the accidental discovery of fortifications in the area of Capo Soprano inspired a new series of systematic excavations still in progress.
  A section of the archaic and Classical acropolis antedating the destruction of 405 B.C. has been uncovered on the modern hill of Molino a Vento where, according to Thucydides, were built the first fortifications, which the colonists called Lindioi. On the S side of the acropolis one can see the foundations of the archaic Temple of Athena, famous for its architectural terracottas (at present in the Syracuse Museum), and the foundations of a second Doric temple of the 5th c. B.C., of which remain some blocks for the underpinning of the cella and one of the columns of the opisthodomos. On the N side excavation has uncovered a section of living quarters of the 4th c. B.C. (the age of Timoleon), with ruins of houses and shops on terraces built over the remains of the earlier sanctuaries and the archaic fortifications destroyed by the Carthaginians. The area of the ancient town to the W of the acropolis is now totally occupied by the modern city. But architectural, votive, and domestic finds of great importance and aesthetic appeal have been made almost everywhere, and a Sanctuary of Hera has been identified in the area of the present City Hall. Numerous sanctuaries outside the town have been excavated around the hill; most of them were dedicated to Demeter and Kore. The Sanctuary of Demeter Thesmophoros on the small Bitalemi hill, at the mouth of the river Gelas, has yielded thousands of votive objects perfectly stratified. Another sanctuary, near the present railway station, contained a splendid hoard of over a thousand archaic silver coins.
  Before 405 B.C. the polis ended at the level of the present Pasqualello valley, where the necropoleis began, and filled the entire W section of the hill. When Gela was rebuilt by Timoleon shortly after 338 B.C., habitation expanded over the necropolis area; and the entire hill, over 4 km long, was enclosed by a new circuit of walls. The Capo Soprano walls, excavated and restored between 1948 and 1954, represent the W end of these fortifications and are among the most perfect examples of Greek walls. They were built in two media, the lower part of elegant ashlar blocks of sandstone, the upper part of unbaked mud bricks, by use of a technique widely diffused in the Graeco-Oriental world. In the preserved section one should note a postern gate with a false pointed arch, a gate for wheeled traffic, remains of towers and stairways. These fortifications were soon covered by sand and the Geloans were forced to raise them at least twice in 50 years, probably at the time of Agathokles and again when they were finally conquered by Phintias. These superimposed layers are clearly visible in the best-preserved section of the walls which, through these additions, reach at some points a height of 8 m. In order to protect the unbaked mud bricks, an expensive covering with tempered glass panes and plastic roofing has been devised. Inside the walls test excavations have uncovered houses and military quarters of the time of Agathokles; the structures, built of unbaked bricks, have been temporarily covered over.
  Throughout the W section of the city, foundations of houses and shops were found with evident traces of destruction and fire. These are the houses that, according to Diodorus Siculus, the Akragan tyrant Phintias razed to the ground together with the walls. Among the preserved monuments of this last period (338-282 B.C.) one should note public baths, with two groups of tubs and the furnaces for heating the water. It is the oldest public bath found in Italy thus far. It was originally built with terracotta tubs which were in the process of being replaced with cement troughs at the time of the final destruction.
  All the archaeological finds from the new excavations are now in the National Museum, next to the acropolis area. They are displayed with the material coming from excavations and soundings in the interior (Manfria, Butera, Monte Bubbonia, Sofiana, etc.). The Museum also houses a local collection of Greek vases, especially Attic (Navarra collection). The material from the 1900-6 excavation is in the National Museum of Syracuse.

P. Orlandini, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains 20 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.

Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)


  Gela: Eth. Geloos, Gelensis: Terranova. One of the most important Greek cities of Sicily, situated on the S. coast of the island, between Agrigentum and Camarina, and at the mouth of the river of the same name. It was founded, as we learn from Thucydides, forty-four years after the foundation of Syracuse, or B.C. 690, by a joint colony of Cretans and Rhodians under the guidance of Antiphemus of Rhodes and Entimus of Crete. The Rhodian colonists came, for the most part, from Lindus; hence the spot on which the new city was first built obtained the name of Lindii, by which it continued to be known in the days of Thucydides, though the city itself acquired that of Gela, from the river of that name on the banks of which it was situated. (Thuc. vi. 4; Herod. vii. 153; Schol. ad Pind. Ol. ii. 16; Diod. [p. 984] viii. 25. Exc. Vat. p. 11; Callim. ap. Schol. Pind. l. c.; Virg. Aen. iii. 702; Sil. Ital. xiv. 218.) Like most of the Greek colonies in Sicily, we have very little information as to its history for nearly two centuries after its foundation. Some obscure notices of its struggles with the barbarians of the interior (Paus. viii. 46. § 2; Schol. Pind. l. c.), and of internal dissensions between conflicting factions, in one of which Telines, the ancestor of Gelon, bore a conspicuous part (Herod. vii. 153), are all that we hear of it during this period. But the fact that in B.C. 582 the Geloans were able to found the powerful colony of Agrigentum, may be taken as a proof that they themselves, at that period, were in a flourishing condition. The new colony, indeed, rapidly outstripped its parent city, and rose for a time, under Phalaris, to be the most powerful state in Sicily: but Gela subsequently obtained its turn of prosperity, if not of supremacy, under the rule of Hippocrates. The form of government at Gela had at first been oligarchical, as was the case with most of the Greek cities in Sicily (Arist. Pol. v. 12); and this constitution continued till it was subverted by Cleander, who raised himself to de. spotic power. We have scarcely any information concerning the circumstances of his reign; but we know that he ruled seven years (B.C. 505-498), and transmitted the sovereign power, without opposition, to his brother Hippocrates, who, during a reign of about the same duration (B.C. 498-491), raised Gela to a pitch of power and prosperity far surpassing what it had previously attained, and even extended his dominion over a great part of Sicily. He successively reduced Leontini, Callipolis, and Naxos under his yoke, took the city of Zancle, which he made over to the Samians, and waged successful war against the Syracusans themselves, who were compelled to purchase peace by the cession of Camarina. (Herod. vii. 153, 154.) At the death of Hippocrates (B.C. 491) Gelon succeeded to the sovereign power, and rapidly followed in the same career of successful aggrandisement; till, in B.C. 485, he succeeded in making himself master of Syracuse itself. But this event, which seemed likely to raise Gela to the position of the first city in Sicily, became, on the contrary, the cause of its decline. Gelon from this time despised his native city, and directed all his efforts to the aggrandisement of his new capital, with which object he even compelled half of the inhabitants of Gela to migrate to Syracuse. (Herod. vii. 156.) His successor Hieron also appears to have driven a large number of the citizens of Gela into exile: but after the expulsion of Thrasybulus (B.C. 466) all these returned to their native city, and Gela not only became itself repeopled; but was able to settle a fresh colony at Camarina, which had been rendered desolate by Gelon. (Diod. xi. 76.) The period which followed, from the restoration of its liberty to the Carthaginian invasion (B.C. 466-406), seems to have been one of great prosperity for Gela, as well as for the rest of Sicily. The Geloans appear to have adhered uniformly to the same line of policy with the other Doric cities in the island: and hence they were among the first to promise their support to the Syracusans on the approach of the Athenian expedition (B.C. 415). Immediately after the arrival of Gylippus, the Geloans sent a small body of troops to his support, and, after the first successes of the Syracusan arms, they furnished a more considerable force of 600 troops, with a squadron of five ships. (Thuc. vii. 33, 58; Diod. xiii. 4, 12.)
  A few years later the great Carthaginian invasion brought destruction on Gela, as it had previously done on Himera, Selinus, and Agrigentum. After the capture of the last city (B.C. 406), the Geloans afforded a temporary refuge to its inhabitants, and treated them with the utmost kindness: at the same time they urgently applied to the Syracusans for assistance; but Dionysius, who was at that time just rising to power, though he visited Gela, and brought about a democratic revolution in the city, took no further steps for its protection. (Diod. xiii. 89, 93.) The next spring (B.C. 405) the Carthaginians appeared before Gela, and laid siege to the city, which was a place of no natural strength, and not well fortified; notwithstanding which, the inhabitants made a gallant resistance, and were able to repulse all the attacks of the enemy till the arrival of Dionysius at the head of a large army to their relief. But that general, having been defeated in his first attack on the Carthaginian camp, renounced all further efforts, and compelled the Geloans to follow the example of the Agrigentines, and abandon their city with their wives and families. The unhappy exiles withdrew to Leontini, while Gela itself was plundered and laid waste by the Carthaginians. (Diod. xiii. 108-111, 113.)
  By the peace which Dionysius soon after concluded with Himilco, the Geloans were permitted to return to their own city, on condition of not restoring its fortifications, and of paying tribute to Carthage (Diod. xiii. 114), and there is no doubt that they availed themselves of these terms; but Gela, though repeopled, never rose again to its former prosperity. In B.C. 397 the citizens gladly declared themselves free from the Carthaginian yoke, and joined Dionysius in his expedition against the western cities of Sicily (Id. xiv. 47): and, notwithstanding the various vicissitudes of fortune that marked the wars between the Syracusan despot and the Carthaginians, they sueceeded in maintaining their independence of the latter people, which was secured to them by the treaty of B.C. 383 (Id. xv. 17). Of their subsequent fortunes we hear nothing for some time; but they are mentioned as among the first to join the standard of Dion, when he landed in Sicily, B.C. 357 (Plut. Dion. 26), and, after the victory of Timoleon (B.C. 338), Gela, which was at that time in a very decayed state, was replenished with a fresh body of colonists, composed in part of her old inhabitants, with the addition of new settlers from the island of Ceos. (Plut. Timol. 35.) This colony appears, for a time, to have restored Gela to a tolerable degree of prosperity; and it figures in the wars of Agathocles as an independent city, possessing considerable resources. But a severe blow was again inflicted on it by that tyrant, who, in B.C. 311, being apprehensive of its defection to the Carthaginians, contrived to introduce a body of troops into the city, and massacred above 4000 of the principal citizens. (Diod. xix. 71, 107.) By this means he established his power there for the time, and after his great defeat at Ecnomus he took refuge with the remains of his army at Gela, where he was able to defy the arms of the Carthaginians. (Id. xix. 110.) But in B.C. 309, when the Agrigentines, under Xenodicus, raised the standard of independence, and proclaimed the freedom of the separate cities, the Geloans were the first to join them, and took an active part in their enterprise. (Id. xx. 31.) Gela appears to have, at this time, recovered a considerable degree of power and prosperity, but we hear nothing more of it during the time of Agathocles, and when its name next occurs we find it subject to the rule of Phintias, the despot of Agrigentum, who, with the view of augmenting the city that he had lately founded near the mouth of the Himera and called after his own name, not only removed thither the inhabitants of Gela, but demolished the walls and houses of the older, city. (Diod, xxii. 2. Exc. Hoesch. p. 495.)
  It is evident that Gela. never recovered from this blow: we find, indeed, incidental mention of its being gain, devastated soon after by the Mamertines (Diod. xxiii. 1. Exc. H. p. 501); but in the First Punic War no notice occurs of the city, though the territory is mentioned on one occasion in connection with Phintias (Diod. xxiv. 1. Exc. H. p. 508). Under the Roman rule, however, the Gelenses certainly existed as a separate community (Cic. Verr. iii. 4. 3), and the statement of Cicero, that after the capture of Carthage Scipio restored to them the statues that had been carried off from their city (Verr. iv. 33), would seem to prove that the latter was then still in existence. Strabo, indeed, tells us that Gela was in his day uninhabited (vi. p. 272), and associates its fame with those of Callipolis and Naxos, as cities that had wholly disappeared; but his expressions must not be construed too literally, and the name is still found both in Pliny and Ptolemy. (Plin. iii. 8. s. 14; Ptol. iii. 4. § 15.) But it was probably at this period a. poor and decayed place, and no subsequent trace of it is found.
  The site of Gela has been the subject of much controversy in modern times, many local writers contending for its position at the modern Alicata, at the mouth. of the river Salso, while Cluverius, who has been generally followed by the most recent authorities, places it at Terranova, about 18 miles further E., and at the mouth of the river now known as the Fiume di Terranova. All arguments derived from the statements of ancient writers are in favour of the latter view, which may, indeed, be considered as clearly established: the only evidence in favour of Alicata is the fact (in general, certainly a strong one) that an honorary inscription with the name of the Geloans has been found there. But as the ruins still visible near Alicata are in all probability those of Phintias, a city which was peopled with the inhabitants of Gela, it is easy to understand how such an inscription (which is of small dimensions) may have been transported thither. No doubt exists that Terranova occupies an ancient site; we learn from a. writer of the 13th century, that it was founded by the Emperor Frederic II., super ruinis deletae atque obrutae urbis (Guido Columna, cited by Fazello): and the remains of an ancient temple are still visible. there, of which the massive basement was preserved in the days of Fazello; and one column remained standing as late as the visit of D'Orville (1727), but is now fallen and half buried in the sand. Numerous coins and painted vases have been brought to light by excavations on the site.
  The situation of Terranova, on a slight eminence, a little more than a mile from the sea, precisely corresponds with the. account given by. Diodorus of the operations of Dionysius' when he attacked the Carthaginian camp, from which it is evident that, although situated near the sea-coast, it was sufficiently distant. from it to admit of the passage of one division of the army between., the. walls and the sea; (Diod. xiii. 109, 110.) No importance can be attached to the circumstance that Ptolemy reckons Gela among the inland towns of Sicily, as he includes in the. same category Phintias and Camarina, both of which were situated almost close to the coast.
  The position of the city of Gela being ascertained, that of the river follows it. This can be no other than the one now called Fiume di Terranova, from its flowing by the walls of that town, which rises in the neighbourhood of Piazza, about 25 miles N. of Terranova. It still retains the character of a violent and impetuous torrent, alluded to by Ovid (Fast. iv. 470); but has little water in the dry season. Ancient grammarians derive, the name of the river (from which that of the city was taken) from a Siculian word, psela, signifying cold or frost, evidently connected with the Latin gelu. (Steph. B. s. v.; Suid. s. v.; Etym. Magn. s. v.) An absurd story is, however, related by the same authorities, which, would derive the name of the city from pselao. The river-god Gelas is represented on most of the coins of the city, under the usual form of a bull with a human head: on one of them he bears the title of Sosipoais, a strong instance of that veneration for rivers which appears to have particularly characterised the Greeks of Sicily.
  To the west of Gela extended a broad tract of plain, between the mountains and the sea, but separated from the last by an intervening range of hills. This is the Geloon pedion of Diodorus and the Campi Geloi of Virgil Aen. iii. 701). It is still, as in ancient times, one of the most fertile corngrowing tracts in the whole of Sicily; whence Gela is termed, by the author of an ancient epigram, puruphoros, the wheat-bearing (Epigr. ap. Anon. Vit. Aesch.). According to an earlier writer (Amphis, ap. Athen. ii. p. 67), it was renowned for the excellence of its lentils (phake). We learn also from Pliny (xxxi. 7. s. 39, 41), that its territory produced abundance of salt.
  Gela was the birth-place of Apollodorus, a comic poet of some note, who is frequently confounded with his more celebrated namesake of Carystus. (Suid. s. v. Apollodoros; Athen. iii. p. 125.) It was also the place to which Aeschylus retired when driven from Athens, and where he was soon after killed by a singular accident (B.C. 456). The Geloans paid great respect to his memory, and his tomb was still visible there in after-ages. We learn from Pausanias that they had a treasury at Olympia, in which they dedicated valuable offerings. (Paus. vi. 19. § 15.) The same author alludes to some statues, the reputed work of Daedalus, which had formerly existed at Gela, but had disappeared in the time of the historian. (Id. ix. 40. § 4.) A colossal statue of Apollo, which stood outside the town, was carried off by the Carthaginians, in B.C. 405, and sent to Tyre, where it still remained when that city was taken by Alexander the Great. (Diod. xiii. 108.)
  It is certain that Gela, in the days of its power and prosperity, possessed an extensive territory; though we have no means of fixing its exact limits. It was probably separated from that of Agrigenturn on the W. by the river Himera: of its extent towards the interior we have no account; but the name of a station given in the Itineraries as Gelasium Philosophianis, seems to prove that this point (which apparently coincided with the modern town of Piazza, about 24 miles from Terranova) must have been comprised in the territory of Gela.

This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited June 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

Perseus Project




  City of southern Sicily. Gela was founded around 680 by settlers coming from Rhodes and the neighboring island of Telos, and also from Crete.
  About a century later, around 580, Gela and Rhodes founded the city of Acragas, about 40 miles west of Gela. Toward the end of the VIth century, Cleandrus became tyrant of Gela. He was assassinated in 498 and succeeded by his brother Hippocrates. Hippocrates conquered several cities of Sicily, including Naxos, Zancle (the future Messina) and Leontini, but couldn't submit Syracuse, who received help from Corinth, her mother city. When he died in 485, Gelon, the chief of his cavalry, took power and submitted Syracuse, of which he became tyrant, leaving Gela to his brother Hieron. At the death of Gelon in 478, Hieron succeeded him in Syracuse.

Bernard Suzanne (page last updated 1998), ed.
This extract is cited July 2003 from the Plato and his dialogues URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks.

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