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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites
A Greek colony founded at the S edge of the Campi Leontini (modern
piana di Catania). First inhabited by the Sikels, in the second half of the 8th
c. B.C. (ca. 729), it was occupied by the Chalkidians of Naxos led by the Oikistes
Theokles; Thucydides (6:3) mentions that the Sikels were forcibly expelled (cf.
Polyaenus, Strat. 5:5.2).
For the entire archaic period Leontinoi was autonomous. It was conquered
by Hippokrates in 495 B.C., and was restored to freedom only after 466 B.C. In
427 it asked for Athenian help against Syracuse (Diod. 12:53) and was Athens'
ally during the Sicilian expedition. Occupied by the Syracusans in 422 B.C, it
regained independence for brief intervals but was virtually dominated by the Syracusan
rulers throughout the 4th and 3d c. B.C. It was conquered by the Romans in 215
The ancient city lay beyond the hills to the S of present-day Lentini
in Valle S. Mauro, which is flanked by two series of steep rises sloping from
S to N. Polybios (7:6), in describing the city's topography, locates the agora
within the valley with a city gate at either end, the Syracusan Gate to the S
and the gate leading to the Campi Leontini to the N.
In 1950, at the far end of the Valle S. Mauro the S gate of the city
was discovered. One phase dates to the beginning of the 6th c. B.C., the other
to the middle of the 5th c. At the end of the century it was demolished together
with the surrounding fortifications, and during the 4th and 3d c. it lay under
the rising ground level and was covered by a necropolis. A third defensive work,
following the plan of the earlier gate, was hastily built at the end of the 3d
c. over the cemetery strata.
The gateway opened at the center of a pincer-like fortification whose
projections to the E and W embraced the edges of the overhanging hills of Metapiccola
and S. Mauro. The circuit wall has been uncovered for a few hundred meters and
is still in an excellent state of preservation. The various chronological phases
are reflected in the different construction techniques. On S. Mauro, besides the
structures connected with the various phases of the gate, an earlier wall has
been uncovered; it was built with large blocks set as headers, and belongs to
the time when the city extended only over S. Mauro or part of it.
Some archaic houses have been identified within the walls, and the
summit of the hill, near the Aletta dwelling, has yielded numerous architectural
terracottas from a temple now no longer visible.
On the opposite hill (Metapiccola) remains of houses and the foundations
of an archaic temple have been found. On the plateau at the summit of the hill
were identified the remains of a Sikel village of the Iron Age.
Two native cemeteries have been identified and explored in the Valle
S. Eligio to the E, and in the Valle Ruccia to the W. The graves are in the shape
of small artificial grottos and are largely preserved.
The finds from the excavations carried out since 1950 are housed in
the Archaeological Museum of Lentini, where they are arranged chronologically
and with specific reference to the major phases of the city's life.
G. Rizza, 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 bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
Perseus Project index
Leontinoi, Leontini, Lentini
Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
The modern Lentini, a town in the east of Sicily, about
five miles from the sea, northwest of Syracuse, founded by Chalcidians from
Naxos, B.C. 730, but never attained much political importance in consequence
of its proximity to Syracuse. The rich plains north of the city, called Leontini
Campi, were some of the most fertile in Sicily, and produced abundant crops
of most excellent wheat. It was the birthplace of Gorgias, "the Nihilist."
This text is cited Sep 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)
Leontini (Leontinoi: Eth. Leontinos: Lentini), a city of Sicily, situated
between Syracuse and Catana, but about eight miles from the sea-coast, near a
considerable lake now known as the Lago di Lentini. The name of Leontini is evidently
an ethnic form, signifying properly the people rather than the city itself; but
it seems to have been the only one in use, and is employed both by Greek and Latin
writers (declined as a plural adjective1 ), with the single exception of Ptolemy,
who calls the city Leontion or Leontium. (Ptol. iii. 4. § 13.) But it is clear,
from the modern form of the name, Lentini, that the form Leontini, which we find
universal in writers of the best ages, continued in common use down to a late
period. All ancient writers concur in representing Leontini as a Greek colony,
and one of those of Chalcidian origin, being founded by Chalcidic colonists from
Naxos, in the same year with Catana, and six years after the parent city of Naxos,
B.C. 730. (Thuc. vi. 3; Scymn. Ch. 283; Diod. xii. 53, xiv. 14.) According to
Thucydides, the site had been previously occupied by Siculi, but these were expelled,
and the city became essentially a Greek colony. We know little of its early history;
but, from the strength of its position and the extreme fertility of its territory
(renowned in all ages for its extraordinary richness), it appears to have early
attained to great prosperity, and became one of the most considerable cities in
the E. of Sicily. The rapidity of its rise is attested by the fact that it was
able, in its turn, to found the colony of Euboea (Strab. vi. p. 272 ; Scymn. Ch.
287), apparently at a very early period. It is probable, also, that the three
Chalcidic cities, Leontini, Naxos, and Catana, from the earliest period adopted
the same line of policy, and made common cause against their Dorian neighbours,
as we find them constantly doing in later times.
The government of Leontini was an oligarchy, but it fell at one time,
like so many other cities of Sicily, under the yoke of a despot of the name of
Panaetius, who is said to have been the first instance of the kind in Sicily.
His usurpation is referred by Eusebius to the 43rd Olympiad, or B.C. 608. (Arist.
Pol. v. 10, 12; Euseb. Arm. vol. ii. p. 109.)
Leontini appears to have retained its independence till after B.C.
498, when it fell under the yoke of Hippocrates, tyrant of Gela (Herod. vii. 154):
after which it seems to have passed in succession under the authority of Gelon
and Hieron of Syracuse; as we find that, in B.C. 476, the latter despot, having
expelled the inhabitants of Catana and Naxos from their native cities, which he
peopled with new colonists, established the exiles at Leontini, the possession
of which they shared with its former citizens. (Diod. xi. 49.) We find no special
mention of Leontini in the revolutions that followed the death of Hieron; but
there is no doubt that it regained its independence after the expulsion of Thrasybulus,
B.C. 466, and the period which followed was probably that of the greatest prosperity
of Leontini, as well as the other Chalcidic cities of Sicily. (Diod. xi. 72, 76.)
But its proximity to Syracuse became the source of fresh troubles to Leontini.
In B.C. 427 the Leontines found themselves engaged in hostilities
with their more powerful neighbour, and, being unable to cope single-handed with
the Syrasans, they applied for support not only to their Chalcidic brethren, but
to the Athenians also, who sent a fleet of twenty ships to their assistance, under
the command of Laches and Charoeades. (Thuc. iii. 86; Diod. xii. 53.) The operations
of the Athenian fleet under Laches and his successors Pythodorus and Eurymedon
were, however, confined to the part of Sicily adjoining the Straits of Messana:
the Leontines received no direct support from them, but, after the war had continued
for some years, they were included in the general pacification of Gela, B.C. 424,
which for a time secured them in the possession of their independence. (Thuc.
iv. 58, 65.) This, however, did not last long: the Syracusans took advantage of
intestine dissensions among the Leontines, and, by espousing the cause of the
oligarchy, drove the democratic party into exile, while they adopted the oligarchy
and richer classes as Syracusan citizens. The greater part of the latter body
even abandoned their own city, and migrated to Syracuse; but quickly returned,
and for a time joined with the exiles in holding it out against the power of the
Syracusans. But the Athenians, to whom they again applied, were unable to render
them any effectual assistance ; they were a second time expelled, B.C. 422, and
Leontini became a mere dependency of Syracuse, though always retaining some importance
as a fortress, from the strength of its position. (Thuc. v. 4; Diod. xii. 54.)
In B.C. 417 the Leontine exiles are mentioned as joining with the Segestans in
urging on the Athenian expedition to Sicily (Diod. xii. 83; Plut. Nic. 12) ; and
their restoration was made one of the avowed objects of the enterprise. (Thuc.
vi. 50.) But the failure of that expedition left them without any hope of restoration
; and Leontini continued in its subordinate and fallen condition till B.C. 406,
when the Syracusans allowed the unfortunate Agrigentines, after the capture of
their own city by the Carthaginians, to establish themselves at Leontini. The
Geloans and Camarinaeans followed their example the next year: the Leontine exiles
of Syracuse at the same time took the opportunity to return to their native city,
and declare themselves independent, and the treaty of peace concluded by Dionysius
with Himilco, in B.C. 405, expressly stipulated for the freedom and independence
of Leontini. (Diod. xiii. 89, 113, 114; Xen. Hell. ii. 3. 5) This condition was
not long observed by Dionysius, who no sooner found himself free from the fear
of Carthage than he turned his arms against the Chalcidic cities, and, after reducing
Catana and Naxos, compelled the Leontines, who were now bereft of all their allies,
to surrender their city, which was for the second time deserted, and the whole
people transferred to Syracuse, B.C. 403. (Id. xiv. 14, 15.)
At a later period of his reign (B.C. 396) Dionysius found himself
compelled to appease the discontent of his mercenary troops, by giving up to them
both the city and the fertile territory of Leontini, where they established themselves
to the number of 10,000 men. (Id. xiv. 78.) From this time Leontini is repeatedly
mentioned in connection with the civil troubles and revolutions at Syracuse, with
which city it seems to have constantly continued in intimate relations; but, as
Strabo observes, always shared in its disasters, without always partaking of its
prosperity. (Strab. vi. p. 273.) Thus, the Leontines were among the first to declare
against the younger Dionysius, and open their gates to Dion (Diod. xvi. 16; Plut.
Dion. 39, 40). Some years afterwards their city was occupied with a military force
by Hicetas, who from thence carried on war with Timoleon (Ib. 78, 82); and it
was not till after the great victory of the latter over the Carthaginians (B.C.
340) that he was able to expel Hicetas and make himself master of Leontini. (Ib.
82; Plut. Timol. 32.) That city was not, like almost all the others of Sicily,
restored on this occasion to freedom and independence, but was once more incorporated
in the Syracusan state, and the inhabitants transferred to that city. (Diod. xvi.
82.) At a later period the Leontines again figure as an independent state, and,
during the wars of Agathocles with the Carthaginians, on several occasions took
part against the Syracusans. (Diod. xix. 110, xx. 32.) When Pyrrhus arrived in
Sicily, B.C. 278, they were subject to a tyrant or despot of the name of Heracleides,
who was one of the first to make his submission to that monarch. (Id. xxii. 8,
10, Exc. H. p. 497.) But not long after they appear to have again fallen under
the yoke of Syracuse, and Leontini was one of the cities of which the sovereignty
was secured to Hieron, king of Syracuse, by the treaty concluded with him by the
Romans at the commencement of the First Punic War, B.C. 263. (Id. xxiii. Exc.
H. p. 502.) This state of things continued till the Second Punic War, when Leontini
again figures conspicuously in the events which led to the fall of Syracuse. It
was in one of the long and narrow streets of Leontini that Hieronymus was assassinated
by Dinomenes, B.C. 215 (Liv. xxiv. 7; Polyb. vii. 6); and it was there that, shortly
after, Hippocrates and Epicydes first raised the standard of open war against
Rome. Marcellus hastened to attack the city, and made himself master of it without
difficulty; but the severities exercised by him on this occasion inflamed the
minds of the Syracusans to such an extent as to become the immediate occasion
of the rupture with Rome. (Liv. xxiv. 29, 30, 39.) Under the Roman government
Leontini was restored to the position of an independent municipal town, but it
seems to have sunk into a state of decay. Cicero calls it misera civitas atque
inanis (Verr. ii. 66); and, though its fertile territory was still well cultivated,
this was done almost wholly by farmers from other cities of Sicily, particularly
from Centuripa. (Ib. iii. 46, 49.) Strabo also speaks of it as in a very declining
condition, though the name is still found in Pliny and Ptolemy, it seems never
to have been a place of importance under the Roman rule. (Strab. vi. p. 273; Mel.
ii. 7. § 16; Plin. iii. 8. s. 14; Ptol. iii. 4. § 13.) But the great strength
of its position must have always preserved it from entire decay, and rendered
it a place of some consequence in the middle ages. The modern city of Lentini,
which preserves the ancient site as well as name, is a poor place, though with
about 5000 inhabitants, and suffers severely from malaria. No ruins are visible
on the site ; but some extensive excavations in the rocky sides of the hill on
which it stands are believed by the inhabitants to be the work of the Laestrygones,
and gravely described as such by Fazello. (Fazell. de Reb. Sic. iii. 3.)
The situation of Leontini is well described by Polybius: it stood
on a broken hill, divided into two separate summits by an intervening valley or
hollow; at the foot of this hill on the W. side, flowed a small stream, which
he calls the LISSUS now known as the Fiume Ruina, which falls into the Lake of
Lentini, a little below the town. (Pol. vii. 6.) The two summits just noticed,
being bordered by precipitous cliffs, formed, as it were, two natural citadels
or fortresses; it was evidently one of these which Thucydides mentions under the
name of Phoceae which was occupied in B.C. 422 by the Leontine exiles who returned
from Syracuse. (Thuc. v. 4.) Both heights seem to have been fortified by the Syracusans,
who regarded Leontini as an important fortress ; and we find them alluded to as
the forts (ta phrouria) of Leontini. (Diod. xiv. 58, xxii. 8.) Diodorus also mentions
that one quarter of Leontini was known by the name of The New Town (he Nea polis,
xvi. 72); but we have no means of determining its locality. It is singular that
no ancient author alludes to the Lake (or as it is commonly called the Biviere)
of Lentini, a sheet of water of considerable extent, but stagnant and shallow,
which lies immediately to the N. of the city. It produces abundance of fish, but
is considered to be the principal cause of the malaria from which the city now
suffers. (D'Orville, Sicula, p. 168 ; Smyth's Sicily, pp. 157, 158.)
The extraordinary fertility of the territory of Leontini, or the Leontinus
Campus, is celebrated by many ancient authors. According to a tradition commonly
received, it was there that wheat grew wild, and where it was first brought into
cultivation (Diod. iv. 24, v. 2); and it was always regarded as the most productive
district in all Sicily for the growth of corn. Cicero calls it campus ille Leontinus
nobilissimus ac feracissimus, uberrima Siciliae pars, caput rei frumentariae;
and says that the Romans were accustomed to consider it as in itself a sufficient
resource against scarcity. (Cic. Verr. iii. 1. 8, 44, 46, pro Scaur. 2, Phil.
viii. 8.) The tract thus celebrated, which was known also by the name of the Laestrigonii
Campi, was evidently the plain extending from the foot of the hills on which Leontini
was situated to the river Symaethus, now known as the Piano di Catania. We have
no explanation of the tradition which led to the fixing on this fertile tract
as the abode of the fabulous Laestrygones.
Leontini was noted as the birthplace of the celebrated orator Gorgias,
who in B.C. 427 was the head of the deputation sent by his native city to implore
the intervention of Athens. (Diod. xii. 53; Plat. Hipp. Maj. p. 282.)
This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited August 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)