2.7.16

Segesta

Segesta, Greek Egesta , ancient city of Sicily, located on Monte Barbaro about 2 miles (3 km) northwest of modern Calatafimi. It was the chief city of the Elymi, a people for whom Thucydides claimed a Trojan origin; they are archaeologically indistinguishable in the Early Iron Age (c. 1000–c. 500 bc) from their Sicanian neighbours. Culturally Segesta was Greek, and inscriptions on pottery show that the local dialect was written in the Greek alphabet. Boundary disputes with nearby Selinus, for instance, were frequent from 580 bc onward. During most of the 5th century bc, Segesta was allied with Athens. It was Segesta that lured Athens into embarking on the disastrous Sicilian Expedition (416–413). When in 409 Hannibal, son of Gisgo, sacked Selinus, Segesta became a Carthaginian ally. Early in the First Punic War, however, the inhabitants massacred the Carthaginian garrison and allied themselves with Rome. Segesta was favourably treated under Roman rule; it became a free city, and the territory of Eryx may have been assigned to it. The emperor Augustus (reigned 27 bc–ad 14) granted Segesta Latin rights. Vespasian (ad 69–79) settled Roman veterans in Segesta’s extensive territory. By the late 2nd century ad, however, Segesta had been abandoned.


History
According to the tradition used in Virgil's Aeneid, Segesta was founded jointly by the territorial king Acestes (who was son of the local river Crinisus by a Dardanian woman named Segesta or Egesta) and by those of Aeneas' folk who wished to remain behind with Acestes to found the city of Acesta.

The belief that the name of the city was originally Acesta or Egesta and changed to Segesta by the Romans to avoid its ill-omened meaning in Latin is disproved by coins showing that Segesta was indeed the earlier name.[citation needed]

The population of Segesta was mixed Elymian and Ionian Greek, though the Elymians were soon Hellenized and took on external characteristics of Greek life.

Segesta was in constant conflict with Selinus (modern Selinunte), which probably tried to assure itself a port on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The first clashes were in 580-576 BC, and again in 454 BC, but later the conflict would have repercussions for all of Sicily.

In 415 BC Segesta asked Athens for help against Selinus, leading to a disastrous Athenian expedition in Sicily (415-413 BC). Later they asked Carthage for help, leading to the total destruction of the city of Selinus by the hands of Carthage. Segesta remained an ally of Carthage, it was besieged by Dionysius of Syracuse in 397 BC, and it was destroyed by Agathocles in 307 BC, but recovered.

In 276 BC the city was allied with Pyrrhus, but changed side in 260 BC when it surrendered to the Romans. The city was not punished by the Romans for its long alliance with Carthage, but owing to the mythical common origin of the Romans and the Elymians (both descendants of refugees from Troy) it was granted the state of a "free and immune" city.

In 104 BC the slave rebellion led by Athenion started in Segesta.

Little is known about the city under Roman rule, but it is probable that the population gradually moved to the port city of Castellammare del Golfo due to better trading opportunities.

The city was destroyed by the Vandals.

The ruins of the city are located on the top of Monte Bàrbaro at 305 m above sea level. The city was protected by steep slopes on several sides and by walls on the more gentle slope towards the temple.

The hilltop offers a view over the valley towards the Gulf of Castellamare. The city controlled several major roads between the coast to the north and the hinterland.
Segesta Temple in Thomas Cole´s picture from 1843

Description

Segesta, Greek Egesta , ancient city of Sicily, located on Monte Barbaro about 2 miles (3 km) northwest of modern Calatafimi. It was the chief city of the Elymi, a people for whom Thucydides claimed a Trojan origin; they are archaeologically indistinguishable in the Early Iron Age (c. 1000–c. 500 bc) from their Sicanian neighbours. Culturally Segesta was Greek, and inscriptions on pottery show that the local dialect was written in the Greek alphabet. Boundary disputes with nearby Selinus, for instance, were frequent from 580 bc onward. During most of the 5th century bc, Segesta was allied with Athens. It was Segesta that lured Athens into embarking on the disastrous Sicilian Expedition (416–413). When in 409 Hannibal, son of Gisgo, sacked Selinus, Segesta became a Carthaginian ally. Early in the First Punic War, however, the inhabitants massacred the Carthaginian garrison and allied themselves with Rome. Segesta was favourably treated under Roman rule; it became a free city, and the territory of Eryx may have been assigned to it. The emperor Augustus (reigned 27 bc–ad 14) granted Segesta Latin rights. Vespasian (ad 69–79) settled Roman veterans in Segesta’s extensive territory. By the late 2nd century ad, however, Segesta had been abandoned.

Site Monuments

Segesta is the site of an important temple and other ancient monuments, to the north-west of Sicily. The most significant monuments in Segesta are the temple itself, and also the theatre and the sanctuary, in the “Contrada Mango".

It is interesting to understand how the Greeks arrived at the structure of the temple and other monuments, a knowledge of which greatly enhances a visit, hence we have included quite extensive information about these important monuments.

The temple of Segesta

From the mid-fifth century BC onwards the whole range of Greek architecture was established at Segesta, and the Doric temple of Segesta is an example of the so-called 'international style' of architecture, in the sense that the Doric forms were quite simple and widely found.

The temple is hexastyle-peripteral form (i.e. has a colonnade that runs around its perimeter), with six columns in front and a peristyle of columns behind, which is a typical form of Greek architecture found in almost all their temples. The temple is a parallelogram in shape with a length of 70 meters and a width of about 21 meters, the lower sides of which, according to a typical technique of religious buildings, look out toward the east and west, so that the temple showed its 'face' to those who came from the city.

The Segesta temple is located on a high base, divided into four steps, the lower of which is of a lesser height, while the upper level, left unfinished on three sides, forms a kind of dado under each column that gives the appearance of a pedestal.

The diameter of the columns is less than 2 meters at the bottom, while the top diameter is 1.5 meters, and the height of the columns is about 10 meters.

The thirty-six columns form the peristyle and are placed on a single stylobate (base) measuring about six by 27 meters. The intercolumnia, slightly surpassing the diameter of the columns, are closer to the corners, a technique used in Greek art to increase the soundness of the building, and to ensure an ideal distribution of the triglyphs of the frieze, which always correspond to the axis of the columns and the mid intercolumnia.

The cornice, consisting of an architrave ornamented at the top with a row of rings below each triglyph, and a strip across its width, is surmounted by a frieze composed of triglyphs alternating with smooth metopes. This structure is then crowned by a cornice and a pediment, which increase the effect of this majestic temple and give an impression of solidity and intensity.

A remarkable peculiarity of the temple of Segesta, although it is not unique in Greek architecture, is that the columns are not perfectly fluted, as is typical of the Doric order. From this observation we can infer that the temple of Segesta was never completed, because usually the work of the grooves on the columns was carried out when they were already placed to better ensure the effect of the engraving.

Scholars have debated a great deal about the deity to whom the temple was dedicated. Some attribute it to Ceres, while for others it is a temple dedicated to Diana and still others believe that it was dedicated to Venus. It is certain, however, according to Cicero ("In Verrem”, IV), that there existed a temple of Diana in Segesta, and inside there was the statue of the goddess.

The Greek theatre of Segesta

The theatre in Segesta dates back probably to the 4th-3rd century BC, and was located in one of the best areas of the town. Built of large masses of stone (without cement and lime), the theatre was quite isolated and of a semi-circular shape, with part of the stage facing west. The “cavea” is contained in a semicircle of about 60 feet diameter.

The theatre stage, of which few traces remain, was originally decorated with columns and pillars.

Several doubts have emerged concerning the date of construction of Segesta Theatre, but the original construction of the “cavea” is thought to date from the late 4th century BC:

"A chronology of the original ‘cavea’ as dating from the second half of the fourth century BC is credible, but we can not exclude some restructuring and functional adaptation. The current shape of the seats suggests the II-I century BC, but we cannot reasonably deny the possibility that these have been replaced."

(M.L. De Bernardi, “Analisi delle anomalie architettoniche dell’attuale ‘cavea’ del Teatro di Segesta” in “Terze Giornate internazionali di studi sull’area elima”, Proceedings, I, 2000: 386).

OTHER SEGESTA MONUMENTS AND HIGHLIGHTS

At the foot of Mount Barbaro, in "Contrada Mango", excavations have unearthed the remains of a sanctuary from the Archaic period, surrounded by a large rectangular wall of square blocks. Inside they have found the remains of one or more buildings in the Doric style, built between the sixth and fifth centuries BC.

Finally, your archaeological tour of segesta can be concluded with a sightseeing trip to the famous ‘Thermae of Segesta', patronized in turn by by the Greeks, Romans and Arabs, who knew the health properties of these sources, which consisted of good water for the treatment of rheumatic, dermatological and respiratory diseases.

In the 19th century, close to the “Thermae”, a very auspicious Greek inscription was found, "Asoteria Iaskarin" or "For the benefit of your own health".


Sources / Bibliography / Photos

Per-Erik Skramstad
Σέγεστα ή Έγεστα, εγκυκλοπαίδεια ΔΟΜΗ, 1972
Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης, Ιστορική Βιβλιοθήκη, Βιβλίον ΙΔ, κεφ. 53 «συνέταξε δ´ αὐτῷ τὴν Αἴγεσταν καὶ τὴν Ἔντελλαν πολιορκεῖν»
Έγεστα, Αίγεστα ή Σέγεστα, εγκυκλοπαιδικό λεξικό ΕΛευθερουδάκη, 1929
Claudii Ptolemaei Geographia, Volume 1, Claudio Ptolomeo, sumtibus et typis Caroli Tauchnitii, 1843, σελ. 166
Θουκυδίδης Ιστορία_του_Πελοποννησιακού_Πολέμου/ΣΤ II «πόλεις δ' αὐτῶν Ἔρυξ τε καὶ Ἔγεστα...» VI «οἱ Ἐγεσταῖοι ξυμμαχίαν ἀναμιμνῄσκοντες τοὺς Ἀθηναίους ἐδέοντο σφίσι ναῦς πέμψαντας ἐπαμῦναι...»
Αππιανού Αλεξανδρέως, Ρωμαϊκών Ιλλυρική, X, Appiani Alexandrini Romanarum historiarum quae supersunt: ad optimorum librorum fidem accurate editae, Volumes 1-2, Appianus (of Alexandria) Sumtibus et typis Caroli Tauchnitii, 1829 - Rome «εοίκασι δε και Σεγεστανοί Λευκίω Κόττα και Μετέλλωι»
Burford, Alison (1961). "Temple Building at Segesta". The Classical Quarterly 11 (1–2): 87–93
Trismegistos GEO ID: 22277 http://www.trismegistos.org/place/22277
Scully, Vincent. 1969. The earth, the temple, and the gods; Greek sacred architecture. New York: Praeger.
Grinnell, Isabel Hoopes. 1943. Greek temples.
http://www.livius.org/

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