The Siege of Syracuse from 344 to 343/342
was part of a war between the Syracusan general Hicetas and the tyrant of
Syracuse, Dionysius II. The conflict became more complex when Carthage and
Corinth became involved. The Carthaginians had made an alliance with Hicetas to
expand their power in Sicily. Somewhat later the Corinthian general Timoleon
arrived in Sicily to restore democracy to Syracuse. With the assistance of
several other Sicilian Greek cities, Timoleon emerged victorious and reinstated
a democratic regime in Syracuse. The siege is described by the ancient
historians Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch, but there are important differences
in their accounts.
Corinth Tauromenium Adranum Tyndaris Catana
Commanders and leaders:
Leontine +Carthage - Hicetas Mago
Syracuse - Dionysius II
Corinth and allies - Timoleon
Carthaginians: 60,000 infantry 150 ships
Involvement of Carthage and Corinth:
Some of the Syracusans who suffered under the rule of Dionysus sought refuge
with Hicetas, the tyrant of Leontini. Because he was a Syracusan by birth and
possessed an army which rivalled that of Dionysius, they chose him as their
leader in the war against Dionysius.
Carthage, which possessed territory on the western half of Sicily, saw an
opportunity to take advantage of the chaos. When Carthage sent a large army to
the island, the Syracusan faction with Hicetas decided to ask Corinth for help.
Corinth was their mother city, which had founded Syracuse in 735 and opposed
tyrants. Hicetas however did not plan on restoring democracy to Syracuse, but
wanted to become tyrant himself. He had already communicated with the
Carthaginians in secret, but supported the plan to request aid from Corinth. He
expected that Corinth would refuse the request because they would be occupied
by their own affairs. With a refusal from Corinth, he thought it would be
easier to convince the Syracusans that an alliance with Carthage was needed.
The Corinthians elected Timoleon as general to lead an expedition to Sicily. As
soon as the embassy to Corinth had been sent, Hicetas allied himself openly
with the Carthaginians. On grounds that the expedition would take too long to
arrive he sent a letter to Corinth telling them to abandon the expedition. The
Corinthians were angered by this treachery, so Timoleon had no problems with
recruiting a sufficient force for his expedition. In 344 Timoleon departed from
Corinth to Syracuse. According to Diodorus he had 700 mercenaries on seven
ships. En route his expedition was joined by three more ships from Leucadia and
Plutarch mentions seven Corinthian ships, two from Corcyra and one from
Leucadia, totalling 1,000 soldiers. During the journey Timoleon witnessed a
celestial phenomenon during the night when he crossed the Ionian Sea to Italy.
This has been interpreted as a sighting of the Lyrids, a meteor shower. If
true, he would have completed his crossing on 21 March of 344.
Hicetas captures Syracuse partially:
In the meantime Hicetas besieged Syracuse, which was still under the control of
Dionysus. He constructed a stockaded camp at the Olympiaeum, but had to lift
the siege when he had a shortage of supplies. While he retreated to Leontini
with his army, Dionysius pursued and attacked him in the rear. Despite the
surprise attack, Hicetas managed to prevail over Dionysius. The army of
Dionysus fled after 3,000 of his mercenaries were slain. Hicetas then pursued
Dionysius in turn and quickly captured the part of Syracuse on the Sicilian
mainland, while Dionysius managed to hold out on the island Ortygia.
Arrival of Timoleon:
According to Diodorus, Timoleon arrived at Rhegium three days after Hicetas
captured Syracuse partially. Hicetas wanted to prevent him from landing on
Sicily, so he sent twenty Carthaginian triremes to Rhegium with envoys of
Hicetas. The envoys told Timoleon that the war was almost over and demanded
that he sent his fleet back to Corinth. If he wished, Timoleon himself could
join Hicetas as his advisor and ally. To deceive the envoys, Timoleon told them
he would abide by their wishes on condition that the people of Rhegium were
witness to their agreement during an assembly. While the Carthaginians were
occupied with the assembly, Timoleon secretly boarded his ships and crossed
over to Tauromenium in Sicily. The ruler of the city, Andromachus, supported
Timoleon and persuaded his citizens to join the Corinthians.
Timoleon captures Syracuse entirely:
At this point the accounts of Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch begin to diverge
significantly. The most important differences are the circumstances of the
surrender of Dionysius to Timoleon. The account of Diodorus Siculus While
maintaining the siege of Ortygia, Hicetas marched against Adranum, which was
hostile to him. With 5,000 troops he encamped near their city. Timoleon,
reinforced with some soldiers from Tauromenium, marched out of that city
towards Adranum as well. In total he had no more than 1,000 men. When he
arrived at Adranum he made a surprise attack on Hicetas's men while they were
at dinner. His army killed more than 300 men, took about 600 prisoners and
captured the camp of Hicetas. He then dashed to Syracuse and attacked the city
by surprise, capturing a part of the city. However, Hicetas was not decisively
defeated and managed to maintain a foothold in Syracuse. By now, in 344/343,
the situation in Syracuse had become even more complex as the city was divided
between the three belligerents.
Dionysius continued to hold Ortygia
Hicetas held the Achradina and Neapolis neighbourhoods on the mainland and
Timoleon held the rest of the city.
As the allies of Hicetas, the Carthaginians occupied the Great Harbour with 150
triremes and encamped with 50,000 men on the shore. Timoleon allied himself
with Adranum and Tyndaris and received reinforcements from them. Marcus, the
tyrant of Catana, joined him as well with a considerable army. Many of the
outlying Syracusan forts followed in order to gain their independence. The
Corinthians sent ten more ships to Syracuse as reinforcements. For an unknown
reason the Carthaginians retreated and returned with all their forces to their
own territory. Hicetas was left isolated and Timoleon victoriously occupied
Syracuse. Then he proceeded to recover Messana, which had gone over to the
Carthaginians. Finally, in 343/342 Timoleon convinced Dionysius to surrender
Ortygia in return for exile in Corinth. He was allowed to retain his private
possessions, but lived the rest of his life in poverty. This completed
Timoleon's capture of the city.
The account of Plutarch:
After Timoleon had arrived in Tauromenium with 1,000 soldiers, Hicetas asked
the Carthaginians for reinforcements, who sent a large number of triremes to
occupy the harbor of Syracuse. Because there was an dispute between two
factions in Adranum, one party invited Hicetas and the other party invited
Timoleon to intervene or mediate. Both generals marched to Adranum and arrived
around the same time. Hicetas had 5,000 men and Timoleon no more than 1,200,
but the army of Hicetas was caught unprepared. Timoleon's army killed 300 of
his troops and took 600 prisoner. Adranum then allied itself with Timoleon. At
this point Mamercus (whom Diodorus called Marcus), the tyrant of Catana, allied
himself with Timoleon. Some other cities followed. Dionysius, who despised
Hicetas but admired Timoleon, then offered to surrender Ortygia and his army to
him. Timoleon sent 400 of his men to Ortygia, avoiding the naval blockade by
the Carthaginians, where they took command over the 2,000 men who served
Dionysius. Dionysius himself was exiled to Corinth with a small amount of his
treasure. The surrender of Dionysius happened within fifty days after Timoleon
had landed in Sicily. When the Corinthians heard of his success, they sent
2,000 foot and 200 horse to reinforce Timoleon. These reinforcements had to
stop at Thurii in Southern Italy, unable to continue because the Carthaginians
controlled the sea. Hicetas sent assassins to kill Timoleon at Adranum, but the
attempt failed. He still had Ortygia besieged, but used only a small amount of
Carthaginian reinforcements. He called for the Carthaginian general Mago to
occupy Syracuse with his entire force. Mago occupied the harbor with 150 ships
and encamped 60,000 infantry in the part of the city on the Sicilian mainland.
Timoleon's force which occupied Ortygia started suffering from a lack of food
due to the blockade. Timoleon ordered fishing boats and light skiffs from
Catana to supply Ortygia with grain. Especially in stormy weather, these were
effective blockade runners because the Carthaginian triremes had to keep their
distance from each other due to the rough sea. Hicetas and Mago noticed the
supply ships coming from Catana and marched towards that city to take it. The
Corinthian commander of the besieged garrison, Neon, noticed that the troops
left to defend the part of Syracuse on the mainland had become inattentive and
careless. He made a surprise attack on them and captured the neighborhood
Achradina, securing grain and money in the process. Because Achradina was
strongly fortified, he did not retreat to the acropolis at Ortygia. He
connected it with the fortifications on Ortygia and defended both. When Hicetas
and Mago heard of this they were already near Catana, but they returned
immediately. They failed to take Catana and were not able to retake Achradina
either. After this, the Corinthian reinforcements who were halted at Thurii
decided to travel to Rhegium over land and managed to cross over to Sicily,
avoiding the Carthaginian navy. When the reinforcements had all crossed over,
Timoleon used them to occupy Messana. After combining his forces for a total of
4,000 men, he marched on Syracuse. When Mago heard of this, he became worried.
Combined with his fear of betrayal by Hicetas, he decided to flee with his
fleet back to Libya. Hicetas still held on to the parts of Syracuse he
controlled, which were strongly fortified. Timoleon divided his forces for the
final attack. He himself attacked along the river. A second force led by Isias
the Corinthian attacked from Achradina. The third group which attacked Epipolae
was led by Deinarchus and Demaretus, who had brought the reinforcements from
Corinth. The three groups all attacked at once and put the forces of Hicetas to
flight. Allegedly, not a single soldier of Timoleon's army was killed or even
After becoming master over the city, Timoleon had the citadel and the tyrant's
palace on Ortygia demolished and restored democratic government to Syracuse.
The independence of the fortified towns surrounding the city was restored.
Hicetas had managed to flee to Leontini with a substantial part of his army. In
342/341 Timoleon besieged Leontini, but broke off the siege when he failed to
take it. Timoleon then besieged Engyum to depose the tyrant Leptines and
restore democracy to that city. While Timoleon was away, Hicetas attempted to
besiege Syracuse with his entire army. He had to retreat with heavy losses.
Mago committed suicide, but his corpse was impaled by the Carthaginians, who
were outraged over his cowardice and failure. They sent a new army to Sicily,
which was defeated by Timoleon in the Battle of the Crimissus in 339. Diodorus
mentions that Timoleon and Hicetas agreed on a short truce so that Timoleon
could use the troops of Hicetas to fight the Carthaginians. Plutarch does not
mention this however. In 339/338 Timoleon made peace with Carthage. The terms
were that all the Sicilian Greek cities would be free and that the Lycus river
would be the border between their territories. Also, the Carthaginians would
not give aid to the tyrants who were at war with Syracuse. He finally defeated
Hicetas and had him executed. He succeeded in deposing all the tyrants of
Sicily. Sicily was depopulated by the war. The marketplace of Syracuse had
become a pasture for horses, while deer and wild swine roamed freely in other
cities. Timoleon requested Corinth to send colonists to repopulate Syracuse.
Plutarch mentions 10,000 settlers came from Corinth and the rest of Greece.
With additional settlers arriving from Italy and other places in Sicily,
Plutarch gives a total number of 60,000.
According to Diodorus Syracuse received 40,000 colonists and Agyrium 10,000.
Furthermore, he writes that Timoleon transferred the people of Leontini to
Syracuse and sent additional settlers to Camarina.