Syracuse was the leading city on the island of Sicily. Located on the island’s southeastern coast, Syracuse was established by Greek settlers from Corinth in the 700s B.C. The 400s B.C. marked the high point of the city’s power. At the Battle of Himera in 480 B.C., Syracuse, led by the tyrant* Gelon, defeated Carthage, a city in northern Africa. In 474 B.C. Gelon’s brother Hieron defeated the Etruscans in a naval battle off the coast of Italy. With these victories, Syracuse became a leading power in the Mediterranean region.

The tyrannies of Syracuse eventually gave way to a democracy in the 460s B.C. During the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta in the late 400s B.C., the Athenians attacked Syracuse. The Syracusans resisted and were victorious. After two subsequent invasions of Sicily by Carthage, the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius I took control of the city. He waged four wars against Carthage and extended the city’s power over most of Sicily and much of southern Italy. Dionysius also fortified the city with a wall that ran 17 miles along its border.

During the First Punic War between Rome and Carthage, which lasted from 264 B.C. to 241 B.C., Syracuse allied itself with Rome. During the Second Punic War, however, the ruler of Syracuse sided with Carthage, a decision that led to the sacking* of the city by the Romans in 211 B.C. The Romans added Syracuse to the province* of Sicily, and the city became its capital. In 21 B.C. the Roman emperor Augustus elevated Syracuse to the status of a Roman colony. (See also Colonies, Greek; Colonies, Roman; Punic Wars.)

* tyrant absolute ruler

* sack to rob a captured city

* province overseas area controlled by Rome

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