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Ancient Greek City of Himera in Sicily History Ancient Coins Numismatic Investment

Example of Authentic Ancient Coin of:

Greek city of Himera in Sicily
Bronze Hemilitron 17mm (2.77 grams) Struck 420-408 B.C.
Reference: Sear 1110; B.M.C. 2.54
Head of nymph Himera left, wearing sphendone; six pellets before.
Six pellets within laurel-wreath.

Himera (Greek: Ἱμέρα), was an important ancient Greek city of Sicily, situated on the north coast of the island, at the mouth of the river of the same name (the modern Grande), between Panormus (modern Palermo) and Cephaloedium (modern Cefalů). Its remains lie within the borders of the modern comune of Termini Imerese.

Remains of the Temple of Victory.          Ideal reconstruction of the Temple of Victory.


 Foundation and earliest history

It was the first Greek settlement on this part of the island and was a strategic outpost just outside the eastern boundary of the Carthaginian-controlled west. Thucydides says it was the only Greek city on this coast of Sicily,[1] which must however be understood with reference only to independent cities; Mylae, which was also on the north coast, and certainly of Greek origin, being a dependency of Zancle (modern Messina). All authorities agree that Himera was a colony of Zancle, but Thucydides tells us that, with the emigrants from Zancle, who were of Chalcidic origin, were mingled a number of Syracusan exiles, the consequence of which was, that, though the institutions (νόμιμα) of the new city were Chalcidic, its dialect had a mixture of Doric.

The foundation of Himera is placed subsequent to that of Mylae (as, from their relative positions, might naturally have been expected) both by Strabo and Scymnus Chius: its date is not mentioned by Thucydides, but Diodorus tells us that it had existed 240 years at the time of its destruction by the Carthaginians, which would fix its first settlement in 648 BCE.[2] We have very little information as to its early history: an obscure notice in Aristotle,[3] from which it appears to have at one time fallen under the dominion of the tyrant Phalaris, being the only mention we find of it, until about 490 BCE, when it afforded a temporary refuge to Scythes, tyrant of Zancle, after his expulsion from the latter city.[4] Not long after this event, Himera fell itself under the yoke of a despot named Terillus, who sought to fortify his power by contracting a close alliance with Anaxilas, at that time ruler both of Rhegium (modern Reggio di Calabria) and Zancle. But Terillus was unable to resist the power of Theron, despot of Agrigentum (modern Agrigento), and, being expelled by him from Himera, had recourse to the assistance of the Carthaginians, a circumstance which became the immediate occasion of the first great expedition of that people to Sicily, 480 BCE.[5]

 First interaction with Carthage

The magnitude of the armament sent under Hamilcar, who is said to have landed in Sicily with an army of 300,000 men, in itself sufficiently proves that the conquest of Himera was rather the pretext, than the object, of the war: but it is likely that the growing power of that city, in the immediate neighborhood of the Carthaginian settlements of Panormus and Solus, had already given umbrage to the latter people. Hence it was against Himera that the first efforts of Hamilcar were directed: but Theron, who had thrown himself into the city with all the forces at his command, was able to maintain its defence till the arrival of Gelon of Syracuse, who, notwithstanding the numerical inferiority of his forces, defeated the vast army of the Carthaginians with such slaughter that the Battle of Himera was regarded by the Greeks of Sicily as worthy of comparison with the contemporary victory of Salamis.[6] The same feeling probably gave rise to the tradition or belief, that both triumphs were achieved on the very same day.[7]

 After the Battle of Himera

This great victory left Theron in the undisputed possession of the sovereignty of Himera, as well as of that of Agrigentum; but he appears to have bestowed his principal attention upon the latter city, and consigned the government of Himera to his son Thrasydaeus. But the young man, by his violent and oppressive rule, soon alienated the minds of the citizens, who in consequence applied for relief to Hieron of Syracuse, at that time on terms of hostility with Theron. The Syracusan despot, however, instead of lending assistance to the discontented party at Himera, betrayed their overtures to Theron, who took signal vengeance on the unfortunate Himeraeans, putting to death a large number of the disaffected citizens, and driving others into exile.[8] Shortly after, seeing that the city had suffered greatly from these severities, and that its population was much diminished, he sought to restore its prosperity by establishing there a new body of citizens, whom he collected from various quarters. The greater part of these new colonists were of Dorian extraction; and though the two bodies of citizens were blended into one, and continued to live harmoniously together, we find that from this period Himera became a Doric city, and both adopted the institutions, and followed the policy, of the other Doric states of Sicily.[9] This settlement seems to have taken place in 476 BCE,[10] and Himera continued subject to Theron till his death, in 472 BCE: but Thrasydaeus retained possession of the sovereignty for a very short time after the death of his father, and his defeat by Hieron of Syracuse was speedily followed by his expulsion both from Agrigentum and Himera.[11] In 466 BCE we find the Himeraeans, in their turn, sending a force to assist the Syracusans in throwing off the yoke of Thrasybulus; and, in the general settlement of affairs which followed soon after, the exiles were allowed to return to Himera, where they appear to have settled quietly together with the new citizens. [12] From this period Diodorus expressly tells us that Himera was fortunate enough to escape from civil dissensions,[13] and this good government must have secured to it no small share of the prosperity which was enjoyed by the Sicilian cities in general during the succeeding half-century.

But though we are told in general terms that the period which elapsed from this re-settlement of Himera till its destruction by the Carthaginians (461408 BCE), was one of peace and prosperity, the only notices we find of the city during this interval refer to the part it took at the time of the Athenian expedition to Sicily, 415 BCE. On that occasion, the Himeraeans were among the first to promise their support to Syracuse: hence, when Nicias presented himself before their port with the Athenian fleet, they altogether refused to receive him; and, shortly after, it was at Himera that Gylippus landed, and from whence he marched across the island to Syracuse, at the head of a force composed in great part of Himeraean citizens.[14]

 Destruction by Carthage


A few years after this the prosperity of the city was brought to a sudden and abrupt termination by the great Carthaginian expedition to Sicily, 408 BCE. Though the ostensible object of that armament, as it had been of the Athenian, was the support of the Segestans against their neighbors, the Selinuntines, yet there can be no doubt that the Carthaginians, from the first, entertained more extensive designs; and, immediately after the destruction of Selinus, Hannibal Mago, who commanded the expedition, hastened to turn his arms against Himera. That city was ill-prepared for defence; its fortifications were of little strength, but the citizens made a desperate resistance, and by a vigorous sally inflicted severe loss on the Carthaginians. They were at first supported by a force of about 4000 auxiliaries from Syracuse, under the command of Diocles; but that general became seized with a panic fear for the safety of Syracuse itself, and precipitately abandoned Himera, leaving the unfortunate citizens to contend singlehanded against the Carthaginian power. The result could not be doubtful, and the city was soon taken by storm: a large part of the citizens were put to the sword, and not less than 3000 of them, who had been taken prisoners, were put to death in cold blood by Hannibal, as a sacrifice to the memory of his grandfather Hamilcar.[15] The city itself was utterly destroyed, its buildings razed to the ground, and even the temples themselves were not spared; the Carthaginian general being evidently desirous to obliterate all trace of a city whose name was associated with the great defeat of his countrymen.

Diodorus, who relates the total destruction of Himera, tells us expressly that it was never rebuilt, and that the site remained uninhabited down to his own times.[16] It seems at first in contradiction with this statement, that he elsewhere includes the Himeraeans, as well as the Selinuntines and Agrigentines, among the exiled citizens that were allowed by the treaty, concluded with Carthage, in 405 BCE, to return to their homes, and inhabit their own cities, on condition of paying tribute to Carthage and not restoring their fortifications. [17] And it seems clear that many of them at least availed themselves of this permission, as we find the Himeraeans subsequently mentioned among the states that declared in favour of Dionysius I of Syracuse, at the commencement of his great war with Carthage in 397 BCE; though they quickly returned to the Carthaginian alliance in the following year.[18] The explanation of this difficulty is furnished by Cicero, who tells us that, after the destruction of Himera, those citizens who had survived the calamity of the war established themselves at Thermae, within the confines of the same territory, and not far from their old town.[19] Diodorus gives a somewhat different account of the foundation of Thermae, which he represents as established by the Carthaginians themselves before the close of the war, in 407 BCE.[20] But it is probable that both statements are substantially correct, and that the Carthaginians founded the new town in the immediate neighbourhood of Himera, in order to prevent the old site being again occupied; while the Himeraean exiles, when they returned thither, though they settled in the new town, naturally regarded themselves as still the same people, and would continue to bear the name of Himeraeans. How completely, even at a much later period, the one city was regarded as the representative of the other, appears from the statement of Cicero, that when Scipio Africanus, after the capture of Carthage, restored to the Agrigentines and Gelenses the statues that had been carried off from their respective cities, he at the same time restored to the citizens of Thermae those that had been taken from Himera.[21] Hence we cannot be surprised to find that, not only are the Himeraeans still spoken of as an existing people, but even that the name of Himera itself is sometimes inadvertently used as that of their city. Thus, in 314 BCE, Diodorus tells us that, by the treaty between Agathocles and the Carthaginians, it was stipulated that Heracleia, Selinus, and Himera should continue subject to Carthage as they had been before. [22] It is much more strange that we find the name of Himera reappear both in Mela and Pliny, though we know from the distinct statements of Cicero and Strabo, as well as Diodorus, that it had ceased to exist centuries before.[23]

 Foundation of Thermae

The new town of Thermae or Therma called for the sake of distinction Thermae Himerenses,[24] which thus took the place of Himera, obviously derived its name from the hot springs for which it was celebrated, and the first discovery of which was connected by legends with the wanderings of Hercules.[25] It appears to have early become a considerable town, though it continued, with few and brief exceptions, to be subject to the Carthaginian rule. In the First Punic War its name is repeatedly mentioned. Thus, in 260 BCE, a body of Roman troops were encamped in the neighborhood, when they were attacked by Hamilcar, and defeated with heavy loss.[26] Before the close of the war, Thermae itself was besieged and taken by the Romans.[27] Cicero relates that the Roman government restored to the Thermitani their city and territory, with the free use of their own laws, as a reward for their steady fidelity. [28] They were on hostile terms with Rome during the First Punic War, so it can only be to the subsequent period that these expressions apply; but the occasion to which they refer is unknown. In the time of Cicero, Thermae appears to have been a flourishing place, carrying on a considerable amount of trade, though the orator speaks, of it as oppidum non maximum.[29] It seems to have received a colony in the time of Augustus, whence we find mention in inscriptions of the Ordo et Populus splendidissimae Coloniae Augustae Himeraeorum Thermitanorum: [30] and there can be little doubt that the Thermae colonia of Pliny in reality refers to this town, though he evidently understood it to be Thermae Selinuntiae (modern Sciacca), as he places it on the south coast between Agrigentum and Selinus. [31] There is little subsequent account of Thermae; but, as its name is found in Ptolemy and the Itineraries, it appears to have continued in existence throughout the period of the Roman Empire, and probably never ceased to be inhabited, as the modern town of Termini Imerese retains the ancient site as well as name.[32] The magnificence of the ancient city, and the taste of its citizens for the encouragement of art, are attested by Cicero, who calls it in primis Siciliae clarum et ornatum; and some evidence of it remained, even in the days of that orator, in the statues preserved by the Thermitani, to whom they had been restored by Scipio, after the conquest of Carthage; and which were valuable, not only as relics of the past, but from their high merit as works of art.[33] The numerous examples of coins from Himera testify to the city's wealth in antiquity.

 Current situation

Because of extensive remains, no doubt can therefore exist with regard to the site of Thermae, which would be, indeed, sufficiently marked by the hot springs themselves; but the exact position of the more ancient city of Himera was a subject of controversy until recent times. The opinion of Cluverius, which has been followed by almost all subsequent writers into the 19th century, would place it on the left bank of the river which flows by Termini on the west, and is thence commonly known as the Fiume di Termini, though called in the upper part of its course Fiume San Leonardo. On this supposition the inhabitants merely removed from one bank of the river to the other; and this would readily explain the passages in which Himera and Thermae appear to be regarded as identical, and where the river Himera (which unquestionably gave name to the older city) is represented at the same time as flowing by Thermae.[34] On the other hand, there is great difficulty in supposing that the Fiume San Leonardo can be the river Himera; and all our data with regard to the latter would seem to support which the view of Fazello, who identifies it with the Fiume Grande, the mouth of which is distant just 8 miles from Termini. This is the view adopted by most modern scholarship.[35] This distance can hardly be said to be too great to be reconciled with Cicero's expression, that the new settlement was established non longe ab oppido antique;[36] while the addition that it was in the same territory [37] would seem to imply that it was not very near the old site. It may be added, that, in this case, the new site would have had the recommendation in the eyes of the Carthaginians of being nearer to their own settlements of Solus and Panormus, and, consequently, more within their command. But Fazello's view derives a strong confirmation from the circumstance, stated by him, that the site which he indicates, marked by the Torre di Bonfornello on the seacoast (on the left bank of the Fiume Grande, close to its mouth), though presenting no ruins, abounded in ancient relics, such as vases and bronzes; and numerous sepulchres had also been brought to light.[38] On the other hand, neither Cluverius nor any other writer has noticed the existence of any ancient remains on the west bank of the Himera; nor does it appear that the site so fixed is one adapted for a city of importance.


The only recognizable ruin in this city is the Tempio della Vittoria (Temple of Victory), a Doric structure supposedly built to commemorate the defeat of the Carthaginians (although recently some scholars have come to doubt this hypothesis). To the south of the temple was the town's necropolis. Some artifacts recovered from this site are kept in a small antiquarium. However, the more impressive displays are in Palermo's Museo Archeologico Regionale.

 Famous people

Himera was celebrated in antiquity as the birth place of the poet Stesichorus, who appears, from an anecdote preserved by Aristotle, to have taken considerable part in the political affairs of his native city. His statue was still preserved at Thermae in the days of Cicero, and regarded with the utmost veneration. Ergoteles, whose victory at the Olympic games is celebrated by Pindar, was a citizen, but not a native, of Himera. On the other hand, Thermae had the honour of being the birthplace of the tyrant Agathocles.

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