Reading for the Weekend – The Tyrants of Syracuse

Syracusa vol INow, it is time to go little further back in time and have a look at The Tyrants of Syracuse, Vol 1, 480-367BC (ISBN 978-1-84884-063-8, eISBN 9781848849341) in anticipation of the Basic Impetus force of Syracuse currently in works. Name of the book would imply that the book is more of personal history of various tyrants that ruled over Syracuse, but that is not exactly correct. What Jeffrey Champion has done, is to bundle up quite dense, albeit well written history package of all relevant instances that were involved with Syracuse. While it could be said that drifting from the topic at times is a fault, in this case it only places the topic more firmly in the frame of reference.

So, the book starts from the beginning of Greek colonization of Sicily and other developments in the neighborhood that were to play major part in the upcoming history. Author does not forget to describe certain extend the political system of Greeks, uniqueness of Syracuse and the weakness of the political system that eventually lead to near continuous reign of tyrants. The groundwork done, first of the tyrants arrive in scene – Gelon. He is the founding figure of the grounds which subsequent tyrants founded their justification – a military victory or prowess over Carthage. His election to supreme position plays a major role and  full ramifications of his reign are evident much after his death, during the long reign of Dionysius. The main part of the book is then concentrating on the wars between Carthage and Syracuse over the control of Sicily.

So, majority of the book is about military matters, campaigns, sieges and plunder where cities change owners, get pillaged and razed while inhabitants are sold to slavery and in short, all what one would expect in the ancient history. But, it is also more, and tries as far as possible given limits of sources force upon the author, to give image of what ruling elite was like, and how did they came into being or were removed from power. Book also dwells quite a bit in the wealth of Syracuse and it’s origins – something that one perhaps would not expect from a city located in Sicily.

First book goes from the beginning to the end of the reign of Dionysius the Elder. His son, the Dionysius the Younger and subsequent tyrants will have treatment in the second volume, which I can hopefully address at later time. For now, one has to admit that even though book has some anomalies and errors (such as the rowing arrangement of trireme etc.) I would in fact recommend it to anyone that is interested in the history of Syracuse and adjoining regions such as Carthage or even Epirus. It is well written and ties the other world events to the history of Syracuse and puts therefore everything in proper context. Tyrants of Syracuse offers very good insight, and wealth of information about the near constant conflict Syracuse was involved in during it’s existence as sovereign entity. Major opponents involved true world powers such as Carthage, Greeks and at later time, Epirus and Rome.

So, if you are interested in the history of Cathage – or history of Syracuse, you might find this book worth the time.

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