The earliest origins of Syracuse, however, date back to 733 BCE, a year when, according to the famous Greek historian Thucydides, Greek colonists, in search of new lands, landed on these very shores. In particular, this expedition was undertaken by the inhabitants of Corinth, a famous Greek polis. Leading them was the “ecista” (leader) Archia, who landed on the small island of Ortigia with his men and drove the local tribe inland.
This colony was called Syrakousai. This name is thought to be derived from “Syraka”, a prehistoric name with which the autochthonous inhabitants referred to this place. However, the origins are uncertain, and no firm explanation has yet been given.
What is certain, however, is the rapid development of Syracuse as a Polis of Magna Graecia (an area of southern Italy named so for the intense Greek colonisation and influence). Already in the 7th century BCE, the city participated in the Olympic Games in Greece at Olympia, confirming itself as a progenitor city of great athletes. One must remember that southern Italy consisted of many towns that identified themselves in every way as Greek poleis and therefore had a close relationship with the motherland Greece, in terms of trade, sports, politics and much more. Syracousai grew in commercial and political terms due to its strategic location in the middle of the Mediterranean routes. In 435 BCE, the city established the first tyranny, with Gelon I sanctioning the beginning of a very prosperous period, which within a few years made Syracuse a real Mediterranean power.
However, great powers attract allies but also enemies, and in the context of the Peloponnesian War that was raging all over Greece, Athens, the queen of Mediterranean development and trade, grew jealous of the Sicilian city. Fearful of Syracuse’s commercial expansion, in 415 BCE, Athens readied the most expensive and mighty armada that had sailed from Greece up to that time and sent it to Sicily, intending to subdue that stubborn and disrespectful Greek colony across the sea. It was a massive defeat that remained forever in history. The Syracusans, having annihilated the Athenian fleet (with a little help from Sparta), emerged not only victorious but also more powerful and confident.
Thus, the city came to be ruled by great tyrants, including the singular Dionysius I, a patron and cunning military and political strategist.
The rise of Syracuse’s power attracted brilliant minds, scholarly innovations and magnificent architectural constructions. Sicily was, at this point, formed by many poleis of Greek origin captained partly by force and partly by will by Syracuse. This network enabled the Sicilian Greeks to drive the notorious Carthaginians, who raged from the coast of North Africa off the Italian island.
Syracuse’s power was extinguished in the Roman siege of 212 BCE when Rome’s legions came to storm the city. They prevailed, but not without difficulty, for in Syracuse lived the famous engineer and discoverer of antiquity Archimedes, who provided his city with war works and machinery unknown to the Romans. According to tradition, the slayer of the genius was a Roman soldier who, not having recognised him, did not carry out the order to capture him alive.