Brief History of Akrai

Traces of human occupation recorded in the area of the later Greek town and its surrounding area go back to around 12th century BC and are connected with the tribe Siculi, one of three peoples inhabiting prehistoric Sicily.

View of Akrai from north side, from the valley of Anapo river (fot. Chowaniec R.)The colony Akrai was founded, as Thucydides reports in his “History of the Peloponnesian War”, around 664/663 BC by Dorian colonists from Syracuse: Acrae and Casmenae were founded by the Syracusans, Acrae seventy years after Syracuse (THUCYDIDES VI.5.2).

The strategic role of Akrai is validated further by Diodorus Siculus who when writing of the conflict and the peace settlement made in 263 BC between Rome and Syracuse notes that Hiero II (…) was to continue as ruler of the Syracusans and of the cities subject to him, Acrae, Leontini, Megara, Helorum, Neetum, and Tauromenium (DIODORUS 23.4.1). Perhaps the role of a sentry town to Syracuse explains why during the time when the mother-city was at the peak of its power Akrai continued to develop despite its subservient position. Growth during the 3rd century BC is documented by the construction of a theatre and bouleuterion.

Aerial photo shows localizations of main archaeological structures (fot. Bogacki M.)According to an account in Livy, during the Second Punic War, in 214 BC, Hippocrates with the army of Syracuse had been making ready to set up camp near Akrai but was taken unawares by the consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus returning from Agrigento and after a skirmish was forced to take shelter in the city itself (LIVY XXIV, 35-36). However, it is unclear whether the city was affected by this development or not.

After the conquest of Sicily in 241 BC, and subsequently, with the establishment of Sicily as the first Roman province in 227 BC, the defeat of Hiero II and fall of the kingdom of Syracuse in 211 BC, Acrae is enumerated on the list of stipendiariae civitates (PLINY THE ELDER III 8.91), which means that it had to pay tribute to Rome. Information in Pliny the Elder indicates that at this time Acrae must have had a status of an independent city, certainly dependent from Rome (civitas decumana), but settled and functioning efficiently in the new political situation. Most probably the city “owed” this subordinate status to resistance it had put up against the Romans opting on the wrong side, i.e., of Syracuse.

Moreover, we find Acrae recorded on the map of Claudius Ptolemy, which could suggests that still during 2nd century AD it continued to function as an important centre in the province of Sicily.

All in all, the record relating to Acrae during the period of Roman rule in Sicily is vestigial. The city appears on the list Itinerarium Antonini and in Tabula Peutingeriana, where its location is given as at a distance of 24 miles in a straight line from Syracuse. In Itinerarium Antonini it figures as an important location on via Selinuntina which ran from Marsala (Lilybaeum) to Syracuse. The presence of Acrae on this route is confirmed also by an inscription of C. Norbanus presumably, a praetor in the period 88-87 BC, discovered, most likely, in the region of Castello Eurialo at Syracuse, in which we read that, Acris lay precisely on the route linking Agrigento and Syracuse. Via Selinuntina had been a major road already during the Greek period. At first it ran to Gela, and later, during the Roman period, after rebuilding, even farther, to Marsala (Lilybaeum).
Archaeological evidence which confirms the functioning of Acrae during the time of the Republic and the Empire, is equally scant. There are finds from Acrae of early types of Greek-Italian amphorae with Naxos stamp, dated to the 2nd-1st century BC. Fragments of African red-slipped pottery document existence of the city at least until 2nd century AD. Finally, there is a representation in relief of an image of Mercury, dated on the basis of an incomplete Latin inscription, to the period of the Empire.

Other source material, mainly epigraphic, but also archaeological, date from a much later period, close of antiquity when Acrae was a centre of Christianity in eastern Sicily second only to Syracuse; this is documented by finds of several necropolis, closed to the town and inscriptions dated to 4th and 5th centuries AD.


dr Roksana Chowaniec
assistant professor

Institute of Archaeology
University of Warsaw
Krakowskie Przedmiescie 26/28
PL 00-927 Warszawa
tel. +48 22 5522827
fax.+48 22 5522801
  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.