Battle of Gela (405 BC)

Battle of Gela (405 BC)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict= Battle of Gela (405 BC)
partof=The Sicilian Wars
campaign=The Second Sicilian War

caption=Battle of Gela 405 BC. Political boundaries and path of troop movements are inexact because of lack of primary source data. Source template is created by [ Prins-Jona Lendering] and modified as per permission given.
date=Summer, 405 BC
place=Gela|SicilyResult=Carthaginian Victory
casus=Carthaginian Expedition
territory= Dorian Greek city Gela sacked
combatant1= Gela
Syracuse | combatant2=Carthage
commander1=Dionysius I of Syracuse
commander2=Himilco Hanno
strength1=estimated 30,000 - 40,000 [Kern, Paul B., Ancient Greek Warfare, p172]
strength2=estimated 30,000 - 40,000

The Battle of Gela took place in the summer of 405 BC in Sicily. The Carthaginian army under Himilco (a member of the Magonid family and kinsman of Hannibal Mago), which had spent the winter and spring in the captured city of Akragas, marched to confront the Greeks at Gela. The Syracuse government had deposed Daphnaeus, the unsuccessful general of the Greek army at Akragas, with Dionysius, another officer who had been a follower of Hermocrates. Dionysius schemed and gained full dictatorial powers. When the Carthaginians advanced on Gela and put the town under siege, Dionysius marched from Syracuse to confront the threat. He planned to use a complex three prong attack plan against the Carthaginians, which failed due to lack of proper coordination. Dionysius chose toe evacuate Gela, as the defeat caused discontent in Syracuse and he did not wish to lose his power. Himilco sacked the abandoned city after the Greeks had fled to Camarina.


Carthage had stayed away from Sicilian affairs for almost 70 years following the defeat at Himera in 480 BC, during which time Greek culture had started to penetrate the Elymian, Sikanian and Sicel cities in Sicily. This all changed in 411 BC when the Elymian city Segesta was defeated by the Dorian Greek city Selinus. Segesta appealed to Carthage for aid, and the Carthaginian Senate agreed to intervene on behalf of Segesta. Hannibal Mago of Carthage led an army which took the city of Selinus by storm in 409 BC and then also destroyed the city of Himera. Syracuse and Akragas, the leading Greek cities in Sicily did not confront Carthage at that time and the Carthaginian army withdrew with the spoils of war. [Bath, Tony, Hannibal's Campaigns, p11] For 3 years, a lull fell on Sicily. No treaties had been signed between the Greeks and Carthaginians signaling a closure of hostilities.

The Expedition of 406 BC

The raids of the exiled Syracusan general, Hermocrates, on Punic territory around Motya and Panormus provoked Carthage into sending another army to Sicily in 406 BC under Hannibal Mago. [Freeman, Edward A., Sicily, p145-47] The leading Greek cities of Sicily, Syracuse and Akragas, had prepared for the conflict by hiring mercenaries and expanding the fleet, along with keeping the city walls in good repair. Although Syracuse was involved in the Peloponnesian War and with disputes with her neighbors, their government sent an appeal for support to Magna Gracia and mainland Greece once the Carthaginians landed in Sicily.

Hannibal besieged Akragas in the summer of 406 BC, which withstood the initial assault. While building siege ramps for future attacks the army was struck by plague and Hannibal along with thousands of Carthaginians perished. Part of the Carthaginian army under Himilco, Hannibal’s kinsmen and deputy, was defeated by the Greek relief army led by Daphnaeus, and the city was relieved. The Akragans were not happy with the decision of the generals (who refrained from chasing the defeated Carthaginians) and has 4 of them stoned to death. The Greeks then cut supplies to the Carthaginian camp and almost caused a mutiny in the Punic army. Himilco saved the situation by managing to defeat the Syracusan fleet and capturing the grain convoy bound for Akragas. The Greeks, faced with starvation, abandoned Akragas, which was sacked by Himilco. The siege had lasted for 8 months. [Kern, Paul B., Ancient Siege Warfare, p163-170]

A Tyrant rises

The homeless people from Akragas arrived at Syracuse and some made accusations against the Syracusan generals. In the assembly, Dionysius, who had fought bravely at Akragas, supported these accusations. He was fined for breaking meeting rules, but his friend Philistos paid the fine. The assembly deposed Daphnaeus and the other generals and appointed replacements, Dionysius among them. The Akragan refugees ultimately found shelter in Leontini. An appeal from Gela then reached Syracuse to send aid, as the Carthaginians were approaching that city. [Freeman, Edward A., Sicily, p151-52]

Dionysius started scheming to expand his power. He got the government to recall political exiles (former followers of Hermocrates), and then marched to Gela, which was under the command of the Spartan Dexippus. Dionysius dabbled in the political feud of Gela and managed to condemn their generals to death. He gave his soldier double pay from the confiscated property of the dead generals, then returned to Syracuse to accuse his fellow generals of taking bribes from Carthage. The Syracusan government deposed the others and made Dionysius sole commander. Dionysius marched to Leontini, held an assembly, and after some stage manned theratics, promptly got the people to give him a bodyguard of 600 men, which he increased to 1000. Then he sent Dexippus away and had Daphnaeus and other Syracusan generals executed. The tyranny of Dionysius (405 -367 BC) had begun. [Freeman, Edward A., Sicily, p151-52]

Gela under Threat

While Dionysius was busy with scheming his way to absolute power, the Carthaginian army had left their winter base at Akragas after destroying the city. Himilco marched along the coast to Gela, and set up camp near the sea on the west of the city, fortifying it with a trench and a palisade. The Carthaginians spent some time plundering the countryside and gathering provisions prior to commencing siege operations. The Gelans had proposed removing their Women and Children to Syracuse, but the women insisted on staying put. Finally no one was forced to evacuate the city, and the Greeks kept up an active defense by harassing the Carthaginian foragers. [Kern, Paul B., Ancient Siege Warfare, p172]

Assault on Gela

Himilco resolved on storming the city before any help arrived. The Carthaginians did not bother to build circumventing walls around Gela, they decided on direct assault. Despite Gelan resistance, the Carthaginians managed to move battering rams on the western walls of the city and make some breaches in them. However, the defenders managed to keep the attackers at bay all days and repaired the walls at night. Help of the women in repairing the walls was invaluable. The Carthaginians had to start from the beginning the following morning. [Kern, Paul B., Ancient Siege Warfare, p172-73]

The Siege relieved

Apart of his political machinations, Dionysius had managed to make ready an army made of Italian and Sicilian Greeks and mercenaries, numbering at least 30,000 hoplites and 4,000 cavalry and a fleet of 50 triremes, [Caven, Brian, Dionysius I, p62] and had marched at a slow pace to Gela. The arrival of this army lifted the Punic siege for the time being. The Greeks encamped at the mouth of River Gela on the western bank beside the city opposite the Carthaginian camp, close enough to the sea to direct both land and naval operations. [Kern, Paul B., Ancient Siege Warfare, p172]

Battle of Gela

For three weeks Dionysius harassed the Carthaginians with light troops and cut off their supplies using his fleet. These tactics had almost brought disaster for the Carthaginians at Akragas, but it is likely that Dionysius chose to fight a pitched battle after three weeks because of the mood of his soldiers against a war of attrition. The Carthaginian army probably outnumbered the combined Greek force and Dionysius resolved to use stratagem to neutralize this enemy advantage. [Kern, Paul B., Ancient Siege Warfare, p173]

The plan called for a three pronged attack that had to follow a precise timetable. The Carthaginian cavalry was posted on the landward side while the mercenaries were on the seaward side, with the Africans in between. Dionysius, observing that a sea borne force could attack the camp from the south, where it was open, decided on the following course: A group of few thousand light troops will land on the beach south of the Carthaginian camp under the command of his brother Leptines and occupy the Carthaginian forces, enabling 4,000 hoplites to march along the coast and join them. At the same time, the cavalry, supported by 8,000 hoplites will engage the Carthaginians on the northern side of the camp. Dionysius, with the reserve force and Gelan hoplites will sally out from the West gate of the city and attack the camp once the Carthaginians are fully committed on the flanks of their camp. [Caven, Brian, Dionysius I, p63-72]

The plan depended on precise coordination, or risked a defeat in detail for the Greeks. As things turned out, coordination was horrible: the sea-borne troops under Leptines achieved total surprise and together with the hoplites attacking along the coast broke into the Carthaginian Camp. The northern group was slow in arriving, which gave the Carthaginians time to first defeat Greeks attacking in the south, where leptines lost 1000 men before giving way, then rout the northern prong of the attack, with the loss of another 600 Greeks. The force under Dionysius got entangled in the narrow streets of the city amid the population and never attacked. After the fighting ceased, Himilco had won the day.

While the Greek army was far from beaten, its morale had suffered and Dionysius faced political unrest in Syracuse. The army may have been unwilling to resume the harassing campaign, [Caven, Brian, Dionysius I, p63] and if the Greeks garrisoned Gela and was bottled up by the Carthaginians, political enemies of Dionysius might take the chance to stage a coup in Syracuse. Dionysius chose to evacuate Gela, and requested a truce to bury the dead. He slipped out hat very night with the entire army and population, leaving the battle dead unburied. A group of 2000 light troops stayed behind, where the lit large campfires to dupe the Carthaginians into thinking the Greeks were staying put. In early morning this troop also marched for Gela. The Carthaginians entered and sacked the near empty city the following day. [Diod. 13.111.1-2]


Dionysius led the army to Camarina, where he ordered the population to leave town. The strategic problem for Dionysius had not changed, getting stuck in a siege at Camarina might still mean risking political disaster in Syracuse. The march to Syracuse was slow, and suspicion arose among the Syracusan citizens that Dionysius might be in league with Himilco, and a coup attempt was launched. The spoils of Gela included a famous statue of Apollo, which was sent to Tyre. [Diod. 13.112-113]

yracuse Discontent

Some of the cavalry, made up of rich former oligarchs, rode in haste to Syracuse and tried to take control of the city. Their attempt was clumsy, as Dionysius arriving at Syracuse found the gates shut but ungarrded. He burnt down the gate and killed most of the rebels, while some of them managed to make way and seize the Sicel town on Aetna. The refugees of Gela and Camarina, distrustful of Dionysius, joined the Akragan refugees at Leontini. The position of Dionysius was hardly secure, as Himilco and his army, after taking and sacking Camarina, was marching for Syracuse. [Freeman, Edward A., Sicily, p153-54]

Peace of 405 BC

Instead of a Carthaginian assault on Syracuse, a peace treaty was signed between the belligerents in 405 BC. Reasons for the treaty are speculated as:

*Dionysius was indeed in communication with Himilco and agreed to a treaty favorable to Carthage in exchange for peace and recognition of his authority. [Freeman, Edrard A., Sicily, p154] This is highly probable based on the future events in the career of Dionysius.
*The army of Himilco was struck by plague again. During the entire campaign, the army had lost almost half its strength to the plague. [Church, Alfred J., Carthage, p44] Himilco chose not to battle Syracuse in his weakened state and opted for the treaty, which mostly favored Carthage.
*Unlike the Roman Republic, which always fought to achieve a favorable outcome,. [Goldsworthy, Adrian, Roman Warfare, p85] with treaties seen as temporary interludes, the Carthaginians were mostly willing to negotiate and abide by treaties as long as their commercial infrastructure was intact. Carthage had kept to the terms of the treaty after the Battle of Himera in 480 BC for 70 years. In 149 BC, Carthage continually submitted to the ever harsher and insulting demands of the Roman consuls until they demanded Carthaginians to move to an inland location, ending all their commercial activities. Only then Carthaginians decided to go down in flames.

The terms of the treaty were: [Church, Alfred J., Carthage, p44-45]

*Carthage keeps full control on the Phoenician cities in Sicily. Elymian and Sikan cities are in Carthaginian “Sphere of Influence”.
*Greeks are allowed to return to Selinus, Akragas, Camarina and Gela. These cities, including the new city of Thermae, would pay tribute to Cartage. Gela and Camarina were forbidden to repair their walls.
*The Sicels and the city of Messene were to remain free of Carthaginian and Syracusan influence, as was Leontini.
*Dionysius was acknowledged as ruler of Syracuse by Carthage.
*Both sides agreed to release prisoners and ships captured during the campaign.

The Carthaginian army and fleet left Sicily after the treaty. The plague was carried back to Africa, where it ravaged Carthage. Himilco was elected as “king” by 398 BC. He would lead the Carthaginian response to the activities of Dionysius in 398 BC. The treaty was to last until 404 BC when Dionysius started a war against the Sicels. As Carthage took no action, Dionysius increased his power and domain in Sicily and finally in 398 BC launched a war against the Carthaginians by attacking Motya.


*cite book | title = Hannibal | year = 1999 | author = Baker, G. P. | publisher = Cooper Square Press | id = ISBN 0-8154-1005-0


External links

* [ Diodorus Siculus translated by G. Booth (1814)] Complete book (scanned by Google)

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