Timoleon son of Timodemus, of Corinth
Corinth is a city and former municipality in Corinthia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Corinth, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit...

 (ca. 411–337 BCE) was a Greek statesman and general.

As the champion of Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 against Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

 he is closely connected with the history of Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, especially Syracuse
Syracuse, Italy
Syracuse is a historic city in Sicily, the capital of the province of Syracuse. The city is notable for its rich Greek history, culture, amphitheatres, architecture, and as the birthplace of the preeminent mathematician and engineer Archimedes. This 2,700-year-old city played a key role in...


Early life

When his brother Timophanes
Timophanes was an Ancient Corinthian and brother of the renowned Greek statesman and general Timoleon. During the 360's BC, the city-state of Corinth found herself in an unfamiliar and radically changing world. In the forty plus years since the end of the Peloponesian War, the political power...

, whose life he had saved in battle, took possession of the acropolis of Corinth and made himself master of the city, Timoleon, after an ineffectual protest, tacitly acquiesced while the friends who accompanied him put Timophanes to death.
Public opinion approved his conduct as patriotic; but the curses of his mother and the indignation of some of his kinsfolk drove him into retirement for twenty years.


Because of the political problems of Syracuse and the threat from Sparta, a group of Syracusans sent an appeal for help to Corinth which reached Corinth in 344 BCE Corinth could not refuse help, though her chief citizens declined the responsibility of attempting to establish a settled government in factious and turbulent Syracuse.

Timoleon, being named by an unknown voice in the popular assembly, was chosen by a unanimous vote to undertake the mission, and set sail for Sicily with a few of the leading citizens of Corinth and a small troop of Greek mercenaries. He eluded a Carthaginian squadron and landed at Tauromenium (now Taormina), where he met with a friendly reception. At this time Hicetas, tyrant of Leontini, was master of Syracuse, with the exception of the island of Ortygia
Ortygia is a little island and it is the historical centre of the city of Syracuse, Sicily. The island, also known as Città Vecchia , contains many historical landmarks...

, which was occupied by Dionysius
Dionysius II of Syracuse
Dionysius the Younger or Dionysius II ruled Syracuse, Sicily from 367 BC to 357 BC and again from 346 BC to 344 BC....

, still nominally tyrant.

Hicetas was defeated at Adranum, an inland town, and driven back to Syracuse. In 343 Dionysius surrendered Ortygia on condition of being granted a safe conduct to Corinth. Hicetas now received help from Carthage (60,000 men), but ill-success roused mutual suspicion; the Carthaginians abandoned Hicetas, who was besieged in Leontini, and who was then compelled to surrender. Timoleon was thus master of Syracuse.

He at once began the work of restoration, bringing new settlers from the mother-city and from Greece generally, and establishing a popular government on the basis of the democratic laws of Diocles
Diocles may refer to:*Diocles, a person in Greek mythology*Roman emperor Diocletian, formerly named Diocles*Diocles of Carystus, Greek physician who lived 4th century BC*Diocles , 2nd century BC and the beginning of the 1st century BC...

. The citadel was razed to the ground, and a court of justice erected on its site. The amphi-polos, or priest of Olympian Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

, who was annually chosen by lot out of three clans, was invested with the chief magistracy. The impress of Timoleon's reforms seems to have lasted to the days of Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...


Hicetas again induced Carthage to send (340–339) a great army (70,000), which landed at Lilybaeum (now Marsala). With a miscellaneous levy of about 12,000 men, most of them mercenaries, Timoleon marched westwards across the island into the neighbourhood of Selinus and won a great and decisive victory on the Crimissus
Battle of the Crimissus
The Battle of the Crimissus was probably fought in 340 BCE between a large Carthaginian army under Asdrubal and Hamilcar sent against Syracuse. The forces of Syracuse led by Timoleon were victorious.-Background:...

. The general himself led his infantry, and the enemy's discomfiture was completed by a blinding storm of rain and hail. This victory gave the Greeks of Sicily many years of peace and safety from Carthage.

Carthage made, however, one more effort and despatched some mercenaries to prolong the conflict between Timoleon and the tyrants. But it ended in the defeat of Hicetas, who was taken prisoner and put to death. Carthage then agreed to a treaty in 338 BCE by which, in Sicily, Carthage was confined to the west of the Halycus (Platani) and undertook to give no further help to tyrants.


Timoleon then retired into private life without assuming any title or office, though he remained practically supreme, not only at Syracuse, but throughout the island. Notwithstanding the many elements of discord Sicily seems to have been during Timoleon's lifetime tranquil and contented. He became blind some time before his death, but when important issues were under discussion he was carried to the assembly to give his opinion, which was usually accepted. He was buried at the cost of the citizens of Syracuse, who erected a monument to his memory in their market-place, afterwards surrounded with porticoes, and a gymnasium called Timoleonteum.

Tyrant or Democrat?

The ancient historian Timaeus
Timaeus (historian)
Timaeus , ancient Greek historian, was born at Tauromenium in Sicily. Driven out of Sicily by Agathocles, he migrated to Athens, where he studied rhetoric under a pupil of Isocrates and lived for fifty years...

 gave Timoleon high accolades in his work; however, Polybius criticized Timaeus for bias in favor of Timoleon and many modern historians have sided with Polybius. Peter Green shares this skepticism but thinks it has gone too far. While he concedes that Timoleon tended to play the democrat while using the methods of a tyrant (albeit benevolent), he did make an effort to maintain the outward forms of democracy. Further, he reformed Syracuse in a democratic direction and demolished the stronghold of the island that had been so useful to tyrants in the past.

Primary sources

  • Plutarch, Life of Timoleon.
  • Cornelius Nepos, Timoleon.
  • Diod. Sic.
    Diodorus Siculus
    Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who flourished between 60 and 30 BC. According to Diodorus' own work, he was born at Agyrium in Sicily . With one exception, antiquity affords no further information about Diodorus' life and doings beyond what is to be found in his own work, Bibliotheca...

    , Historical Library, xvi.65‑90.

Further reading

  • Westlake, H.D. Timoleon and His Relations With Tyrants. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1952 (hardcover, ISBN 0-7190-1217-1).
  • Bicknell, P.J. "The Date of Timoleon's Crossing to Italy and the Comet of 361 B.C.", The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 34, No. 1. (1984), pp. 130–134.
  • Talbert, R.J.A. Timoleon and the Revival of Greek Sicily, 344–317 B.C. (Cambridge Classical Studies). New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975 (hardcover, ISBN 0-521-20419-4); 2008 (paperback, ISBN 0-521-03413-2).
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