History of Gela


See Gela guide for highlights and historic monuments

The area of Gela coincides with some much more ancient settlements that date back to prehistoric times, and more specifically to the Copper Age (between the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC).

Ancient Greek and Roman Gela

Then in the classical times, and a few years after its foundation, the city gained control of much of west-central Sicily and founded many colonies, including Agrigento.

However the apogee of the Greek city of Gela dates back to the period between the 6th and 5th centuries BC, when it had over 100,000 inhabitants, and commercial relations with all major Mediterranean towns and attracted writers and philosophers such as Aeschylus to a city of great prestige.

After the destruction of Carthage in 434 BC, the city was rebuilt by Timoleon (411-335 BC).

In Roman times, the fertile plains around the city were mainly used for growing wheat, so that Gela became the "granary of Rome."

Medieval Gela

In medieval times Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250) founded on the site of Gela a new walled city, providing it with a castle and a port in order to better control costs and leverage the vast southern plains for their agriculture.

Because of its economic and military importance, Gela was affirmed by the sovereign as a State-city, directly dependent on the Crown and classifying it as the second biggest city in Sicily after the capital Palermo, and recording a thriving economy, especially in agriculture, maritime and crafts (ceramics).

Today Gela is one of the most important cities in Sicily in terms of the number of residents and its size.

Origins of the name Gela

We should mention at the outset that the discussion about the origins of Gela includes the analysis of a large number of very complex interpretations, but often very interesting so we include it here...

For simplicity, we can start with the fact that Gela was mentioned by Thucydides (460-295 BC), who wrote that it was founded by some colonists from Rhodes, and that it owes its name to the river that runs nearby (the river Gelas, "apò tou Ghela Potamou") [trans: "Gela derives its name from the river "].

It is these statements by Thucydides that started the 17th century discussions by scholars. The problem was explained by Bruce Karl Baswell who, starting from the translation of the passage of Thucydides, and based upon studies by the Byzantine philologist John Tzetzes (1110-1180 approx.), came to the conclusion that is generally accepted by contemporary critics:

“[...] 'In the forty-fifth year after the settlement of Syracuse, Gela was founded by Antiphemos from Rodi and Entimos from Crete who jointly led out the colonists. The city received its name from the River 'Gelas'...

... About the etymology, Tzetzes wrote: 'Epaphroditus (26-95 AD approx.) writes as follow: 'Gelas was named from the fact that it produces much hoar-frost. For hoar-frost has this name there (...) For this is called 'Gela' in the language of the Opici and Sicels (...) Thus Gela derives its name from a word (perhaps 'gelu') meaning 'frost'” [1].

Gela and ancient Lindioi

The history of the names of Gela, however, did not stop there. In the passage translated by Braswell and Billerbeck, according to tradition dating back to Thucydides, Gela was founded in 689-688 BC, on the advice of the oracle of Delphi, by colonists from Rhodes led by Antiphemos, and by settlers from Crete led by Entimos, who were said to have have given the city the name "Lindioi”.

Even about the name "Lindioi" there have been great discussions among scholars, especially to test whether "Lindioi" corresponds to Gela or the city was located elsewhere. A convincing solution of the problem was given by Luigi Pareti, who writes:

"[...] Without dwelling too much on issues about 'Lindioi', we make some considerations. From Thucydides VI, 4, 3, Herodotus VII, 56, and Stephen the Byzantine, the Greek term 'Lindos' seems to be referring to a place name. It is doubtful whether this is the first name given by Greeks to the colony, then replaced with that of Gela, or if 'Lindioi' was only a portion of Gela, which is the oldest part of the walled town i.e. 'Acropolis. I think more likely the latter case [...]" [2].

The old part of town was called "Lindioi" because Antiphemos (who with Entimos founded the city) was from “Lindos”, one of the richest cities of Rhodes. Gela was therefore founded in 689-688 BC:

"[…] by people from the city of Rhodes called  'Lindos', led by Antiphemos and by some Cretans led by Entimos. Thucydides preserves the memory of this first Greek settlement, limited at first to a fortified place called 'Lindioi'. The Excavations of Professor Orsi, dating back to the early 20th century, had given light to some sanctuaries, like the one dedicated to Athena on the hill […]" [3].

Many contemporary studies conducted by various institutions agree about the fact that the name "Lindioi" coincided with the ancient fortified acropolis, such as the University of Naples [4], where it is said that it is now sure that there was a settlement on the acropolis of an early settler community of Rhodes, called 'Lindioi', as stated by Thucydides, and confirmed by the oldest pottery found during excavations.

Also interesting are the studies of the University of Catania [5], in which it is pointed out that the Greek colony of the 7th century BC was already firmly established on the hill of the acropolis of Gela and it was regarded as a sacred place with the cult of Athena, which was accompanied, perhaps in the 'polis', by the cult of Hera.

Finally, as noted by Andrea M. Bignasca [6], a statue of "Athena Lindia", already venerated at the shrine of ‘Lindos’ in Rhodes, was found in Gela.

See the travel guide for Gela.

References

1. See Thuycides Fragment 63. Tucyd. 6.4.3: and Bruce Karl Braswell, Margarethe Billerbecke, “The Grammarian Epaphroditus. Testimonia and Fragments”, Lang, Berna, 2008: 351-353 and footnote 2

2. See Luigi Pareti, "Studi siciliani e italioti", Bibliobazaar, 2009:  213 note 2

3. See C. De Seta, “Storia d'Italia, Annali. Insediamento e territorio”, Torino, Einaudi, 1935, Vol 8:  35

4. “Centro Studi per la Magna Grecia”, L'Arte Tipografica, 1970: 314

5. “Graduate School of Classical Archaeology, Greek settlements in Sicily”, published by the Institute of Archaeology, 1980, Vol. 17: 95

6. "The Circular ‘Kernoi’ in the East and West”, Freiburg-Schweiz, 2000: 70 footnote 523