You are here

How Syracusan Was The Carthaginian Treasury?

Timothy Smith

This paper reconsiders the prevailing interpretation of the civic function of late Archaic and early Classical Greek treasuries. Recent scholarship has configured the great Panhellenic sanctuaries’ thesauroi (treasuries) in the broader context of a reconstructed “contest of paradigms” between aristocratic ethos and civic ideologies (Neer 2001; Morris 1996; Kurke 1991). In the case of the so-called “Carthaginian” treasury at Olympia, however, the uniquely artificial demography of Syracuse following the first Deinomenid synoikism circa 485 resists this distinction of “elitist” and “middling” ideologies. The aim of this paper is to present a more nuanced reading of the elaborate social template behind this important but understudied monument. As the extraterritorial embodiment of the state, the thesauroi articulated the complex fabric of the polis and political circumstances that motivated their installation and informed their social function. As such, I focus on the treasury as a lens through which early Deinomenid policy may be reevaluated, and I argue that the civic character of the monument is best understood by positioning it within the economy of the tyrant’s carefully manufactured cultural program.

Several years after assuming the tyranny at Gela, Gelon seized control of Syracuse with the assistance of the exiled ruling class (Hdt. 7.155.2), prompting the re-founding of a new seat of power which encompassed a massive resettlement of Sicilian populations (Hdt. 7.155-6; Lomas 2006). Particularly striking in this project is the uniform rejection of the demos in favor of incorporating the neighboring elite into a single nobility within the direct sphere of influence of the kingship (Seibert 1982-3; Maffoda 1996; Kowalzig 2008). A selective concentration of this scale would have comprised a remarkably aristocratic citizenry unparalleled in the Greek world (Asheri 1980; Loicq-Berger 1967)–and it is within this sociopolitical milieu, I suggest, that the study of the treasury is more appropriately grounded.

In the wake of the Battle of Himera (480), Gelon strategically secured the acclamation of the Syracusan populace (Diodorus 11.26.5-6; Aelian 6.11, 13.37; McGlew 1993) and embarked on a massive project of memorializing the Sicilian triumph over the “Phoenicians”. All indications point to this as the occasion for the “dedication of Gelon and the Syracusans” and the erection of the thesauros on the Altis treasury terrace to house its articles (Pausanias 6.19.7; Morgan 2015; Luraghi 1994; Mallwitz 1972). Just as with the other highly conspicuous grand-scale monument–the golden tripod and Nike situated beside the collective Plataian votive at Delphi–the city is seemingly subordinated to the head of state, as is evident from the dedicatory inscription in the treasure-house (Meiggs & Lewis 1998, 61; Harrel 2006; Krumeich 1991). I propose, however, that the communal character of these monuments is not so much coded within the framework of Deinomenid megalopropeia as overtly integral to it, especially given Gelon’s restructuring of Syracusan society (Kurke 1999). Nowhere is this more clearly or uniquely exemplified than in the thesauros qua communal house, or oikos (Dyer 1905). Its inauguration framed, and was in turn conceptually framed by, the joint dedication commemorating the battle and, more emphatically, Syracuse’s newly achieved Panhellenic status with Gelon at its helm. Moreover, by articulating his primacy within the offering, Gelon is effectively and indelibly imprinting his legacy of patronization upon the political and ritual space of the oikos, markedly investing himself in its cultural capital.

Central to my discussion of the nascent superpower’s promotion within the interstate sanctuaries of the mainland is the domestic political climate that spurred it and the mechanics of the Syracusan constitution (Musti 1995; Bravo 1993). The picture that emerges from the socioeconomics of Gelon’s synoikism reveals a harmonious balance among the civic constituents afforded by the prosperity which issued from the influx of affluent populations. Rather than a clashing or compromise between elite and polis-oriented ideologies, the “Carthaginian” treasury marks the materialization of their convergence under the aegis of Deinomenid sovereignty. 

Session/Panel Title:

Architecture and Self-Definition

Session/Paper Number

34.1

Share This Page

© 2019, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy