Ducetius, king of the Sicels, fl.461-440 BC

Ducetius, king of the Sicels (fl.461-440 BC) was a Sicilian leader who created a short-lived Sicel league that threatened Greek control of the interior of the island.

Ancient Sicily was inhabited by several different groups of people. The original native Sicilians were split into three blocks - Elymians and Sicanians in the west and Sicels in the east. The Phoenicians had settled at the western end of the island, and by the 5th century that area was controlled by Carthage. Finally a large number of Greek cities had been founded around the south, east and north coasts, and had expanded to control large parts of the island (mainly along the coast but with significant possessions inland).

Ducetius's career began at a period when the main Greek cities had overthrown a series of tyrants and established democratic systems. The two most important cities at this period were Akragas in the middle of the south coast and Syracuse, near the south-east corner of the island. The collapse of the tyrannies also involved the collapse of the mini-empires they had built up, and the removal of garrisons from many communities.

Ducetius is first mentioned in 461 BC. The city of Catana, on the coast north of Syracuse, had suffered under the tyrants. Hieron, tyrant of Syracuse, expelled the original inhabitants and replaced them with a mix of fresh settlers from the Peloponnese and settlers from Syracuse. In 466 BC Syracuse rose against Hieron's successor (and brother) Thrasybulus. The Tyrant raised an army made up of mercenaries and troops from his brother's colony at Catana, but he had been defeated and overthrown.

The new colonists must have been involved in active campaigns against the Sicels. Ducetius is recorded as having a grudge against them because they had taken Sicel land, and this was the motive for his attack on the city in 461 BC. Although the Syracusans were fighting against their former tyrants mercenaries, they also send an army to attack Catana. Ducetius and the Syracusans agreed to work together. They defeated the Catanians in a series of battles (of which we have no details). The defeated colonists were forced to move inland where they seized the town of Inessa, renaming it Aetna. The original inhabitants of Catana were able to return home, and the land around the city was divided between Syracuse and the Sicels.  

In 459/8 Ducetius made two moves designed to increase his power amongst the Sicels. He enlarged his home village of Menai to create a new city called Menainon (or Menaenum). He also attacked and seized the Sicel city of Morgantina (north-west of Menai). He must have spent the next few years consolidating his power in the Sicel areas, for in 453/2 Diodorus states that he was leader of all Siceli cities apart from Hybla. In 453/2 he demonstrated his power by moving the city of Menainon from the mountains onto a nearby plain and by founding a new administrative and religious centre at Palice (probably near Lake Naftia) and close to Menainon. This was the centre of a Sicel league with its own army and probably a shared financial system.

In 451 BC Ducetius began a campaign against the Greeks that would briefly bring him to the peak of his power before seeing his league crushed in battle. First he attacked and captured Aetna, the city seized by the colonists expelled from Catana ten years earlier. He then turned west and besieged Motyum, in the territory of Akragas. Syracuse and Akragas both sent armies to lift the siege, but they were defeated at the battle of Motyum and retreated back to their home cities. At some point after this Motyon was captured by Ducetius.

His triumph would be short-lived. In 450 BC an army from Syracuse found and defeated Ducetius at Nomae (probably some way to the east of Motyum). The Sicel army scattered, with most of the survivors taking refuge in various strongholds. Those most loyal to Ducetius went to Motyum, but this city was soon taken by an army from Akragas. The two victorious Greek armies then came together.

This single defeat in battle hadn't destroyed Ducetius's power, but it had apparently convinced many of his soldiers that the cause was lost. Ducetius realised that some of his men were planning to seize him, and so he escaped from his own camp, made his way to Syracuse and threw himself on the mercy of his former allies. He offered to give then control of the areas he still ruled, and the Syracusans decided not to punish him, but instead send him into exile at Corinth.

Ducetius didn’t remain in exile for long. In 446 BC he returned to Sicily and founded a city on the north coast, at Cale Acte (the fair shore). According to Diodorus Ducetius returned because of a message from an oracle, but he may well have been invited back by Syracuse to serve as the figurehead of an attempt to establish a Syracusan foothold on the north coast. The new colony was settled by a mix of Greeks from the mainland and Sicels.

Ducetius's return triggered a war between Akragas and Syracuse. The Akragantini accused Syracuse of deliberately letting Ducetius to return. The independent Greek cities on Sicily apparently got dragged into the dispute, and two large armies were gathered. The two sides clashed on the Himera River and the Syracusans were victorious. Ducetius was free to continue building his new city.

Over the next six years Ducetius apparently began to regain some of his old influence, and according to Diodorus began to claim leadership of the Sicels. Before this could come to anything he died of illness.  

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (31 July 2012), Ducetius, king of the Sicels, fl.461-440 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_ducetius.html

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