The two decades of Sicilian history between the mid 480s and the mid 460s BC belong to the Deinomenids of Gela and Syracuse and to the Emmenids of Acragas. The leaders of these two families were Gelon and Hieron, tyrants of Syracuse, and Theron, tyrant of Acragas. These years were an age of splendor in both capitals.
Gelon, a descendant of that Telines who had negotiated the end to a secession in the early days of Gela, began his rise to power as a member of the guard of the Geloan tyrant Hippocrates. This leader put together a formidable empire stretching northeast from Gela and Camarina to Catane and Leontini. Gelon became cavalry commander under Hippocrates, and on his death, Gelon found himself guardian of the tyrant’s sons. The boys did not survive for long, and at some time after 491 and before 485 BC Gelon became the new tyrant. He was quickly able to add Syracuse, the prize that had escaped his predecessor, to Hippocrates’ domains. Class conflict played into his hands. The Gamoroi, the Syracusan aristocrats whom we have met before both as a ruling class of landowners and sitting as a privileged court (reminiscent of the Roman Senate), had been expelled by the lower order of citizens with the support of the disenfranchised and exploited mass called the kyllirioi. The Gamoroi had taken refuge at Casmenae, that inhospitable mountain town on Syracuse’s northern frontier. Gelon answered their call for help. He was soon tyrant of Syracuse. His brother Hieron remained as tyrant at Gela.
Usually a Greek tyrant was the leader of a faction of aristocrats backed by a following among the commons. Gelon was different. He was a tyrant brought in by the upper classes. He strengthened his hand by bringing the aristocrats of Megara Hyblaea and Euboia (another city of southeastern Sicily) to Syracuse. He also fattened his coffers by selling the populace of Megara in the slave market. Similarly the whole citizenry of Camarina was brought to Syracuse and the capital’s population was further diluted, and the tyrant protected, by a large group of mercenary soldiers from the mountains of the Peloponnesos in Greece. Gelon was thus in command of a metropolis where mixed origins made for few common loyalties except to himself.
On Gelon’s death in 478 BC, Hieron succeeded him at Syracuse. Another brother, Polyzalus, took command at Gela and also married Gelon’s widow, Damarete. This lady played an important role in Deinomenid politics because she was the daughter of Theron of Acragas. Hieron himself was married in the interests of foreign policy to a daughter of the tyrant of Rhegium and Zancle-Messina, Anaxilas. It was Anaxilas, together with Theron’s rebellious governor at Himera, which Acragas had taken over shortly before, who called the Carthaginians into Sicily against Acragas. Gelon had answered Theron’s appeal for aid and together Syracuse and Acragas were victorious at the Battle of Himera in 480. Henceforth Anaxilas was bound to defer to the victorious Syracusans, who under Hieron pursued a policy of expansion into the Tyrrhenian.
Hieron presided over one of the most brilliant Greek cities. The poets Pindar and Bacchylides, from Thebes and the island of Ceos respectively, were commissioned to commemorate the tyrant’s victories in the great games of the Panhellenic Sanctuaries. Simonides, another Ionian master of lyric poetry, was his confidant and trusted emissary. Gelon had been proclaimed the ‘New