Phalaris of Akragas, fl.571-554 BC

Phalaris of Akragas, fl.571-554 BC

Phalaris of Akragas, fl.571-554 BC

Phalaris of Akragas (fl.c.571-554 BC) was one of the first Sicilian tyrants about whom we have any substantial information. He appears to have been a successful military leader, famous for his cruelty and who was overthrown by his own people after ruling for sixteen years.

The city of Akragas (Agrigentum in later Latin) was founded in 580 BC by colonists from Gela. The two cities were both located on the south coast of the island, with Akragas well to the west of Gela.

Phalaris apparently held public office before become tyrant, possibly as a farmer of the public revenue. Another story suggests that he was appointed to build a temple overlooking the city and instead used the money to build a fortress that dominated the place, allowing him to seize power. An alternative story has him given high office by his fellow citizens and then seizing power.

Phalaris gained a reputation as a successful conqueror, extending the area under his control as far as the north coast of Sicily, where he may have been the strategos autocrator (general with all powers) of Himera. Many of his success must thus have come against the Sicils, the native inhabitants of that part of Sicily.

Phalaris was known for his cruelty, which was recorded by the poet Pindar (c.520-440 BC). The most famous story about Phalaris was that he constructed a hollow brazen bull. Victims were sealed within the bull and a fire was lit underneath. The cries of the victims were said to represent the shrieks of a bull.

Phalaris was overthrown by a revolt, possibly led by or involving Telemachus, an ancestor of Theron, tyrant of Akragas from 488-473 BC. According to some sources he became the last victim of the brazen bull.


Phalaris of Akragas, fl.571-554 BC - History

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Located on a plateau overlooking Sicily's southern coast, Agrigento was founded as Akragas around 582 BC (BCE) by a group of colonists from Gela, who themselves were the immediate descendants of Greeks from Rhodes and Crete. The area was inhabited much earlier a female skull (that of the "girl of Mandrascava") found near Cannatello is half a million years old. A Mesolithic village at Point Bianca, farther down the coast toward Montechiaro Castle, dates from 6000 BC. The Sicanians may have descended from that civilization. Akragas was renamed Agrigentum by the Romans, and Girgenti by the Arabs, only to be christened Agrigento in 1927, but the place is the same.

Greatly enlarged by Berbers beginning in the ninth century, the medieval city of Agrigento is not without a certain charm. High in the historical center of the city, the Romanesque Gothic cathedral, built during the fourteenth century, still displays some of its medieval character, as does the thirteenth-century Church of San Nicola (St Nicholas). Unfortunately, the Saracen fortress believed to have stood at Agrigento has not stood the test of time. The Greek temples, theatres and ruins, and even the archaeological museums, are located outside the city proper.

Akragas, named for the nearby river, flourished under Phalaris (570-554 BC), and developed further under Theron (488-471 BC), whose troops participated in the Battle of Himera in 480 BC, defeating the Carthaginians. Agrigento was destroyed several times during the Punic Wars, suffering particularly extensive damage during a siege by Roman forces in 261 BC, but always rebuilt. The Greek poet Pindar (518-438 BC) described Akragas as "the most beautiful city of the mortals." Akragas' most famous citizen was the philosopher and scientist Empedocles (490-430 BC).

In the Valley of the Temples are the ruins of numerous temples but also necropoli, houses, streets and everything else one would expect to find in an ancient city. There is a small amphitheatre, as well as several auditoria, and a fine archeological museum. Unfortunately, most of the temples at Agrigento are in ruins, with pieces strewn about, and several appear to have never even been completed. Part of the Temple of Hera (Juno), built around 450 BC, is still intact. Its style has been compared to that of the temples at Paestum, near Salerno. The Temple of Concord (named retroactively), built around 440 BC, is in far better condition, and at night the illuminated temple is a sight to behold. A number of telamons (large segmented stone columns in the form of human figures) have been preserved.

Ancient Agrigento's importance declined under the Byzantines and Saracens, who encouraged settlement of the medieval city (present-day Agrigento) several kilometers from the Valley of the Temples. The Normans, however, recognized its importance, and it was during the Norman rule that beautiful churches were constructed in and around the city.

The ancient city's architectural character seems more Greek than Roman. What's missing are the thin, reddish bricks so typical of Roman sites like Solunto and Taormina. Despite its location virtually in the shadow of a modern city, the Valley of the Temples is surrounded by olive groves and almond orchards that render its ambience altogether natural, though a number of illegally-built houses mar the landscape. The almond blossom festival held in February is a spectacular event full of folklore.

The ruins of a Roman villa are located at an archeological site a few kilometers up the coast from Porto Empedocle. Though Porto Empedocle itself is today essentially a shipping town, there is a nice beach nearby. The birthplace of Luigi Pirandello, (1867-1937) a Nobel prize-winning author, is located in the tiny hamlet of Caos, where his house is a museum.

For Visitors: Sample the local cuisine if you have a chance. Except for a visit to the Valley of the Temples and the archeological museum nearby, and perhaps a quick glimpse of the cathedral and San Nicola if you're a real medievalist, it probably isn't worth spending more than a day in Agrigento. Since this part of Sicily is torrid from the end of June through late September, we suggest, if possible, that you visit Agrigento during spring or autumn, when the fields are still green and the wildflowers are blossoming.

Hotel Reservations are easy with the online reservation system on our travel planning page, where you'll find convenient links to information on flights, hotels, car rentals, restaurants, weather and even travel books.


1# Flaying

Flaying was the weirdest way of execution of the ancient world. Killing an enemy has always been there in human history and still criminals of serious offenses meet horrible ends, but flaying is the crankiest idea one can think of. Removing one’s skin is known as Flaying and it was very much in fashion in the ancient world. The kings of the ancient world gave horrible punishment to their enemies to make them an example for others and to spread horrors among other nations and convince them to come into subjugation. The brutal execution involved removing the victim’s skin with a knife. This would expose the victim to septic wounds and would die of pain and infection.

Flaying was used as a brutal method of execution in the ancient Roman Empire, Persian Empire, Ottoman Empire, and medieval England. The Assyrian kings from 911 to 609 BC used to flay their enemies and considered it as a symbol of their power. The Rasam Cylinder also records a similar method of executions by King Ashurbanipal in 7th century BC that says

‘Their corpses they hung on stakes, they stripped off their skins and covered the city wall with them.’


Greek & Roman Sites in Sicily

Akragas (today’s Agrigento) was established in around 580 BC. It was a colony of Gela, a city further east along the south coast of Sicily, founded by settlers from Rhodes and Crete in around 688 BC. It soon became one of the richest and most powerful cities of Magna Graecia.

A famous early ruler of Akragas was the tyrant Phalaris (c. 570-554 BC), who managed to increase the city’s influence over the surrounding territories. He was also known for his cruelty, having, for instance, used a large bronze bull to burn to death his enemies imprisoned in it. Another powerful ruler was the tyrant Theron (488-473/472 BC), who, in contrast to Phalaris, was generally described as just ruler and a generous patron of the arts. Phalaris was an ally of Gelon, the tyrant of Gela and Syracuse, and he was mostly remembered for his victory over the Carthaginians in the Battle of Himera in 480 BC.

Akragas remained neutral in the conflict between Athens and Syracuse during the former’s expedition to Sicily in 415-413 BC. Despite this it soon came under a threat by Carthage, who had just shown its might by destroying the nearby city of Selinous. The fate of Selinous befell Akragas in 406 BC.

In the 4th century BC Akragas was a poor shadow of its former self. That changed only slightly after the defeat of Carthage by Timoleon in 338 BC. As a consequence of the First Punic War the city became part of the Roman Republic. During the Second Punic War it was a battleground between Rome and Carthage, until in 210 BC it fell decisively to Rome. Now known as Agrigentum, it was a relatively prosperous city in the subsequent centuries.

4.1. Orientation and Fortifications

Akragas was located on a plateau overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It was bordered in the north by a ridge composed of the Girgenti Hill and the Rock of Athena (the site of today’s city), and in the south by a ridge known as the Valley of the Temples. The both ridges were part of the fortification system of the city. In the east and west the city was delimited by the valleys of, respectively, the Akragas (San Biagio) and Hypsas (Sant’Anna, or Drago) rivers. The walls here were mostly built in masonry. All together, the fortifications were about 12 km long. They were pierced by nine gates, each with a bastion tower.

At the mouth of the Akragas River was the port and the emporion of the city.

4.2. City

The city was spread out on five terraces sloping down from the north to the south ridge. The street layout followed the Hippodamian (grid) plan. The main street of the city, which connected the Gate of Gela with the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, was 12 m wide. Other major streets were around 7 m wide, while the width of the smaller streets was 5.5 m.

The agora of Akragas was located somewhere between the Temple of Heracles and the Church of San Nicola in the north. It had an upper and a lower part. The upper agora contained the ekklesiasterion, the bouleuterion and the Oratory of Phalaris. The lower agora was composed of a stoa, a gymnasium, a sacred area and shops.

The structures of the upper agora have been better researched. The oldest of the three buildings is the bouleuterion (seat of the council of citizens), dating back to the 6th century BC. It was converted into an odeon in the Roman era. The ekklesiasterion (seat of the popular assembly) is from the 4th or the 3rd century BC. Its remains are partly covered by the so-called Oratory of Phalaris, a small temple dating back to the late 1st century BC or the early 1st century AD. Its name comes from the Akragantine tyrant whose palace may have stood here in the 6th century BC. The temple was converted into a chapel in the Norman period.

Near the agora are remains of Greek peristyle and Roman atrium houses. Elements of the water system of the city have also been discovered here, including cisterns, tanks and drainage pipes.

4.3. North

The highest point of Akragas was the acropolis, located on the Rock of Athena in the north. Unlike in the other Greek cities, in Akragas the places of worship were not concentrated on the acropolis. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire the inhabitants abandoned the lower parts of the city and moved here.

To the southeast of the acropolis stood the Temple of Demeter (6th century BC, 480-470 BC). It was a small structure made up of a pronaos (distyle in antis) and a naos. Its foundations and some walls were incorporated into the Church of San Biagio in the Norman period.

The Temple of Demeter was part of a temenos, from which remains of other structures survive, such as two small round altars with a holy well (bothros) in the middle. Further away is an old rupestrian sanctuary, dedicated to Demeter and Persephone.

4.4. Valley of the Temples

The so-called Valley of the Temples forms the southern border of the ancient city. It is named after the ruins of Doric temples that stand here on the ridge.

4.4.1. Temple of Heracles

Around 510 BC or before 480 BC

The Temple of Heracles is the oldest temple in the Valley. Its exact date of construction is, however, not known. On the basis of stylistic features it is usually dated to the last years of the 6th century BC. Some suggest that the temple was constructed some years before the Battle of Himera, on the basis of a type of cymatium (S-shaped molding on top of the cornice) that has been found found from here. That type of cymatium is from the 460s BC, which helps to date the temple itself to an earlier decade, as it usually took some time to complete the decorations of the temples. It has also been suggested that the temple, built by Theron, is, instead, dedicated to Athena.

The Temple of Heracles is an unusually elongated Doric temple, measuring 25.33 x 67 m on the stylobate and having a peristasis of 6 x 15 columns. It stands on a three-step crepidoma which rests on a substructure built due to the unevenness of the terrain. The columns are high and have wide capitals, with a deep gulf between the stem and the echinus. Nine columns of the southeastern side were re-erected in the 20th century.

The naos of the temple is flanked by a pronaos and an opisthodomos (both distyle in antis). Between the pronaos and the naos are pylons with stairs, allowing access to the roof. This is the first example of such a structure, later very common in Akragas. In the Roman Period, the naos was divided into three, possibly indicating a dedication to multiple gods.

To the east are the remains of the large altar of the temple.

4.4.2. Temple of the Olympian Zeus

After 480 BC, until 406 BC

The Temple of the Olympian Zeus was most probably built to commemorate the victory of Akragas and Syracuse over Carthage in the Battle of Himera. It may have been constructed using the captured Carthaginian soldiers. Even though there are traces of it being used, it seems to have never been completed.

The temple has been described as the largest Doric temple ever built, measuring 56.30 x 112.70 m on the stylobate and with the height of 20 m. The crepidoma was around 4.5 m high and had five steps.

The temple had a pseudoperipteral plan: the columns of the peristasis (7 x 14) did not stand on their own, but rested on a continuous curtain wall. This created a need for entrances, which were in the corner intercolumnations on the eastern face of the temple.

Highly unusual were the atlases (7.5 m high) standing on the walls between the columns, holding the entablature with their hands. They were all nude, some bearded and others clean-shaven. Some have seen them as the symbols of the Greek victory over Carthage. Today one of them can be seen among the ruins of the temple, while another has been reassembled at the Regional Archaeological Museum Pietro Griffo in Agrigento.

Unusual was also the interior of the temple, divided into three aisles by 12 square pilasters resting on a wall on both sides. The middle aisle may have been intended as open to the sky. The division of the interior into smaller units (the naos, the pronaos and the opisthodomos) is unclear.

The pediments of the temple were decorated with marble sculptures: the one in the east depicted the Gigantomachia, while the one on the west had the Fall of Troy as its subject.

The Temple of the Olympian Zeus is the least preserved of all the temples in the Valley. It was destroyed by earthquakes over the history, and in the 18th century it was also used as a source of stone for the construction of buildings in Agrigento and Porto Empedocle.

To the east is the basement of the huge (17.5 x 54.5 m) sacrificial altar of the temple. This altar initiated a long tradition of monumental altars in Sicily, which culminated in the 3rd century BC in the Altar of Hiero II in Syracuse.

4.4.3. Temple of Hera Lacinia

The Temple of Hera of Akragas is a peripteral hexastyle (6 x 13), with the stylobate measuring 16.93 x 38.13 m. The crepidoma has four steps, and the columns are 6.44 m high. The intercolumnations on the front differ slightly, with the middle one having been widened.

The temple has a naos, with a pronaos and an opisthodomos (both distyle in antis). Like the earlier Temple of Hercules and the later Temple of Concordia, it has staircases in the walls between the naos and the pronaos, allowing for the inspection of the roof.

The temple was damaged in fire during the Siege of Akragas in 406 BC. It was restored in the Roman era. It remained in use until the 4th or 5th century AD. The anastylosis was carried out in the 18th century.

In front of the eastern face of the temple are well-preserved remains of the sacrificial altar.

4.4.4. Temple of Concordia

The Temple of Concordia is one of the best preserved Greek temples in the world. It is one of the main symbols of the ancient Greek civilization. The logo of UNESCO is said to have been designed on the basis of it.

It is not known what deity the temple was originally dedicated to. The allusion in the name to the Roman goddess of agreement and harmony comes from a Latin inscription found from here during the Renaissance, but that inscription is known to be unrelated to the temple.

The Temple of Concordia is very similar to the Temple of Hera Lacinia. It is a peripteral hexastyle (6 x 13 columns) measuring 16.91 x 39.44 m on the stylobate. The crepidoma has 4 steps. The columns are 6.71 m high, with 20 sharp-edged flutes and a slight entasis. The entablature and the pediments are well preserved (originally painted in red and blue). The gutters were decorated with protomes in the shape of lions’ heads. The roof was originally covered with marble tiles.

On the inside there was a naos, with a pronaos and an opisthodomos (both distyle in antis). Like other temples in Akragas it had pylons with stairs leading to the roof between the pronaos and the naos.

In 597 the Temple of Concordia was converted into a church dedicated to Apostles Peter and Paul. Consequently, the spaces between the columns were filled, the wall separating the naos from the opisthodomos was destroyed, and the walls of the naos were cut into arches. These changes were partially reverted during the restoration of the temple in the 1780s.

Near the Temple of Concordia are catacombs from the Late Roman and Early Medieval periods. There are also tombs were carved into the cliff as well as in the existing cisterns.

4.4.5. Temple of the Dioscuri

Mid- or late 5th century BC

The temple dedicated to Castor and Polydeuces was 13.83 m wide and 31.70 m long (on the stylobate). It was probably a peripteral hexastyle (6 x 13 columns), and the columns were 5.83 m high. The picturesque corner that stands today is actually the result of a 19th-century reconstruction, in which pieces from various other temples were used.

Near the Temple of the Dioscuri are the ruins of the Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities (6th century BC).

4.4.6. Garden of Kolymbethra

The Garden of Kolymbethra, located near the Temple of the Dioscuri, was probably built after the Battle of Himera, using the captured Carthaginian soldiers. Designed by architect Phaeax, it was essentially a large water reservoir fed by rainwater via a network of tunnels dug in the porous rock. The reservoir was surrounded by abundant wildlife, and the area may have been used for various purposes, as a holiday resort or for more regular tasks such as doing laundry.

The reservoir had been buried by the first half of the 4th century BC, and the area was then used as a vegetable garden. The original irrigation system still functioned, as it does even today.

The last temple of the Valley is the Temple of Hephaistos from around 430 BC. It stands on the site of a sacellum from around 560-550 BC. Its peristasis consisted of 6 x 13 columns.

4.5. South

Some structures can also be found south of the Valley of the Temples.

South of the Temple of Heracles stands the so-called Tomb of Theron. Instead of being the tomb of the 5th-century-BC ruler of Akragas, as its name suggests, it was more probably a funerary monument to commemorate the Romans killed in the Second Punic War.

Further to the south are the ruins of the Temple of Asclepius (400-390 BC). It was a small temple, possibly frequented by pilgrims seeking cures for illnesses. It has a special feature: two semi-columns on the external side of the rear wall of the naos (a pseudo-opisthodomos). Some elements of architectural decoration have been found from here.


Myths and legends: The bull of Phalaris

In the Sicilian province of Agrigento you can visit a place of breathtaking beauty and full of history: the Valley of the Temples, the ancient city. Let’s have a look! Agrigento (Akragas in Greek) was a prosperous city during the Greek domination of Sicily. In the Valley there are a lot of temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

History deeply interrelates with myths and legends which are a valuable part of Greek culture. In the Valley there is a building known as the Oratory of Phalaris (1st century BC). It is a Hellenistic in antis temple (it means that it has a portic prolonged at the end of the side-walls in two columns) and in its front there were four Ionic columns, under a Doric trabeation (the architectural horizontal element). So, different styles coexist. Today just the cella remains (the sanctuary, usually in the centre of the building).

The name of the temple recalls a myth. Phalaris was the cruel tyrant of Akragas in the 6th century BC, sadly famous also for his hollowed bronze bull used to torture his enemies, built by Perillo. Phalaris closed people inside the bull and then lighted a fire under it, roasting them. The victims’ screams seemed the roars of a real bull. According to a terrible version of the myth, Phalaris himself was victim of his creation.

Bibliographical reference

Di Giovanni, G., 1998, Agrigento: The head of the Valley and the City of Temples, Edizioni Di Giovanni, Agrigento

Touring Club Italiano, 1997, Guida d’Italia: Siracusa e Agrigento, Touring Editore s.r.l., Milano

Zingarelli, N., 2008, Lo Zingarelli 2008. Vocabolario della Lingua Italiana, Zanichelli, Bologna


In popular culture

  • Umberto Eco mentions the bull of Phalaris in the final chapters of his book The Name of the Rose, in reference to the death of one of the protagonists of the story.
  • Kurt Vonnegut makes a brief reference to the bull of Phalaris in his novel Breakfast of Champions, recounting the use made of it by the Roman Emperor Elagabalus.
  • The American television show 1000 Ways to Die dedicated one of its deaths precisely to the bull of Phalaris, although with inaccuracies: it is said that the bull was completely soundproofed so as not to make the screams of the prisoners who roasted inside it and that when Perillo came out he was already dead.
  • In the video game Assassin's Creed: Origins, the brazen bull is often referred to as a torture tool in use in Ancient Egypt.
  • This system of torture makes an appearance in the video game Amnesia: The Dark Descent interaction with it is required for the continuation of the plot.
  • In the film Saw 3D, a brazen bull is used to kill the wife of the protagonist, who is revealed to have made money from books and interviews where he lies about surviving a death trap created by the infamous "Jigsaw killer".
  • In the 2011 film Immortals, King Hyperion imprisons virgins of the oracle in a brazen bull in order to extract from them the location of the Epirus Bow.
  • In the third season of the video game series Criminal Case, one of the victims is killed by being burned to death with a brazen bull.

How did Phalaris die?

The Brazen Bull was a hollow bull. Prisoners were locked inside and roasted to death by a fire underneath. History isn't clear about if Perillos was pulled out before dying, only to be thrown off a cliff by Phalaris' men, or if he expired within the bull. Either way, the bull did him in.

Likewise, when was the Brazen Bull last used? The brazen bull was invented by Perillos of Athens somewhere between 570 and 554 BC. The bull came to be during the reign of Phalaris, tyrant of Acragas, Sicily, who commissioned the torture device. Honestly, &ldquotyrant&rdquo is kind of an understatement. The dude was known for eating newborn babies.

Also know, how long does it take to die in a brazen bull?

However the human body will start experiencing hyperthermia at 10 minutes if in an extremely humid 60 degree Celsius plus environment, much like the inside of a brazen bull. So I think at most a person could survive 20 minutes.

Why was the brazen bull used in medieval times?

The Brazen Bull torture device was a Greek device used to torture the criminals till death. It was one of the most gruesome methods of executing criminals during the medieval period. In order to discourage the people from committing crimes, criminals were executed publicly by this method.


Agrigento History

Agrigento once had a different name. When it was founded on that majestic plateau that looks out over the sea, it went by the name Akragas. With the sea on one side, a ridge to the north, and the Hypsas and Akraga Rivers, the town was quite defensible and had a wonderful position for trading. The town sprang up around 582 BC, and most historians believe that colonist from Gela in Greece established and named the city.

No one really knows the meaning of the town’s first name, but one thing was abundantly clear it was popular. The city’s fame and riches grew quickly, and soon it was one of the most famous of the Greek Colonies. Rulers came and went, and for many years, the town was under the influence of tyrants including Phalaris and Theron. It finally became a democracy after Thrasydaeus, Theron’s son, was overthrown. For many years, the city remained neutral, even in the fight between Syracuse and Athens. However, in 406 BC, the Carthaginians invaded.

The city’s popularity and power waxed and waned over the centuries, but it never regained the same prominence and glory that it once had. Romans sacked the city in the third century, as did Carthage. When the Romans finally captured the city in 210 BC, they changed the name to Agrigentum. Greek was still the main language in the city then and for centuries after though. The town entered another spate of prosperity during the rule of the Romans, and those who lived in the city received Roman Citizenship in 44 BC, after the death of Julius Caesar.

When the Roman Empire eventually fell, the city became a part of the Byzantine Empire. At this point, many of the residents moved to the old acropolis area from the lower areas closer to the sea. While the historians are uncertain as to the actual cause, they believe that it could have been the result of constant invasion from the Saracens, Berbers, and others. Around 828, the Saracens actually captured what was left of the city and renamed it Kerkent, which was Arabic, and was Girgenti in Sicilian.

The city actually kept this name for centuries – all the way up until 1927. At this time, Mussolini’s government changes the name to Agrigento.

As you can see, the area and the city have a long and interesting history filled with prosperity as well as tragedy. The sheer amount of history in the buildings and on the plateau around the city is unlike many other places that one can visit. Those who have a deep love of historical things will certainly want to make sure to take a trip to Sicily to see what Agrigento can offer.


Phalaris of Akragas, fl.571-554 BC - History

DESCRIPTION:

Located on a plateau overlooking Sicily’s southern coast, Agrigento was founded as Akragas around 582 BC (BCE) by a group of colonists from Gela, who themselves were the immediate descendants of Greeks from Rhodes and Crete. The area was inhabited much earlier a female skull (that of the “girl of Mandrascava”) found near Cannatello is half a million years old. A Mesolithic village at Point Bianca, farther down the coast toward Montechiaro Castle, dates from 6000 BC. The Sicanians may have descended from that civilization. Akragas was renamed Agrigentum by the Romans, and Girgenti by the Arabs, only to be christened Agrigento in 1927, but the place is the same.

Greatly enlarged by Berbers beginning in the ninth century, the medieval city of Agrigento is not without a certain charm. High in the historical center of the city, the Romanesque Gothic cathedral, built during the fourteenth century, still displays some of its medieval character, as does the thirteenth-century Church of San Nicola (St Nicholas). Unfortunately, the Saracen fortress believed to have stood at Agrigento has not stood the test of time. The Greek temples, theatres and ruins, and even the archaeological museums, are located outside the city proper.

Akragas, named for the nearby river, flourished under Phalaris (570-554 BC), and developed further under Theron (488-471 BC), whose troops participated in the Battle of Himera in 480 BC, defeating the Carthaginians. Agrigento was destroyed several times during the Punic Wars, suffering particularly extensive damage during a siege by Roman forces in 261 BC, but always rebuilt. The Greek poet Pindar (518-438 BC) described Akragas as “the most beautiful city of the mortals.” Akragas’ most famous citizen was the philosopher and scientist Empedocles (490-430 BC).

In the Valley of the Temples are the ruins of numerous temples but also necropoli, houses, streets and everything else one would expect to find in an ancient city. There is a small amphitheatre, as well as several auditoria, and a fine archeological museum. Unfortunately, most of the temples at Agrigento are in ruins, with pieces strewn about, and several appear to have never even been completed. Part of the Temple of Hera (Juno), built around 450 BC, is still intact. Its style has been compared to that of the temples at Paestum, near Salerno. The Temple of Concord (named retroactively), built around 440 BC, is in far better condition, and at night the illuminated temple is a sight to behold. A number of telamons (large segmented stone columns in the form of human figures) have been preserved.

Ancient Agrigento’s importance declined under the Byzantines and Saracens, who encouraged settlement of the medieval city (present-day Agrigento) several kilometers from the Valley of the Temples. The Normans, however, recognized its importance, and it was during the Norman rule that beautiful churches were constructed in and around the city.

The ancient city’s architectural character seems more Greek than Roman. What’s missing are the thin, reddish bricks so typical of Roman sites like Solunto and Taormina. Despite its location virtually in the shadow of a modern city, the Valley of the Temples is surrounded by olive groves and almond orchards that render its ambience altogether natural, though a number of illegally-built houses mar the landscape. The almond blossom festival held in February is a spectacular event full of folklore.


1. François Ravaillac (1578 – 1610)

François Ravaillac was another assassin who suffered from a truly excessive execution. However, seeing as his target was Henry IV of France, it should really come as no surprise that he would be punished as severely as possible for the crime of regicide. Ravaillac claimed that he experienced a vision in 1609 which told him to convince the French monarch to convert the Protestant Huguenots to Catholicism and he unsuccessfully attempted to meet with Henry in person on several occasions in Paris. However, when the Catholic fanatic believed that Henry IV’s intervention in the Jülich Succession would lead to war with the Holy Roman Empire, he took matters into his own hands and stabbed the king to death as his carriage drove through the streets of Paris. Ravaillac narrowly avoided a mob lynching before he was seized and imprisoned by royal guards. Ravaillac was tortured in an effort to make him reveal his co-conspirators, but the authorities believed the assassin’s pleas that he had acted alone after they had completely broken and mangled both of his legs. Prior to his execution, Ravaillac’s right arm was plunged into burning sulphur and pincers were used to pull flesh from his chest, thighs and arms. Molten metals and boiling oil were then poured into these wounds and all over his body. Finally, he was lashed to four horses and had his body torn apart. A furious mob crowded around his dismembered remains and apparently set upon them in anger, tearing them into even smaller chunks.