It often seems to me like Sicily doesn’t get a lot of attention, now or in the ancient world, even though it’s a very prominent land-mass that dominates the middle of the Mediterranean. This is more an accident of our fascination with Athens (whose worries were often more eastern than Mediterranean) and Rome (who made the Mediterranean a peaceful backwater for centuries), than a lack of importance. Both Athens and Rome actually spent a great deal of time and military effort to get control of Sicily, though their efforts tend to get lost in the tale of fighting closer to home.

But of course, Sicily had a population of its own, and the Greek colonies there tended to be quite wealthy. Of these, Syracuse was the most prominent and powerful, and so it is there that Jeff Champion focuses on, in what naturally extends to be something of a history of the island. While the title of this book indicates that it’s about the period from Gelon to Dionysius (Vol 1: 480-367 BC), he does give a good background of Greek settlement of the island, beginning in the 8th Century BC. This introduces the troubles with the native population of Sicily (which I would like to know more about) as well as the general character of Greek government.

From there, Champion spends a chapter on the earlier tyrants of Sicilian cities other than Syracuse, before launching into Gelon’s rule of Syracuse. After Gelon’s short (and popular) reign, Syracuse returns to democracy for a few years before coming under control of Dionysius, one of the more infamous tyrants of the Classical period. Much time is spent with the Athenian siege of Syracuse, and the back-and-forth of Syracuse’s efforts to dominate its neighbors, and its struggles with Carthage.

This is distinctly a ‘popular’ history book, aimed at laying the course of events out in a clear fashion by integrating the main ancient sources. As such, there’s no real thesis here, or ‘point’ being made. But, it does a great job at untangling a history that is often only presented with Sicily as a side show, when it was center of its own tumultuous events.