Leontini (mod. Lentini), an ancient town in the south-east of Sicily, 22 miles NNW of Syracuse direct, founded by Chalcidians from Naxos in 729 BC.

It is almost the only Greek settlement not on the coast, from which it is 6 miles distant. The site, originally held by the Sicels, was seized by the Greeks owing to its command of the fertile plain on the north. It was reduced to subjection in 498 BC by Hippocrates of Gela, and in 476 BC Hieron of Syracuse established here the inhabitants of Catana and Naxos.

Later on Leontini regained its independence, but in its efforts to retain it, the intervention of Athens was more than once invoked. It was mainly the eloquence of Gorgias of Leontini which led to the abortive Athenian expedition of 427 BC.

In 422 BC Syracuse supported the oligarchs against the people and received them as citizens, Leontini itself being forsaken. This led to renewed Athenian intervention, at first mainly diplomatic; but the exiles of Leontini joined the envoys of Segesta, in persuading Athens to undertake the great expedition of 415 BC.

After its failure, Leontini became subject to Syracuse once more (see Strabo vi. 272). Its independence was guaranteed by the treaty of 405 BC between Dionysius and the Carthaginians, but it very soon lost it again. It was finally stormed by Marcus Claudius Marcellus in 214 BC.

In Roman times it seems to have been of small importance. It was destroyed by the Saracens in 848 AD, and almost totally ruined by the earthquake of 1698. The ancient city is described by Polybius (vii. 6) as lying in a bottom between two hills, and facing north. On the western side of this bottom ran a river with a row of houses on its western bank Under the hill. At each end was a gate, the northern leading to the plain, the southern, at the upper end, to Syracuse. There was an acropolis on each side of the valley, which lies between precipitous hills with flat tops, over which buildings had extended.

The eastern hill still has considerable remains of a strongly fortified medieval castle, in which some writers arc inclined (though wrongly) to recognize portions of Greek masonry. See GM Columba, in Arciseologia di Leontinoi (Palermo, 1891), reprinted from Archivio Storico Siciliano, xi.; P Orsi iii Romische Mitteilungen (1900), 61 seq.

Excavations were made in 1899 in one of the ravines in a Sicel necropolis of the third period--explorations in the various Greek cemeteries resulted in the discovery of some fine bronzes, notably a fine bronze lebes, now in the Berlin museum.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.\n