Walls of Naxos
|Location||Giardini Naxos, Province of Messina, Sicily, Italy|
|Abandoned||Gradually after the foundation of Tauromenium in 358 BC|
|Periods||Archaic Greece to Classical Greece|
|Management||Soprintendenza BB.CC.AA. di Messina|
|Website||Museo Archeologico Regionale e Area Archeologica di Naxos (in Italian)|
Much of the site has never been built on and parts have been excavated in recent years.
Its remains are open to the public and an on-site museum contains many finds.
The city occupied a low rocky headland, now called Cape Schisò, formed by an ancient lava flow and immediately to the north of the Acesines (modern Alcantara) stream.
This has become even more definite since 1977 when the marble cippus (or sacred stone) inscribed with a dedication to the goddess Enyo was found in the large sanctuary west of the Santa Venera river. The characters are written in the unique 7th c. BC script of Greek Naxos.
Ancient writers agree that Naxos was the most ancient of all the Greek colonies in Sicily; it was founded in 735 BC, a year before Syracusae, by colonists from Chalcis in Euboea, with whom were mingled, according to Ephorus, a number of Ionians. He also named Theocles, or Thucles as leader of the colony and founder of the city and as an Athenian by birth; but Thucydides takes no notice of this, and describes the city as a purely Chalcidic colony; and it seems certain that in later times it was generally so regarded. The memory of Naxos as the earliest of all the Greek settlements in Sicily was preserved by the dedication of an altar outside the town to Apollo Archegetes, the divine patron under whose authority the colony had sailed; and it was a custom (still retained long after the destruction of Naxos itself) that all Theori or envoys proceeding on sacred missions to Greece, or returning from thence to Sicily, should offer sacrifice on this altar.
The new colony must have been speedily joined by fresh settlers from Greece, as within six years after its first establishment the Chalcidians at Naxos were able to send out a fresh colony, which founded the city of Leontini (modern Lentini) in 730 BC; and this was speedily followed by that of Catana. Theocles himself became the Oekist, or recognised founder, of the former and Euarchus, probably a Chalcidic citizen, of the latter. Strabo and Scymnus Chius both represent Zancle (modern Messina) also as a colony from Naxos, but no allusion to this is found in Thucydides. But, as it was certainly a Chalcidic colony, it is probable that some settlers from Naxos joined those from the parent country. Callipolis also, a city of uncertain site, and which ceased to exist at an early period, was a colony of Naxos. Notwithstanding these evidences of its early prosperity, there is very little information as to the early history of Naxos; and the first facts concerning it relate to disasters that it sustained.
For the great Athenian expedition to Sicily (415 BC), the Naxians immediately announced their alliance, even though their related cities of Rhegium (modern Reggio di Calabria) and Catana held aloof; they not only furnished the Athenians with supplies, but received them freely into their city. Hence it was at Naxos that the Athenian fleet first touched after crossing the straits; and at a later period the Naxians and Catanaeans are enumerated by Thucydides as the only Greek cities in Sicily which sided with the Athenians. After the failure of this expedition the Chalcidic cities were naturally involved for a time in hostilities with Syracuse; but these were suspended in 409 BC, by the danger which seemed to threaten all the Greek cities alike from the Carthaginians. Their position on this occasion preserved the Naxians from the fate which befell Agrigentum (modern Agrigento), Gela, and Camarina; but they did not long enjoy this immunity. In 403 BC, Dionysius of Syracuse, deeming himself secure from the power of Carthage as well as from domestic sedition, determined to turn his arms against the Chalcidic cities of Sicily; and having made himself master of Naxos by the treachery of their general Procles, he sold all the inhabitants as slaves and destroyed both the walls and buildings of the city, while he bestowed its territory upon the neighbouring Siculi.
It was one of the cities which was besieged and taken by Hippocrates, despot of Gela, about 498-91 BC. It passed under the authority of Gelon of Syracuse then his brother Hieron in 476 BC. Hieron, with a view to strengthen his own power, removed the inhabitants of Naxos at the same time with those of Catana, and settled them together at Leontini, while he repeopled the two cities with fresh colonists from other quarters. The name of Naxos is not specifically mentioned during the revolutions that ensued in Sicily after the death of Hieron; but there seems no doubt that the city was restored to the old Chalcidic citizens at the same time as these were reinstated at Catana, 461 BC; and hence we find, during the ensuing period, the three Chalcidic cities, Naxos, Leontini, and Catana, generally united by the bonds of amity, and maintaining a close alliance, as opposed to Syracuse and the other Doric cities of Sicily Thus, in 427 BC, when the Leontini were hard pressed by their neighbours of Syracuse, their Chalcidic brethren afforded them all the assistance in their power; and when the first Athenian expedition arrived in Sicily under Laches and Charoeades, the Naxians immediately joined their alliance. With them, as well as with the Rhegians on the opposite side of the straits, it is probable that enmity to their neighbours at Messana was a strong motive in inducing them to join the Athenians; during the hostilities that ensued, the Messanians having on one occasion, in 425 BC, made a sudden attack upon Naxos both by land and sea, the Naxians vigorously repulsed them, and in their turn inflicted heavy loss on the assailants.
Naxos never recovered from this blow. However, the Siculi, to whom the Naxian territory was assigned, soon formed a new settlement on the nearby Mount Taurus and this gradually grew up into the city of Tauromenium. This took place about 396 BC and the Siculi were still in possession of this stronghold some years later. Meanwhile, the exiled inhabitants of Naxos and Catana formed a considerable body that kept together. An attempt was made in 394 BC by the Rhegians to settle them again at Mylae (modern Milazzo), but without success for they were expelled by the Messanians and from this time appear to have been dispersed in various parts of Sicily. In 358 BC Andromachus, the father of the historian Timaeus, collected together again the Naxian exiles from all parts of the island and established them on the hill of Tauromenium (modern Taormina), which grew into a Greek city and became the successor of the ancient Naxos. Hence Pliny the Elder speaks of Tauromenium as having been formerly called Naxos which is not strictly correct. The new city quickly rose in importance. The site of Naxos itself seems to have been never again inhabited in antiquity; but the altar and shrine of Apollo Archegetes continued to mark the spot where it had stood, and are mentioned in the war between Octavian and Sextus Pompey in Sicily, 36 BC.
The coins of Naxos, which are of fine workmanship, may almost all be referred to the period from 460 BC to 403 BC, which was probably the most flourishing in the history of the city.