The Roman period in Agrigento: the history of Agrigentum
“A large number of Roman citizens, talented and
honest men, lived and worked in close
friendship with the Agrigentans..”
Between Rome and Carthage
In the 3rd century B.C., the increasing conflict between the Greek cities in Sicily caused their progressive weakening and a growing involvement in the affairs of Rome and Carthage in Sicily. The possession of Sicily, because of its geopolitical position, became increasingly important for supremacy in the Mediterranean. Inevitably, Agrigento and the rest of the island were involved in the Punic wars.
At the outbreak of the First Punic War (264 B.C.), Akragas, the largest city of the Carthaginian- controlled territory in Sicily, became an important base of operations defended by 50,000 men and in 262 B.C. was attacked by the Romans along with the nearby Eraclea Minoa. The city was taken after a siege of six months, sacked and 25,000 inhabitants were sold as slaves. Among those who were spared, the pro-Carthaginian historian Filino. Seven years later, in 255 B.C., it was taken back by the Carthaginians, who burnt it and pulled down the walls. At the end of the first Punic War, Sicily was firmly in the hands of the Romans except Siracusa ruled by Hiero II ally of the Romans. Agrigentum (as it was now called by the Romans) was re-occupied by the Carthaginians in 213 B.C., at the outbreak of the Second Punic War, and again became the most important Punic military base on the island. Betrayed by Numidian mercenaries, it was the last to fall in the hands of General Valerio Levino in 210 BC
After the harsh repression against the Carthaginians, Agrigento became a civitas decumana, that is obliged every year to give to Rome a tenth of his crops, and was repopulated with settlers from other parts of the island. Following the friction between the old and new citizens the praetor Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus, in 193, promulgated a law establishing the preponderance in the Senate of the former over the latter.
The Pax Romana made the city flourish again and the Agrigento region with its grain production contributed to make Sicily “the granary of Rome, the nurse at whose breast the Roman people is fed” (Cato).
The concentration of masses of slaves, who mostly spoke Greek and could easily communicate with each other, and their condition in the latifundia caused the slave revolt led by Euno. Agrigento was also involved. During the first Servile War (139-132), Agrigentum was sacked by 5000 slaves led by Cleon and also suffered devastation during the Second Servile War (104 – 99).
It was the victim of embezzlement and harassment by the praetor Verres (73-71 BC) who stole a statue of Apollo from the Temple of Asclepius but failed to seize the statue of Hercules from his temple, not far from the forum, for the unanimous reaction of the citizens.
After the civil wars between the Roman triumvirs and the Battle of Actium (31 BC), the imperial era in Agrigento coincides with a new period of prosperity secured by trade from the emporium.