With the history of our great city, it seems odd that our predominant goddess temple is for Athena and not Artemis. The first temple built on the island was for her brother, Apollo, but why Athena and not the huntress. My fate may have differed if I had been under her protection rather than Athena’s. The temple was built to honor the goddess as a cunning warrior because it was also built to celebrate the Battle of Himera in 480. The battle could have gone the other way if not for the fortune and cunning of Syracusa’s own, Gelon.
The temple was commissioned to celebrate the military victory, in fact it was alternately called Temple of Victory rather than Temple of Athena and decorated with elaborate scenes of brave Greeks conquering the enemy – a source of irritation for Athena. The battle was an important victory, but it was not won on the battlefield.
On the way to the battle, the Carthaginian’s general, Hamilcar, lost the transport carrying the calvary and horses to a storm at sea. The general was not deterred, he set up a stronghold to protect the remaining ships and soldiers and planned his next steps.
Even with Hamilcar’s losses at sea, the Greeks were still outnumbered. Gelon of Siracusa received a stroke of luck when his scouts intercepted a letter from Hamilcar’s Greek allies. The letter instructed Hamilcar to expect reinforcements from these allies, but the reinforcements were not to arrive in time to help Hamilcar or his men.
Gelon sent eighteen members of his calvary to impersonate the Carthaginian’s allies. Hamilcar’s sentries gave the men entrance to the camp. Once within the stronghold, Gelon’s men secretly set fire to the remaining ships. With the fires and smoke came chaos and Hamilcar threw himself on the fire in a final attempt to appeal to Baal for victory in battle. His sacrifice was futile, and the small commission of Greek soldiers was able to create enough damage to gain advantage and achieve victory for the Greek forces of Akragas and Syracusa.
The Greeks loved Athena because they loved war. Seventy two years after Hamilcar committed suicide by fire, his grandson Hannibal, another general, returned to the city of Himera with his army. After defeating the city, he ordered for the three thousand prisoners from the war to be tortured and executed as repayment for his grandfather’s defeat, but that was after my time as a mortal being.