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Image shows statue of a Greek warrior. The Battle of Himera was pivotal in the ancient world.

True Origins of Battle of Himera Warriors Dispute Greek Accounts


According to ancient historians such as Herodotus, the Battle of Himera was fought in 480 BC.  Supposedly this battle was fought on the same day as the Battle of Salamis, and  allegedly both battles were fought at the same time as the Battle of Thermopylae. Now, a team of researchers using modern evidence has taken to task these questionable claims and found them wanting. They feel that they have successfully demonstrated how Ancient Greek historians not so much bent, but sometimes destroyed the truth in their accounts of battles.

Historical Fictions

The Battle of Himera saw the Greek forces of Gelon, King of Syracuse, and Theron, tyrant and sole ruler of Agrigentum, defeat the Carthaginian force of Hamilcar the Magonid, ending the Carthaginian threat to the Greek colonies on the island. Traditional Greek accounts of the battles suggest that most of the soldiers who fought there were Greek. The researchers set out to answer the question “who fought in the ancient Greek Battles of Himera” and their geochemical tests have revealed new insights into the warriors’ origins. 

The new study by Dr Katherine Reinberger of the University of Georgia in America was published in the Journal PLOS One and it presents an analysis of historical Greek texts. According to the paper, the results demonstrate that Greek historians warped facts about this famous historical military conflict in an attempt to “maintain a more Greek-centric narrative and to avoid the subject, potentially distasteful to Greek society, of hired foreign mercenaries,”.

The Ruins at Himera (Clemensfranz / CC BY-SA 3.0

An article in The Conversation tells how a 2008 team of Italian archaeologists excavated the ancient city wall at Himera, the Greek colony on the north-central coast of Sicily, Italy. In the western cemetery (necropolis) the excavators unearthed several mass graves dating to the early 5th century BC and all of the individuals were tested and found to be males, “with violent trauma even weapons lodged in their bones”. Now, 69 of these ancient warriors have become the center of the new study. More specifically, their teeth have.

Modern Evidence

The recovered male skeletons were all soldiers who had died in the famous 480 BC Battles of Himera more than 2,400 years ago, but until now nobody had a clue where they had come from. The researchers found “a potential bias in ancient writings” which they think means Ancient Greek historians intentionally downplayed the role of foreign mercenaries in the Battles of Himera.

In these battles in 480 BC, the ancient Greek city of Himera successfully defended a string of attacks from a Carthaginian army. According to Hellenicaword it is known this army, led by Hamilcar, comprised troops from “Carthage, LibyaIberia, Liguria, Helisycia, Sardinia, and Corsica against the Sicilians”. However, an accurate break down of the soldiers of this multi-national army has always been elusive from the available evidence. 

Now, the authors of the study are comparing the new geochemical evidence to the historical accounts of the battle. Dr Reinberger compared the analysis of isotopes against the claims of Ancient Greek historians and discovered the two data sets didn’t match. Something was far wrong, for the isotopes revealed Hamilcar´s force comprised significant amounts of “mercenaries and foreign soldiers”. But the Greek accounts mentioned little about this.

Mass grave excavated at Himera (Davide Mauro / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Truth is Revealed

Strontium and oxygen isotope samples were gathered from the tooth enamel of “62 [of the 69] soldiers who fought in the battles”. When these samples were analyzed, the results showed “about one-third of Himera's soldiers from the first battle were local to the area, while around three-fourths were locals in the second battle.” 

In conclusion, the new research corroborates the written claims that Himera was aided by outsiders and this is contrary to written Greek accounts. It is now clear that many of the Greek army were not allied forces, as was written in surviving accounts. Instead, they were hired mercenaries from far beyond Greek territories. This battle serves as a classic example of anti-barbarian and pro-Greek writing that Herodotus is famous for, with this new geochemical isotopic analysis demonstrating “a mixture of locals and outsiders”. 

Top image: Image shows statue of a Greek warrior. The Battle of Himera was pivotal in the ancient world.          Source: Fxquadro / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie 



The illustration at the top of the article is very striking – I wonder who did it.  (The link doesn’t say much.)


ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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