1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sicyon

SICYON, or Secyon (the latter being the older form used by the natives), an ancient Greek city situated in northern Peloponnesus between Corinthia and Achaea. It was built on a low triangular plateau about 2 m. from the Corinthian Gulf, at the confluence of the Asopus and the Helisson, whose sunken beds protected it on E. and W. Between the city and its port lay a fertile plain with olive-groves and orchards. Sicyon’s primitive name Aegialeia indicates that its original population was Ionian; in the Iliad it appears as a dependency of Agamemnon, and its early connexion with Argos is further proved by the myth and surviving cult of Adrastus. After the Dorian invasion the community was divided anew into the ordinary three Dorian tribes and an equally privileged tribe of Ionians, besides which a class of κορυνηφόροι or κατωνακοφόροι lived on the land as serfs. For some centuries Sicyon remained subject to Argos, whence its Dorian conquerors had come; as late as 500 B.C. it acknowledged a certain suzerainty. But its virtual independence was established in the 7th century, when a line of tyrants arose and initiated an anti-Dorian policy. This dynasty, known after its founder Orthagoras as the Orthagoridae, exercised a mild rule, and therefore lasted longer than any other succession of Greek tyrants (about 665–565 B.C.). Chief of these rulers was the founder's grandson Cleisthenes—the uncle of the Athenian legislator of that name (see Cleisthenes, 2). Besides reforming the city’s constitution to the advantage of the Ionians and replacing Dorian cults by the worship of Dionysus, Cleisthenes gained renown as the chief instigator and general of the First Sacred War (590) in the interests of the Delphians. From Herodotus' famous account of the wooing of Agariste it may be inferred that he held intercourse with many commercial centres of Greece and south Italy. About this time Sicyon developed the various industries for which it was noted in antiquity. As the abode of the sculptors Dipoenus and Scyllis it gained pre-eminence in wood-carving and bronze work such as is still to be seen in the archaic metal facings found at Olympia. Its pottery, which resembled the Corinthian ware, was exported with the latter as far as Etruria. In Sicyon also the art of painting was supposed to have been “invented.” After the fall of the tyrants their institutions survived till the end of the 6th century, when the Dorian supremacy was re-established, perhaps by the agency of Sparta, and the city was enrolled in the Peloponnesian League. Henceforth its policy was usually determined either by Sparta or by its powerful neighbour Corinth. During the Persian wars Sicyon could place 3000 heavy-armed men in the field; its school of bronze sculptors still flourished, and produced in Canachus (q.v.) a master of the late archaic style. In the 5th century it suffered like Corinth from the commercial rivalry of Athens in the western seas, and was repeatedly harassed by flying squadrons of Athenian ships. In the Peloponnesian war Sicyon followed the lead of Sparta and Corinth. When these two powers quarrelled after the peace of Nicias it remained loyal to the Spartans; but the latter thought it prudent to stiffen the oligarchic government against a nascent democratic movement. Again in the Corinthian war Sicyon sided with Sparta and became its base of operations against the allied troops round Corinth. In 369 it was captured and garrisoned by the Thebans in their successful attack on the Peloponnesian League. On this occasion a powerful citizen named Euphron effected a democratic revolution and established himself tyrant by popular support. His deposition by the Thebans and subsequent murder freed Sicyon for a season, but new tyrants arose with the help of Philip II. of Macedon. Nevertheless during this period Sicyon reached its zenith as a centre of art: its school of painting gained fame under Eupompus and attracted the great masters Pamphilus and Apelles as students; its sculpture was raised to a level hardly surpassed in Greece by Lysippus and his pupils. After participating in the Lamian war and the campaigns of the Macedonian pretenders the city was captured (303) by Demetrius Poliorcetes, who transplanted all the inhabitants to the Acropolis and renamed the site Demetrias. In the 3rd century it again passed from tyrant to tyrant, until in 251 it was finally liberated and enrolled in the Achaean League by Aratus (q.v.). The destruction of Corinth (146) brought Sicyon an acquisition of territory and the presidency over the Isthmian games; yet in Cicero’s time it had fallen deep into debt. Under the empire it was quite obscured by the restored cities of Corinth and Patrae; in Pausanias’ age (A.D. 150) it was almost desolate. In Byzantine times it became a bishop’s seat, and to judge by its later name “Hellas” it served as a refuge for the Greeks from the Slavonic immigrants of the 8th century.

The village of Vasiliko which now occupies the site is quite insignificant. On the plateau parts of the ancient fortifications are still visible, including the wall between town and Acropolis near the southern apex. A little north of this wall are remains of a theatre and stadium, traces of aqueducts and foundations of buildings. The theatre, which was excavated by the American School of Archaeology in 1886–1887, 1891 and 1898, was built in the slope towards the Acropolis, probably in the first half of the 4th century, and measured 400 ft. in diameter; the stage was rebuilt in Roman times. The side entrances to the auditorium were covered in with vaults of Greek construction; a curious feature is a tunnel from below the stage into the middle of the auditorium.

Authorities.—Strabo, pp. 382, 389; Herodotus v. 67-68, vi. 92, ix. 28; Thucydides i. 108, in; iv. 70, 101; v. 52, 82; Xenophon, Hellenica, iv., vi., vii. ; Diodorus xviii. n, xx. 102; Pausanias ii. 5-11 ; W. M. Leake, Travels in the Morea (London, 1830), iii. PP- 351-381; E. Curtius, Peloponnesos (Gotha, 1851), ii. pp. 482-505; American Journal of Archaeology, v. (1889) pp. 267-303, viii. (1893) pp. 288-400, xx. (1905) pp. 263-276; L. Dyer in the Journal of Hellenic Studies (1906), pp. 76-83; for coins, B. V. Head, Historia numorum (Oxford, 1887), pp. 345-346; also Numismatics, section Greek, § “Patrae, Sicyon.”  (M. O. B. C.)