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BIOGRAPHY OF PHILISTIS
PHILISTIS was the daughter of Leptines, a popular and influential citizen of Syracuse. Not much is known about her other than that Hiero married her after his military coup of Syracuse in 275 BC. Hiero married Philistis so that her father could watch over his interests when he had to leave the city on military matters.
Her son Gelo co-ruled with Hiero for some 25 years, but Gelo died in 216 BC, about one year before his father died. Hiero’s throne passed to Gelo’s fifteen-year-old son Hieronymos. Hieronymos was assassinated 13 months later by the pro-Roman faction in Syracuse.
Philistis also had two daughters, Damarata and Heraclia. Damarata married Adranodoros, the leader of the pro-Carthaginian faction. Adranodoros attempted to seize control of the throne following Hieronymos’s death, but was himself assassinated in 214 BC. Heraclia married Zoippos, who had a falling out with Hieronymos and exiled himself in Alexandria.
Both daughters were put to death by an angry mob following the assassination of Adranodoros after the mob was persuaded that these princesses were behind Adranodoros’s attempt to seize the throne. Below, Livy articulates Heraclia’s wretched pleas to save herself and her two young daughters from the killers sent by the mob to dispatch them.
The coins of Philistis minted during Hiero’s reign show her veiled in the style of the coins of the Ptolemaic queens of Egypt. This style was also used on Greek coins in the depiction of Demeter, their earth-mother and goddess of agriculture. The stern portrayal of Philistis should be compared with the much more appealing portrayals of the nymph Arethusa on Syracusan coins. The reverse depicts a quadriga (a four-horsed chariot) driven by Nike, the goddess of victory. The Greek inscription is ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣΣΑΣ ΦΙΛΙΣΤΙΔΟΣ, which is the possessive case of QUEEN PHILISTIS. (Coin images from the Web page of Stack’s auction of the Michael F. Price Collection.)
POLYBIUS (Universal History, BookI.9)
On Hiero's marriage to Philistis:
Hiero had observed that the dispatch of a Syracusan army on an expedition under the command of the supreme magistrates invariably resulted in quarrels among the leaders and the outbreaks of revolutionary activity of some kind. He also knew that of all his fellow Syracusans it was a certain Leptines who commanded most supporters and the highest prestige and was particularly popular with the masses. He therefore made a family alliance with Leptines by marrying his daughter [Philistis], so that whenever he had to go away on active service he could count on leaving Leptines behind as the guardian of his interests at home.LIVY (History of Rome from its Foundation, Book XXIV.26)
There was another daughter of Hiero, Heraclia, whose husband Zoippus had been sent by Hieronymus on a mission to King Ptolemy and had remained in Egypt in voluntary exile. This woman, learning that the assassins were on the way to her too [after murdering her sister Damarata], took refuge with her two young daughters in the private chapel of her house. There they were found with their hair loosened and their dress and bearing all making a dumb appeal for pity -- to which Heraclia added her prayers, by the memory of her father Hiero and her brother Gelo, not to let her innocent self be consumed in the fire of hatred against Hieronymus. 'What have I gained,' she cried, 'from his reign but my husband's exile? When the tyrant was alive I never enjoyed the same high place as my sister; and now he is dead, why should I be linked with her? If Adranodorus had succeeded, my sister would have sat upon the throne at his side, while I, with everyone else, would have been her slave. If Zoippus were told that Hieronymus was dead and Syracuse free, who can doubt that he would embark at once and return to his native country? Alas for human hopes! Here, in his city now set free, his wife and children, guiltless of any offence against liberty or law, are fighting for their lives. What danger could anyone fear from me -- a lonely woman with no husband at my side -- or from these fatherless girls? Perhaps you will say that, though we are personally harmless enough, it is the royal family you hate. Very well, then: send us away, far from Syracuse, far from Sicily. Have us exiled to Alexandria, where I may join my husband and my children their father.'
Heraclia’s appeal fell upon deaf ears and stony hearts. There was an exclamation that time was short, and the unhappy woman saw men drawing their swords. Forgetful of herself at the sight, she besought the assassins at any rate to spare the girls -- children too young even for an enemy in the heat of battle to harm -- and not, in their revenge upon tyrants, themselves to commit the very crimes they hated. The assassins, while the prayer for mercy was still on her lips, dragged her from the inner chapel and cut her throat. The two girls were spattered with their mother’s blood, and, when the assassins turned upon them, they ran out of the chapel like mad things in the desperation of their fear and grief. If they could have escaped into the streets, their wild rush for safety might have well caused a riot; even as it was, in the confined space within the house, surrounded as they were by armed men out for their blood, they more than once escaped unharmed from the fatal blow and tore themselves free from clutching hands -- so many and so strong. At last, exhausted by wounds and loss of blood, they collapsed and died.