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In the fifth century BCE, Calatafimi’s part of Sicily was apparently a much more cosmopolitan place. On the grassy hillside facing a now isolated temple, a city of possibly 200,000 inhabitants stood. It was the center of the Segestan culture, which controlled the Northwestern corner of Sicily and claimed its origin in a partnership between a party of Aeneas’exiled Trojans and the Elymnian people of the local king Acestes. (Aeneas then went on - according to legend - to found the city of Rome.) The Segestans were, unfortunately, constantly at war with their neighbors to the south, the Selinuntans. At various times during this centuries-long conflict, they forged alliances with Carthage and with Athens, often using spectacular tactics of deceit and deception. (One legend tells of the Segestans gathering all of the gold items from their entire territory to be concentrated in the few dwellings the Athenian delegation would visit.) Ultimately, they got their Carthaginian allies to level Selinunte - whose massive and sadly beautiful ruins may still be seen just an hour’s drive to the south by autostrada. When the Romans conquered Sicily in the third century BCE they spared Segesta despite its previous alliance with Carthage, supposedly because of their common ancestry in Aeneas. Nevertheless, Segesta’s fortunes began to decline. Its population shifted to the nearby coastal towns that offered better trade opportunities and eventually, as the Roman Empire collapsed, the city was destroyed by the Vandals.

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