This painting, by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre (c. 1714–1789), depicts one of many assassinations that struck Syracuse’s ruling dynasty in the year 214 BCE. The death depicted in the artwork above is that of Harmonia, granddaughter of the tyrant and king, Hiero II (r. 276-215 BCE), and daughter of the tyrant’s son and co-ruler, Gelo (or Gelon, d. 216 BCE). Upon Hiero’s death in 215 BCE, authoritarian rule in Syracuse fell to Harmonia’s young brother, Hieronymus, who was reportedly only fifteen years old at the time of his ascension to the throne. Ambitious and erratic, the young tyrant reversed his grandfather’s pro-Roman stance and instead began hatching grandiose plans with Carthage. His ambitions never came to fruition, for in the ensuing political chaos, Hieronymus and his family were massacred in a series of assassinations. The young tyrant was murdered by pro-Roman assassins in the summer of 214 BCE. Not long afterwards, Harmonia’s uncle, Adranodorus, and her husband, Themistus, were also assassinated. The deaths would not stop there. As told by the Roman historian Livy (c. 59 BCE-17 CE), pro-Roman magistrates in Syracuse quickly sentenced to death all of Hieronymus’ close relatives. Livy wrote, “the magistrates forthwith proposed a bill—and it was adopted almost before it was proposed—that all members of the royal family should be put to death. And by order of the magistrates men were sent who put to death Damarata the daughter of Hiero and Harmonia the daughter of Gelo, being the wives of Adranodorus and Themistus” (History of Rome, 24.25). It is the carrying out of this morbid order that Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre re-creates in his painting.
Written by C. Keith Hansley