Founded as a Greek colony in the 6th century B.C., Agrigento became one of the leading cities in the Mediterranean world. Its supremacy and pride are demonstrated by the remains of the magnificent Doric temples that dominate the ancient town, much of which still lies intact under today's fields and orchards. Selected excavated areas throw light on the later Hellenistic and Roman town and the burial practices of its early Christian inhabitants.
According to tradition, the Greek town of Akragas was founded by colonists from Rhodes and Crete coming from the founder colony in Sicily, Gela, around 580 BC. However, excavations have indicated that there was an earlier Greek settlement here in the 7th century BC. It is a classic Greek settlement site, on the flanks of a hill on the coast, and this allowed the city to begin to expand from the original acropolis (now occupied by the modem town) and to prosper within a very short time after the 6th century colonization. During the reign of the tyrant Phalaris (570-555 BC) a system of defensive walls was built. to reinforce the natural protection afforded by the difficult topography. It was at this time that the series of so-called Chthonic temples were built on the south-west flank of the Temple hill.The political expansionism of Akragas begun under Phalaris reached its height during the rule of the tyrant Thero (488-473 BC). After defeating the Carthaginians decisively in 480 BC at Himera he extended his rule to the northern and eastern coasts of Sicily. The wealth that this brought to the city, and the cultural life that this wealth supported, are illustrated by the great temples that were built at this time on the southern extremity of the hill. One of its most notable sons at this time was the philosopher, doctor, and musician, Empedocles.
A democratic regime was established in the later 5th century BC, and the city enjoyed a short period of tranquillity, albeit one of rivalry with Syracuse. This came to a brutal end in 406 BC, when it was besieged and sacked by the Carthaginians. It struggled to regain its former glory, and succeeded briefly under Timoleon, who crushed the Carthaginians in 340 BC and brought in new colonists. However, the city became a prize fought over by Romans and Carthaginians. It first fell into Roman hands in 262 BC, and was definitively incorporated into the Roman Empire in 210 BC.
During the last years of the Republic and in the Early Empire, Agrigento, as it became known, benefited from being the only market town still active on the southern coast of Sicily. However, the decline of the Western Empire and the ascendancy of Christianity led to depopulation and impoverishment of the city.
From the 7th century AD onwards it shrank in size. the older quarters being abandoned and the remaining population clustering on the hill. The reduced settlement was which was successively occupied by the Arabs (who called it Kerkent or Girgent), in 829 and by the Normans (for whom it was Girgenti, the name that it retained until 1927) in 1086.