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By 1210 Aidone was a remarkable city in the age of Frederick II of Swabia, although the town is actually very ancient - it was in 1210 that it was defined as a “terra” ["land"], a term that refers to the concept of a fairly important town, walled and with its own administrative offices, which also exercised some control over the surrounding area [1].

Ancient Morgantina

Aidone seems to be the direct heir of “Morgantina”, not far from Aidone, and has been precisely identified with Morgantina by many scholars, and as an outpost of Chalcidian penetration toward the plain north of Lentini [2]. Nowadays the identification between Morgantina and Aidone meets almost unanimous consent [3].

Morgantina was founded, according to historical sources, in 560 BC by Chalcidian colonists in an area formerly inhabited by the Sicules, located in a extremely good climate area full of sources and building materials, certainly better than Aidone, located about 200 meters higher than Morgantina.

Around the third century BC, during the reign of Agathocles (361-282 BC) and Hieron (died in 466 BC), Morgantina had a large population, estimated at 30,000 inhabitants [4].

Morgantina was then conquered by the Romans in 211 BC and sacked by the legions of Marcus Cornelius Cetego (died in 196 BC). It was destroyed by the Romans themselves in the imperial Age, because, during the Civil War between Pompey (106-48 BC) and Octavian (63 BC-14 AD), the town sided with the latter. Therefore, at the behest of Octavian, the town was punished by the destruction, and was subsequently abandoned by the inhabitants.

Norman period Aidone Morgantina

It was with the Normans that the most important civic and religious monuments of the town were built, like the so- called “Castellaccio”, the Churches of San Antonio, San Lorenzo, and Santa Maria Lo Plano.

Aidone in the following centuries, as with all of Sicily, passed from one domain to another. After the Normans it was ruled by the Swabiansn then with the arrival in Italy of Conrad of Swabia, the town was destroyed and rebuilt in 1276-1277 [18].

In 1282 the town was a protagonist of the “War of the Sicilian Vespers” (the rebellion against the Angevin) and it was subsequently ruled for about two centuries (1282-1516) by the Aragonese and the Castilians with Chiaromonte, Rosso, Gioeni.

Under the Gioeni other important religious buildings were built, such as the Church of San Domenico, the Convent of St. Michael and the Church of San Giovanni.

After the “Risorgimento” struggles for the unification of Italy, to which Aidone made a great contribution, it finally entered into the Kingdom of Italy with the Unification of 1861.

Previously the main activities were agriculture and industry, however today tourism has a great economic significance due to the exploitation of recent archaeological discoveries, its artistic heritage and, finally, the area's resources.

Origins of the name Aidone-Morgantina

The etymology, in the case of Aidone, is a key element since, in accordance with it, we can learn about the origins of the city. The opinions in the case of Aidone are manifold, because there are those who speak of a Greek name (Aedòn-dònos = “nightingale”), others speak of an Arab origin, handed down by Al-Idrisi in the form of “Ayduni” [5]; and others propose instead a Germanic root, resulting from a proper name.

It’s been rightly noted that the etymological data must be somehow related to historical events. For Aidone the only etymology in which the linguistic and historical data converge is the third hypothesis, which relates the original name of the city to some verified historical events.

The “Centro studi filologici e linguistici siciliani” [6] notes that G. Alessio [7] “proposes a derivation from the Germanic personal name ‘Aido-onis”. We must also exclude as etymological bases the Greek name ‘Aedon-donos’ "(Nightingale) and the Arabic 'ain-dun' (higher source)".

Ascertainable, however, both from the phonetic and historical point of view is the idea of a Germanic personal name derived from 'Aido-onis'. After all, place-names deriving from Germanic (and Norman) personal names were no strangers to Sicily. Among these we include ... the famous ‘Rocca di Sarra’ (...) But many scholars believe that the Normans did not establish "ex novo" the village of Aidone, but, on the contrary, they believe that the Normans simply "re-populated" an ancient Arab village at that time almost deserted.

A Sicilian scholar, Ferdinando Maurici, writes: "[...] not less than seventy of these fortified places are mentioned 'at least' until the moment of the Norman Conquest and (...) the evidences of a priority of some cities in the second half of 11th century (...) are certainly higher than the hypothesis of a Norman foundation (...) We do not possess in fact a clear example of evolution and transition from the Muslim 'Rahal' (farm-house) to the Norman farm-house. For many cases, however, a topographic and structural continuity is more than likely, free of breaking-points [...]" [8].

The historical data in our possession show that the Normans of Roger (1031-1101), and then the Swabians attracted the peoples of the North Italy to repopulate many Sicilian villages that were almost deserted:

"[...] The dialect spoken in Aidone, like as Nicosia, Piazza Armerina, San Fratello and Sperlinga, was called by linguists 'Gallo-Italic'. These dialects, especially in the earliest phase, were different from the Sicilian dialect for phonetic, morphological and lexical points of view. The origin of these dialects must be re-searched at the time of the Norman and Swabian domination of Sicily, when they favored the immigration of settlers from northern Italy, to re-populate some towns and districts devastated by war [ ...]" [9].

We observe that the Sicilians called the newcomers "Lombardi". As explained by Giovanni Ruffino, the Normans: "encouraged massive transfers of northern settlers toward the south and Sicily. Many small towns were founded and others were intensely re-populated by the presence of these new people. They were improperly called 'Lombardi', while their origin was largely from Liguria and Piedmont; the Gallo-Italians settled mostly in the central-eastern Sicily" [10].

Despite many doubts about the fact that Aidone had been established "ex novo", tradition says the opposite. Michele Amari, for example, wrote that Fazello “added Aidone and San Fratello to the number of Lombard colonies of this age" [11]. In fact, Fazello wrote: "[...] Not far from the fortress called ‘Pietratagliata’ (...) there is Aidone, a castle of Lombards, which was built by them at the time of the Normans, when Count Roger of Sicily defeated the Saracens and the Lombards, who came with him built this castle , where until now the Lombard language is spoken [...]" [12].

For Fazello thus Aidone was a "creation" of the "Lombardi" called by the Normans. L. Villari observed a very important fact: "[...] By an analysis of the entire work of Al Idrisi, we note that the Arab Geographer has not 'Arabized' countries founded by the Normans; he limited himself to write according to the Arabic handwriting. So we have 'Aiduni' (Aidone), 'Sant Marku' (Municipality of San Marco) [...]" [13].

If, therefore, Al Idrisi had "not Arabized" the names of Norman origin, it means that he heard them from "outsiders" to the Arab tradition, so this is another fact in favor of the hypothesis that Aidone was a "New Town" founded “ex novo” by the Lombards, attracted by the Normans in Sicily.

L. Villari, in this regard, adds: "On the other hand, we know that Edrisi wrote in Arabic because it was an official language of the time, and thus he reported for each village the name of the Arab tradition. The refusal of this interpretation is such as to refuse the favors that Geographer Dufour accomplished with the collaboration of Michele Amari, and those of many other scholars. Also the “Biblioteca del Centro Studi filologici e linguistici siciliani” expresses a similar point of view, pointing out that the Germanic personal name "[...] 'Aido-onis' (...) explains historically and phonetically better than the names of Greek and Arabic origin...

... This example is very instructive because it teaches us it is not sufficient that a place-name has been handed down to us in a 'disguised’ Arab language to swear by its Semitic origin, especially if the form sent to us by the Arab geographers does not answer to the needs of the phonetic Arabic name [14].

As we can see the question about the name "Aidone" has produced a large amount of studies. However, the question is perhaps easier than it seems. G. Battia, a writer of a magazine in the mid-19th century, wrote a very interesting notation about Aidone, and perhaps it would be worthwhile to re-consider. He wrote:

"[...] The European peoples always give places names that hint at their shape. In all parts of southern Europe dominated by Arabs, the word ‘Gibil’, ‘Zibili’ or ‘Gibili’ always indicates hill or mountain… The Romans marked with the name of 'Altum' the first points of a mountainous country overlooking the plain. This word changed in the vernacular languages, and become 'Aitar' in Spain, 'Aiton' in Savoy, and 'Aidone' in Italy [...]" [15].

Aidone is located at an altitude of about 850 meters above sea level, that is 200 meters higher than Morgantina. Thus, the term "Altum" is perfectly adapted to the topography. It’s very probable that, when the Romans conquered Morgantinan they called "Altum" the rocky peak that rose about 200 meters above the town, as happened also in other places [16].

"Altum" was therefore probably the ancient Latin name of Aidone, which Al Idrisi then called “Ayduni”. Therefore, it is not even necessary to think of a name of a Germanic warrior called "Aidon-onis".

We also know that when the Normans became the Lords of a Hamlet, they tended to take the name of that farm-house. For example, G. Maurici writes that the first document attesting the existence of Aidone is a diploma of the Cathedral of Messina dating back to 1154, in which is mentioned a “Paschalis, knight of Aidone”:

"[... ] The only indication of the possible existence of a fortress in the 12th century is the certification status of people who carry the Knights 'cognomen' 'de Aydone' and they could be members of a feudal family of the place, the so-called 'milites Castri' ('Knights of the fortress') (…) and an ‘Enricus miles de Aidone’ appears in 1183 [...]" [17].

It’s therefore likely what happened was the opposite of what we thought until now, that is, the hamlet "Aidone" did not take the name of the Lord who owned it, but that he had to take the name of the “Casale” (“hamlet”), which he ruled.

The names of former knights of Aidone were "Paschalis de (from) Aidone" and "Enricus de (from) Aidone”. Therefore Aidone was indeed a "New Town", not in the sense that it was "created" by the Normans, but they re-populated  and re-vitalized it, having a very important part in the history of the town and Sicily.

See the Aidone travel guide for information about a visit.

References

1. See F. Maurici, “Il vocabolario delle fortificazioni...”, in Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi, Rome, De Luca, 1998: 25-39 and p. 10, footnote 83 of the extract

2. Erim 1958, Piraino 1959, Adamesteanu 1956,  Suöqvist 1960, Tsakirgis 1995, Bell 2000 : See Giada Giudice, “Il Tornio, la nave, le terre lontane”, Rome, 2007: 265 and note 95

3. See "Archaeological Institute bulletin Germany", 1975, Vol. 82, p. 33 and note 51

4. See G. Bruno, S. Nicosia, “Caratteri geologici e idrogeologici di Morgantina”, in “Il sistema uomo-ambiente tra passato e presente, Edipuglia, 1998: 185-195

5. See M. Amari, "The Book of Roger", 1883, p. 55

6. Centro studi filologici e linguistici siciliani”, Bollettino 13, 1977, p. 466 e nota 1

7. “L'elemento greco nella toponomastica della Sicilia”, Bollettino, I, 1953, pp. 76-77

8. F. Maurici, "Medieval castles in Sicily", Sellerio, 1992:  121, 137

9. See AA.VV., "Aidone, Morgantina, Ariete, 1997:  8

10. See G. Ruffino," Sicily ", Bari, Laterza, 2001: 1-7

11. M. Amari: 230

12. See T. Fazello, "History of Sicily”, Palermo, 1830, Volume 2:  394

13. See L. Villari, “L'Ibla Sicana e il sito della Villa Imperiale di Piazza Armerina”, 1995: 49

14. See “Biblioteca del centro studi filologici e linguistici siciliani, “Centro di studi filologici e linguistici siciliani”, 1954: 17

15. See G. Battia, “Cognizioni utili”, in “Il cronista”, 1856, n. X, p. 57

16. See G. Casalis“Dizionario Geografico-Storico-statistico-commerciale degli Stati di Sua Maestà il Re di Sardegna”, Torino, 1833, Vol. I :96

17. See F. Maurici, "Medieval castles in Sicily", Sellerio, 1992: 248

18. See F. Maurici, "Federico II e la Sicilia”, 1997: 122

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