History of Caltabellotta


See guide for highlights and historic monuments

The prehistoric site of Caltabellotta is indicated by two caves on top of Mount Pellegrino and four tombs called the "Saracen Caves". However, despite the massive presence of the Arabs in the early history here, the true history of Caltabellotta is much more complex.

History of Caltabellotta

You can read further down about the (extensive) challenges in identifing the ancient town which once stood on the site of Caltabellotta. This section starts with the 'current town' in the 10th century...

In the Early Byzantine period Triokala was a Bishopric, and then, after the threat of an Arab invasion, the population moved to Sciacca and the bishopric was moved from Triocala to Mount “Cronio”. Also the ancient town of Triokala was destroyed and rebuilt in the ninth century by the Arabs under the name of "Kalat al ballut '(stronghold of the oaks).

Here in 1091 King Roger (1031-1101) defeated the Arabs, and in memory of the victory he erected a temple to St. George. The Normans built a castle, where in 1302, between Frederick II of Aragon (1272-1337) and Charles of Valois (1270-1325), the Treaty of Caltabellotta was signed after the war of Vespers, and the island was ceded to the Aragonese.

It was then a feudal domaine of the Peralta, and then of the De Luna, Moncada  and Alvarez de Toledo lords. Caltabellotta became a county in the mid-14th century when King Peter of Aragon (1319-1387) granted the title to Raymond Peralta, who became the poweful Earl of Caltabellotta. The county was ruled by the Peralta until the fifteenth century, when it passed for matrimonial law to the family of De Luna.

Also very important was the Jewish component of the county, which did not always have idyllic relationships with the de Luna family [11].

The Spanish rule lasted at Caltabellotta until the early 18th century; then the town passed to the Bourbons and finally it entered into the newly formed Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Caltabellotta: it starts with a legend

The tangled history of the ancient town began with a famous essay by the German scholar Julius Schubring [1839-1914] [1], in which we find the foundations of the endless scientific debates that currently characterize the mysterious history of Caltabellotta.

In the first part of his work, Schubring outlined a topographical picture of the area, while at the end of the essay he quoted the legend of Minos and drew his conclusions on "Kamikos" and "Triokala," the two toponyms that are at the basis of the ancient history of Caltabellotta.

According to legend, when Daedalus, the inventor of the Labyrinth, fled from the anger of King Minos, he took refuge on Sicily with Cocalus, a powerful Sicanian king, where he lived for a while and filled the island with his fame. Here he also built 'Kamikos', a city on a rock that was absolutely impregnable.

Meanwhile, King Minos prepared an invasion, and on landing in the territory of Agrigento he turned against Kamikos, asking Cocalus to deliver Daedalus to him. Using deception, Cocalos invited him to a meeting and received Minos hospitably. While Minos went for a bathe, Cocalus 'detained' him in the hot water, that killed him, and then returned the body to the Cretans, saying that he had fallen into the hot water and died.

Schubring emphasized that the legend disguised the fact that Cocalos and Kamikos were attacked by an army from Crete. Schubring's intuition was confirmed by contemporary studies:

“The mythological basis for the military expedition of Minos, in search of Daedalus, who escaped from the Labyrinth and took refuge at the court of the Sicanian King  Cocalus, reveals the historical reality of a possible military confrontation between the ancient military powers for the control of the Mediterranean routes, trades and technologies” [2].

According to tradition, Kamikos was perhaps destroyed in the age of Theron, the tyrant of Akragas (540-472 BC), and abandoned by its inhabitants. With the disappearance of Kamicos, "Triokala" made its appearance. The Greeks called the city by a name that identifies its main properties, namely "Triokala" = three good things: water, fruit, and impregnability.

However it is not a foregone conclusion that Triokala appeared after the disappearance of Kamikos. According to Schubring, Triokala was the fortress of Kamikos, situated on a rocky peak overlooking the town - hence Triokala was the fortress (frourìon) of Kamikos, and the vantage point of the slaves during the first Servile War in Sicily (134-132 BC).

The position of Triokala coincides perfectly with the current town of Caltabellotta.

About the antiquity of Triokala, Freeman wrote: “If I correctly understand him [Schubring] he places the original Triokala at Sant'Anna, between the hills of Caltabellotta and the river Caltabellotta. (...) I suppose this to be the akropolis of the old Triokala (...) For old Sikan history, Kamikos is of fist-rate importance, and Triokala of very little” [3].

Following the events of the Servile War, Triokala was also destroyed, as we learn from a poem by Silius Italicus (28-105 AD) [XIV 270]: “Et mox servili vastata Triocala bello” (trans: "and then Triokala was destroyed during the Servile War").

The work of Schubring enjoyed great prestige and was initially accepted by almost all scholars, but in more recent times Eugenio Manni identified Kamikos in the area of Sciacca, and V. Giustolisi in “Rocca Nadore.” Today, Kamikos is located in “San Angelo Muxaro”, northwest of Agrigento, where archaeological works have found traces of late Mycenaean influences (tombs carved in the form of "Tholos" [they consist of a circular, subterranean burial chamber]).

This large settlement, not far from Kamikos, perhaps fell into the orbit of Agrigento at the time of Phalaris (died 554 BC). According to P. Griffo, the identification of Kamikos with Caltabellotta was “based on general impressions” [4]. In conclusion, for the moment  the situation is fluid, but Kamikos seems to coincide with S. Angelo Muxaro.

Identifying ancient Kamikos as Caltabellotta

Local historians strongly defend the identification of Caltabellotta with Kamikos. L. Rizzuti writes:

"[...] Today one tends to give a primary value to the archaeological evidences, considering of  secondary or ancillary importance and the site proposed is San Angelo Muxaro [...]". However, since one of the characteristics of the ancient Kamikos was to be an almost impregnable fortress, this responds more to the fortress of Caltabellotta than to the site of S. Angelo Muxaro.

The historical sources give us a completely different idea on Kamikos. It is not the figment of one’s imagination, but it really existed and became famous thanks to its peculiarities that an investigation should disclose and strictly respect. Some might say that historical sources are not always reliable, because they are invalidated by legends.

This may be true in theory, but if we now attribute the name of Kamikos to the top of a mountain, if we go in search of an impregnable fortress that was capable of withstanding a long siege and which lived its history in a defined time, we have to locate these features in the site that we suggest [that is Caltabellotta] and we can not change completely them, saying, as Peter Griffo does, that 'the impregnability of Kamikos, which is described by Diodorus (90-27  BC), is not necessary to admit it in an absolute sense’. An alternative suggestion is Caltabellotta. This is nothing new, other scholars in past times indicated Caltabellotta as the probable site of Kamikos [...]" [5]

The scholar also believes in the "continuity" of the site, and that Kamikos was followed by Triokala. In fact, much of the criticism just considers that Triokala was located at Caltabellotta. But there are doubts about this; for example, Jean-Yves Frétigné notes that "Triokala is identified "without certainty" with Caltabellotta" [6].

This implies an erosion of the old 'certainties' that started from Fazello and then continued with Holm, Schubring, Freeman and other scholars. However, to be fair, we also observe that even the identification with S. Angelo Muxaro is far from certain:

“Kamikos is most often identified with S. Angelo Muxaro, but the evidence is 'equivocal'” [7]. V. La Rosa, author of an important study on the Aegean-Cretan influences in Sicily, proceeds warily and with regard to the identification of S. Angel Muxaro with Kamikos, and he confines himself to a "presumably" [8].

Among other things, the story has got tangled because of a different tradition that tells how Daedalus arrived with Cocalus in a Sicanian town called “Inycon” [Pausanias, 7,4,5: “Daìdalos es Inycon Sikelòn polin aphikneitai parà Kòkalos”]. The problem is then to determine whether Inycon coincided with Kamikos or if Inycon was located "close" to Kamikos.

As we can see the problem, rather than to become simpler, doubles; not only we do not know for sure if Kamikos was at S. Angelo Muxaro or Caltabellotta, but we do not even know if Kamikos and Inycon were the same place. The only sure thing is that Kamikos-Inycos-Triokala were “in the territory of Agrigento.”

Triocala is mentioned in Roman times for the slave rebellion, and “it appears as 'civitas' in the alphabetical list of Pliny (23-79 AD) and it is mentioned by Ptolemy (100-175 AD), which proves that it existed at the middle of the second century of the Roman Empire (...)” [9].

Focusing again on Triocala, E. Pais wrote: “This castle was the headquarters of the slaves during the Servile War. This fact would suffice to explain why Triokala was included among the punished cities, but perhaps it became a ‘censorial’  city, after the time of the first Punic War. Dr. Schubring wrote that Triocala was nothing more than the castle of Kamikos, situated in the territory of Agrigento” [10].

See also our travel guide for Caltabellotta.

References

1. “Kamikos-Triokala-Caltabellotta”, in “Zeitschrift fur allgemaine Erdkund”, I, 1866, 133-158

2. See, C. Montagna”, “Il tesoro di Minos. L'architettura della Gurfa di Alia tra preistoria e misteri”, Officina di studi medievali, Palermo, 2009, pp. 12-13

3. See Freeman, 1891, pp. 504 sgg.

4. See P. Griffo, “Sull'identificazione di Camico con l'odierna S. Angelo Muxaro a Nord-Ovest di Agrigento”, in “Archivio storico per la Sicilia orientale”, 1954, p. 61

5. See Luciano Rizzuti, “Ecco perché Camico è a Caltabellotta”,in “Caltabellotta. La Voce”, Luglio 2006, pp. 12-13

6. See Jean-Yves Frétigné, "Histoire de la Sicile: des origines à nos jours, Fayard, 2009, p.96

7. See Thomas Heine Nielsen, “Even More Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis”, 2002, p. 134

8. See V. La Rosa, “Élites sicane e antroponimi micenei”, Mare Internum (Pisa und Rom) 1, 2009, 55-60 and footnote 16

9. See E. Pais," “Alcune osservazioni sulla storia della Sicilia ...”, 1888,  p. 172, 219, 167 note 2

10. E. Pais, p. 151

11. See V. Mulè, , “Gli ebrei di Caltabellotta e la famiglia de Luna”, in “Guglielmo Raimondo Moncada alias Flavio Mitridate: un ebreo converso siciliano”, edited by M. Perani, 2004, pp. 225 ff.