History of Erice


See Erice guide for highlights and historic monuments

The name Erice appears for the first time when it is mentioned by Herodotus (284-425 BC), who talks about it in broad terms, not calling it a "polis" (town) but simply as a "Chora" or "Ghe" (trans: 'Earth').

On the contrary, Erice is referred to as a "polis" by Thucydides (460-395 BC). At the time of the Greek historian, the "polis" of Erice seems already to be a city of great importance, not only as a sacred Centre, but because it was surrounded by powerful walls, minted its own coins and was a faithful ally of Segesta (Erice kept the "treasure" of Segesta in its Temple).

Greek and Carthaginian Erice

During the 6th century BC, there was a dual Greek and Carthaginian influence on the town. With regard to Greek influence, the monuments seem to borrow the style of Selinunte, especially with the imitation of the so-called "Selinon leaf" ("flower in bud"), while the Carthaginian influence is felt in the walls, that "[…] are partly marked by the Punic letters for assembling blocks, evidencing Carthaginian contribution to reorganization of the walls of centre […]" (See: 288).

Also in the 5th century BC the business and social relations of Erice with Segesta were very strong, especially because, as previously mentioned, the sanctuary of Erice was "the sacred deposit of the wealth of Segesta" (See: 289). Erice itself followed the political and military events of the powerful Segesta, and was also its ally against the city of Mozia.

Towards the 4th century BC Erice entered the sphere of control of Carthage, and little by little we witness a fusion of the Elymians with the Carthaginians, as demonstrated by the funerary remains, so that "in the necropolis of Erice, between the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, we note the presence of Punic amphorae used in cremation" (See: 295).

Another aspect of assimilation with the Carthaginians in Erice was the affirmation of the cult of Aphrodite. Towards the end of the 4th century BC Erice escaped from the influence of Carthage, but entered that of Syracuse, and after the defeat of Agathocles (361-289 BC), it returned under Carthaginian control.

In 247 BC the city was occupied by the Romans and decayed as a fortress and town.

Norman era Erice

Erice now followed the adventures and fate of the whole of Sicily. It was Byzantine before, and Arabic after 831 AD, having the name of "Gabal Hamid". In the 12th century it became a Norman Town.

The Normans repopulated the city and built the Castle, which was called the "Castello di Venere". The city was also named by Count Ruggero (1031-1101) as "Monte San Giuliano". In the Middle Ages churches and convents were built, but since then the Castle has remained the same, with its characteristic almost of equilateral triangle plan. In 1934 it regained the ancient name of Erice.

Modern Erice

The town now holds a modern and prestigious role as a residential and tourist centre, which has also now attained international recognition, in particular for the dynamic presence of the highly qualified scientific and cultural centre dedicated to Ettore Majorana (1906-1938).

Etymology and research

Ancient Erice was not identified as a veritable "Polis" (“Town”), by either Pausanias (110-180 AD) or Diodorus (1st century BC), but presumably was a “Sacred Centre” of some importance.

Many volumes have been written about the history of Erice , but a decade ago came the "Proceedings" of an important study by Professor Consolo Langher, which has the advantage of a remarkable scientific rigour.

Although it is very difficult to reconstruct the ancient history of Erice, Consolo Langher stresses that it can be said with certainty that the city is connected with the history of the "Elymians", a people ("Ethnos") probably of Sicanian origin, which became mixed, around the 10-9th century BC, with people coming from the Eastern Mediterranean.

According to another theory by some scholars, it would appear that the Elymians came from southern Italy [1]. The etymology of the city seems to also be linked to the language of the Elymians, so "Eryx" according to G.B. Pellegrini, should mean "Ilex" (Latin "elex"-"ilex"), but this is very uncertain [2].

According to some traditional etymologies, which are very imaginative, the name "Eryx" derives from Eryx, the mythical companion of Aeneas who allegedly founded the city. Another legend narrates that the founder was Erice, a son of Venus.

On top of Mount Erice a temple to Aphrodite (Venus) was built, that was called "Venus Ericinia", but as it was rightly pointed out, there was not a temple dedicated explicitly to the son of the goddess in Erice. As E. Manni writes: “until now, at least, they told us that the Temple was of Aphrodite, not of Eryx” [3].

The Sicilian people call Erice simply "lu munti" (" the mount"), and some writers, presenting the city, refer to this popular etymology, which, although it is popular lacks the necessary scientific value. Among so many doubts, perhaps we should reconsider what G.A. Massa wrote in the 18th century, according to which the town's name:

"[…] derives from the Greek word 'Eryx', which was translated into Latin with 'Propugnaculum ', and in Italian “Fortezza” (“Fortress”), a name that can be matched to the city [...]" [4]. Which is perfectly true, considering the defensive structures of the city.

See our travel guide for Erice for tourist information.

References

1. see S. N. Consolo Langher, "Erice and the ' Koinon ' of the Elymians in the history of Western Sicily", in "Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa", "Third International days of Studies in the Elymian Area, Proceeding, 1, Pisa-Gibellina, 2000: 302, note 1

2. See, G.B. Pellegrini, “Italian Toponymy”, Hoepli, 1990: 54

3. See E. Manni, "Sikelikà Kaì Italikà", 1990, p. 69

4. See G.A. Massa, “Perspective in Sicily”, Palermo, 1709: 245