History of Favignana

See Favignana guide for highlights and historic monuments

Ancient origins of Favignana

It is often believed that Sicily had Greek origins", but in fact, Sicily was conquered by the Phoenicians "before" the Greeks. Thucydides (460-397 BC) spoke about this historical reality and observed that:

"[...] the Phoenicians also inhabited the coasts of Sicily, having occupied the headlands and the nearby islets, because of trade with the Sicules. However, when the Greeks arrived there in large numbers by sea, leaving Sicily they lived in Motya, Soloenta and Panormos [...]".

One of these "islets" inhabited by the Phoenicians was Favignana.

Favignana in Roman and Greek times

Favignana was called "Aigousai" by the Greeks, while the Romans (Pliny [23-79 AD]) called it "Aegusa", namely the “island of the goats”, and according to some scholars it should be identified with "Ogigia", where Ulysses landed to hunt wild goats. It would then have given its name to "all" the Aegadian Islands [“Aegusa was called not only ‘Aygà’ or ‘Aygai’ '(from which ‘Aegadian Islands’ gets its name), but also 'Aighelìa” [1].

An ancient commentator of Cornelius Nepos (100-30 BC) also wrote:

[...]with this name were called three islands between Sicily and Africa, in front of Promontory Lilibeo, that is Phorbantia, Aegusa and Hiera; now Levanzo, Favignana and Maritime” [2].

Favignana, whose name refers to the Greeks and Latins, was however a land of the Phoenicians, and it was a:

“nerve center of Carthaginian power, concerned to exercise effective control of the Sicilian Channel (...) Favignana (…) was an integral part of the control system provided by the Carthaginians in the central Mediterranean.  In particular, Favignana and Marettimo were explicitly mentioned in classical sources for military operations in 241 BC...

...the battle between the Carthaginians and Romans under Lutatius Catulus, a battle that decided the fate of the War of Carthage against Rome. Favignana retains signs of the Carthaginian settlement with subterranean tombs and a neo-Punic inscription engraved on the rocky walls dating from the  II-I century BC [...]" [5].

Favignana after the Romans

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Vandals, Goths and Arabs arrived in Sicily. These latter ruled in Sicily from the late ninth century, and a proof of the Arab presence in Favignana is the area of the so-called “Torretta” ["Small Tower"], built by the Arabs, like the towers of St. Catherine and St. Leonard.

After the Arabs, the Normans came, and Count Roger (1031-1101) built the fortress of “San Giacomo” in Favignana.

After the Normans the Swabians followed, and during the late 13th century Favignana was ruled by the family of the Abbate, a "Seigniory of Pirates”:

"[...] Inhabited in Norman times only by a hermit who lived 'in a kind of castle' on the island's highest point (...) Favignana during the Swabian age had a real fortress, and it was entrusted to the Abbate, the dominant family in Trapani from the first half of the 13th century...

... During the reign of Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250) the Abbate established diplomatic relations with Africa and exercised various forms of control over the islands between Sicily and Africa, from Favignana and Pantelleria to Malta (...) The Abbate was a “Seignoiry of  pirates”, and in 1227 Palmerio Abbate attacked and looted a Saracen ship in the port of Trapani [...]" [6].

From 1498 to 1590 Favignana was ruled by the Filingeri, then by Giacomo Brignoni, and finally by the Pallavicino [7].

In the mid-19th century Favignana was acquired by the shipowner Vincenzo Florio, who built a cottage now housing the Museum of the 'Antiquarium' and opened to start the "Tunny net", still active. Even today, fishing and tourism are the main sources of income of the Favignana inhabitants.

Origins of the name Favignana

The etymology of the modern name, “Favignana”, derives from "Favonius", the "Zephyr", or "the West Wind". In fact, E. Von Wollfin and A.S. Miodonski explained:

"[...] Aegusa, which is now called Favignana or Favognana, because of the Zephyr" [3].

However, according to Giovanni Alessio, it would be a praedial name (named after a person) ending in -anum:

"[...] The name Favignana island looks like a name from a possible praedial-name ‘Favonius’ "[...]" [4].

See also the Favignana detailed travel guide.


1. See "C. Ptolomei 100-175] Geographia" edidit C. Muller, 1833: 410

2. See “Cornelii Nepotis Opera”, edited by El. Johanneau et J. Mangeart, Venetiis, Antonelli, 1837: 419-420

3. See C. Asinii Polionis "De bello Africo Commentarius", Teubneri, 1889: 3

4. See G . Alessio, “Fortune della grecità linguistica in Sicilia”, Flaccovio, 1970: 49

5. See A. Acquaro, “Cartagine. Un impero sul Mediterraneo”[" Carthage. An Empire in the Mediterranean Sea”], Rome, Newton Compton, 1978: 127-128

6. See AA. VV., “Studi in onore di Giosué Musca”,  Dedalo, 2000: 479-480

7. See V. Amico, “Dizionario topografico della Sicilia” ["Topographical Dictionary of Sicily”], 1855: 442