History of Kamarina (Kaukana) in Sicily


See Kamarina guide for highlights and historic monuments

Camarina [Greek Kamarina] has been the subject of renewed studies in recent years, after extensive researches dating back to the early 19th century by P. Orsi and G. Schubring, who had information of new discoveries in the necropolis of Kamarina of terracotta sarcophagus and triangular pediments (1).

Many historians and ancient writers and poets spoke about Kamarina [Pindar (522-443 BC), Herodotus (484-425 BC), Thucydides (460-400 BC), Philistus (432-356 BC), Timaeus (350-260 BC) and Diodorus (60-30 BC)].

Kamarina was founded by Syracuse in 598 BC, but had a rather short life, because in 553 BC it was destroyed by the same Syracuse because of a rebellion.

According to some scholars, the city was destroyed because it had exceeded the bounds of its 'Khora', that is the territory of its specific jurisdiction. In fact, Syracuse attacked the city after Kamarina passed the “Hyrminius” river.

According to G. Manganaro, other motivations intervened on the destruction of the city. In fact, the mother city, Syracuse, had instituted the so-called "dekate" or tithe, a tax that all cities subject to Syracuse had to pay. Syracuse in 598 BC, wanting to reaffirm its hegemonic position, and military intervention was decided on.

According to Philistus of Syracuse, at the ford of the Hyrminius river the Syracusans attacked Kamarina which was destroyed. Around 491 BC, the city was re-founded again by the tyrant Hippocrates of Gela [fl. 498-491 BC], who proclaimed himself 'Ecista' " [= founder] of the city. The information was handed down us by Thucydides [ Thuc. 6,5,3].

But the new colony had again a rather short life, because the successor of Hippocrates, Gelon [491-495 BC], who ruled Gela after him, deported the entire population of Kamarina, destroyed it and moved the people to Syracuse. This forced population transfer policy was dictated by the political will of the Syracusean tyrants to donate the arable lands of the city to mercenary soldiers who fought for Syracuse.

When the tyranny system collapsed, in 461 BC the inhabitants of Gela re-founded completely Kamarina which also organized its own mint, emitting a rich and prolonged series of silver coins (2).

Roman times marked the substantial "end" of Kamarina … involved in long wars between the Carthaginians and the Romans, the city was destroyed by the Romans in 258 BC, with the Consul Attilius Calatinus [d. 216 BC], although archaeological evidence attest to a certain persistence of the city also some years later. However, in the Augustan age the city no longer existed (3).

After the destruction around 258 BC there was a diaspora of the people of Kamarina, who scattered over a vast area, but particularly in the site called "Kaukana," whose urban settlement continued that of ancient Kamarina, and whose name would refer to the nymph "Kamarina," the personification of the "swamp" (or better "lake") that surrounded the city.

Kamarina was the nymph of the lake of the city that would have taken her name. Kamarina was sung by Pindar as daughter of Ocean, and she was frequently represented on the coins of the city sitting on a swan swimming on the waves. In fact, the nymph Kamarina settled at the mouth of the "Hipparis" river.

According to other scholars, "The etymology of Camarina derives from the Greek word ‘Camera’ meaning ‘effort,’ and ‘Neo’ which means ‘to populate,’ that is 'the city inhabited after many efforts " (4). However, the etymology accepted by everyone refers to the first hypothesis, already handed down by Stephen of Byzantium " Kamarina palus est iuxta eiusdem nominis oppidum " [The marsh of Kamarina is close to the fortified town that bears the same name] (5).

Even today Kamarina and Kaukana, the latter identified around "Punta Secca," near Santa Croce Camerina, are archaeological sites of great importance in Sicily.

History of the medieval village of Santa Croce Camerina

Studies have shown that the site of Kamarina today coincides with the small town of "Santa Croce Camerina" and the old village of Medieval origin called 'Sanctae Crucis de Rasacambri." The village of "Sanctae Crucis de Rasacambri" is mentioned for the first time in a document of 1151 in which King Roger II of Sicily (1095-1154) confirmed it with other property to the Abbey of St. Philip of Agira.

Another document dating back to 1151 states that the Priory “de Rasacambri” was donated to Silvestro Count of Marsico, feudal lord of the area of Ragusa . Yet in 1194 the village and its church are among the goods confirmed by Henry VI of Hoenstaufen (1165-1197) to the monastery of S. Philip of Agira and five years later its name appears in a document with which Constance and her son Fredrick confirm the goods to the same abbey.

In 1303 in a bull of Pope Benedict XII (1285-1342) the village and the church "Sanctae Crucis de Rosacambra" are mentioned as subject to the Monastery of St Laurence and Philip of Scicli. They are also mentioned in a series of other documents until 1450 when they were granted to Pietro Celestri, a nobleman of Messina, whose heirs would then obtained by the King of Spain the re-establishment of the village of Santa Croce in 1598 as part of the new foundations plan at that time (6).

According to F. Barone, after several raids by the Muslims, Kaukana was destroyed, and the surviving inhabitants took refuge in a village, which was called "Rosacambra", so named by "Ras-Karam," an Arab commander in chief landed on the place called “ Scalambri.” Rosacambra was then called “Santa Croce” [Holy Cross] for a painting representing the Emperor Constantine and Elena with the cross.

In 1470 the territory was granted to Pietro Celestri, who was the first baron of it. One of his descendants, Giovan Battista Celestri, was named the Marquis of Santa Croce by King Philip III of Spain [1578-1621] and in 1596 the same king gave him authority to populate the ancient village. The modern small town, therefore, properly arose in the late 16th century.

The Marquisate ceased to exist in 1860. In 1874 the name " Camarina " was added to “Santa Croce” in memory of the ancient city (7).

See also the Kamarina travel guide for deals of the monuments at the site

Works Cited

1) G. Schubring,” Kamarina”, in “Philologus”, 1873, xxxii, p. 43.

2) G. Manganaro, “La ‘Syracosion dekate’, Camarina e Morgantina nel 424 A.C.”, in “Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik”, 1999, n. 128, p. 115.

3) G. Bejor, "Aspetti della romanizzazione della Sicilia", in “Publications de l'École française de Rome”, 1983, pp. 345-378.

4) D. Policastro," La Sicilia dall'era paleolitica al 1960 AD ...," 1961, p. 214.

5) Stephen of Byzantium, "De Urbibus", Amsterdam, 1725, Volume I, p. 349.

6) G. Di Stefano-S. Fiorilla, "Santa Croce Camerina ... ", Edizioni del Giglio, 2001, p. 1.

7) F. Barone, “La Sicilia e la provincia di Ragusa. Spunti per lo studio dell’ambiente” , Ragusa, 1991, pp. 117-119.

8) P. Pelagatti , “Kaukana, un ancoraggio bizantino sulla costa meridionale”, in “Sicilia Archeologica”, 1972, n. 18-20, pp. 89 ff.

9) P. Pelagatti, , “Un decennio di ricerche archeologiche ... “, Camarina. Scavi recenti e prospettive future”, in “Sicilia Archeologica”, 1970, n. 10, pp. 5-16.