History of Linosa


See Linosa guide for highlights and historic monuments

G.D. Gussone visited Linosa in 1828 and handed us down a detailed description which gives a good feeling for Linosa:

"[...] In 1828 (...) arriving from Sicily at these islands, first I discovered Linosa (...) It was known by the ancients under the name 'Aethusa' and 'Algusa'. Its origin is volcanic, and the four main craters constitute the bulk of it. We found no memory among the ancients about its eruptions, and there is currently no trace of heat, nor smoke-holes. The highest area is close to the north-east side and it appears in the form of a mountain, elevated about 1100 feet over the sea...

... The crater has a 1 / 2 miles in circumference, and a depth of about 200 steps and it is open to the north. To the east it is surrounded by extensive plains, the largest of the Island, and the remaining part of it is covered with reddish or yellowish ash, pumice and lapilli, while the other two sides are covered with jet-black sand and huge blocks of lava erupted or isolated from the large crater [...]" [1].

The multiple names of Linosa

Linosa was called various things by ancient writers such as "Aethusa", "Larenusia", "Lenusa", "Laleimsa", "Nemousa" and "Limosa. “Aethusa” is the oldest name given to it by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) and Ptolemy (100-175 AD).

Origins of the name Linosa

Its name derives from the Greek "aitho" (burn), from which we get "Aithousa" (burning), a name that seems to be tailor-made for  this island, which, as we have seen, is of volcanic origin.

Linosa was also called “Aegusa.” However, the name "Aegusa" is more properly used for one of the Aegadian Islands (Favignana). Pliny the Elder mentions it like this:

"[...] The islands going round Africa are Gaulo, Malta, Camerino, Lilibeo, Cosira, Ieroneso, Cene, Galata, Lampedusa  and Aethusa, which some called 'Aegusa'” [2].

Roman occupation of Linosa

Archaeological remains clearly show that Linosa was inhabited in Roman times. Pietro Calcara, one of the first who studied Linosa and gives an interesting insight into the later settlement of the island, wrote:

[...]  at the time of the Roman domination it was inhabited by a few settlers who cultivated the land, which is demonstrated by the remains of small houses scattered here (…) we note some finds in the plain behind two mountains called 'Pozzolana' and 'Bandiera' (...) and in several other sites (...) The number of water-tanks of Roman construction, amphorae, tiles, bricks and some coarse clay bronze coins confirm that Linosa was inhabited by men subject to the Roman Empire...

... A little while ago Linosa remained uninhabited (...) before 1828 some travelers going to Linosa found three human skeletons on those mountains which, in his opinion, where the remains of men who were perhaps thrown by a storm on to the island and that miserably perished for lack of food. We also know that until recently the Maltese frequently went to gather firewood on the island and to hunt the wild goats..

...Recently the Royal Government of the Two Sicilies, wanting to use this island, ordered the settlement of it; to that end initially 33 men were sent there April 24, 1845, then the numbers increased, and June 10, 1846, when I visited the island, the population was 85 people including the authorities. To promote agriculture, the Royal Government provides these early settlers with some farming implements and food, but some of them still live in caves and other wooden houses. [...]" [3].

Contemporary studies also confirm Calcara’s observations. F. Maurici, for example, stresses that:

"the smaller islands of Sicily were nearly all inhabited or at least seen in the Roman times, and with regard to the Middle Ages (12th century) Al Idrisi (1099-1165) mentioned Linosa among the islands, also called in Arabic ‘Namusah’” [4].

See the Linosa travel guide for more information.

References

1. See G. D. Gussone, “Notizie sulle isole di Linosa. Lampione e Lampedusa”, in “Atti della Reale Accademia delle Scienze” [“News on the Islands of Linosa, Lampione and Lampedusa”, in “Proceedings of the Royal Academy of Sciences”],  Naples, 1839, Vol. IV: 73 ff.

2. See C. Plinii Secundi “Historia Mundi”, Venezia, Antonelli, 1844:  367

3. See Pietro Calcara, “Descrizione dell'Isola di Linosa” ["Description of the Isle of Linosa"], Palermo, 1851: 29-30

4. See F. Maurici, “Le isole minori della Sicilia in età Bizantina” [“The small islands of Sicily in the Byzantine period”], in “Interconnections in the Central Mediterranaen”, edited by B. Bonanno-P. Militello, Palermo, 2008: 69-71