History of Partinico

See Partinico guide for highlights and historic monuments

For the possible Greek and Roman origins of Partinico see further down this page.

From late antiquity until the Arab period we do not have any information about Partinico, except that it remained a small village from ancient until the Byzantine and Arab times. Partinico also more or less followed, in Byzantine times, the same fate that befell Segesta:

"In the district of ‘Casale’, along an ancient route towards Partinico the late ancient tracks are represented by few fragments of pottery and tiles streaked with achromatic grooves" [9].

Under the Arab rule, things were working out for the best for Partinico and the village showed a great economic vitality, especially in agriculture, overlooking a plain of cotton and leguminous plants, spread over many farms, where new farming techniques were introduced.

Norman Partinico

In Norman times there was a redistribution of the agricultural resources of the country, which generally were granted to the "milites fideles" (loyal comrades in arms) of Count Roger, who had helped him in the conquest of Sicily. The old "B.rt.nic" of the Arabs was therefore granted to the powerful family of the Avenello (or Avenel).

The feoffment was illustrated in detail by Giuseppe Casarrubea, who wrote:

"[...] Among the subjects of Count Roger, who after the conquest of Sicily had extensive properties, there were Rinaldo and Roberto Avenello, who distinguished themselves in the fight against the Muslims (...) The Arab 'Barstanin' (that is Partinico) was granted to them [...]" [12].

The Avenello family became very powerful, because they were related to Roger II (1095-1154); of them we know the names of some, such as: "the brothers Robert, Drogo, Rainald and Richard, with his wife Fredesenda" [13].

Around the 12th century, but in unspecified circumstances, the Arab city was probably destroyed:

“We have no information on this event. We know that Sicily passed through some periods of serious disorders, about which sources are scarce and they restrict themselves to the most important events (...) In particular very serious events were mentioned under William III of Sicily (1185-1198) and during the minority of Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250), not to mention the Angevin period, the revolt of the Vespers and the long war that followed. Therefore, we can perfectly understand that the destruction of the city may have happened in one of these periods" [14].

Beyond the fact that in the 12th and 13th century the destruction of the Arab town of "Bartiniq" may have occurred, what is certain, however, as observed by all local historians of Partinico, is that in Norman times we can not speak of a real village called “Partinico”, because the population was spread in a number of hamlets in the so-called “Woods of Partinico.”

Entering the Middle Ages

The current Partinico starts to take shape when the Abbey of Altofonte was founded, to which Frederick III of Aragon, following a strategy of re-population of the territory of Partinico (then still uninhabited) granted the right to found a hamlet in the woods of Partinico, which took the name of "Sala Partinico." The term "Sala" was to indicate:

"a large estate with a master's house, yard, stables and other buildings for servants, farmers, and other persons necessary to the cultivation" [15].

In essence, the birth of modern Partinico goes back to the foundation of the hamlet in 1307:

“[...] Giovanni Cammarana, by concession of Frederick II 0f Aragon (1272-1337), owned at the beginning of the 14th century the fortified village of ‘Sala Partinico’ and the woods. At that time the King founded the Monastery of Santa Maria di Altofonte in the Park. Around 1307, after assigning other properties to Cammarana, granted the monks the right to build a village in Partinico, giving them all beneficial ownerships (...) Then, for their own safety, gave them the opportunity to build a fortress. This, therefore, is how Partinico arose" [16].

F. Maurici summarizes the facts like this:

"The present town was built around a new fortress (the 'Sala Partinici', of which there are few ruins called 'the Castellaccio' on the slopes of Mount Cesarò) that the abbot of the Cistercian Park built in 1309" [17].

Throughout the 14th and 15th century a great increase in population was not recorded, as identified in the early 16th century when Partinico became the priest’s residence in 1573:

"From 1307 to the first half of the 1500's the urban and demographic development was very low, so that at the time of Charles V (1500-1558) the city counted 70 homes, with an estimated population of about 500 inhabitants, that Rocco Pirro brings to 20 at the time of the first edition of his 'Sicilia Sacra' (1630) [18].

Partinico in the 17th and 18th centuries

Between the 17th and 18th century the population, despite many difficulties related to agricultural crises and epidemics, remained stable, but with very low rates. In any case, in these centuries we have to record an increase in religious buildings: "The 1600's was the century of religious orders, convents and churches” [19].

Things tend to improve in the 18th century, when "the living conditions of the inhabitants of Partinico were not very unfortunate. The population increased from 2032 inhabitants in 1631 to 9772 by 1798" [23]. At this time, in fact, the situation looked rather as it had in the days of Al Idrisi (12th century) who described the country of Partinico as particularly fertile.

From the 18th century we do not have a chronicler in Partinico such as Al Idrisi, but there have been passed down some lines by a local writer, the Marquis of Villabianca, who wrote in Sicilian dialect:

“Partinico now has great churches and palaces, and it is rich in springs and delicious fruits and is full of olive groves, vineyards and fields sown".

The last 100 years

By the 19th century we witness the development of a large agrarian bourgeoisie in Partinico (with over 5000 property owners), as well as the property belonging to the aristocracy. Being an agricultural area, with a significant presence of labourers, there were very strong frictions with the owners of large property in the late 19th century, which saw Partinico participate in the agrarian struggles promoted by the so-called "Fasci Siciliani."

Today, as before, the main productions of the area are those of wine, cereals, oil and Partinico is a well known agricultural town, which is also important for its artisan woodwork and ironwork.

Partinico in antiquity - a Greek origin?

Vittorio Giustolisi, who can be considered the re-founder of studies about Partinico, pointed out that:

“even if the 'Parthenicum' name always aroused suspicions of a Greek origin of the town, which in Roman, Byzantine and Arab times was located near the present Partinico, we have not found any evidence that the site had been a village of Greek origin...

... In fact, the name is attested in late antiquity in the 'Itinerarium Antonini’ and indisputable evidence about Partinico dates back to Arab times and The "Itinerarium Antonini" (which dates from the time of the Emperor Caracalla, 211–217 AD), indicating the Tyrrhenian coast road (the “Via Valeria”) on the route from Hyccara to Lylibaeo, also mentioned  the "stationes” [middle phases] of “Parthenicum” and “Aquae Segestanis”] [2].

True to tell, Cluverius [Philipp Clüver (1580 –  1622)] had already suggested that there existed an ancient town known as "Parthenicum", but some scholars, such as A. Holm, did not believe a lot:

"Cluverius assumed that there had been a city called 'Parthenicum', mentioned in the 'Itinerarium Antonini,’ D. 144 and he placed these ruins near ‘Sala Partinico.’ However, the ruins could be of another Sikan ancient city " [1].

On the contrary, with a pressing historical and archaeological investigation, Vittorio Giustolisi succeeded with his plan setting Partinico within a very ancient timeframe, for which it would manifest a "clearly Hellenic origin".

Therefore, according to Giustolisi, even if the former site of "Parthenicum" is attested only from the age of late antiquity, it is clear that we must think about a Greek origin. Analyzing the nature of the area, such as “Monte d'Oro”, Giustolisi stressed that the site, due to its position as a major trading junction between the East and West of Sicilan and overlooking the plain of Partinico, controlled the only route of relatively easy access to the mountains.

Because of this location it is intuitive that the place of “Monte d'Oro” would have inevitably fallen into the sphere of interest of the Greeks. Moreover, excavations on the site have unearthed various artifacts of Greek origin. To all that, we must then add the etymological and linguistic studies, which have helped to redesign the face of the ancient Partinico, presumed to have been a Greek "emporium".

The idea that Partinico was an ancient Greek city, therefore, rests on the fact that it was located along the roads of major commercial interest in  Roman times. In this regard, V. Giustolisi traced at "Parthenicum" the ruins of a Roman villa, not far from Partinico [6].

In Roman times, in the area of Partinico, the presence property owners of the "Gens Marciana" (Marciano people") is attested to:

“In a diploma of Monreale dating back to 1180 is mentioned a 'Marciano' farm, which extended into the area of Partinico and the name of which could back to the 'Gens Marcia’ " [7].

Giustolisi's intuitions are now accepted by scholars, who recognize that he has reformulated the history of Partinico:

"Finally 'Parthenicum' has found its geographical arrangement and the silent ruins of Sirignano, Cala Muletti,  Raccuglia, Galeazzo,  Monacelli and Mottola have aquired a historical dimension and a significant value " [8].

Origins of the name Partinico

While Bruno Pace derived "Parthenicum" from that of a Roman freedman of Greek origin, the explorations made by Giustolisi confirmed:

"what the name of the ancient town left suspect, i.e. that Parthenicum existed since the 7th-6th century BC and it was a Greek village. G. Alessio also thought of a clear Greek etymology with regard to Partinico and spoke of "theophoric" names , that is  a place carrying the name of a god, as in the case of "Parthenicum.” It derives from the Greek "Parthenikòs", "presumably in connection with 'Parthenos', that is 'The Virgin Athena or Artemis'" [3].

G. Alessio’s observation perfectly coincides with that proposed in a manuscript of the local scholar G.M. di Bartolomeo, who points out that:

"[...] Thus  we have to assign to Partinico an earlier origin with respect to the Saracen times and to adhere to the Greek definition of "Parthenikòs", which corresponds to the Latin 'Virginalis' [Virginal] (...) and this is perhaps because the area was devoted to a virgin goddess or some other that we ignore [...]" [4].

In support of his case V. Giustolisi added that:

“the present ‘Cala dei Muletti’ [San Cataldo] is the place where, of course, we must locate the port of 'Parthenicum' in Greek-Roman and Arab times” [5].

The Arabs, after the conquest of Sicily, called the city "Bartiniq" (Al Idrisi called it 'b.rt.nic' [10]). They:

"after more than three centuries of domination, had  not completely shattered the previous toponymy: Jato, but only for phonetic problems, became ‘Giato’; Partinico remained unchanged, excluding the variant P [artinico] with B [artiniq]" [11]

See the travel guide for Partinico.


1. See A. Holm, “Storia della Sicilia nell'antichità,” Forni, 1965, p. 202

2. See V. Giustolisi, “Parthenicum e le aquae segestanae”,Centro di documentazione e ricerca per la Sicilia antica 'Paolo Orsi', 1976, pp. 7 ff.

3. See G. Alessio, “Fortune della grecità linguistica in Sicilia”, Flaccovio, 1970, p. 14

4. See G.M. di Bartolomeo, "Storia di Partinico," unpublished manuscript, 1805, edited by  Giuseppe Schirò and Gioacchino Nania, Regione siciliana, Assessorato ai Beni Culturali , 2007, p. 3

5. See V. Giustolisi, “Le navi romane di Terrasini, e l'avventura di Amilcare sul Monte Heirkte”, “Centro di documentazione e ricerca per la Sicilia antica 'Paolo Orsi'” , 1975, pp. 7 ff.

6. Giustolisi, “Parthenicum e le aquae segestanae” , p. 44

7. See R. Rizzo, “Papa Gregorio Magno e la nobiltà di Sicilia”, Officina di studi medfievali , 2008, pp. 41-42 note 174

8. see L. D'Asaro, “Nel regno di Cocalo: da Inico a Partinico, da Camico ad Al-Qamaq” , Sigma, 1997, p. 5 ff

9. See ",“Byzantino-Sicula IV: atti del I Congresso internazionale di archeologia della Sicilia bizantina”, Corleone, 28 luglio-2 agosto 1998, Istituto di studi Neoellenici, 2002, p. 377

10. M. Amari, “Il Libro di Ruggero”, 1883, p. 39

11. See G. Nania, “Toponomastica e topografia storica nelle valli del Belice e dello Jato”, Palermo, 1995, p. 36

12. “Uomini e Terra a Partinico”, 1981, p. 7

13. See S. Tramontana, “Popolazione, distribuzione della terra e classi sociali nella Sicilia del Gran Conte”, in “Ruggero il gran conte e l'inizio dello stato normanno: atti delle seconde Giornate normanno-sveve” (Bari, 19-21 May 1975), Dedalo, 1991, p. 248 note 98

14. See V.E. Orlando, “Contributo alla storia di Partinico”, in “Archivio storico siciliano” , 1922, pp. 25 - 26

15. See G. Casarrubea, p. 11 footnote 14

16. See V.M. Amico, “Lexicon topographicum siculum in quo Siciliae urbes, op[p]ida, cum vetusta tum extantia montes, flumina, portus adiacentes insula ac singula loca describuntur, illustrantur”, 1760, Tomi secundi, pp. 72-73

17. See F. Maurici, “Castelli medievali in Sicilia: dai bizantini ai normanni”, Sellerio, 1992, p. 342

18. See G. Casarrubea, p.22

19. See Casarrubea, p. 40

20. Casarrubea, p. 43