History of Scicli

See Scicli guide for highlights and historic monuments

Historically, no ancient source mentions Scicli, which, as we will see, has a medieval origin. But it is also true that the area where Scicli is located is extremely rich in archaeological remains, which led to tell fabulous stories about the antiquity of Scicli, which some historians would coincide with the ancient "Casmene".

"From Pozzallo, after 20 miles of trail, the railroad leads to Scicli, which, according to tradition, was founded by Siculus, King of the Sicanians; others inclined to believe that Scicli was built on the site of the ancient Casmene" [1].

In these three lines Battaglia introduced the two main historical and etymological subjects of ancient Scicli.

Identifying Scicli with ancient Casmene

Comiso also made itself out to originate in Casmene, and a fierce scientific debate arose among scholars. In the 18th century a book was published in Comiso [2] in order to demonstrate that the "true" Casmene was Comiso and not Scicli. The fact remains that the identification of Scicli with Casmene was accepted by some scholars of international renown, such as Adolf Holm, but in the end Paolo Orsi was right when he said that Casmene coincided with Monte Casale.:

“The foundation of Casmene (whose identification with M. Casale (...) is now beyond question, at only 20 km from Acre)  answered without doubt the needs for military control of the borders established by the ‘Irminio’ and ‘Armerillo’ Rivers or just to the south, between the territory in the hands of Syracuse and then of the Sicules" [3].

Medieval Scicli

As we have said, the first mention about a town called Scicli dates back to the Middle Ages. The original city was established in the 4th century, presumably in the Byzantine period, and then strengthened in the following Arab and Norman periods. In the Byzantine period the terror of the Arab invasion drove the inhabitants to the hills and those most exposed along the coastal area to seek new safe settlements.

Scicli was conquered by the Arabs around the 864-865 AD and it became an Arab fortress (the city was mentioned by some Arab historians  such as 'Al' Atir and Haldun, according to whom it was besieged and conquered by Hafagàh. In 1091 Scicli was conquered by the Normans:

"We do not know the name of the first Norman Lord of Scicli. But we know that in 1085 Roger I (Malaterra 2, 42) in the distribution of lands and possessions to his fellow soldiers, granted Ragusa with the title of County to his son Geoffrey. Scicli, like a minor feud, was probably assigned to some other faithful knight" [14].

In Norman times Al Idrisi (1099-1166) described the city like this:

"The fortress of 'Shiklah' at the top on a hill, is one the most noble cities of Sicily, and its plain one of the most fertile. It is about three miles from the sea. The country prospers greatly, populous and industrious" [15].

A mention about the city was also contained in a note dating from around 1048 by Pope Benedict IX (1012-1056), in which the “the Church of St. Laurent of Scicli” was donated to the monastery of “Santa Maria Latina” in Jerusalem: but the quote is from an Antonino Carioti’s work and it was considered questionable:

“A reliable proof is instead the explicit mention contained in the diploma dated Syracuse, December 1093, with which Roger of Altavilla gave 'Sycla' to the Diocese of Syracuse" [17].

According to other scholars the date should be 1094:

"1094 (five days after his crowning) [Roger I (1031-1101)] confirmed to the 'loyal Facundus, Abbot of the Church of “Santa Maria Latina”, all the properties of the 'Church of St. Laurent near Ragusa and Scicli" [18].

Scicli after the Normans

After the Normans followed the Swabians, and Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250) confirmed that Scicli had the privilege of city-state; these privileges were confirmed by the Emperor with the Decree of February 14, 1245 [20].

Scicli is also mentioned in a Bull of 1255, addressed to Brother Ruffino, penitentiary of  Pope Alexander IV (1199-1261), with which the Pope gave Roger Fimetta the castles of Vizzini, Modica, Scicli and Palazzolo [16].

It was later ruled by the powerful family of the Mosca, by Federico Mosca who distinguished himself during the War of the Vespers and then Scicli was granted in fief by Frederick II of Aragon (1272-1337) to Manfredi Chiaramonte, forming the County of Modica together with Modica and Ragusa. Afterwards the County passed to the Cabrera-Enriquez.

The 15th and 16th centuries were a period of economic prosperity and building activity, as demonstrated in particular by the many religious buildings. The 17th century was a period instead of serious economic crisis, exacerbated by the 1693 earthquake, in which Scicli was literally destroyed and which led the inhabitants to move downstream, leaving behind the “Colle di San Matteo.”

The 18th century was the century of reconstruction, predominantly in a Mannerist and Baroque style. In 1713 Sicily was assigned to Vittorio Amedeo di Savoia (1666-1732), but the County of Modica and Scicli remained under the dominion of the King of Spain. After the Congress of Vienna (1815), the city passed to the Bourbons, who ruled it until the unification of Italy in 1861.

Ancient origins of Scicli

As we said, Scicli is not attested to by ancient writers, although an attempt at “archaizing” the city was made by Antonino Carioti (1685-1780), a native priest of Scicli, who, analyzing some coins engraved with SCL, jumped to the conclusion that the acronym  meant "SC-ic-L-is" [Scicli] and that the city "under the last Byzantine Emperors had a mint." He wrote:

"There are countless medals dating back to the Late-Empire, in which we read sometimes 'SCL', or 'SCLs' and (...) all mean one thing, that is, in my opinion, the city of Scicli" [9].

The response of the scholars, however, was a brutal sentence:

"It does not seem very possible that, among so many illustrious cities existing in Sicily, had been open a mint in a place so obscure and unimportant." [10].

Then F.L. Landolina concluded that SCL did not mean "Scicli," but "SiCiLia" [SiCiLy]. However, even if Scicli was not Casmene and not even a city equipped with a mint in the Byzantine era, its territory has been inhabited since prehistoric times.

According to studies by Militello, the area was home to one of the oldest sites in the Upper Sicilian Paleolithic period, with scattered settlements, even if a site consistently preferred was the hill of “San Matteo” of Scicli. According to Militello:

"It was in the Bronze Age (2200-1450 BC) that the population of the district of Scicli became consistent. The settlement model preferred the so-called "Cave" [pits] and the hillsides along the watercourses, and also the settlements near the sea-coast, with the villages of Pisciotto, Bruca and Maestro...

... The territory of Scicli, however, did not seem concerned at this time by the phenomena of colonization by the Greeks. And moreover it  is a verified fact that "beyond Ragusa, among Modica, Scicli and Ispica, it seems that the Greeks penetrated only very slowly," because of the fierce resistance of the Sicules against the penetration of Syracuse in their territories. [11].

The Greek influence became more marked from the late 5th century BC, as evidenced by the finding of Syracusan coins, and especially during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. However, from ceramics found in the area it seems that trade relations with the Greeks were very ancient.

The archaeological finds have increased in recent years and some have considerable value, such as the Greek inscription found in “Maestro”, dating from the fifth century BC ("Στρατ / ονοε / μισεí / μα. ΤΥ"). The inscription has been explained like this: "I am the memorial stone of Strato. TU '[...]" [12].

With regard to Roman times, the evidence consists of Roman coins, but these are few both for the Republican and the Imperial age. Among these we mention a coin relating to  Emperor Tiberius (42 BC-37 AD) with the inscription "DIVUS AVGVSTVS" and two Capricorn on the other side [13].

Origins of the name Scicli

The mention of the Sicules tribe above allows us to tackle the etymological problem about Scicli. Let's start by saying that over the centuries various etymologies were suggested. Among the "curiosa" we recall one quoted by A. Massa, for which "Scicli" would derive from “a Siliquis”, that is from the “carobs” [4]. A. Massa also, as noted above by G. Battaglia, recalled that the etymology of Scicli could derive from “Siculus”, king of the Sicules:

"Mariano Perdio in the 'Antichità di Scicli' offers us a likely conjecture in his opinion, that is Scicli had been built by that most ancient King Siculus, before the Trojan War, who passed through Sicily; of the same opinion was Giovanni della Piana, who said: 'A Siculo Siclis' [Scicli derives from King Siculus]” [5].

However, the etymology on which the scholars show some agreement is that "Scicli" derives from the “Siculi” [Sicules], since the archaeological data attest to their consistent presence in the area. Militello points out that the etymology was supported first by J. Schubring [6], but we note that the local historian Pietro Carrera (1573-1647) had already more or less supported this assumption. Historians such as Graevius wrote:

“Carrera, in his discussion of Perello’s pamphlet entitled "Antiquities of Scicli," published in 1641, wrote that the term Scicli means  "Siculo" or "Sicul-i"] [7].

The etymology supported by F. S. Giardina seems unlikely  to Prof. Militello, for whom Scicli derived from “Siculius”:

"We add the implausible etymology proposed by F.S. Giardina for whom Scicli derives from 'Sicul-i-', genitive singular of 'Siculi-u-s', the cognomen of the place owner, but the accentuation of the word does not conform with the phenomenon of syncope of /u/ that we must assume in this case.” [8].

We therefore conclude, paraphrasing G. Della Piana, that the etymology "A Siculis Siclis" [ Scicli derives from Sicules] is the most believable.

See the Scicli guide if visiting.


1. See, G. Battaglia, “Guida descrittiva della Sicilia” Pedone, 1904, p. 176

2. “Memoria Istorica della vera e nobile Casmena antichissima città della Sicilia”

3. See, “Monte Casasia” in “Notizie degli scavi di antichità”, in “Atti della Accademia nazionale dei Lincei”, 1996, p. 570 note 360

4. See A. Massa, "La Sicilia in prospettiva", Palermo, 1709, Part II, p. 297

5. See G. Massa p. 297

6. J. Schubring [Hist. - Geogr. Studien uber Alt-Sizilien, Lübeck 1866, p. 111

7. See Joannes Georgius Graevius, Peter Burmann, “ Thesaurus antiquitatum et historiarum Siciliae, Sardinae, Corsicae et adjacentium situm”, excudit Petrus Vander, 1725, p. 40

8. See P. Militello, “L’ ‘Oppidum Triquetrum’ di Scicli (Ragusa)”, in “Archivio storico messinese”, 1989, n. 53,  p. 44 footnote 63.

9. See A. Carioti, “Sull'antica zecca di Scicli”, in “Opuscoli di autori siciliani”, 1761, p. 52

10. See F.L. Landolina, “Sulla leggenda 'Sicilia' impressa sulle monete degli imperatori d'oriente”, in “Il Poligrafo. Rivista Scientifica, letteraria e artistica”, Palermo, 1856, Vol. I., pp. 85-86

11. See A. di Vita, “Da Siracusa a Mozia: scritti di archeologia siciliana”, 1998, p. 19 footnote 105

12. See Michael Metcalfe,  “Una iscrizione arcaica del Maestro” in “Scicli. Archeologia e territorio”, edited by Pietro Militello, Officina di studi medievali, 2008 p. 228

13. See S. Santangelo, “La circolazione monetaria nel territorio di Scicli in età greca e romana”, in“Scicli. Archeologia e territorio”,  p. 309

14. See Melchiorre Trigilia, “La Madonna dei Milici di Scicli: cristiani e musulmani nella Sicilia del Mille...”, Setim, 1990, p. 71

15. See Al Idrisi, “Il Libro di Ruggero”, a c. di M. Amari, Roma, Salviucci, 1883, p. 34

16. See Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Epistolae saeculi XIII e regestis pontificum Romanorum selectae, Vol. III, Apud Weidmannos, 1894, p.370 and Raffaele Solarino, “La contea di Modica. Ricerche storiche”, Ragusa, 1982, vol. II, p. 33 footnote 1

17. See E. Militello,  “L’età tardo-antica” in “Scicli. Archeologia e territorio”, p. 235, footnote 10

18. See Giovanni Modica Scala, “Sicilia medievale: dagli Arabi ai Normanni e agli Svevi”, 1995, p. 443

19. See Karl Schellhass, “Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken”, Deutsches Historisches Institut in Rom, Niemeyer, 1956,  Vol 35, p. 84

20. See Sebastiano Salomone “Le provincie siciliane studiate sotto tutti gli aspetti ...”, Ragonisi, Vol. I, 1884, p. 102