Prehistoric and Ancient Filicudi

With regard to the history of the island of Filicudi, and despite the fact that Edrisi had observed that Filicudi in his time was uninhabited (11th century AD), contemporary studies have shown that in Filicude there are traces of life from the Neolithic era:

"there were found a few fragments of Neolithic pottery of ‘Diana style’ (3000 BC), especially in the village of ‘Capo Graziano’ and in connection with a village of the Bronze Age that existed on the hill above. One Corinthian amphora of the fifth century BC and some other fragments were found near ‘Campo Graziano’, which could be the evidence of a relic of this age" [1].

Marine Archaeology has also been found in the waters near ‘Campo Graziano’ such as a small amphora dating back to the Mycenaean III B and also a Greek ship. Then there was an abandonment:

“of the village of the Hill of Filicude, which coincided with the flowering of the largest town on the acropolis of Lipari. In the final time of ‘Capo Graziano’ the pottery of Mycenaean type TE IIB-IIIA:I shows new elements, such as the disappearance of the factory of Aegina" [2].

There are few traces of population in Greek and Roman times, although there are some evidences of a possible population at “Capo Graziano”, as demonstrated by the archaeological remains of a 3rd century Greek-Italian relic from the Age of Augustus, with amphorae; traces of a north African cargo ship of the 3rd-4th century AD, and various late Roman pottery of the 5th century AD [3].

Travels of Idrisi in 12th century Sicily

Al Edrisi (1099-1164), an Arab historian at the court of King Roger II of Sicily (1095-1154), was appointed by the king to write an itinerary of Sicily:

"[...] The king commanded, wrote Edrisi, that a book was compiled in which I had to make an account of the conditions of each country and county, describing living and inanimate beings  (...) seas, mountains, rivers (...) men, activities (...) Finally the king commanded that this book was called ‘Nazhat al mustaq fi ihtiraq al afaq’, or "Fun for those who like to travel the world" [...]" [7].

Edrisi thus wrote his "guide-book" in the second half of the 12th century, and talking about Filicude wrote these words:

"[...] From Lipari to the island of 'Fikudah' (Filicude) there are ten miles to the northwest. This island is uninhabited and it has no ports [...]" [8].

Filicudi in the Middle Ages

in the Middle Ages almost all the smaller islands here were abandoned, and writing about Filicudi after Edrisi, Tommaso Fazello (1498-1570) remembered only a demolished fortress [4].

The constant fact about Filicudi Island and the other islands in the Aeolian are their low population, due both to the arduous conditions and the safety of the people, often subject to piracy and also to earthquakes:

"[...] All the population (9000 to 11000) were deported by Turkish admiral Khair ad-Din in 1544. In this century Filicude was almost completely deserted and abandoned to pasture; it was just a farming area connected to a few pastoral settlement (...) To this we must add the earthquakes; in 1892 Filicude and Alicude were hit by an earthquake that brought the collapse of the housing, and another major earthquake struck Filicudi in 1939  [...]" [5].

Even today we only see a spread of small settlements [6].

Finally, we observe that the island is open to a certain type of tourist who like excursions and archaeology, in an area that still presents a natural landscape that has been preserved intact for centuries, and with very attractive beaches for relaxing and traditional seaside tourism.

Etymology of Filicudi

The 12th century traveller-writer Idrisi was very concise when writing about Filicude, but thanks to him we do know a couple of things: the first is that around the middle of the 11th century, during which Edrisi wrote, Filicude was uninhabited, and the second is that the Arabic name of Filicude was “Fikudah”.

It does not seem that there is a relationship with the etymology and an Arab mediation; despite the evidence of Edrisi:

"nothing suggests an Arab intervention in the Fikudah form, perhaps even corrupted, that we read in Edrisi" [9].

About the meaning of Filicude, it seems agreed among scholars that the name has Greek origins, as explained by the great linguist G. Rohlfs:

"[...] Alicude and Filicude. They derive their name from the Ancient Greek 'erikòdes' and 'Foinikòdes'" [10].

All contemporary studies follow this line but with some distinctions because, for example, rather than "Island of Palms" we should speak of “Island of ferns.” In this sense, L. Zagami writes that:

"[...] The palm trees are present but they are not abundant in Filicude, on the contrary they lack almost entirely, so we believe that the name of this island is probably not derived from palm trees but from ferns, that still are abundant in our time [...]" [11].

As always happens in the field of etymology, things are a bit muddled. In the case of Filicude some scholars suggested that it had a Phoenician origin. While Aristotle (384-322 BC) stated that Filicudi (Greek "Foinikòdes") means "island of palm trees" (as the same Greek word "foinix" means "palm"), the opinion of Callistene (370-325 BC) had some importance and according to whom "Filicude" means "Phoenician", because the Phoenicians were great sailors and settlers of the ancient world.

Actually Callistene’s assertion has its own historical consistency with the fact that even today some scholars:

"speak of a Phoenician permanent presence in Sicily since the 14th or 15th century BC" [12].

We note that the etymology for which Filicude derives from "Phoenician" does not enjoy broad support, but A. Tempio points out that in Sicily there are many place-names phonetically related to the Phoenicians:

"[...] The Aeolian Filicude, called ‘Phoinikoussa’ by the Greeks (or ‘Foinikodés’); ‘Phoinike’ (or ‘Phoinix’) was the name of a little known resort between Taormina and Messina; a port called 'Phoinikous' was located near ‘Eloro’, and finally ‘Ostigia’, cited in the 'Odyssey', where Eumaeus was kidnapped by some Phoenician sailors would not have been more than the small island near Syracuse [...]".

The fact is, said A. Tempio, that scholars have moved from a "Phoenician-mania" to a "Phoenician-phobia," and this attitude has resulted in an increase or a decrease respectively about the Semitic presence in the West, "but some scholars trace the presence of the Phoenicians in Sicily to the 14th or 15th century.

Lastly, another very interesting hypothesis which is based on extensive studies not only about the flora but also the fauna of Filicude, sets up a "return" to the Aristotelian etymology (accepted by Rohlfs), so Filicude means "island of palms" . P. Lo Cascio and S. Pasta starting from the observations of Zagami (1960) note that we can not speak of "the island of ferns” (Italian “felce”), because “... the Italian word “felce” ['fern'] has its etymology in the Latin word 'filix', for which we can not report a name of  Greek origin" [13].

When Aristotle spoke of "palm trees", he was not referring to the normal palm, but to a peculiar species of palm, the so-called "dwarf date palm.":

"[...] The palm to which Aristotle was referring was almost certainly the ‘dwarf palm’, 'Chamaeros humilis' [...]" [13].

Moreover, the authors also add that in the Aeolian Islands, there are many names that refer to the "palms":

[...] in Lipari there is ‘Parmitu’, ‘Punta ‘u parmitu’ (Palm Grove), in Salina, ‘Cuosta ‘i Parmera’ [‘Coast of the Palms’] (near ‘Filo di Branda’); in Filicude there is ‘Munti Palmieri’ (‘Montepalmieri’) [...]" [13].

Finally, there is the important fact, from the standpoint of wildlife, the palm trees are much frequented by partridges (Greek 'Perdix', Latin 'Perdix rubra'):

"[...] No author has ever reported the presence of the species [of partridges] on this island, but it is believable that there will be a time when this will be available (perhaps because they were once introduced), since the ornithological exploration of the Aeolian islands has remained in the early 20th century, and is much less thorough than other places [...]" [13].

In conclusion, many place names and archaeological evidence show that the etymology proposed by Aristotle was correct, and that Filicude means the "Isle of Palms."

See also the Filicudi island travel guide.


1. See Luigi Bernabò Brea-M. Cavalier," The Aeolian Archaeological Museum " , Flaccovio, 1977: 163

2. See M. Cultraro." The Mycenaeans ...", Carocci, 2006: 222

3. See A. Giardina, “Società Romana e impero tardo-antico”, Bari, Laterza, 1986: 517

4. Anthony Bonanno, “Interconnections in the Central Mediterranean: the Maltese Islands and Sicily in history: proceedings of the Conference, St Julians, Malta, 2nd and 3rd November 2007, Officina di studi Medievali, 2008, p.72

5. See "Research on rural dwellings in Italy "Olschki, 1973: 112-114

6. ref 5. p. 120

7. See Michele Amari, “Biblioteca Arabo-Sicula”, Torino and Rome, Loescher, 1880, Vol. I, 41-42

8. See Michele Amari, G. Schiaparelli, “L'Italia descritta nel 'Libro di Ruggero' compilato da Edrisi”. Testo arabo pubblicato con versione e note, in “Atti della Regia Accademia dei Lincei”, 1876-77, Roma, Salviucci, 1883, p. 20. ["Italy described in the 'Book of Roger' compiled by Edrisi. Arabic text published with version and notes, in “Proceedings of the Regia Accademia dei Lincei, 1876-77, Rome, Salviucci, 1883: 20. The same text in the " Biblioteca Arabo-Sicula", Vol. I: 51

9. See, “Società italiana di glottologia”, “La Toponomastica come fonte di conoscenza storica e linguistica”, Giardini, 1981: 121 note 95

10. See G. Rohlfs, "Historische Sprachschichten Sizilien im modernen", Verlag der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1975, Part 3: 24

11. See L. Zagami, "Lipari and its five millennia of history," Ditta D'Amico, 1960: 50

12. About the whole question See L. Prandi, "Callistene, a historian between Aristotle and the Macedonian kings," Milan, Jaka Book, 1985:  18 footnote 30, and A. Tempio, "Malta in the Greek period, between 'emporioi' and 'apoikoi', in Anthony Bonanno, “Malta negli Iblei ...”, Officina di studi medievali, 2008: 108

13. “Phinikodes, the island of palm trees,” in “New studies of Aeolian Archaeology” by U. Spigo and M.C. Martinelli, 2000: 127-146