The main historical sources about man's presence in the Aeolian Islands and in Lipari in ancient times are the "Bibliotéké Historiké" (“Historical Library”) of Diodorus Siculus (90-27 BC).

Ancient Lipari

Sicilus said that the island was settled by early immigrants from Italy, called “Ausoni” and led by King Liparo. These people were later joined by the people led by the Greek Aeolus, identified with the legendary King of the Winds, that Ulysses, according to the Homeric tradition, encountered during his extensive travels.

Apart from this digression into mythology, Diodorus Siculus also tells us that the island of Lipari was colonized by Greeks from Rhodes and Cnidus - with this statement we leave mythology and enter history. No one knows with absolute certainty the exact moment that Lipari first fell within the sphere of influence of the Greeks of Rhodes and Cnidus, but the ceramic objects found in Lipari would suggest to 6th-5th century BC.

Contemporary studies confirm in part this data: according to Bernabò Brea, a leading expert in the history of Lipari,  it was one of the last islands to be colonized by the Greeks of Cnidus between 580 and 576 BC, who were then joined by Greeks from Rhodes.

The Cnidians had considerable difficulty in settling on the island because of opposition by Carthage, due to the presence of the Greeks who saw their interests in the area threatened. The Cnidians were defeated, but they still settled in Lipari, bringing an economic revitalization to an island that was already inhabited by people who had settled here in the Neolithic period. These earlier people had abandoned Lipari because of the violent volcanic eruptions that had shaken the island.

It was here that the Cnidians built their fortress, which was almost impregnable. The Cnidians then had to fight even against the Etruscans, who saw their dominance in the Tyrrhenian Sea threatened. However, the Cnidians resisted the Etruscans, and around the castle of Lipari the town itself became more prosperous, growing and expanding its walls.

Allied with Syracuse, Lipari repulsed the Athenians attacks in the 5th century BC and enjoyed a prosperous period of economic expansion and control of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Lipari was also attacked in 304 BC by its ancient ally, Syracuse, and formed an alliance with the Carthaginians, with whom they were also allied against the Romans - the Romans tried several times to conquer Lipari, but in vain.

However, in 252 BC, Lipari suffered a defeat and the Romans sacked and destroyed it, killing most of its inhabitants.

The destruction of the city by the Romans marked the final decline of Lipari, which was reduced to a place of little importance; all the archaeological evidence showed that the city suffered a final collapse [1].

The later fall Of the Roman Empire exposed the Aeolian islands to raids by the Vandals and the Goths, who occupied it permanently under Theodoric (454-526). The Byzantines attempted to reconquer Sicily, starting a war that devastated Sicily and which ended in the mid-6th century AD.

With the fall of the Roman Empire the incursions by the Arabs also began, who gradually succeeded in conquering the whole of Sicily near the end of the 10th century AD. With the arrival of the Normans, led by Count Roger (1031-1101), a period of reconstruction began for Sicily, which continued under the Swabians, and that also involved the Aeolian Islands and Lipari.

In the following decades Sicily and Lipari were ruled by Charles I of Anjou (1226-1285), and they were later fought over between the Kingdom of Sicily, the Aragonese, the Kingdom of Naples, and Anjou.

The Turkish attack was a serious event for Lipari which again involved the destruction of the city. Charles V (1500-1558) rebuilt it, sending a colony of Spaniards, who restored the Castle and surrounded it by more powerful walls.

From the 17th century, Lipari was annexed to the Kingdom of Sicily under Philip III (1578-1621), and from then on it followed the fate of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies until the Unification of Italy in 1861.

Etymology of Lipari

About the etymology of Lipari, the question is 'twofold' in the sense that we are confronted with two names. According to the testimony of Callimachus, the famous Greek poet of Cyrene (310-240 BC), Lipari (or "Lypàra" as he called it), was known by another name in ancient times: “Meligulìs”, so two names need to be explained...and a link found between them.

About the meaning of the name, scholars have many hypotheses, but one of them proposed in the 19th century deserves special consideration because it is to some extent confirmed by contemporary studies. C.A. Vanzon, in his "Universal Dictionary", wrote:

"[...] Melicudìne, the mythological daughter of Venus, who gave his name to one of the Aeolian Islands, called then Lipari. Melicudine, according to Callimachus in his 'Hymn to Diana' means 'honey bearing' [...]" [2].

Professor A. Pagliara, in an article in "Kokalos" [3], explained:

"[...] The anthroponyms such as 'Meliton', the feminine 'Melito' and 'Melitene' derived from 'Meli', so for 'Meligounis' we can derive an etymological meaning such as "generated by/under honey (‘meli ghignomai’). So, 'Meligounìs' from 'meli' and 'Ghigonomai', meaning 'generated in honey' - an etymological meaning that was also the name of one of the daughters of Aphrodite [...]".

Honey itself, for its golden color, refers to something "brilliant" and "bright". According to Callimachus the island of Lipari, based on a mythical tradition dating back to Thucydides, was not the home of Aeolus but of Hephaestus, the god of "bright fire". Here, then, according to tradition, the god Vulcan, the “God of fire”, had his forge and in fact the island's volcanoes, make it particularly "light" when their flames erupt.

But is there a relationship between "Meligulìs" and the next name "Lypàra"?. A religious member of the Society of Jesus, in an essay dating back to 1709, wrote:

"[...] Natale Conti says that [Lipari] is derived from the Greek word "lyparu" or "Liparis" that is interpreted as "pinguis", meaning "land rich" and "fertile" (...) However, Bocharto  found an etymology of Lipari in the language of Phoenicia, in which "Nibaras", or "Nibras" means "Lampas" or "Fax";  from here the Greek writers formed "Lypàra" because the flames...made the night as bright as a lit torch [...]" [4].

A few centuries later, Professor A. Pagliara wrote:

"[...] It is true that "Lypàra" in Greek means "fat" and "fertile", but also means "light", confirming the assumption that between the ancient and the most recent name there is a certain semantic correlation (...) Therefore it will not be exaggeration to say that the two names, 'Meligulìs' and' Lypàra...have a common connotation  [...]" (see p. 316).

In conclusion, both "Meligulìs" and "Lypàra" (Lipari) refer to "the bright and shiny island," and this etymology now enjoys the consensus of scholars.

See also Lipari for a tourist guide to the town and island.


1. See Luigi Bernabo Brea , M. Cavalier, "Masks and Terracotta figures of the Greek Theatre in Lipari, Rome, 2001:  11 ff.

2. See Antonio Carlo Vanzon, "Universal Dictionary of the Italian language", Livorno, 1836, Vol.  IV: 310

3. "Meligulìs-Lypàra- Note di toponomastica eoliana," in "Kokalos" Flaccovio, 38, 1995: 312 and 316

4. See "A religious of the Society of Jesu "," La Sicilia in Prospettiva ", Palermo, 1709, vol. II:  457