An ancient town of many names

The town of Tindari is mentioned by many historic authors and ancient geographers under different names; the most common was “Tyndaris”, while for Ptolemy [100-175 AD] it was "Tyndarion" and for Archestratus [mid 4th century BC] the town was called  “Tyndaris akté” (meaning “the promontory of Tindari”) [1].

The inhabitants of Tindari were called “Tyndarìtai”, a Greek name translated into Latin as “Tyndaritani”. On ancient coins Tindari was indicated as the “city of Tyndarìdes”.

According to mythology, Tindarus, son of Ebalus, King of Sparta, after his expulsion from Sparta, was the husband of Leda and father of Castor and Pollux, Helen and Clytemnestra [2].The Greek word "Tyndarìdes" was given to the male descendants of Tindarus, that is Castor and Pollux.

The etymology of Tyndaris is therefore clear; it is the “city dedicated to the Tyndarìdes” and thus under the protection of the Dioscures, the “gemini fraters” (the “twins” protectors of the sea and sailors).

Messeni and the Spartans

It seems that, when the “Messeni” (together with the Locrensians and others) founded Tindari, dedicated to the Dioscures, they made this choice "against" the will of the hated Sparta, so according to mythology Sparta then banished Tindarus. From time immemorial the Messeni were the most bitter and irreconcilable enemies of the Spartans, and they fought hard to prevent the Spartan expansionism in the Peloponnese.

Among other things, the “Messeni”, from a literary-mythological point of view, always claimed their devotion to the cult of Castor to be older than that of Sparta. Beyond the purely mythological and "literary" claim, in ancient times Pausanias [2nd century AD] tells us (III, 26.3) that historically there were also a very strong friction between the Spartans and Messeni.

Recent studies have also suggested another reason why the “Messeni” dedicated their new town to the ‘Tyndarìdes’. Tindari was built in a place that was an important landing and reference point for navigation, and the Cape also certainly had a name "before" the foundation of the city - according to some scholars, this name could have been “Tyndaris àkra” (“Cape [“àkra”] of Tindari”), because it was called that by Zonaras [4] in the 12th century.

It is evident that a promontory so important for the safety of navigation was certainly dedicated to the "protectors of the sea", that is the Dioscures, and there was almost certainly a shrine dedicated to them. Therefore, it is extremely likely that the name of the promontory was passed to the new town, built on it [3].

Who were the “Messeni”?

The Messeni, as we said above, fought desperately against Spartan expansionism in the Peloponnese, but in the end they were severely beaten and forced to abandon their land. Many of them went to Sicily, to "Messina", where they became the predominant ethnic group, even changing the name of the city, which from "Zancle" became "Messena" ("Messina"), and some went to the service of Dionysus I as mercenary soldiers.

When the Carthaginians with Himilcon (396 BC) partly destroyed "Messena" the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius I the Elder (432-367 BC), founded the new colony of Tindari with six hundred mercenaries from Messena. The Messeni:

"[...] formed the aboriginal nucleus of the new colony, with women, children and slaves. After their expulsion from 'Naupactos' and 'Kephallenia' by the Spartans, the Messeni came as mercenaries into the service of Dionysus, and (...) they went to the Sicilian 'Messene' . It is clear that the city was under the influence of Syracuse. (...) it is estimated that the city was founded by Dionysius the Great, although it had its own administration, it was still subject to its founder [...]" [5].

Troubled times for ancient Tindari (400 BC - 100 BC)

The ancient mercenaries certainly took part in the fight with Dionysius against Magon (a Carthaginian general during the Second Punic War [218–201 BC]), who had ravaged the territory of Messina, and also constituted a serious threat to them. Later the city was involved in major events of the war in Sicily, like the descent of Timoleon (411-337 BC), who decided to eliminate the "tyrants" from Sicily and to whom Tindari offered "ouk olìgous stratiòtas" ("not a few soldiers") [6].

In 310 BC the colony participated in the war against Carthage, as an ally of Syracuse and led by the tyrant Agathocles (361-289 BC). For a period of about seven years, it was occupied by the Carthaginians.

Later, Tyndaris was threatened by the “Mamertines”, ex-mercenaries of the Syracuse army who took over "Messena" and tried to extend their control across the rest of Sicily. Messina was re-conquered by Hiero II (308-215 BC), tyrant of Syracuse in 271 BC, who, two years later, defeated the mercenaries. However, the Mamertines asked the Romans for help, who arrived in Sicily under the command of the consul Appius Claudius (264 BC).

Faced with the expansion of Rome, Syracuse and Carthage made an alliance. In 264 BC the First Punic War broke out and the Roman army landed at "Messana". The Carthaginians retreated to Tyndaris and used it as a defensive position. The local population tried to ally with Rome, but the Carthaginians were able to maintain control of the city until 260 BC, taking hostages and deporting many citizens to Lilibaeum.

In 260 BC the Roman fleet, led by the consul Caius Duilius [3rd century BC], defeated the Carthaginians. In 257 BC, in the waters facing "Tyndaris", Hamilcar (275-228) suffered a second defeat, by the consul Gaius Atilius Regulus (250 BC). In 254 BC Tindari surrendered voluntarily to the Romans and remained allied with them for the rest of the Punic Wars. the city was inserted by the Romans in the new land as a "decuman" town, that is, it enjoyed a certain degree of administrative autonomy.

The city under the dominion of Rome was enriched and developed, but the arrival of  the propraetor Caius Licinius Verres (119-43 BC) in Sicily from 73 to 71 BC, started a period of oppression for Tyndaris. In fact, the main complaints of Tindari (as Cicero says in the "Verrine Orations") about the government of Verres were those relating to the theft of works of art stolen from the private residences, public buildings and temples.

Around 42 BC, because of its strategic importance, Tindari became the stronghold of Sextus Pompey (67-35 BC) in the war against Octavian (63 BC-19 AD). But in 36 BC it was conquered by Agrippa (63-12 BC) and at the end of civil wars, the city was depopulated and impoverished. In 20-21 BC, the emperor repopulated it and gave it the name of “Colonia Augusta Tyndaritanorum”.

Although it has lost its autonomy, it was exempted from various taxes and experienced a second period of glory. It was then that the  basilica, probably one of the most monumental works, was built. Around the first century AD "Tyndaris" was hit by a landslide. From that time the city began a period of decline and depopulation. The inhabitants were scattered in the surrounding countryside and the town was abandoned, the public buildings went into disrepair and their materials were reused to reinforce the new walls.

Tindari after the Romans

The town recovered gradually, although it never reached its ancient splendor. At the beginning of the Byzantine Empire, Tindari became a bishopric seat and around the 8th century the first shrine of the “Madonna Nera” ["Black Madonna"] was presumably built, on the ruins of the Temple of Ceres, the goddess of the harvest, at the top of the ancient acropolis .

In 835-836 the town was almost completely destroyed by the Arabs, and the inhabitants took refuge in the area where Patti  was built in Norman times (11th  century). With the transfer of the bishopric seat to Patti,  the decline of Tindari continued, and it was now a village with just a few inhabitants.

Tindari and archaeology research in recent centuries

At the end of the 18th century, during the reign of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, the first research of the ancient monuments of Tindari began. After World War II  the first systematic excavations were conducted by Luigi Bernabo Brea and Madeleine Cavalier.

According to their studies, as with many Greek cities Tyndaris had a regular plan, with three long flat straight roads, the "plateiai" corresponding to the Roman “decumans”, which intersected with the "stenopoi" (the Roman "cardines") three meters wide, along which were located the "insulae" ("District") and "tabernae" ("workshops"). The Acropolis, or the sacred area of the town, rose over the 'agorà'. Among the temples stood one dedicated to Demeter (or Ceres), goddess of grain and the harvest, while the cemeteries were located outside of walls, especially in the southern and south-east of the hill.

See the Tindari travel guide and information.


1. quoted in Athenodorus (mid 3rd century BC) [VII, 302 a, fragment 34.7 in Brandt]

2. See Cicero (106-43 BC), “De Fato”, 34, and Ovid (43-18 BC), “Heroides”, 8, 31

3. “Sources for a history of Tindari and Patti”], Rome, 2004:  161  seq. The above historical data  refer to the 'Appendix', which shows the translation from German of the article by Konrat Ziegler, "Tyndaris" in "Real-Enciclopaedie, VII, A2, 1943. See Giovanni Crisostomo Sciacca, “Fonti per una storia di Tindari e Patti”.

4. Zonaras, Byzantine historian, 12th century, (VIII, 12)

5. ref 3, pp. 162-164

6. [Diodorus (1st century BC  ), XVI, 69, 8]