A city on the N coast of
Sicily between Kalakta and Kephaloidion (district of S.
Maria, Commune of Tusa, Province of Messina). It is
located on a large hill overlooking the sea to the N and
the valleys of the rivers Halaisos (modern Tusa) and
Opikanos (modern Cicera) to the W and E respectively.
It was founded in 403 B.C. by Archonides of Herbita and
peopled with Sikels and Greeks who had fled to the site
during the wars waged by Dionysios I (Diod. 14.16
Around the middle of the 4th c. the city minted its own
coinage in the name of a federation in which it occupied
a position of prominence (Head, HN
125). At the beginning of the first Punic war it was the first Sicilian town
to side with Rome (Diod. 23.4
); it was therefore made
libera et immunis and was one of the main cities of the
island until the 1st c. B.C. (Cic. Verr
. 3.6.13). Having
achieved the status of municipium in the Augustan period, it enjoyed considerable prosperity through the 2d
and 3d c. A.D. During the Byzantine period it declined and
was abandoned after the Arab invasion.
Excavation tests have shown that the urban plan is
largely preserved, and systematic excavation was begun
in 1970. The circuit wall (Hellenistic in date) built in
isodomic masonry with curtains between piers, is among
the most complete in Sicily. The E and N sides (which
include an expansion downhill and an imposing terracing
with buttresses uphill) are the best preserved; near the S
gates, at regular intervals, are set square towers, which
at times reach a height of ca. 2 m. The main urban
center lies on the E plateau and shows a street system
based on quasi-orthogonal principles: onto a cardo ca.
6 m wide, open decumani, all well paved with small stone
blocks, which create insulae. An insula near the agora
has yielded numerous Hellenistic architectural elements
from a peristyle house and Roman mosaics from another.
On the highest part of the hill have been found the substructures of two temples, one of which is almost certainly that of Apollo. The main monument is the agora.
The square is paved with bricks and contains bases for
monuments and the podium for speakers, in opus reticulatum. On its W and N sides it is bordered by an L-shaped portico with double nave and columns of stone
and terracotta, which on epigraphic evidence has been
identified as the basilica. Against the (rear) wall of the
portico (5 m high) are small shrines containing altars
and an abundance of marble floors and moldings, honorary inscriptions, and pieces of sculpture. The first plan
of the agora, which was modified during Imperial
times, goes back to the Hellenistic period; it was abandoned presumably after the Constantinian age. In the
late Byzantine period the agora, already covered over,
became the site of a poor cemetery.
G. F. Carettoni, NSc