previous next

MOTYA (St. Pantateo) Trapani, Sicily.

An ancient Punic city on a small island (ca. 45 ha) less than 1 km from the nearest point of Sicily (Spagnola), but 8 km from Marsala (Capo Boeo). Historical information is slight. A well-known passage in Thucydides (6.2) relates that when the Greeks arrived in Sicily the Phoenicians retreated to Motya, Soluntum, and Palermo. On the basis of the foundation dates for the Greek colonies in Sicily, it can reasonably be assumed that Motya was founded between the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 7th c. B.C. We have no exact information on the history of Motya between its foundation and its destruction in 397 B.C., which Diodoros (14:47-53) describes in great detail. It is certainly probable that Motya was involved in the major historical events that took place around Motya itself, that is, the expeditions of Pentathlos and Dorieus at the beginning and at the end of the 6th c. respectively.

About the siege and consequent destruction of the city in 397 B.C., Diodoros says that Dionysios, leaving Syracuse, moved directly against Motya because he was convinced that its conquest would be a grave blow to Carthaginian power in Sicily; from this we can infer Motya's importance in respect to the other Punic cities in Western Sicily. Diodoros tells us that Motya's survivors went to found Lilybaion. On the basis of this information it had been assumed that life ceased in Motya after its destruction, but recent excavation has shown that it continued, though on a reduced scale.

When excavation began in 1906, extensive ruins were already visible, including the N gate. Since that time there have been excavations at the site called Cappiddazzu, where a sacred structure was uncovered; also in the archaic necropolis, in the so-called House of the Mosaics, within the habitation center, and along certain stretches of the walls.

The earliest evidence for the historical period has been found in the archaic necropolis in the NW part of the island; it is composed mostly of cremation burials within amphoras placed in rock-cut pits or in large rectangular cists made of stone slabs; at a higher level there are a few inhumation burials in stone sarcophagi. Funerary goods are mostly represented by archaic Punic pottery, oinochoai, bottle-shaped vases with wide lip, various types of jugs. Sometimes imported wares are found mixed with local pottery; in the earliest phases they are mostly E Greek cups or Corinthian Geometric skiphoi, which can be dated to the end of the 8th c. B.C. This necropolis was in use until the beginning of the 6th c. B.C.; after that time, contemporary with the construction of the walls, the burials were transferred to another cemetery in Sicily called Birgi. It is probably for this purpose that the underwater causeway, still preserved and used today, was constructed to connect Motya with Birgi.

The entire perimeter of the island (ca. 2 km) is delimited by walls which may have been constructed at the beginning of the 6th c. B.C., perhaps at the time of Pentathlos' expedition. They are built with irregular, roughly squared blocks of local limestone, with the exception of short stretches built in Greek fashion with isodomic blocks of imported tufa. At more or less regular intervals the walls are reinforced by square towers and probably had four gates, of which only the N and the S gates are clearly visible; the former is flanked at the entrance by bastions set at an angle to the line of the walls. It contained six passageways which, in three pairs, controlled access to the city. The two bastions of the S gate are perfectly aligned with the course of the walls. Near this gate is the so-called kothon, a small quadrangular bay (51 x 37 m) which has been considered the island's harbor; recent excavation has shown, however, that it is a small artificial dock.

In the NW part of the island is the sacred area of Phoenician-Punic culture, the tophet, recently excavated and found well preserved; several layers of deposit dating from the 6th to the 3d c. B.C. consists of urns of different types containing the burnt remains of sacrifices. Within the tophet ca. 700 stone stelai have been found, mostly with figured decoration, together with some terracotta female masks perhaps depicting a divinity. Some stelai carry dedicatory inscriptions to Baal-Hammon.

The Cappiddazzu sanctuary is a rectangular enclosure (27.4 x 35.4 m) datable to the 6th c. B.C., within which must have stood several small shrines; inserted into one side of this enclosure, as usual in Phoenician-Punic areas, are the foundations of a large building with three naves, which certainly postdates not only the precinct wall but also the destruction of Motya in 397 B.C.

After this time also dates the section of the habitation center so far uncovered. It is composed primarily of a wide street and a few rooms that belong to a sacred complex similar to some found in Selinus and Soloeis during the 4th and 3d c. B.C.

A house which still retains the peristyle court typical of Hellenistic-Roman houses after the 4th c. B.C. is also reminiscent of Soloeis; in Motya, however, the house has a feature unique in Sicily, a mosaic floor made with black and white pebbles which, besides decorative patterns of clear Greek derivation (such as the maeander), depicts animal fights, a popular subject in the Middle and Near Eastern repertoires.

Motya minted its own coinage as early as the 5th c. B.C., with both Greek and Punic legends. The island has a museum which contains, besides various finds from Lilybaion, all the archaeological material excavated on the island itself, and is therefore one of the indispensable tools for our knowledge of Punic civilization in the Mediterranean.


J. Whitaker, Motya. A Phoenician Colony in Sicily (1921)MPI; B. Isserlin et al., “Motya, a Phoenician-Punic site near Marsala, Sicily,” Annual of Leeds University Oriental Soc. 4 (1962-63) 84ffI; P. Cintas, “La céramique de Motyé et la date de la fondation de Carthage,” BAC (1963-64) 107ffI; A. Ciasca et al., Mozia, I-VII (1965-71)MPI; A. Tusa-Cutroni, “Mozia, monetazione e circolazione,” Mozia, III (1967) 97ffI; S. Moscati, “Iconografie fenicie a Mozia,” RStO 42 (1967) 61ffI.


hide References (1 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (1):
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.2
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: