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PONTIA (Ponza, island of) Italy.

In the Tyrrhenian Sea S of Rome, 33 km off Cape Circe the nearest point of land on the W coast of Italy, and 268 km from the E coast of Sardinia. The main island of the Pontine archipelago, its relative importance is due to the fact that it is the only island in the group with a naturally protected harbor. According to legend, this is Circe's mythical island, and it has been suggested that the NW Pontine group, consisting of the islands of Pontia, Palmarola, Zannone, and the rock of Gavi may be the islands of the Sirens. It lies in an area rich in Homeric tradition throughout classical antiquity (Cic. Nat. D. 3.19; Verg. Aen. 3.386; Strab. 5; Pliny HN 3.9).

So far, no archaeological evidence has appeared of a Greek or Mycenaean settlement in the Pontine group. The islands, however, provide the first landfall on a course from the W Mediterranean through the Straits of Bonifaccio to the Gulf of Gaeta and the Bay of Naples area, and Pontia's protected coves were surely known to mariners from earliest times. Pontia may be thought of as the outer edge of the maritime zone controlled by the cities of Magna Graecia: beyond it to the N and W lay the hostile waters of the Etruscans and their Phoenician allies.

A Latin colony was founded on Pontia by the Romans in 313-312 (Diod. Sic. 19.1013; Livy 9.28.7), a significant proof of Rome's early concern with the sea and with its maritime defenses in the Tyrrhenian. According to Livy (27.9.1-10; 39.15) the colony was important enough by the year 209 to lend noteworthy assistance to Rome in the war with Hannibal, but no trace of the Republican settlement has been found.

During the Giulio-Claudian dynasty the island was famous as a place of exile for prominent members of the royal family; among them Nero, son of Germanicus, an adopted son of Tiberius (Suet. Tib. 54) and the sisters, Agrippina and Giulia, banished by Caligula (Dio. Cass. Hist. 84; Tac. Ann. 14.53). The major extant ruins belongs to two villas of the Augustan and early Julio-Claudian periods. One of these occupied a position on the high promontory near the S end of the E shore of the island known as the Punta della Madonna. This headland encloses the seaward side of Pontia's best protected cove, probably the location of the ancient harbor as it is of the modern one. Along the heights are remains of ancient terracing and it is possible to trace the outlines of several structures, one of which has been described as an odeon. At the base of the headland at water level, facing into the bay, a system of rock-cut chambers and basins are usually described as fisheries belonging to this villa. The largest of the basins (7.5 x 10 m) is located just outside the root of the breakwater at Punta della Madonna, which, together with the harbor embankments, was completely rebuilt in 1739. The other villa occupied a position on the landward side of the harbor at a place now called Santa Maria.

Along the heights of the ridge separating the harbor at Punta della Madonna from another deep cove on the W side of the island is a necropolis characterized by a standard type of Hellenistic rock-cut hypogeum: a single rectangular chamber containing both niches for cinerary urns and loculi for inhumation burials. All the known materials from this cliff-top necropolis are of the 1st and 2d centuries A.D., though architecturally it belongs to an earlier tradition.

Apart from the villas and the necropolis the bay area enclosed by Punta della Madonna and Santa Maria preserves an interesting feature which further suggests that this SE portion of the island was the center of ancient habitation on Pontia and perhaps the location of the early Republican settlement. This is a man-made tunnel 168 m long and lighted at intervals by a number of shafts cut through the rock overhead. The tunnel connects the main harbor area at Punta della Madonna with the Cala Chiaia di Luna, a cove facing W on the other side of the island's narrow spine. This tunnel, undoubtedly of Roman construction, is in many places reinforced with concrete faced with reticulate masonry. It connects what must have been the most thickly settled part of the island around the harbor on the S-SE coast with an alternative bay on the W, the Chiaia di Luna, which was no doubt used for mooring ships during periods of bad weather from E and NE winds.

On the N side of the island a system of ancient subterranean aqueducts has been reported with openings in the Calla dell'Inferno on the E, and possibly also farther S near Santa Maria. A recent underwater survey along the coasts of Pontia reported concentrations of amphora fragments and fragments of common and cooking ware dating mainly to the Late Republican and Early Empire. The main concentrations were located off Punta della Madonna and Santa Maria and seem to belong to the villa sites.


G. Tricoli, Monografia per la Isole del Gruppo Ponziano (1859); A. Maiuri, “Ricognizioni archeologiche nell'Isola di Ponza,” BdA 6 (1926) 224-32; L. Jacono, “Solarium d'una villa romana,” NSc (1929) 232ff; id., “Un porto duomillenario,” Istituto di Studi Romani. Atti del III Congresso Nazionale (1935) 318-24; id., “Ponza,” Enc. Ital. 27 (1935) 907; id., “Una singolare piscina marittima in Ponza,” Campania Romana (Sezione Campana degli Studi Romani, Naples, 1938) 143-62; L. M. Dies, Ponza, perla di Roma. (1950) with an introduction by A. Maiuri; A. M. Radmilli, “Le Isole Pontine e il commercio dell'ossidiana nel continente durante il periodo neo-eneolitico,” Origines (Scritti per M. G. Baserga) (1954) 115ff; O. Baldacci, Le Isole Ponziane Memoria della Societa Geografica Italiana, XXII (1955); F. Castaldi, “L'Isola di Ponza,” Annali dell'Istituto Superiore di Scienze e Lettere Santa Chiara 8 (1958) 167-215; EAA 6 (1965) 376 (L. Guerrini); M.F.A. Ghetti, L'archipelago Pontino nella Storia del Medio Tirreno (1968) esp. pp. 1-59 and bibliography, pp. 309-15; G. Schmiedt, Il Livello Antica del Mar Tirreno (1972) 177.


hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 3.386
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 28
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 9.1
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