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SOLOEIS or SOLUNTUM Sicily.

The ruins of an ancient city ca. 20 km E of Palermo, near the village of Santa Flavia, on a plateau of Monte Catalfano.

Among the ancient sources, the only definite reference to the site is Thucycides (6.2.6), which says that when the Greeks began to arrive, the Phoenicians abandoned most of their settlements and retired to Motya, Soloeis, and Panormos. These events must have occurred between the end of the 8th and the first half of the 7th c. B.C., at a time when the Greek colonization of Sicily could be considered for the most part accomplished. Motya and Panormos correspond closely in their historical and the archaeological evidence; but at Soloeis the archaeological remains clearly illustrate its Hellenistic-Roman phase, which was originally dated to the 2d c. B.C.-2d c. A.D.

Recent excavation has shown that the city was founded about the middle of the 4th c. B.C. by the inhabitants of an earlier Soloeis which had been destroyed by Dionysios a few years before (Diod. 14.48.5; 78.7). The earlier city may possibly be identified with the nearby area of Cannita, from which come two sarcophagi (Palermo Museum) and where the finds date at the latest from the 4th c. B.C. By 307 B.C. the new city must already have been in existence since Agathokles' African veterans were sent here (Diod. 20.64.4). It surrendered to the Romans in 254 B.C. (Diod. 23.18); Cicero (Verr. 3.103) mentions it among the civitates decumanae which were victimized by Verres. An inscription mentioning a dedication by the respublica Soluntinorum to Fulvia Plautilla (CIL X, 2 no. 7336) dates from the time of Antoninus Pius. The latest archaeological finds are some coins of Commodus (A.D. 180-192): in this period or perhaps to the following century the city was probably abandoned.

The extensive remains were identified at the end of the 16th c. by the Sicilian topographer T. Fazello, who also noted long stretches of the walls, which have been recently located. In 1825 the statue of a seated god, 2d-1st c. B.C., was discovered; the sculpture is now in the Palermo Museum. Since that time several excavation campaigns have uncovered most of the ancient city.

The very regular urban plan was carefully studied and rigorously applied to a difficult terrain, an elevated hilly area which at some points presents differences in level as great as 60 m. A street partly paved with large tiles and approximately 6 m wide crosses the city almost in its center with a SE-NW direction. Two streets run parallel to this road on either side of it; they are all crossed at right angles by other streets paved with large stone blocks, ranging in width from 3 to 5.8 m and often with an inclination which in places is as great as 1:4. These streets form a regular network which isolates rectangular blocks of consistent dimensions (40 x 80 m); these insulae are in turn divided lengthwise down the middle by a narrow alley, the so-called ambitus (0.80 - 1.00 m in width) which serves a double function as a channel to collect rain water and as a ventilation shaft for the inner rooms of the houses.

The houses fall into two main types: those with a central peristyle of Hellenistic-Roman type surrounded by the various rooms of the house, and those without this typical courtyard. Houses of the first type are grouped in the center of the city, while those of the second are on the periphery. As many as six houses of the first type stood within one insula, some of them are as large as 540 m square and exhibiting a certain refinement both in architectural details and interior decoration; their rooms are often adorned with wall paintings. The second type, never larger than 400 m square, could accommodate up to eight houses in one block.

The public buildings are confined to a section at the SW end of the city; this civic area begins with an open-air altar of Punic type, located where the main road paved with bricks widens into a large square; there are other sacred structures, the square proper, the theater, the odeon (or bouleuterion) a large public cistern, and several other buildings, one of which was probably a gymnasium. This general area is not crossed by side streets, but is perfectly inserted within the grid system since the size of each public building is an exact multiple of the basic unit for the insula.

This Greek urbanistic context has certain Punic features, which reflect the spiritual needs of the city's non-Greek inhabitants—major and minor monuments particularly connected with religion, the cult of the dead, or the objects of daily living.

Besides the open-air altar previously mentioned, two more religious structures, clearly of Oriental derivation, have been found in the city. One of these comprises several rooms accessible through a long corridor, and is located on the highest point of the city (the “high places” of the Bible). The second structure lies somewhat lower down, and has two vaulted rooms, each of which must have contained the statue of a divinity, in one a male and in the other a female. Of these statues, the first is most likely to be the god found in 1825 and previously mentioned; the second perhaps Astarte (also Palermo Museum) seated on a throne flanked by two winged sphinxes. The size of this work, which is considerably smaller than that of the male divinity, makes the attribution to the sanctuary somewhat uncertain.

The necropolis lies at the foot of Monte Catalfano; most of its graves are of Punic type and are cut in the rock, either as a simple cist into which a stone sarcophagus was placed, or as one or two subterranean chambers with a dromos; within these chamber tombs, on benches, were one or more sarcophagi, together with funerary offerings.

Both the houses and the graves have yielded Punic pottery together with Greek and Hellenistic-Roman wares.

Perhaps better than other sites in Western Sicily the city can testify to that encounter between Greek and Punic culture which represented one of the most interesting components for our knowledge of ancient Mediterranean history. The city had its own mint and issued coins bearing both Greek and Punic legends.

At the entrance to the archaeological zone is a small antiquarium.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

A. Tusa-Cutroni, “Vita dei Medaglieri,” Atti Istituto Italiano di Numismatica 2 (1955) 192ff; V. Tusa, “La questione di Solunto e la dea femminile seduta,” Karthago 12 (1963-64) 3ffMI; id., “Edificio Sacro a Solunto,” Palladio 17 (1967) 155ffPI; E. Gabrici, “Alla ricerca della Solunto di Tucidide,” Kokalos 5 (1959) 1ff; L. Natoli, “Caratteri della cultura abitativa soluntina,” Scritti in Onore di Salvatore Caronia (1965) lffMPI; A. M. Bisi, “Le stele puniche di Solunto,” ArchCl 17 (1965) 211ffI.

V. TUSA

hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.48.5
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 20.64.4
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