previous next


ERCTA or ERCTE ( Εἰρκτή, Pol.; Ἐρκτή, Diod.), a mountain on the N. coast of Sicily, in the immediate neighbourhood of Panormus, now called Monte Pellegrino. It is a remarkable isolated mountain mass, rising to the height of 1950 feet above the sea, which washes its foot on the E. and N., while on the other two sides it rises abruptly from the plain near Panormus, a broad strip of which separates it entirely from the mountains on the W. of that city. It thus constitutes a kind of natural fortress, being bounded on three sides by lofty perpendicular cliffs, the only approach being on the S. side, facing the town of Palermo, where a steep zigzag road has been constructed in modern times, leading up to the convent of Sta. Rosalia, near the summit of the mountain, a shrine now visited by crowds of pilgrims, whence the name of Monte Pellegrino. No mention is found of the locality before the time of Pyrrhus, when it was occupied by the Carthaginians as a fortress or fortified post, but was taken by assault by the Epeirot king. (Diod. 22.10, Exc. H. p. 498.) Its chief celebrity, however, dates from the First Punic War, towards the


A. Mountain of Ercta, now Monte Pellegrino.

B. Modern city of Palermo, on the site of Panormus.

C. Bay of Mondello.

D. Bay of Sta. Marit.

E. Plain, extending from Palermo to Mondello.

F. Capo di Gallo. [p. 1.846]

close of which Hamilcar Barca, finding himself unable to keep the field against the Romans, suddenly established himself with his whole army in this mountain fortress, where he maintained himself for nearly three years, in spite of all the efforts of the Romans to dislodge him. A Roman camp was established about 5 stadia from Panormus, for the purpose of covering that city, which was scarcely more than a mile and a half from the foot of the mountain. Hamilcar on his part fortified the only available approach, and skirmishes took place almost daily between the two armies. Polybius has left us a detailed and accurate account of the peculiar character of the locality; but he overrates its extent when he reckons the summit of the mountain as not less than 100 stadia in circuit. The upper part of it, he tells us, was capable of cultivation, and possessed abundance of fresh water; while it commanded a small but secure port, which enabled Hamilcar to carry on his maritime expeditions, with which he ravaged the coasts both of Sicily and Italy. (Pol. 1.56, 57; Diod. 23.20, Exc. H. p. 506.) The determination of this port is the only topographical difficulty connected with Ercte. Arnold (Hist. of Rome, vol. ii. p. 613) supposes it to have been the small bay of Mondello, between Monte Pellegrino and Capo di Gallo; but this could hardly have been effectually commanded from Ercte, and it is more probable that the small cove of Sta. Maria, on the E. side of the mountain, is the one meant. Polybius speaks of the mountain being accessible at three points only; but two of these must have been mere paths, very steep and difficult. Besides the approach from Palermo, there are in fact only two breaks in the line of cliffs, one of which leads directly down to the cove of Sta. Maria. The accompanying plan (copied from Capt. Smyth's survey), and outline view, will give a clear idea of the nature of this mountain fortress. (Cluver. Sicil. p. 277; Amic. ad Fazell. 7.6. p. 318; Swinburne's Travels, vol. ii. p. 209, &c.)

Mannert has erroneously transferred the site of Ercte to the headland now called Capo S. Vito, nearer to Eryx and Drepana than to Panormus; but Polybius's testimony to its close proximity to the latter town is perfectly distinct.



hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: