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ILVA (Ἰλούα, Ptol.: Elba), called by the Greeks AETHALIA (Αἰθαλία, Strab., Diod.; Αἰθάλεια, Ps. Arist., Philist. ap. Steph. B. sub voce an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, lying off the coast of Etruria, opposite to the headland and city of Populonium. It is much the most important of the islands in this sea, situated between Corsica and the mainland, being about 18 miles in length, and 12 in its greatest breadth. Its outline is extremely irregular, the mountains which compose it, and which rise in some parts to a height of above 3000 feet, being indented by deep gulfs and inlets, so that its breadth in some places does not exceed 3 miles. Its circuit is greatly overstated by Pliny at 100 Roman miles: the same author gives its distance from Populonium at 10 miles, which is just about correct; but the width of the strait which separates it from the nearest point of the mainland (near Piombino) does not much exceed 6, though estimated by Diodorus as 100 stadia (12 1/2 miles), and by Strabo, through an enormous error, at not less than 300 stadia. (Strab. v. p.223; Diod. 5.13; Plin. iii.; 6. s. 12; Mel. 2.7.19; Scyl. p. 2.6; Apoll. Rhod. [p. 2.40]iv, 654.) Ilva was celebrated in ancient times, as it still is at the present day, for its iron mines; these were probably worked from a very early period by the Tyrrhenians of the opposite coast, and were already noticed by Hecataeus, who called the island Αἰθάλη: indeed, its Greek name was generally regarded as derived from the smoke (αἰθάλη) of the numerous furnaces employed in smelting the iron. (Diod. 5.13; Steph. B. sub voce In the time of Strabo, however, the iron ore was no longer smelted in the island itself, the want of fuel compelling the inhabitants (as it does at the present day) to transport the ore to the opposite mainland, where it was smelted and wrought so as to be fitted for commercial purposes. The unfailing abundance of the ore (alluded to by Virgil in the line

“Insula inexhaustis Chalybum generosa metallis” ) led to the notion that it grew again as fast as it was extracted from the mines. It had also the advantage of being extracted with great facility, as it is not sunk deep beneath the earth, but forms a hill or mountain mass of solid ore. (Strab. l.c.; Diod. l.c.; Verg. A. 10.174; Plin. Nat. 3.6. s. 12, 34.14. s. 41; Pseud. Arist. de Mirab. 95; Rutil. Itin. 1.351--356; Sil. Ital. 8.616.) The mines, which are still extensively worked, are situated at a place called Rio, near the E. coast of the island; they exhibit in many cases unequivocal evidence of the ancient workings.

The only mention of Ilva that occurs in history is in B.C. 453, when we learn from Diodorus that it was ravaged by a Syracusan fleet under Phayllus, in revenge for the piratical expeditions of the Tyrrhenians. Phayllus having effected but little, a second fleet was sent under Apelles, who is said to have made himself master of the island; but it certainly did not remain subject to Syracuse. (Diod. 11.88.) The name is again incidentally mentioned by Livy (30.39) during the expedition of the consul Tib. Claudius to Corsica and Sardinia.

Ilva has the advantage of several excellent ports, of which that on the N. side of the island, now called Porto Ferraio, was known in ancient times as the PORTUS ARGOUS (Ἀργῶος λιμήν), from the circumstance that the Argonauts were believed to have touched there on their return voyage, while sailing in quest of Circe. (Strab. v. p.224; Diod. 4.56; Apollon. 4.658.) Considerable ruins of buildings of Roman date are visible at a place called Le Grotte, near Porto Ferraio, and others are found near Capo Castello, at the NE. extremity of the island. The quarries of granite near S. Piero, in the SW. part of Elba, appears also to have been extensively worked by the Romans, though no notice of them is found in any ancient writer; but numerous columns, basins for fountains, and other architectural ornaments, still remain, either wholly or in part hewn out of the adjacent quarry. (Hoare, Class. Tour, vol. i. pp. 23--29).


hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.88
    • Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 4.658
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 10.174
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.34
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.6
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 30, 39
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 4.56
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 5.13
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