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Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)


  Lilybaeum (Lilubaion: Eth. Lilubaites, Lilybaetanus: Marsala), a city of Sicily, situated on the promontory of the same name, which forms the extreme W. point of the island, now called Capo Boeo. The promontory of Lilybaeum is mentioned by many ancient writers, as well as by all the geographers, as one of the three principal headlands of Sicily, from which that island derived its name of Trinacria. It was the most westerly point of the island and that nearest to Africa, from which it was distant only 1000 stadia according to Polybius, but Strabo gives the distance as 1500 stadia. Both statements, however, exceed the truth ; the real distance from Cape Bon, the nearest point of the coast of Africa, being less than 90 geog. miles, or 90 stadia. (Pol. i. 42 ; Strab. ii. p. 122, vi. pp. 265, 267; Mel. ii. 7; Plin.iii. 8. s. 14; Ptol.iii. 4. § 5; Diod. v. 2, xiii. 54; Steph. B. s. v.; Dionys. Per. 470.) The headland itself is a low but rocky point, continued out to sea by a reef of hidden rocks and shoals, which rendered the navigation dangerous, though there was a safe port immediately adjoining the promontory. (Pol. l. c.; Virg. Aen. iii. 706.)
  Diodorus tells us distinctly that there was no town upon the spot until after the destruction of Motya by Dionysius of Syracuse, in B.C. 397, when the Carthaginians, instead of attempting to restore that city, settled its few remaining inhabitants on the promontory of Lilybaeum, which they fortified and converted into a stronghold. (Diod. xiii. 54, xxii. 10.) It is, therefore, certainly a mistake (though one of which we cannot explain the origin) when that author, as early as B.C. 454, speaks of the Lilybaeans and Segestans as engaged in war on account of the territory on the banks of the river Mazarus (Id. xi. 86). The promontory and port were, however, frequented at a much earlier period: we are told that the Cnidians under Pentathlus, who afterwards founded Lipara, landed in the first instance at Lilybaeum (Id. v. 9); and it was also the point where, in B.C. 409, Hannibal landed with the great Carthaginian armament designed for the attack of Selinus. (Id. xiii. 54.) Diodorus tells us that on the promontory was a well (phrear), from whence the city took its name: this was obviously the same with a source or spring of fresh water rising in a cave, now consecrated to St. John, and still regarded with superstitious reverence. (Fazell. de Reb. Sic. vii. 1; Smyth's Sicily, p. 228.)
  It is clear that the new city quickly rose to prosperity, and became an important stronghold of the Carthaginian power, succeeding in this respect to the position that Motya had previously held. Its proximity to Africa rendered it of especial importance to the Carthaginians in securing their communications with Sicily, while the danger which would threaten them if a foreign power were in possession of such a fortress, immediately opposite to the gulf of Carthage, led them to spare no pains for its security. Hence Lilybaeum twice became the last bulwark of their power in Sicily. In B.C. 276 it was besieged by Pyrrhus, who had already reduced all the other cities of Sicily, and expelled the Carthaginians from all their other strongholds. But they continued to throw in supplies and reinforcements by sea to Lilybaeum, so that the king, after a siege of two months, was compelled to abandon the enterprise as hopeless. (Diod. xxii. 10. Exc. Hoesch. pp. 498, 499.) But it is the memorable siege of Lilybaeum by the Romans in the First Punic War which has given to that city its chief historical celebrity. When the Romans first commenced the siege in the fifteenth year of the war, B.C. 250, they were already masters of the whole of Sicily, with the exception of Lilybaeum and Drepanum; and hence they were able to concentrate all their efforts and employ the armies of both consuls in the attack of the former city, while the Carthaginians on their side exerted all their energies in its defence. They had just before removed thither all the inhabitants of Selinus (Diod. xxiv. 1. p. 506), and in addition to the citizens there was a garrison in the place of 10,000 men. (Pol. i. 42.) The city appears to have occupied the whole of the promontory, and was fortified on the land side by a wall flanked with towers and protected by a deep ditch. The Romans at first attacked this vigorously, but all their efforts were frustrated by the courage and activity of the Carthaginian commander Himilco; their battering engines were burnt by a sally of the besieged, and on the approach of winter the consuls were compelled to convert the siege into a blockade. This was easily maintained on the land side, but the Romans in vain endeavoured to exclude the besieged from succours by sea. A Carthaginian fleet under Hannibal succeeded in making good its entrance into the port; and the skilful Carthaginian captains were able to elude the vigilance of the Roman cruisers, and keep up free communications with the besieged. The Roman consuls next tried to block up the entrance of the port with a mound, but this was soon carried away by the violence of the waves; and soon after, Adherbal, the Carthaginian commander-in-chief, who lay with a large fleet at Drepanum, totally defeated the Roman fleet under the consul P. Claudius, B.C. 249. This disaster was followed by the almost total loss of two Roman fleets in succession by shipwreck, and these accumulated misfortunes compelled the Romans to abandon the very attempt to contest the dominion of the sea. But though they could not in consequence maintain any efficient blockade, they still continued to hem in Lilybaeum on the land side, and their armies continued encamped before the city for several years in succession. It was not till the tenth year of the siege that the victory of C. Lutatius Catulus at the Aegates, B.C. 241, compelled the Carthaginians to conclude peace, and to abandon the possession of Lilybaeum and Drepanum, which up to that time the continued efforts of the Romans had failed in wresting from their hands. (Pol. i. 41-54, 59-62; Diod. xxiv. 1, 3, 11, Exc. H. pp. 506 -509, Exc. Vales. p. 565 ; Zonar. viii. 15-17; Oros. iv. 10.)
  Lilybaeum now passed into the condition of a Roman provincial town: but it continued to be a flourishing and populous place. Its position rendered it now as important a point to the Romans for the invasion of Africa, as it had previously been to the Carthaginians for that of Sicily; and hence its name is one of frequent occurrence during almost all periods of Roman history. Thus, at the outbreak of the Second Punic War, B.C. 218, Lilybaeum was the station of the Roman fleet under the praetor M. Aemilius, who defeated a Carthaginian force that had attempted to surprise that important post. (Liv. xxi. 49, 50.) During the course of the same war it was the point from whence Roman commanders repeatedly made predatory descents with small squadrons upon the coast of Africa; and towards the close of the same memorable contest, B.C. 204, it was from thence that Scipio sailed with the fleet and army which were destined for the conquest of Africa. (Liv. xxv. 31, xxvii. 5, xxix. 24.) In like manner it was at Lilybaeum that the younger Scipio Africanus assembled his fleet and army in B.C. 149, preparatory to passing over into Africa (Diod. xxxii. 6); and in the Civil Wars Caesar made it his head-quarters when preparing for his African campaign against Scipio and Juba, B.C. 47. (Hirt. B. Afr. 1, 2, 37; Appian, B.C. ii. 95.) It was also one of the chief naval stations of Sextus Pompeius in his war with Augustus, B.C. 36. (Appian, B.C. v. 97, 122; Dion Cass. xlix. 8.) Nor was the importance of Lilybaeum confined to these warlike occasions: it is evident that it was the habitual port of communication between Sicily and Africa, and must have derived the greatest prosperity from the constant traffic which arose from this circumstance. Hence we find it selected as the habitual place of residence of one of the two quaestors of Sicily (Pseud. Ascon. in Verr. p. 100); and Cicero, who had himself held that office at Lily-baeum, calls it splendidissima civitas (Verr. v. 5.) It was one of the few cities of Sicily which still retained some importance in the time of Strabo. (Strab. vi. p. 272.) Its continued prosperity under the Roman Empire is sufficiently attested by inscriptions: from one of these we learn that its population was divided into twelve tribes; a rare mode of municipal organisation. (Torremuzza Inscr. Sicil. pp. 7, 15, 49; Orell. Inscr. 151, 1691, 3718.) In another inscription it bears the title of a colonia: the time when it became such is uncertain; but probably not till the reign of Hadrian, as Pliny does not mention it among the five colonies founded by Augustus in Sicily. (Plin. iii. 8. s. 14; Ptol. iii. 4. § 5; Itin. Ant. pp, 86, 89, 96; Zumpt, de Colon. p. 409.)
  After the fall of the Roman Empire Lilybaeum still continued to be one of the most important cities of Sicily. It is mentioned as such under the successive dominion of the Goths and Vandals (Procop. B. V. i. 8, ii. 5); and during the period of the Arabian dominion in Sicily, that people attached so much value to its port, that they gave it the name of Marsa Alla,- the port of God, -from whence has come its modern appellation of Marsala. It was not till the 16th century that this celebrated port was blocked up with a mole or mound of sunken stones by order of the Emperor Charles V., in order to protect it from the attacks of the Barbary corsairs. From that period Trapani has taken its place as the principal port in the W. of Sicily; but Marsala is still a considerable town, and a place of some trade, especially in wine. (Smyth's Sicily, p. 232.) Very few vestiges of the ancient city remain, but numerous fragments of sculpture, vases, and other relics, as well as coins, have been discovered on the site; and some portions of an ancient aqueduct are still visible. The site of the ancient port, though now filled with mud, may be distinctly traced, but it is of small extent, and could never have had a depth of more than 12 or 14 feet.. The rocks and shoals, which even in ancient times rendered it difficult of approach (Pol. i. 42), would now effectually prevent it from being used as a port for large vessels. (Smyth, l. c. pp. 233, 234.)
  It is a strong proof of the extent to which Greek culture and civilisation were diffused throughout Sicily, that, though we have no account of Lilybaeum being at any time in possession of the Greeks, but, on the contrary, we know positively that it was founded by the Carthaginians, and continued in their hands till it passed under the dominion of Rome, yet the coins of Lilybaeum are exclusively Greek; and we learn from Cicero that it was possible for a man to acquire a knowledge of the Greek language and literature in that city (Cic. in Caecil. 12).

This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited August 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities


   (Ailubaion). The modern Marsala; a town in the west of Sicily, with an excellent harbour, situated on a promontory of the same name, opposite to the Promontorium Hermaeum or Mercurii (Cape Bon) in Africa, the space between the two being the shortest distance between Sicily and Africa. The town was founded by the Carthaginians about B.C. 397, and was the strongest fortress possessed by them in Sicily, having massive walls surrounded by a huge moat forty feet in depth and some sixty feet wide. It was besieged by the Romans in the First Punic War, but they failed to take it, and it was only given up to them later as a part of the concessions made in the final treaty of peace.

This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

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