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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites
Remains of an ancient site on Monte San Giuliano at Erice 12 km NE
of Trapani. Fragments of Neolithic and Bronze Age objects have been found at the
foot of the mountain and at its summit a sanctuary dedicated first to the Phoenician
Astarte and then to Aphrodite and Venus, whom the Romans called "Erycina
ridens." Ancient sources differ on the origins of the cult (Diod. 4.78; Dion.
Hal. 1.53) but all agree that Eryx was founded by the Elymians of W Sicily, who
were centered at Segesta. The Elymians, especially those of Eryx, always maintained
close relations with the Punic Phoenicians both during the various wars against
the Greeks and in peace. The Spartan Dorieus at the end of the 6th c. B.C. managed
to found a Greek center, Heraklea, at the foot of Eryx, but the site was immediately
destroyed by a coalition of Elymians and Phoenicians. During the first Punic war,
in 249 B.C., Eryx was occupied by the Romans for the first time, reconquered by
Hamilcar in 244 B.C. but lost by the Phoenicians after the battle of the Egadi
islands in 241 B.C. when almost all of Sicily passed under Roman domination. Rome
always looked on Eryx with favor since it, like Rome, traced its origin back to
Troy through Aphrodite and Aeneas.
The few remains of the sanctuary, with the exception of sporadic fragments
of the 6th-5th c. B.C., belong to the Roman Imperial period, perhaps when the
temple was rebuilt under the emperor Claudius. Long stretches of the city walls
are well preserved though full of restorations and rebuildings of various periods,
including some of recent date. Recent excavations have revealed that this circuit
of fortifications with its towers and gates, had two distinct building phases.
During the first (8th-mid 6th B.C.) the lower courses were built in the megalithic
technique; to this phase must be attributed the many sherds of painted pottery
typical of various Elymian centers in W Sicily, and specifically of Segesta. During
the second (mid 6th-mid 3d B.C.), that is, from the period of greatest Punic influence
on Eryx to the Roman conquest, the upper courses were built. Punic influence is
well attested by the numerous Phoenician characters inscribed on many blocks of
The small Museo Civico houses various objects, almost all found at
Eryx, which attest ot the presence of non-Greek peoples at the site; they consist
mostly of statuettes, amulets, scarabs, terracotta vases which reflect a Cypro-Phoenician
influence during the 6th c. B.C. as well as a persistence of Punic culture until
the Hellenistic-Roman period.
V. Tusa, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites,
Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from
Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
Perseus Project index
Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)
Eryx (Erux: Eth. Erukinos, Erycinus: S. Giuliano), the name of a city
and mountain in the W. of Sicily, about 6 miles from Drepana, and two from the
sea-coast. The mountain (Mons Eryx, Plin. iii. 8. s. 14; but Mons Erycus, Cic.
Verr. ii. 4. 7; Tac. Ann. iv. 43), now called Monte S. Giuliano, is a wholly isolated
peak, rising in the midst of a low undulating tract, which causes its elevation
to appear much more considerable than it really is, so that it was regarded in
ancient as well as modem times as the most lofty summit in the whole island next
to Aetna (Pol. i. 55; Mel. ii. 7. § 17; Solin. 5. § 9), though its real elevation
does not exceed 2184 English feet. (Smyth's Sicily, p. 242.) Hence we find Eryx
alluded to by Virgil and other Latin poets as a mountain of the first order of
magnitude, and associated with Athos, Aetna, &c. (Virg. Aen. xii. 701; Val. Flacc.
ii. 523.) On its summit stood a celebrated temple of Venus or Aphrodite, founded,
according to the current legend, by Aeneas (Strab. xiii. p. 608; Virg. Aen. v.
759), from whence the goddess derived the surname of Venus Erycina, by which she
is often mentioned by Latin writers. (Hor. Carm. i. 2. 33; Ovid, Heroid. 15. 57,
&c.) Another legend, followed by Diodorus, ascribed the foundation both of the
temple and city to an eponymous hero named Eryx, who was said to have received
Hercules on his visit to this part of Sicily, and contended with that hero in
a wrestling match, but was vanquished by him. This Eryx was a son of Aphrodite
and Butes, a king of the country, and is hence repeatedly alluded to by Virgil
as a brother of Aeneas, though that poet does not refer to him the foundation
of the city. (Died. iv. 23, 83; Virg. Aen. v. 24, 412, &c.; Serv. ad loc.) The
legends which connected it with Aeneas and a Trojan chief named Elymus evidently
pointed to what we learn from Thucydides as an historical fact, that Eryx as well
as Segesta was a city of the Elymi, a Sicilian tribe, which is represented by
almost all ancient writers as of Trojan descent. (Thuc. vi. 2; Strab. xiii. p.
608.) It does not appear to have ever received a Greek colony, but became gradually
Hellenised, like most other cities of Sicily, to a great extent; though Thucydides
still speaks of the Elymi, including the people of Eryx and Segesta, as barbarians.
Nothing is known of its history previous to that period, but it seems probable
that it followed for the most part the lead of the more powerful city of Segesta,
and after the failure of the Athenian expedition became a dependent ally of the
Carthaginians. In B.C. 406, a sea-fight took place between a Carthaginian and
a Syracusan fleet off the neighbourhood of Eryx, in which the latter was victorious.
(Diod. xiii. 80.) On occasion of the great expedition of Dionysius to the W. of
Sicily, in B.C. 397, Eryx was one of the cities which joined the Syracusan despot
just before the siege of Motya, but it was speedily recovered by Himilco in the
following year. (Id. xiv. 48, 55 ) It again fell into the hands of Dionysius shortly
before his death (Id. xv. 73), but must have been once more recovered by the Carthaginians,
and probably continued subject to their rule till the expedition of Pyrrhus (B.C.
278). On that occasion it was occupied by a strong garrison, which, combined with
its natural strength of position, enabled it to oppose a vigorous resistance to
the king of Epeirus. It was, however, taken by assault, Pyrrhus himself leading
the attack, and taking the opportunity to display his personal prowess as a worthy
descendant of Heracles. (Diod. xx. 10, Exc. H. p. 498.) In the First Punic War
we find Eryx again in the hands of the Carthaginians, and in B.C. 260 their general
Hamilcar destroyed the city, removing the inhabitants to the neighbouring promontory
of Drepanum, where he founded the town of that name. (Id. xxiii. 9.) The old site,
however, seems not to have been wholly deserted, for a few years later we are
told that the Roman consul L. Junius made himself master by surprise both of the
temple and the city. (Id. xxiv. 1; Pol. i. 55; Zonar. viii. 15.) The former seems
to have been well fortified, and, from its position on the summit of the mountain,
constituted a military post of great strength. Hence probably it was that Hamilcar
Barca, suddenly abandoning the singular position he had so long held on the mountain
of Ercte, transferred his forces to Eryx, as being a still more impregnable stronghold.
But though he surprised and made himself master of the town of Eryx, which was
situated about half-way up the mountain, he was unable to reduce the temple and
fortress on the summit, the Roman garrison of which was able to defy all his efforts.
Meanwhile Hamilcar maintained his position in the city, the remaining inhabitants
of which he transferred to Drepana; and though besieged or blockaded in his turn
by a Roman army at the foot of the mountain, he preserved his communications with
the sea, and was only compelled to abandon possession of Eryx and Drepana when
the great naval victory of Lutatius Catulus over the Carthaginians forced that
people to sue for peace, B.C. 241. (Pol. i. 58; Diod. xxiv. 8. p. 509; Liv. xxi.
10, xxviii. 41.)
From this time the town of Eryx sinks into insignificance, and it
may even be doubted whether it was ever restored. Cicero alludes to the temple,
but never notices the town; and Strabo speaks of it as in his day almost uninhabited.
Pliny, indeed, enumerates the Erycini among the municipal communities of Sicily;
but the circumstance mentioned by Tacitus, that it was the Segestans who applied
to Tiberius for the restoration of the temple, would seem to indicate that the
sanctuary was at that time dependent, in a municipal sense, on Segesta. (Cic.
Verr. ii. 8, 47; Strab. v. p. 272; Plin. iii. 8. s. 14; Tac. Ann. iv. 43.) No
trace of the subsequent existence of the town of Eryx is found; the remaining
inhabitants appear to have settled on the summit of the hill, where the modern
town of S. Giuliano has grown up on the site of the temple. No remains of the
ancient city are extant; but it appears to have occupied the site now marked by
the convent of Sta. Anna, about half-way down the mountain. (Smyth's Sicily, p.
The temple, as already mentioned, was generally connected by popular
legend with the Trojan settlements in this part of Sicily; if any value can be
attached to these traditions, they would point to its being an ancient seat of
Pelasgic worship, rather than of Phoenician origin, as supposed by many writers.
Even those authors who represent it as founded before the time of Aeneas relate
that it was visited by that hero, who adorned it with splendid offerings. (Diod.
iv. 83; Dionys. i. 53.) It is certain that the sanctuary had the good fortune
to be regarded with equal reverence by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks,
and Romans. As early as the time of the Athenian expedition to Sicily (B.C. 415),
we learn from Thucydides that it was rich in vessels and other offerings of gold
and silver, of which the Segestans made use to delude the Athenian envoys into
a belief of their wealth. (Thuc. vi. 46.) The Carthaginians appear to have identified
the Venus Erycina with the Phoenician goddess Astarte, and hence showed her much
reverence; while the Romans paid extraordinary honours both to the goddess and
her temple, on account of their supposed connection with Aeneas. They were, indeed,
unable to prevent their Gaulish mercenaries from plundering the temple at, the
time of its capture by Junius (Pol. ii. 7); but this appears to have been the
only occasion on which it suffered, and its losses were quickly repaired, for
Diodorus speaks of it as in a flourishing and wealthy condition. The Roman magistrates
appointed to the government of Sicily never failed to pay a visit of honour to
this celebrated sanctuary; a body of troops was appointed as a guard of honour
to watch over it, and seventeen of the principal cities in Sicily were commanded
to pay a yearly sum of gold for its adornment. (Diod. iv. 83; Strab. v. p. 272;
Cic. Verr. ii. 8) Notwithstanding this, the decay of the city, and declining condition
of this part of Sicily generally, appears to have caused the temple also to be
neglected: hence in A.D. 25 the Segestans applied to Tiberius for its restoration,
which that emperor, according to Tacitus, readily undertook ut consanguineus,
but did not. carry into effect, leaving it to Claudius to execute at a later period.
(Tac. Ann. iv. 43; Suet. Claud. 25.) This is the latest mention of it that occurs
in history; and the period of its final decay or destruction is unknown. At the
present day the site is occupied by a castle, converted into a prison; a small
portion of the substructions, built of very large and massive stones (whence they
have been erroneously called Cyclopian), is all that remains of the ancient edifice;
but some fine granite columns, still existing in other parts of the town, have
doubtless belonged originally to the temple. It has been already mentioned that
the temple itself was surrounded by fortifications, so as to constitute a strong
fortress or citadel, quite distinct from the city below: a coin struck by C. Considius
Nonianus 1 (in the first century B.C.) represents the temple itself, with this
fortified peribolus, enclosing a considerable portion of the mountain on which
it stands; but little dependence can be placed on the accuracy of the delineation.
There was also a temple at Rome dedicated to Venus Erycina, which stood just outside
the Colline Gate (Strab. v. p. 272); but the representation on the coin just cited
is evidently that of the original Sicilian temple. The coins of the city of Eryx
have types allusive to the worship of Venus, while others present a close analogy
to those of Agrigentum, indicating a connection between the two cities, of which
we find no explanation in history. (Eckhel, vol. i. p. 208; Torremuzza, Num. Sic.
This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited September 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)