Motya (Ancient Greek: Μοτύη, Μοτύα; Italian: Mozia, Mothia;
Sicilian: Mozzia), was an ancient and powerful city on an island off
the west coast of Sicily, between
Drepanum (modern Trapani) and
Lilybaeum (modern Marsala). The island was renamed San Pantaleo in the
11th century by Basilian monks. It lies in the Stagnone Lagoon, and is
within the comune of Marsala.
The island is nearly 850 metres (2,790 ft) long and 750 metres
(2,460 ft) wide, and about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) (six
stadia) from the mainland of Sicily. It was joined to the mainland in
ancient times by an artificial causeway (paved road), by which
chariots with large wheels could reach the town.
The remarkable and exquisite
Motya Charioteer marble sculpture
found in 1979 is world famous and is on display at the local
Giuseppe Whitaker museum.
The Mozia Charioteer (5th c. BC)
1.1 Siege of Motya
1.2 Middle Ages
2 Current situation
4 In fiction
6 External links
The foundation of the city probably dates from the eighth century BC,
about a century after the foundation of
Carthage in Tunisia. It was
originally a colony of the Phoenicians, who were fond of choosing
similar sites, and probably in the first instance merely a commercial
station or emporium, but gradually rose to be a flourishing and
important town. The Phoenicians transformed the inhospitable island,
which they called Motya, into one of the most affluent cities of its
time, naturally defended by the lagoon as well as high defensive
walls. Ancient windmills and salt pans were used for evaporation, salt
grinding and refinement, and to maintain the condition of the lagoon
and island itself. Recently the mills and salt pans (called the Ettore
Infersa) have been restored by the owners and opened to the public.
The Greeks, however, according to their custom, assigned it a
legendary origin, and derived its name from a woman named "Motya",
whom they connected with the fables concerning Heracles. According
to coin-finds the name "Motya" is derived from Phoenician Mtw and is
said to mean "wool-spinning center". It passed, in common with the
other Phoenician settlements in Sicily, at a later period under the
government or dependency of Carthage, whence Diodorus calls it a
Carthaginian colony; but it is probable that this is not strictly
As the Greek colonies in
Sicily increased in numbers and importance
the Phoenicians gradually abandoned their settlements in the immediate
neighbourhood of the newcomers, and concentrated themselves in the
three principal colonies of Soluntum, Panormus (modern Palermo), and
Motya. The last of these, from its proximity to
Carthage and its
opportune situation for communication with North Africa, as well as
the natural strength of its position, became one of the chief
strongholds of the Carthaginians, as well as one of the most important
of their commercial cities in the island. It appears to have held,
in both these respects, the same position which was attained at a
later period by Lilybaeum.
Notwithstanding these accounts of its early importance and flourishing
condition, the name of
Motya is rarely mentioned in history until just
before the period of its memorable siege. It is first mentioned by
Hecataeus of Miletus, and
Thucydides notices it among the chief
colonies of the Phoenicians in Sicily, which still subsisted at the
period of the Athenian expedition, 415 BC. A few years later
(409 BC) when the Carthaginian army under
Hannibal Mago landed at
the promontory of Lilybaeum, that general laid up his fleet for
security in the gulf around Motya, while he advanced with his land
forces along the coast to attack Selinus. After the fall of the
latter city, we are told that Hermocrates, the Syracusan exile, who
had established himself on its ruins with a numerous band of
followers, laid waste the territories of
Motya and Panormus; and
again during the second expedition of the Carthaginians under Hamilcar
(407 BC), these two cities became the permanent station of the
Siege of Motya
Main article: Siege of Motya
It was the important position to which
Motya had thus attained that
Dionysius I of Syracuse
Dionysius I of Syracuse to direct his principal efforts to its
reduction, when in 397 BC he in his turn invaded the Carthaginian
territory in Sicily. The citizens on the other hand, relying on
succour from Carthage, made preparations for a vigorous resistance;
and by cutting off the causeway which united them to the mainland,
compelled Dionysius to have recourse to the tedious and laborious
process of constructing a mound or mole of earth across the
intervening space. Even when this was accomplished, and the military
engines of Dionysius (among which the formidable catapult on this
occasion made its appearance for the first time) were brought up to
the walls, the Motyans continued a desperate resistance; and after the
walls and towers were carried by the overwhelming forces of the enemy,
still maintained the defence from street to street and from house to
house. This obstinate struggle only increased the previous
exasperation of the Sicilian Greeks against the Carthaginians; and
when at length the troops of Dionysius made themselves masters of the
city, they put the whole surviving population, men, women, and
children, to the sword.
After this, the Syracusan despot placed it in charge of a garrison
under an officer named Biton, while his brother Leptines of Syracuse
made it the station of his fleet. But the next spring (396 BC)
Himilcon, the Carthaginian general, having landed at Panormus with a
very large force, recovered possession of
Motya with comparatively
little difficulty. Motya, however, was not destined to recover its
former importance; for Himilcon, being apparently struck with the
superior advantages of Lilybaeum, founded a new city on the promontory
of that name, to which he transferred the few remaining inhabitants of
From this period the latter altogether disappears from history; and
the little islet on which it was built, has probably ever since, as
now, been inhabited only by a few fishermen. By the time the Romans
conquered Sicily, during the
First Punic War
First Punic War (264–241 BC),
Motya had been eclipsed by Lilybaeum.
It is a singular fact that, though we have no account of
received any Greek population, or fallen into the hands of the Greeks
before its conquest by Dionysius, there exist coins of the city with
the Greek legend "ΜΟΤΥΑΙΟΝ". They are, however, of great
rarity, and are apparently imitated from those of the neighboring city
During the Middle Ages,
Basilian monks settled on the island and
renamed it San Pantaleo, and in 1888 was rediscovered by Joseph
The site of Motya, on which earlier geographers were in much doubt,
has been clearly identified and described by William Henry Smyth.
Between the promontory of Lilybaeum (Capo Boéo) and that of
Aegithallus (San Teodoro), the coast forms a deep bight, in front of
which lies a long group of low rocky islets, called the Stagnone.
Within these, and considerably nearer to the mainland, lies the small
island formerly called San Pantaleo, on which the remains of an
ancient city may still be distinctly traced. Fragments of the walls,
with those of two gateways, still exist, and coins as well as pieces
of ancient brick and pottery – the never failing indications of an
ancient site – were found scattered throughout the island. The
circuit of the latter does not exceed 2.5 km, and it is inhabited
only by a few fishermen; but is not devoid of fertility. The
confined space on which the city was built agrees with the description
of Diodorus that the houses were lofty and of solid construction, with
narrow streets (στενωποί) between them, which facilitated the
desperate defence of the inhabitants.
The island of Mozia is owned and operated by the Whitaker Foundation
(Palermo), famous for
Marsala wines. Tours are available for the small
museum, and the well-preserved ruins of a crossroads civilisation: in
addition to the cultures mentioned above, Motian artifacts display
Egyptian, Corinthian, Attic, Roman,
Punic and Hellenic influences. The
Tophet, a type of cemetery for the cremated remains of children,
possibly (but not entirely proven) as sacrifice to
Tanit or Ba‘al
Hammon, is also well known. Many of the ancient residences are open to
the public, with guided tours in English and Italian.
Ruins of a part of the ancient city
Cothon of Motya
Silted up Cothon of
Motya in 2013
Motya Charioteer sculpture found in 1979 is on display
at the Giuseppe Whitaker museum. It is a rare example of a victor of a
chariot race who must have been very wealthy in order to commission
such a work. It was found built into Phoenician fortifications which
were quickly erected before Dionysios I of Syracuse invaded and sacked
Motya in 397 BC.
Its superb quality implies that it was made by a leading Greek artist
in the period following their defeat of the Persians, but its style is
unlike any other of this period. It is believed it must have been
looted from a Greek city conquered by
Carthage in 409-405 BC.
In March 2006, archaeological digs uncovered rooms of a previously
undiscovered house at one of the town's siege walls. The finds have
shown that the town had a "thriving population long after it is
commonly believed to have been destroyed by the Ancient Greeks."
Discovered items include cooking pans, Phoenician-style vases, altars,
The 399 BC Battle of Motya, part of the war of Syracuse's tyrant
Dionysios I against
Carthage is a major event in the 1965 historical
The Arrows of Hercules by L. Sprague de Camp.
Diodorus Siculus xiv. 48.
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-10-27. Retrieved
^ a b The
Motya Charioteer and Pindar's "Isthmian 2" Malcolm Bell, III
Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome Vol. 40 (1995), pp. 1-42
^ "Motya, Museum Whitaker - Livius". www.livius.org. Retrieved 5
Stephanus of Byzantium
Stephanus of Byzantium s. v.
Thucydides vi. 2 ; Diod. xiv. 47.
^ Thuc. l. c.
^ Diod. xiv. 47.
Stephanus of Byzantium
Stephanus of Byzantium s. v..
^ Thuc. vi. 2.
^ Diod. xiii. 54, 61.
^ Id. xiii. 63.
^ Id. xiii. 88.
^ Diod. xiv. 47-53.
^ Ibid. 55.
^ Diod. xxii. 10. p. 498.
^ Eckhel, vol. i. p. 225.
^ William Henry Smyth, Sicily, pp. 235, 236.
^ Diod. xiv. 48, 51.
^ [permanent dead link]
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Smith, William, ed. (1854–1857). "article
name needed". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. London: John
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Archaeological expedition to Motya, by Sapienza University of Rome
Livius Picture Archive, including maps of the island and the lagoon
Archaeological sites in Sicily
Province of Agrigento
Valle dei Templi
Valle dei Templi - Temple of Concordia - Temple of
Heracles - Temple
of Juno - Temple of Olympian Zeus
Province of Caltanissetta
Greek baths of Gela
Polizzello archaeological site
Province of Catania
Province of Enna
Villa Romana del Casale
Province of Messina
Ancient theatre of Taormina
Villa Romana di Patti
Province of Palermo
Province of Ragusa
Province of Syracuse
Cava del Rivettazzo
Colonne di San Basilio
Roman amphitheatre of Syracuse
Altar of Hieron
Ear of Dionysius
Greek Theatre of Syracuse
Grotta del Ninfeo
Temple of Athena
Temple of Apollo
Necropolis of Cassibile
Necropolis of Pantalica
Villa Romana del Tellaro
Province of Trapani
Grotta del Genovese
Cave di Cusa
Roman furnaces in Alcamo
Phoenician cities and colonies
Mauritania / Morocco
Cerne / Arambys
Sa Caleta, Ibiza
Turkey / others