History of Sicily
1 Prehistoric Sicily
1.3.3: Metal Age: Religious Sentiments and Metal Age

Religiosity evolves with man, if in an initial phase the natural phenomena that cannot be explained and difficult to reach for the intellect were, in a certain sense, endowed with a soul and, therefore, easily deizable [1], in one phase later, when man began to understand the natural phenomena before deized, there was the search for something that could be placed on a step higher than normal understanding. Hence we are witnessing an anthropomorphic evolution of religion, in which the divinities, still strongly linked to natural aspects, cease to be mere expressions of natural phenomena, but are characterized by a physical aspect similar to that of man. With the evolution of the human intellect, the spirits of nature become gods, so primitive animism is transformed into polytheism.

In a world with an agro-pastoral character, the cults linked to fertility must have been of great importance. The female statuettes linked to the cult of fertility found in the Eneolithic period belong to Cozzo Busonè. (Agrigento) and the sanctuaries of Monte Grande, a coastal hill near the coast of Punta Bianca in the Agrigento area [2]


Fusiform bowl of Busonè (AG) 5




The goods of the earth but also animals and sometimes human life itself are offered in sacrifice to the deities. That of human sacrifices must have become a very widespread habit, unfortunately, at times it was enough to have been the servants of a powerful person to be coupled with the excuse of accompanying their masters into the afterlife [3].

The building, probably destined for a cult purpose, located on the hill of  St. Julian, near Caltanissetta, where anthropomorphic painted clay idols and lithic objects depicting human and animal anatomical parts have been found.

The representations of the lithic doors that formed the closure of some tombs of the necropolis of Castelluccio (Ancient bronze) where the stylized anthropomorphic figures represent, in a schematic way, the sexual act.


Castelluccio tomb door

Traces of a phallic symbolism belonging to the same period as the necropolis of Castelluccio have been found in Gela, where seven terracotta objects in the shape of phalluses were found on a clay plate [4].


Venus of Willendorf

Towards the Middle Bronze Age, religious sentiments felt the influence of the Aegean world as evidenced by the findings. of Mycenaean-inspired ceramic idols a Lipari.

On the other hand, the bronze male figure modeled in the act of mastrurbation, found in Plemmyrion (Syracuse).



Male bronze statue of Plemmyrion (Syracuse)

The fertilization of the land through a magical-agrarian rite represented by sexual acts is very ancient, common to primitive peoples of an agrarian character. Often a properly chosen couple would publicly engage in sexual intercourse in order to bring about the fertility of the earth. In Greece, in historical times, during the rites of the Eleusinian mysteries dedicated to Demeter (the motherland of the Greeks) the couple was made up of the high priest (the Hierophant) and a priestess who they remembered in this way as Demeter, was fertilized by Zeus (the lord of the sky) and therefore from the sky that with its rains made the earth fertile.

When the colonization of the island by the Greeks began, there was therefore a strong religious thought in Sicily, in which those manifestations related to aspects of nature prevailed. Precisely the affinity that linked the indigenous divinities with as many Greek divinities, also linked to the same aspects, meant that most of the indigenous cults were subsequently absorbed or otherwise modified by Greek culture, thus leading to a process of Hellenization of pre-existing cults. The affinity between indigenous and Greek cults was due not only to the fact that the two religions were predominantly religions natural  but, also, to the presence in Sicily of the Sicilian population, belonging to the Indo-European lineage as well as the Hellen one and, therefore, with religious affinities due precisely to their common origin.

Before the arrival of the Greeks, the cult of a divinity linked to the earth seen as a "great mother" was therefore strong in Sicily, ready to offer its fruits to the population and a symbol of fertility, this cult was later absorbed by the Greek cult of Demeter . Traces of a probable superimposition of the Greek cult of Demeter to a pre-existing indigenous one, can be seen in the legend that Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, was kidnapped by Pluto in the countryside of Enna and that a nymph named Ciane, who opposed the kidnapping, was transformed by Pluto into a source that tradition places in Syracuse.


River Ciane - Syracuse

The cult of was linked to the pastoral life of the inhabitants of pre-Greek Sicily Daphnis, even if the intense work of literature, first Greek and then Latin, caused this divinity to lose much of its indigenous character.


Apollo and Daphni (Bernini)

The presence of a volcano such as Etna had to ensure that its personification in the name of the god was venerated adrano, divinity similar in some respects to that of Hephaestus (the Volcano of the Romans). Adrano, unlike Dafni, maintained its indigenous character for a long time as well as the cult of the gods Palici, also linked to the telluric aspects, quite intense at the time. The cult of the Palici was even considered as an element of cohesion that saw the Sicilians, gathered under the command of Ducezio in the fifth century. BC, to rebel against the predominant Greek element.


The Palici

In Sicily the cult of river divinities, often male personification of springs and rivers, as well as the cult of female divinities linked to the same aspects of nature and similar to water nymphs, such as the Greek Naiads, must certainly have been present long before of the arrival of the Greeks on the island. This is due to the predominantly pastoral and agricultural character of the indigenous populations, who particularly appreciated the benefits deriving from the use of springs and rivers. Therefore, the personification, both male and female, of springs and rivers should not have been rare, even if later the dominance of the Greek religion meant that the indigenous characteristics of the cult were lost, soon replaced by the purely Hellenic ones.

[1] All this happened, for example, for the sun, the moon, the wind, the planets, but also for some rivers, mountains and volcanoes.

[2] Giuseppe Castellana: Aegean-Levantine presences in Agrigento in the first half of the second millennium BC In First Sicily p.377

[3] The first examples of servants buried with their masters probably appear in Mesopotamia at Kish, the ancient Sumerian city established in the third millennium BC

[4] R. Ross Holloway: Archeology of ancient Sicily. P.37

[5] First Sicily - at the origins of Sicilian society - by Sebastiano Tusa - 1997 Sicilian Region Vol. II Fig. III.13



History of Sicily by Ignazio Caloggero 

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