History of Sicily
2 The First Peoples: 2.1 Origins and Legend

2.1.1 Sicily and the Eastern Mediterranean regions 

Sicily, due to its strategic position and to the obsidian trade that particularly interested the Aeolian Islands, had significant contacts with the eastern Mediterranean regions as early as the Neolithic. Contacts with the Aegean-Anatolian world continued with the beginning of the Metal Age and intensified with the Bronze Age, when the search for metals made Sicily function as a station along what was considered the tin route. [1].

 A presence from the Aegean must have existed in Sicily in the Bronze Age when the Minoan civilization was still flourishing in Greece. The type of presence had to be predominantly of the commercial type, therefore with superficial and not lasting contacts with the indigenous populations, even if the findings that took place in S. Angelo di Muxaro and Thapsos, would suggest that in some cases there was some stable form of permanence .

The island of Crete saw the birth of the first important European civilization, namely the Minoan civilization, which reached its peak towards the sixteenth century. B.C. Crete was at the center of an intense commercial and seafaring activity, this probably led the Cretans to have commercial relations, even if perhaps not lasting, with the indigenous peoples of Sicily. The Cretans were masters in the construction of vases, knowing since the most ancient times of the Minoan civilization, the use of the lathe. Cretan vases are found throughout the Mediterranean and in Egypt.

Around 2500 BC, Indo-European populations descend from the Danube areas to Greece, including the Achaeans who came into contact with the Minoan culture and absorbed its characteristics. The resulting culture takes its name from the city of Mycenae, their stronghold, and will be called the Mycenaean culture.


Golden mask of Agamemnon from the royal tombs of Mycenae, 1600 BC Athens

The migratory movement of the Achaeans was not immediate but lasted about a millennium, giving rise to a slow but inexorable replacement of one lineage with another, (as happened for the other people of Indo-Europeans, the Italics who settled in the Italian peninsula). The newcomers spread an Indo-European language in Greece, which later became Mycenaean Greek. Around 1450 BC, the Achaeans extended their dominion over clay by destroying what remained of the Minoan civilization.

The maximum splendor of the Mycenaean civilization goes from 1600 to 1150 BC, from 1400 to 1200, there is a great expansion of this civilization in the Mediterranean regions, an expansion that also affects Sicily, as evidenced by the innumerable archaeological discoveries.

Towards 1150 BC, a further invasion of Indo-European peoples, that of the Dorians, put an end to the Mycenaean civilization, this translates into a reduction of the Mycenaean presence in the Mediterranean, which will open the doors to the commercial presence in the Mediterranean of the Phoenician element.

 The Minoan-Mycenaean influence is found in many areas of Sicily, Mycenaean pottery has been found almost everywhere. This influence was not limited to the importation of Mycenaean material but also to the production of local handicrafts and above all in the type of burials, as we have seen in the previous chapter. In Thapsos, a lot of material from the Mycenaean period (Mycenaean III A and Mycenaean III B) was found [2] not only, but in addition to a Mycenaean influence found on the indigenous cave tombs, a stone settlement was identified that was considered [3] the largest and most important of the Middle and Late Bronze Age (XIII-XII century BC) not only of Sicily, but of the whole western Mediterranean area and which suggests an almost stable presence of Mycenaean elements in place.


Gold cup from Vafiò 1600 BC Athens National Museum


Mycenaean pottery has been found in various places in Catania, Syracuse, in the Agrigento area and also in the Aeolian Islands where pottery dating back to the late Minoan period (4th century BC) was found and therefore among the oldest found in the West [XNUMX ].

There are many cases of findings that show how the indigenous culture was in some way influenced by the Aegean one. Suffice it to recall how a certain similarity was found in the shapes and decoration between the ceramics of the Capo Graziano culture and those typical of the faces Middle Helladic of Olympia (first half of the second millennium BC.) [5]. Even the painted pottery of the Castellucian period denotes Aegean influences with imitations of the shape of the so-called "cup of Vafiò", widely diffused in the early Mycenaean age, as well as in Thapsos, even in Castelluccio the Mycenaean influence can be found in the portals of the indigenous tombs in which the Mycenaean motif of the double spiral is present.


Jug of Mycenaean III A from the necropolis of Thapsos. Syracuse Regional Archaeological Museum

Sicily and the Eastern Mediterranean regions

Mycenaean amphora, Cannatello - Agrigento

A jug found in North Pantalica, initially believed to be of local manufacture was later considered to be of Mycenaean production [6].

 Towards the recent Bronze Age (XNUMXth century BC) north-eastern Sicily and the Aeolian Islands saw the Mycenaean influence reduced in favor of cultural currents from southern Italy, probably due to the arrival on the island of the Ausoni dei Morgeti and of the Sicilians. It is probable that the trade routes for metals moved towards the south of the island, in fact the Aegean influence is felt more markedly on the southern coasts of Sicily, in particular on the areas of central southern Sicily, especially in S. Angelo of Muxaro, identified by some with the ancient Camico, linked to the legend of Cocalo and Minos. In Sant'Angelo di Muxaro, in addition to some tombs resembling the Cretan-Mycenaean 'tholoì, the four gold cups decorated with six cattle were found in which the bull heads are of the Cretan type.


S. Angelo di Muxaro: Golden cup

Add to this the fact that Aegean pottery dating back to the 7th century was found in the Agrigento area in the Castelluciano settlement of Monte Grande. BC and that on the whole the findings in the same territory testify not marginal or episodic contacts with the Aegean world starting from the sixteenth century and up to the twelfth century, the hypothesis that the legend of Cocalo and Minos may reflect an intense frequentation with the Aegean world many centuries before the so-called colonial period (VIII century BC). In this regard, it could be significant that the name of Cocalo appears on Linear B tablets found at Pilo in the Peloponnese [XNUMX].

Towards the eleventh century. BC there is a further reduction of contacts with the Aegean. The Mycenaean influence is felt not so much as imports but as local productions inspired by the Aegean area. The power of the Achaeans, in fact, is reduced due to the incursion of the Dorians. A new population of merchants appears in the Mediterranean, the Phoenicians.

[1] Jaques Heurgon: The Western Mediterranean - From Prehistory to Archaic Rome

[2] The chronology of Mycenaean pottery includes three periods, of which the third is the one that mainly affects southern Italy and is divided into Mycenaean III A (1425-1300), Mycenaean III B (1300-1230) and Mycenaean III C (1230-1025).

[3] Jaques Heurgon: The Western Mediterranean - From Prehistory to Archaic Rome

[4] (23.88)

[5] In APARKAI: New research and studies on Magna Graecia and ancient Sicily in honor of Paolo Enrico Arias p.23

[6] In APARKAI: New research and studies on Magna Graecia and ancient Sicily in honor of Paolo Enrico Arias p.31

[7] Sabatino Moscati: The Mediterranean Civilization.


Sicily and the Eastern Mediterranean regions

History of Sicily by Ignazio Caloggero

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