Eryx (Sicily)
Eryx was an ancient city and a mountain in the west of Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, about 10 km from Drepana (modern Trapani
Trapani is a city and comune on the west coast of Sicily in Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Trapani. Founded by Elymians, the city is still an important fishing port and the main gateway to the nearby Egadi Islands.-History:...

), and 3 km from the sea-coast. It was located at the site of modern Erice
Erice is a historic town and comune in the province of Trapani in Sicily, Italy.Erice is located on top of Mount Erice, at around 750m above sea level, overlooking the city of Trapani, the low western coast towards Marsala, the dramatic Punta del Saraceno and Capo san Vito to the north-east, and...


The mountain

The mountain, now called Monte San 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 modern times as the most lofty summit in the whole island next to Aetna
Mount Etna
Mount Etna is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily, close to Messina and Catania. It is the tallest active volcano in Europe, currently standing high, though this varies with summit eruptions; the mountain is 21 m higher than it was in 1981.. It is the highest mountain in...

, though its real elevation does not exceed 2184 English feet. Hence we find Eryx alluded to by Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

 and other Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 poets as a mountain of the first order of magnitude, and associated with Athos
Mount Athos
Mount Athos is a mountain and peninsula in Macedonia, Greece. A World Heritage Site, it is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries and forms a self-governed monastic state within the sovereignty of the Hellenic Republic. Spiritually, Mount Athos comes under the direct jurisdiction of the...

, Aetna, etc. On its summit stood a celebrated temple of Venus
Venus (mythology)
Venus is a Roman goddess principally associated with love, beauty, sex,sexual seduction and fertility, who played a key role in many Roman religious festivals and myths...

 or Aphrodite
Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation.Her Roman equivalent is the goddess .Historically, her cult in Greece was imported from, or influenced by, the cult of Astarte in Phoenicia....

, founded, according to the current legend, by Aeneas
Aeneas , in Greco-Roman mythology, was a Trojan hero, the son of the prince Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite. His father was the second cousin of King Priam of Troy, making Aeneas Priam's second cousin, once removed. The journey of Aeneas from Troy , which led to the founding a hamlet south of...

, from whence the goddess derived the surname of Venus Erycina, by which she is often mentioned by Latin writers.

Foundation legends

Another legend, followed by Diodorus, ascribed the foundation both of the temple and city to an eponymous hero named Eryx
In Greek mythology, Eryx was a king of the city of Eryx in Sicily. He was either the son of Poseidon or Aphrodite and King Butes of the Elymian people of Sicily. Eryx was an excellent boxer but died when Heracles beat him in a match....

, who was said to have received Hercules
Hercules is the Roman name for Greek demigod Heracles, son of Zeus , and the mortal Alcmene...

 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
In Greek mythology, the name Butes referred to nine different people.*An Argonaut, son of Teleon and Zeuxippe . When the Argonauts were sailing past the Sirens, he was the only one to not resist the charm of their singing and swim off to them. But Aphrodite saved Butes by transferring him to...

, 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. The legends which connected it with Aeneas and a Trojan
Troy was a city, both factual and legendary, located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey, southeast of the Dardanelles and beside Mount Ida...

 chief named Elymus
In Greek and Roman mythology, Elymus was the mythical ancestor of the Elymians, natives of Sicily. Elymus was a Trojan, a natural son of Anchises and a brother of Eryx....

 evidently pointed to what we learn from Thucydides as an historical fact, that Eryx as well as Segesta
Segesta was the political center of the Elymian people, located in the northwestern part of Sicily, in what are now the province of Trapani and the comune of Calatafimi-Segesta....

 was a city of the Elymi, a Sicilian tribe, which is represented by almost all ancient writers as of Trojan descent.


It does not appear to have ever received a Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 colony, but became gradually Hellenized, like most other cities of Sicily, to a great extent; though Thucydides (l. c.) 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
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 expedition became a dependent ally of the Carthaginians
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

. In 406 BCE, a sea-fight took place between a Carthaginian and a Syracusan fleet off the neighborhood of Eryx, in which the latter was victorious. On occasion of the great expedition of Dionysius I of Syracuse
Dionysius I of Syracuse
Dionysius I or Dionysius the Elder was a Greek tyrant of Syracuse, in what is now Sicily, southern Italy. He conquered several cities in Sicily and southern Italy, opposed Carthage's influence in Sicily and made Syracuse the most powerful of the Western Greek colonies...

 to the west of Sicily, in 397 BCE, Eryx was one of the cities which joined the Syracusan despot just before the siege of Motya
Motya , was an ancient and powerful city on an island off the west coast of Sicily, between Drepanum and Lilybaeum...

, but it was speedily recovered by Himilco
Himilco was the Carthaginian sailor a.k.a. Himilco the Navigator.Himilco may also refer to:* Himilco , Carthaginian soldier at Battle of Messene...

 in the following year. It again fell into the hands of Dionysius shortly before his death, but must have been once more recovered by the Carthaginians, and probably continued subject to their rule until the expedition of Pyrrhus
Pyrrhus or Pyrrhos or Pyrros may refer to the following figures from Greek history and mythology:* Pyrrhus or Neoptolemus, son of Achilles* Pyrrhus of Epirus , famous king, to whom the term Pyrrhic victory alludes...

 (278 BCE). 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 Epirus
The name Epirus, from the Greek "Ήπειρος" meaning continent may refer to:-Geographical:* Epirus - a historical and geographical region of the southwestern Balkans, straddling modern Greece and Albania...

. 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.

In the First Punic War
First Punic War
The First Punic War was the first of three wars fought between Ancient Carthage and the Roman Republic. For 23 years, the two powers struggled for supremacy in the western Mediterranean Sea, primarily on the Mediterranean island of Sicily and its surrounding waters but also to a lesser extent in...

 we find Eryx again in the hands of the Carthaginians, and in 260 BCE their general Hamilcar
Hamilcar (Drepanum)
Hamilcar was a general who succeeded to the command of the Carthaginians in the First Punic War, and after successes at Therma and the Battle of Drepanum was defeated at Ecnomus . Subsequently, apart from unskillful operations against Marcus Atilius Regulus, nothing certain is known of him.He is...

 destroyed the city, removing the inhabitants to the neighboring 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
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 consul L. Junius made himself master by surprise both of the temple and the city. 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
Hamilcar Barca
Hamilcar Barca or Barcas was a Carthaginian general and statesman, leader of the Barcid family, and father of Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago. He was also father-in-law to Hasdrubal the Fair....

, 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 Drepanum; 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 Drepanum when the great naval victory of Gaius Lutatius Catulus
Gaius Lutatius Catulus
Gaius Lutatius Catulus was a Roman statesman and naval commander in the First Punic War.He was elected as a consul in 242 BC, a novus homo. During his consulship he supervised the construction of a new Roman fleet. This fleet was funded by donations from wealthy citizens, since the public treasury...

 over the Carthaginians forced that people to sue for peace, 241 BCE.

From this time the town of Eryx sinks into insignificance, and it may even be doubted whether it was ever restored. Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

 alludes to the temple, but never notices the town; and Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

 speaks of it as in his day almost uninhabited. Pliny
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

, indeed, enumerates the Erycini among the municipal communities of Sicily; but the circumstance mentioned by Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

, that it was the Segestans who applied to Tiberius
Tiberius , was Roman Emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. His mother divorced Nero and married Augustus in 39 BC, making him a step-son of Octavian...

 for the restoration of the temple, would seem to indicate that the sanctuary was at that time dependent, in a municipal sense, on Segesta. 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 Erice
Erice is a historic town and comune in the province of Trapani in Sicily, Italy.Erice is located on top of Mount Erice, at around 750m above sea level, overlooking the city of Trapani, the low western coast towards Marsala, the dramatic Punta del Saraceno and Capo san Vito to the north-east, and...

 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 Santa Anna, about half-way down the mountain.

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 Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

n 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. 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 (415 BCE), 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. The Carthaginians appear to have identified the Venus Erycina with the Phoenician goddess Astarte
Astarte is the Greek name of a goddess known throughout the Eastern Mediterranean from the Bronze Age to Classical times...

, and hence showed her much reverence; while the Romans paid extraordinary honors both to the goddess and her temple, on account of their supposed connection with Aeneas. They were, indeed, unable to prevent their Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

ish mercenaries from plundering the temple at the time of its capture by Junius; 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 honor to this celebrated sanctuary; a body of troops was appointed as a guard of honor to watch over it, and seventeen of the principal cities in Sicily were commanded to pay a yearly sum of gold for its adornment. 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 25 the Segestans applied to Tiberius for its restoration, which that emperor, according to Tacitus, readily promised to undertake, but did not carry into effect, leaving it to Claudius
Claudius , was Roman Emperor from 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy...

 to execute at a later period. This is the latest mention of it that occurs in history; and the period of its final decay or destruction is unknown.


By the 19th century, the site was 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 Cyclopean
Cyclopean masonry
Cyclopean masonry is a type of stonework found in Mycenaean architecture, built with huge limestone boulders, roughly fitted together with minimal clearance between adjacent stones and no use of mortar...

), 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 (in the 1st century BCE) 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
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 dedicated to Venus Erycina, which stood just outside the Colline Gate; 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 (modern Agrigento
Agrigento , is a city on the southern coast of Sicily, Italy, and capital of the province of Agrigento. It is renowned as the site of the ancient Greek city of Akragas , one of the leading cities of Magna Graecia during the golden...

), indicating a connection between the two cities, of which we find no explanation in history.
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