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Motya (Mozia)


Map of Motya and the siege of Lilybaeum during the First Punic War. Design Jona Lendering. Motya: Phoenician city on an island in the west of Sicily, modern Mozia.

The Phoenician town Motya, founded in the eighth century BCE as a commercial center, is situated on a small island in a lagoon on the most western part of Sicily. It could only be reached by boat, although the inhabitants of Motya constructed a remarkable paved road at the bottom of the lagoon, by which chariots with large wheels could reach the town. This picture shows the island on a map of the siege of Lilybaeum (modern Marsala) during the First Punic War (264-241), in which the Romans conquered Sicily. At that moment, Motya had already been eclipsed by Lilybaeum.

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Motya and its laguna. Photo Marco Prins. The island, locally known as San Pantaleo, seen from a boat arriving from the east. Politically, Motya was always part of the Phoenician and Carthaginian world, but culturally, it was open to every civilization it traded with, which explains a couple of objects in Egyptian style and many Greek artifacts.
Map of Motya. Design Jona Lendering. The island is about two kilometers long and wide, and measures about 45 hectare. Today, it is hard to imagine that it was once a city, because a Greek army, commanded by Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, sacked the city in 398 BCE (text). The Carthaginians reoccupied the site, but from now on, Lilybaeum started to grow rapidly. Stones and other building materials were transferred from the old to the new town. Motya remained in use for agricultural purposes only.
Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. The Cappiddazzu sanctuary belongs to the oldest parts of the town. First, it was a deposit for sacrificial offerings, which was overbuilt in the second half of the seventh century, and surrounded with a wall in c.550. There must have been a three-naved building too, which was completely destroyed but rebuilt in the fourth century. This temple, to an unknown deity, survived for centuries, until it was replaced by a Byzantine church. (Satellite photo)
Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. At about the time of the construction of the wall surrounding the Cappiddazzu sanctuary, the mid sixth-century, the town received its city walls too. This was the age in which Greek tyrants like Phalaris of Acragas started to build territorial states, and the construction of defensive works must have been the logical response. This picture shows Motya's northern city gate from the northwest...
City gate of Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. And this one shows it from southwest. (And here you see it from a satellite.) In the background is Mount Eryx (modern Erice), where the Carthaginians venerated Melqart and a goddess that was later identified with Aphrodite and Venus. The orientation of this gate to the mountain is probably no coincidence. The walls surrounded the entire island, were 2 meters thick and had square towers.
Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. In front of the northern gate was a causeway, which now lies about a meter under the sea level. The people on this photo are standing on it. It was probably always below the waves, and flat-bottomed vessels were able to cross the causeway. Here you can see it on a satellite photo.
Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. This picture shows the archaic necropolis, in the northern part of the island. (Several tombstones can be seen here.) The graveyard dates back to the eighth century; the most recent burials were in the early fifth century. After this, people were entombed at the mainland...
Sarcophagus from Motya. Photo Marco Prins. ... like the lady in this beautiful sarcophagus, a very young woman. The style is Greek, which again proves that the Phoenicians of Sicily were not above employing foreign artists. The sarcophagus is now in the splendid Museo Archeologico Regionale "Antonio Salinas" in Palermo.
Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. The southeastern shore of the island. In the background, Mount Eryx can be discerned.

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Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2003
Revision: 14 Dec. 2008
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