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Motya (Mozia)


Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. Motya: Phoenician city on an island in the west of Sicily, modern Mozia. The first part of this article can be read here.

After the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius, had sacked Motya in 398 BCE, the site was abandoned, even though the Carthaginians reconquered it. Lilybaeum now became the main settlement, perhaps because its port was easier accessible than the lagoon of Motya and made navigation during a siege easier. The building materials from Motya were removed; only some wealthy farmers stayed on the island, living in beautiful houses.

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Motya. Photo Jona Lendering.
This is one of these country estates, called the Villa of the Mosaics. (Go here for a satellite photo.) It consisted of a large courtyard surrounded by a columned arcade and several rooms; more to the southwest and a bit uphill were six rooms that had a more utilitarian purpose. The residential part had a splendid decoration, which included a mosaic...

Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. ...that is unique in Sicily, because it is made of black and white pebbles. It is therefore very old, because in the late fourth century, colored stones were already in use. The mosaic must therefore belong to the early fourth century, and may even be older, because the house itself contains fifth-century rooms. However, the mosaic is also divided into smaller square panels, something that was introduced in Greece in the third century.
Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. Perhaps, the common view that mosaics were developed in Greece is simply too easy; perhaps, panels were a western invention from the early fourth century that was introduced in Greece at a later stage. The panels show several (mythological) animals, but also include meanders, palmettos, waves, and flowers.
Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. The structures that are known as the colonnaded were perhaps a military building and are sometimes identified as barracks. They are in the southern part of the island, close to the city wall, which is the only argument for the identification as a military building. There are several rooms, and the presence of a staircase proves that there was a second floor.
Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. It is impossible to date this building, but we have one clue: the casermetta was built after a nearby city tower was destroyed by fire. It is tempting to identify this fire with the destruction of Motya by Dionysius of Syracuse (and to date the casermetta in the fourth century), but of course there must have been countless other fires in the ancient town.
Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. This is an artist's impression of the southern gate of Motya. There was a little port near this gate, and the ships leaving the city could easily reach Lilybaeum, which is only seven kilometer away.
Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. The little artificial port, also known as the cothon, seen from its entrance. The canal is about seven meters wide. If you go here, you will see a satellite photo of the port.
Motya. Photo Jona Lendering. Another picture of the port. It is not known why this square basin was created. Perhaps it served as a dockyard (there is a strange wall across the canal that connects the basin with the sea), or perhaps it was a military port.

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