Ancient Origins: The Ancient City of Elima (6th Century B.C. – 823 A.D.)

One not only writes history, but colors it and influences it F.D. Guerazzi (Funeral oration)

…on the Mountain of the Roses, I truly felt that I was on the site of Elima.

Monsignor v. Di Giovanni, New Sicilian Almanac V. HI, p. 103

A person on their way to Poggioreale, Sicily, leaves the train station at Salaparuta and reads on the sign, “Salaparuta-Poggioreale,” and believes he has arrived, especially upon raising his eyes, and seeing an agglomeration of houses and the massive and magnificent Matrice Church that dominates them, and that agglomeration seems to form part of the east wall of the station. A brief and spacious street “Viale Marconi” conducts the traveler below to the main street of Salaparuta, which is ornamented with delightful villas. He inquires about Poggioreale and learns that he must continue along to the east.

Going out to the open country, with a villa behind him on the left, and in front, the former Monastery of the Capuchin Holy Fathers, he finds himself on the wide, clean, airy street that leads to Poggioreale. At the top of the street one discovers the town and notes how the two communities remain separated by more than three kilometers of road. The question spontaneously arises, why was the name Poggioreale on the train station? What irony! It only remains to be known that this little town, notwithstanding a great deal of lobbying, has remained cut off from the only railway that could have benefited it.

The street from the bridge which forms the border between the two towns, continues straight for about a kilometer, and then cuts through the center of Poggioreale with the Via Umberto Primo, opening on the main piazza which is located in the center of town, and crossing it from the west to east, one may stop in the open area Cannoli where there is a public drinking fountain.

The traveler, arriving in the rectangular piazza, feels refreshed by the beautiful stroll he has just completed. I say beautiful because the street, in its Salaparuta-Poggioreale track, has on the left a rich view of the mountain covered by olive and almond groves, with beautiful houses, while on the right a slightly hilly terrain unfolds, in part forested, and likewise dedicated to grain-growing where it is enchanting, especially in April and May when the beautiful green of the sown fields, which in June become that living gold of the harvest, waving, animate.

On the end of the street, before the eye comes to the dwellings, the silhouette of Mount Elimo is in front of the traveler, 615 meters high, towering over the town of Poggioreale which is situated on its left slope, above a rather flat area, at 2/3 of the height of the mountain. A road, rising from the town and running along the mountain on the left side, rises up to the flat peak that is exposed on the south-west, with a slope of about 25%. The northern crest plunges down to the towns below, Zotta and Saccorafa. Gazing at the mountain from the east and north-east sides, one notes a steep crumbling cliff that has almost completely fallen down from the upper plain, cluttering the underlying town of Pioppo with abundant stones piled in a shapeless mass of enormous heaps, detached and fallen due to telluric movements that have effectively reduced the flat top of the mountain. The traveler who attentively stops to study the area can’t help but wonder how long this has been happening? Certainly for centuries.

The traveler beholds a picturesque view of immense stones that render the leafy, plant- covered area extremely dangerous, entwined in the evergreen, running vines of ivy that cling to the trees and cliffs, a confusion of Indian figs, along with various other trees, which have enriched farmers. This site is also a refuge for wild game.

The stranger, upon arriving at the piazza mentioned above, reads the name, “Piazza Elimo,” and 20 meters before arriving there he will notice a sign carrying the inscription “Polisportiva [Sports center] Elima” to indicate the beautifully furnished meeting place for the exuberant youth of the town, enthusiastically dedicated to the track and field sports.

“Elima” is an ancient name, very ancient, it knows nothing of the modern and has not been heard for centuries by its neighbors. the name reminds us of the historical period of the burning of Troy (Ilion). In 1184 B.C., when that famous city at the feet of Mount Ida in Asia Minor, between the rushing waters of the Scamandro and the Simoenta, perished at the hands of the Greeks. Having seen Troy in danger and realizing that any attempt at salvation would be in vain, Elimo, the royal prince and his companions hurried to take to the sea in order to find salvation in Sicily. Aeneas, their friend, lost his wife Creusa in the Trojan fire, and he instead left during the burning of the city and disembarked at Trapani, while Elimo, having already arrived in Sicily, had stopped in the region of the Crimiso, and it was here that his companions were found by chance by Aeneas, who had left Troy with 22 ships filled with 3400 Trojans.

And so, having no hope of returning to their homeland, Aeneas decided to build two cities to definitively distinguish the companions of Elimo from those of Egesto, to which he added some of his own associates. His own desire was to settle in Latium with the goal of founding the Roman Empire.

The two cities took the names of Elima and Egesta, Egesta is where today’s Segesta is found. with its adjacent baths and healing waters, Elima instead arose on the same mountain where he had found the companions of Elimo, ex urbe Troja profugerunt et circa fluvium Crimisum saedes posuerant. This mountain became a home for those who stayed in the mountainous places as safe refuge from incursions by thieves.

The mountain, in fact, was almost at the center-point of the course of the Crimiso, it dominated the valley to the north up to the springs of Malvello, and to the south to the mouth of the river, all the way to Porto Palo. The mountain is steep and a steep road runs from north of town, although it’s more comfortable taking the road on the west side. Elima eventually had 2000 hearths, in it Aeneas placed his strong and prosperous young people, the old and the ill were settled in Egesta. Aeneas, respecting religious traditions, raised an altar to Venus in Elima.

Elimo, Egesto and Aeneas, while they were refugees, could finally define their communities as true colonies of exodus or expansion, whose historic basis is provided to us by Diogenes of Alicarnasso, the famous Greek historian in the Augustan century, who died in Rome in the year B.C. 23.

It is very clear that this entire region was called “Elimica” and the peoples here assumed the name of Elimi, in honor of the Prince Elimo, who was of royal blood.

The habitations were certainly not of an architectural construction like those built in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C, and therefore they were not of Greek or Roman design, but of the Trojan-Phrygian type, built to provide the necessary common shelter and defense.

For military defense, there was a castle as a garrison, but there was no standing army.

 

The mountain had been tacitly occupied, and without the use of arms, they were fugitives who settled themselves forming a second homeland by adoption, dedicating themselves to living by herding and agriculture.

This is how the mountain took the name of Elima, the city that Aeneas had founded. living name for all time, that is, for many centuries, a city that came to be called by this name by everyone on the island, a name that remains rooted and traditionally was used up until 1642, when Poggioreale was founded; a name that is meant to be eternal and the proof is that the name graces the main piazza of the new Land of Poggioreale. The confirmation of this name is, I believe, the most interesting and probatory, if more archeological discoveries may be found.

In fact the city probably had its own necropolis, a cemetery which ought to be found on the plane underneath the city, running along the north-north east, which today carries the name “Madonna of the Carmine”. There have been tombs and vases typical of the proto-Corinthian and Hellenic eras discovered here, and from periods even more distant, basins, thin-necked cruets, decorated with peacocks and deer (symbols of Juno and of Diana), by very fine, vivid, clear, luminous deep gold and ebony black ointment vases of the same type, amphorae exactly alike, even very tiny ones and those with larger necks, decorated ornately with various colors, fragments of idols in terra cotta, Ceres and Proserpina which were patronized in Sicily, small heads of animals (dogs) in terra cotta, who remind us of the Elimi people’s conception myth that said that Egesto was born by the union of the dog with the Crimiso, oil lamps and broken pieces give an account of those very ancient cities.

Since then, on that mountain, discoveries have been made from each of the different Greek-Carthaginian-Roman-Arab-Christian civilizations. tombs, oil lamps, coins with Vesta in effigy, and with Augustus Germanicus Statuettes of Ceres, vases of terra-cotta in the shape of large amphorae that end in a point at the bottom, terra-cotta weights, etc. Very recently on the east-northeast side of the mountain, due to a lucky excavation made by a farmer’s tractor, numerous tholus were found, and many identified the characteristic presence of subterranean tombs covered with a type of cupola, and tombs that are stone cases, covered with a single slab. The farmer, instead of treasuring the find, considered moving them by hand to clear the land, as if he never marveled, even unconsciously, at the contents (cruets, tear bottles, small amphorae). This brief story has been verified by concerned and intelligent visitors. We hope to develop a Supervision Service for Archeological Monuments and obtain the necessary funds for competent excavations to be carried out which will bring to light true archeological treasures of the most ancient occupants of the city of Elima, and attract attention and admiration to the western edge of Sicily.

And if there is no evidence of discoveries on the mountain of Elima dating from the time of its habitation, How do we explain it?

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Cluvier, who from the first denied the existence of Elima, ended up admitting that the Trojans had come to Sicily, and if Elima had ever existed its remains would be found on Mount Palamita which is found near Partinico. Fazello echoes this belief. However, they lack truthful testimony, their views seem unwarranted, or to beg an excuse for their insufficient critical study. In fact, in the itinerary of Antonino (Register of the places and the distances along the roads of the Roman Empire) and in the Second Edition (435) of Teodosio II Chetaria, Polimita or Palimia are described in the area of Partinico, and Elima is not mentioned. In the Table of Claudio Tolomeo, the most famous astronomer and geographer of antiquity, in his Geographic Exposition (in 8 volumes) which contains the fairly complete description of peoples and towns then known (Second century), in the list of ancient towns of Panormo, Iato Drepana, which he calls Catharia, Elima is not listed. Fazello practically admits that for this locality of Palamita the name of Elima was never mentioned, anyway, he writes, one finds only the name of Palamita.

Fazello believes he is justified in saying that perhaps Elima was never mentioned because the founder, Elimo, died too soon and therefore everyone forgot him, or perhaps because Egesto was more esteemed than Elimo. This last affirmation lacks the serious criticism that is absolutely necessary in historic narration. apropos of which is the expression of Giro Capponi, History cannot be guessed, and can never be conjectured, where documents are lacking, human things are told, not invented. If then, the nearby ruins of Partinico were always given and still are given the name of Palamita and never that of Elima, it means that that is where Palamita was, and not Elima. It may be added that at Palamita there has not ever been the Crimiso, which in fact flows from below the Plain of the Greek and Saint Cristina Gela, between the peaks of Magazzino, Pelevel, Ginestra and La Cometa to the right, and between Zolfanello and Maganoce to the left, while completing a course of 45 kilometers. Whoever looks at a map sees how that course does not have any contact with the Partinico territory, therefore the ruins are not in the vicinity of the Crimiso, nor has the territory ever belonged in the Crimisino territory. Elima however, did arise in the Crimisino territory, precisely on that dominant mountain. the ruins of Partinico are therefore of Palamita and not of Elima.

 

The affirmations of Cluverio and of Fazello are antithetical with regard to the writings of Diogenes of Alicarnasso, Diodorus Siculo, Thucydides, Darete the Phrygian to name only a few of the ancients. These are historical errors that cause confusion and disorientation, and even if the errors were made in good faith, their authors are still liable for them. With regard to Cluverio, the ancients would agree with Abbot Amico (Sicilian Geographical Dictionary) who wrote that, “The blunders of Cluverio regarding the Mediterranean and Sicilian places, which he did not visit, are not negligible,” and with Bonanni (L.l. p. 100) Cluverio blunders into such shameful and precipitous decisions that he often distances himself from the true sense as much as a lie is from the truth.” The motifs adopted by Fazello would be the importance of the architectural construction, especially with regard to towers, about which he states, “beautiful construction is such that only a king was able to imagine it and have it carried out. The natural beauty of the site, the rich vegetation of trees and olive groves.” The answer to Fazello would be that, the ancients never called Elima and its territories enchanting, nor are olive groves mentioned, since olives were brought to Sicily many centuries later, (the Arabs introduced them to the island) of regal architecture then, there is little among a fugitive people, especially of the Trojan-Phrygian people and towers in Elima are never mentioned.

The Greeks and Romans did not build a city on Mount Elimo. the presence of the tower and the architecture that are found near Partinico ought therefore to refer to Palamita, whose name is of Greek origin and ought to refer to the VII and VI centuries, the era when architectural monuments began to rise in Sicily.

Fazello suggests the following location – miles beyond tire mouth of the Giato, a rugged mountain, a field with only a single street on the west, around the mountain ruins a giant wall, very near to tire wide breast of the sea, a place abundant with oil, etc.

Where is the Crimiso here? circa fluvium Crimissum, as Diogenes d’Alicarnasso, Diodorus Sicolo, and Thucydides affirmed in their writings? Not one breast of the sea does one encounter with the Crimiso, except for at its outlet (Porto Palo), and no rugged mountain is to be found.

I will leave without commenting on Fazello’s story that Egesto was bom, as he said, in Sicily, among the goats, having gone to Troy and then from Troy returned here, we can say that in the 8 volumes of Sicilian history (translated by R. Fiorentini, Pedone and Muratori edition, Palermo 1830-32) Elima is certainly not the only error, and many other no less important errors may be found, as confirmed by Abbot Amico and Abbot Giuseppe Bertini, both editors of the Edition. In volume II, p. 84, as when he confuses Carcino with Archino and when he says that Dinoloco is from Agrigento and a disciple of Epicarmo, while he was actually the son of Epicarmo and he was from Syracuse.

On p. 134 he says that the Romans obstructed the port of Lilibeo. It is known that after that date Caesar entered the port with 85 large sailing ships and loaded freighters while passing into Utica.

In 1287 the fleet of the King of Naples entered with 80 galleons.

In 1572 John of Austria entered with a fleet of 160 ships.

The Romans had attempted to obstruct that port but were not successful, that port was obstructed in 1582 by Charles V who ordered the execution of the project by his envoy Charles of Aragon.

on p. 180 he mentions that Herodotus wrote about Palermo, instead he wrote of Calacte.

on p. 285 he says that the Commedia had origins in Ixnperia, instead it was from Megara in Sicily.

vol. IV, p. 376 after having reported that Epicide had been killed in Acradina, then he presents him alive again and leaving for Africa.

vol. V, p. 240-41 he notes the anachronisms of the relationships between Arcadio, Onorio, Attila, Valentiniano III and Teodosio; he said Teodosio was from Verona, but he was actually bom in Niusiedle (Austria).

on p. 250 anachronism between the Goths and Belisario, the interval was of 42 years and not 18 (535 – 493 = 42).

vol. VI, on p. 22 he says that Ruggero left for Calabria after the taking of Troy, Ruggero instead stopped to take advantage of the victory and afterwards settled in Petralia. He confuses the two wives of Ruggero while saying the first was Emenberga, but the first was instead Giuditta. 41

vol. VI, on p. 68 he says Giordano son of Ruggero and his wife, instead, Giordano was son of Ruggero and another woman.

vol. VI, on p. 101 He erred, as Abbot Giachino says, about the ordering and execution of the death of Costanza on the part of her father Rugger. Costanza instead died after the death of Ruggero.

On D. I, L. VI, C. Ill, on p. 116-117 he says that Entella is on the right of Belice, on L X, C. Ill, p. 419-421 he instead says that it’s on the left. The error and the confusion between Palamita and Elima belongs to this series of equivocations, ab anno disce omnes. Elima was on the mountain of the same name–‚Äô5 and it was maintained by force against invasions, in fact the Elimi people, united with their neighbors, knew well how to defend themselves against the invasion of the Lacedemoni commanded by Dorieo, and ran them out; Lacedemoni Dorieo with Tessalo, Celea and many other important Spartans, lost.

The inhabitants of Elima, weakened by the battles they sustained to chase the Cnidi from Sicily, had to live in camps, which was unfortunately accentuated in the Fifth century with the terrible battles between Greeks and Carthaginians, many had to take refuge in Segesta, and since the castle was no longer a military fortress, but rather a refuge for the commanders of the clip. In the savage fights between Greeks and Carthaginians, Gelone, the tyrant of Syracuse, vanquished these last in 480 B.C. and dedicated himself to aggrandizing Syracuse by gathering the nobles and the wealthy citizens of the destroyed cities.

The cities of Erice, Egesta, Gela, Selinunte, Entella and Elima concluded a treaty to form a strong alliance as the news came that Hannibal was ready to return to Sicily with a strong army, wanting to conquer the entire island. At the same time, there was the contest between Syracuse and Agrigento for hegemony over Sicily. In this difficult period, Hannibal, who had already obtained 100,000 soldiers, decided that his first task was to make Elima his base of operations, since it was a strategic point that dominated the western region, where he could have a clear view and a staging area on these fecund lands rich with fertile vineyards.

He counted on having Elima as his eagle’s nest. The people of Segesta, frightened by such a terrible plan, gave in to the just-disembarked conqueror, since the other cities in the league named above were not able to raise sufficient forces, Segesta gave her soldiers to Hannibal for the destruction of Selinunte, while Elima, to save itself from destruction, sought salvation by sending ambassadors.

The strong and ferocious warrior, however, having razed to the soil the beautiful Selinunte, directed his eyes towards Elima, and also towards Entella, with the goal of making for himself a free road; only Imera was saved since it was behind the front.

The governor of Elima in his encounter with Hannibal obtained nothing, when with lively spirit and resolute language he dared to vehemently protest against the bloody conduct of the conqueror, he fell wounded on the ruins of Selinunte.

Rather than falling by arms, Elima fell by surrendering, while Entella, because it took up arms, was destroyed. Hannibal, following the course of the Crimiso, levied a heavy siege on Imera and ended up destroying her in the same year, 409 B.C.42

For more than two centuries Elima somehow got by in Carthaginian hands, who rebuilt Entella rendering it a powerful bulwark on the left Crimiso, and with Elima on the right they could call themselves masters of the of the Cimisino sector. But the fight between Syracuse and Agrigento intensified.

Having conquered Mozia in 396 B.C., the cities of this western area fell into Dionisio’s’ power, Elima included, while Panormus, Egesta, Angira, Solos, Entella resisted the conquest. Since more Carthaginian reinforcements arrived under the command of Hamilcar, Dionisio had to retreat to Syracuse, Elima still remained under the control of the Carthaginians. With time the son of Magone arrived and took Selinunte and Entella away from the Carthaginians.

The dark atmosphere was about to clear. Timoleone of Corinth, who was called to Sicily by the Syracusans in order to stop the Carthaginian arrogance in the spring of 342 (in the month of Tnrgelione, that is between April 15 and May 15), arrived to find himself in a forced march stopping on the Crimiso, in the city’s territory north of Elima, (the place is called Dagala di Carbone today). There, during the violence of furious battle on the banks of the raging river, he inflicted on the Soldiers the most clamorous defeat that Elima had ever seen, which, if it had had to fear the arrival of the omnipotent African army which passed through its territory not more than 5 kilometers to the north (as the crow flies), marching self-confidently .it was able to breathe a sigh of relief from its mountain at the disastrous undoing of the enemy who, disordered and harried, had to run to their ships to escape.

The Greeks called Pirrhus to help them fight against the Carthaginians, and Pirrhus became the ruler and king of all of Sicily; Elima with Entella and other cities received him as a liberator and accepted his leadership (278-276 B.C.), only Lilibeo did not want to recognize him because Pirrhus had killed the Tenione, who had called him to Sicily.

Later the war between the Syracusans and Carthaginians re-ignited, and Mamertini, in the service of Agthocles, rebelled against Gerone and blockaded the two cities and took over Messina. Menaced by the Carthaginians, they requested and obtained the help of the Romans, who initiated the first Punic war (265 B.C.). Rome sent an army to Sicily led by Appius Claudius, followed by the Consuls L. Ottacilius and Verio Flaccus; they took possession of Elima, Entella, Alicia, Egesta and many other cities and castles. a good 64 cities opened their doors to the Romans. Sicily then became a new theater of relentless war between the Romans and the Carthaginians, but victory smiled on the Romans who, after ten years of siege, in 241, occupied Lilibeo, the last Carthaginian bulwark.

From 212, with Marcellus, all of Sicily found itself under Roman control. The dark Carthaginian cloud continued to obscure Zama (202) until it declined definitively in 146 with the destruction of the powerful Punic city at the hand of Scipio Emilianus, after 3 years of heavy siege.

During Roman domination, Elima survived as a military garrison rather than as a civil town. During this period Cicero visited, when he came as Inquisitor of Lilibeo and he went to Entella, for the famous inquest on the exploits of Verre, where he held his discourse in that Senate (first century B.C.). The Lilibeo-Alicia-Elima-Entella road ran comfortably and directly from west to east.

The arrival of Belisario, Giustinian I’s celebrated General, allowed all of Sicily, and therefore Elima, to enjoy an aura of Christianity. In 440, after Christ, the Vandals descended and immediately took over Lilibeo, – until the Goths were successful in taking over the entire island in 433. In 534, Belisario chased out the Goths and Sicily became a province of the Eastern Empire; but while Belisario was away fighting the Persian War (548-549), Tolile, king of the Goths re-acquired Sicily, which for two years he sacked and degraded. But the Greeks intervened and Sicily returned to being Byzantine.

During this period, Elima suffered the same fate as the adjacent cities, finding itself under the rule of barbarians, and somehow survived the ups and downs of possession of barbarians and then the Greeks; tire centrality of its position rendered it necessary to whoever wanted to rule.

Just when a rather tranquil Christian life seemed possible in Elima and in Sicily, a new and fatal era began. The Arabs, who in the year 820 had taken Palermo, and had then left because of the defeats of Count Bonifacio between Utica and Carthage, had the arrogance to return to this island with an army of 40,000 men under the command of Adalkamo under orders of African Zaidath-Allah. May 25, 827, they disembarked at Lilibeo and began their advance, razing down to the soil the cities of Selinmite and Egesta, and quartering themselves on the Bonifato where they armed a castle. Here they were constantly attacked by the Sicilians until at last they began to worry. On June 15th, 10,000 Saracens disembarked at Mazara with 700 horses, these reinforcements were enough to end the onslaught of the Sicilians.

From the height of the excellent position of Mount Elimo, Bonifato Adalkamo noticed the importance of stopping his enemy’s watch on the Crimisine valley. He saw how they were able to signal each other with nightly fires between the two mountains. He had the goal of ceasing their communications; and he thought in this way to surround and control the fertile Crimisine valley with the three powerful bases at Elima-Entella-Bonifato. Since the two Phrygian-Trojan towns of Elima and Entella were not subdued, in June of 828, they were destroyed and their inhabitants in great part found refuge at Sakka, while Asad-Ben-Al Forath, after having destroyed Selinunte and Egesta, marched towards the interior. Entella was rebuilt as a town, while Elima, with its superior strategic position, was occupied and armed militarily, its castle reinforced to serve as an army base for the Arab invaders.

[This webpage is excerpted from the book: “The History of Poggioreale, Sicily – From 1640 to 1956.” Originally written in Italian by: Canonico Dottore Francesco Aloisio in 1956. Adapted and translated by: Dr. Jeremiah P. Spence, Ph.D. of Austin, Texas. 5th Edition. International Order of Genealogists Publishing. Ireland. 2019. ISBN: 9781072403371. The book can be purchased online at: https://www.amazon.com/History-Poggioreale-Sicily-1640-1956/dp/1072403374/ ]