A Phoenician island city and its lagoon

June 8th, 2013

1. Mozia south harbor 060813MILAZZO, SICILY, ITALY–The pre-conference field trip of the International Bryozoology Association has now almost completely circled Sicily. We are in the far northeastern corner of the island on a rocky cape jutting into the sea towards mainland Italy. The drive here along the very steep and rocky north coast of Sicily was fantastic, especially the seaward views of the volcanic Aeolian Islands (including the famous Stromboli).

Our day started on the furthest western part of Sicily. We took a short boat trip into the Stagnone di Marsala lagoon to the ruins of the ancient Phoenician walled city Mozia. The top photo is a view of the silted-up south harbor of the island with remnants of its guard towers on either side of the narrow entrance. Mozia was settled in the 8th Century BCE as a commerce center. It was well-suited to the Phoenician way of life with its small but safe ports and a defensible interior. The island is in the middle of an extensive lagoon which protects it from the ravages of the open sea (and invaders — for awhile). The site is still being actively excavated and studied.

2. Mozia Museum 060813There is a small museum on the island full of artifacts. It appears that the lagoon itself has abundant deposits of detritus from this active community, so items are continually dredged up.

3. Necropolis Mozia 060813Mozia has a considerable necropolis, as you would imagine. Many of the best sarcophagi and other memorial stones are in the museum.

4. Mask Mozia 060813There is a collection of terra cotta masks in the museum of apparently ceremonial use. This one seems delightful until you learn tat one of those ceremonies was human sacrifice, primarily of children. Now this character looks far more sinister.

5. Burned guardhouse Mozia 060813Greeks under the tyrant Dionysius captured the island and is city after a siege in 397 BCE. The fall of Mozia is recorded subtly by remnants of literally last ditch earthworks and fires. The stones of this guardhouse along the wall on the southern coast were reddened when the associated wooden structures were burned either during or just after the siege.

6. Greek attack Mozia 060813The island museum has a diorama depicting the final breaching of Mozia’s walls by the Greeks in 397 BCE.

7. Lagoon 060813The Stagnone di Marsala lagoon was formed during the Pleistocene as an abraded marine platform cut into fossiliferous marls and soft limestones. In this view from the island to the mainland you can see six whitish piles of salt on the distant shore. These are harvested from low ponds with walled enclosures (see below). The windmills, iconic for this area, pump water from one pond to another to control the mineral phases of the precipitates. This salt production goes back to antiquity.

8. Lagoon salt ponds 060813

2 Responses to “A Phoenician island city and its lagoon”

  1. Lebanoson 10 Jun 2013 at 2:25 pm

    Good article, but one part of it talks about children sacrifice, which is a myth spread by the Phoenician’s enemies.

    The myth was born in the Greco-Roman age with Diodoro Siculo. He made a claim that in 310 B.C. the Carthaginians remembered that they did not honor their god Chronos with the annual sacrifice of children of noble families. Because of that, in few days, they slaughtered two hundred children. Recent archaeological discoveries have disavowed this macabre religious tradition, demonstrating that among Phoenicians there is no trace of human sacrifices. This appears in an interview, in the new issue of the Italian review: “Archeologia Viva,” with professor Piero Bartoloni, Head of the Department of Phoenician-Punic Archaeology at Universita’ di Sassari, Italy, and a favorite student of famous archaeologist Sabatino Moscati. He undertook a major excavation campaign in Zama, Tunisia, that is linked to the fall of Carthage after the battle of Zama in 202 B.C. The battle ended the second Punic war. He declares that, “In ancient times, for every ten children that were born, seven died within the first year and out of the remained three, only one became an adult. Now I ask: is it reasonable that, with such a high level of infant mortality, these people killed their own children?”

    Read more: Child Sacrifice: Children of Phoenician Punic Carthage Where Not Sacrificed to the Gods http://phoenicia.org/childsacrifice.html

  2. […] Our day started on the furthest western part of Sicily. We took a short boat trip into the Stagnone di Marsala lagoon to the ruins of the ancient Phoenician walled city Mozia. The top photo is a view of the silted-up south harbor of the island with remnants of its guard towers on either side of the narrow entrance. Mozia was settled in the 8th Century BCE as a commerce center. It was well-suited to the Phoenician way of life with its small but safe ports and a defensible interior. The island is in the middle of an extensive lagoon which protects it from the ravages of the open sea. Via Wooster Geologists » Blog Archive » A Phoenician island city and its lagoon. […]

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