Erice history from Elymnians to Swabian

History of Erice from Elymnians to Normans

It is certain that the Elymnians, probably a population from Anatolia,  inhabitated  and developed the peak of Erice. The most recent studied seem to confirm they wereTrojan refugees as the ancient tradition told.

Elymnians fortified Erice in the VII century B.C. and made it a religious centre of their small country. This one comprehended the area from Erice to Segesta, as far as Panormus.
Towards the inner part of western Sicily it stretched as far as Entella.
Entella should be the present Contessa Entellina in the province of Palermo, 14 kms from Corleone.
The temple to their goddess was a huge and natural altar stretching towards the sky, often covered by clouds.

Erice: a real spiritual place

For ancient people it seemed to be the place of the embrace and marriage between Earth and Heaven. A place to celebrate Love. A place to be closer to God and deities.
Phoenicians and Carthaginians, which followed Elymnians, dedicated the shrine to Astarte, their goddess of fertility and love.

It attracted huge crowds. Erice became a religious centre not only for Sicily but also for all the mediterranean people.

The almost inaccessible fortress of erice

The big fire which at night shone inside the holy themenos showed the ships their course.
When the shrine was fortified the inhabited centre was accessible only from its western side. Elymnians had already built big walls on this side. Carthaginians reinforced the city walls to make the access by enemies even more hard.
Thus Erice became a very important fortress. In the VII century B.C. it was one of the most important fortress in Sicily, along with Syracuse and Enna.
Even Dorieus, a spartan warrior, tried to conquer Erice in 508 B.C. but failed.
Though it was a fortress between 398 and 397 B.C. Carthaginians and Syracusans led by Dionysius  alternatively conquired Erice.

The war that ended with the distruction of Motya and the defeat of Carthaginians.
In 278 B.C. Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, succeeded in conquering the fortress of Erice.  After the Romans defeated Pyrrhus at Benevento, Carthaginians conquered Erice again.

The first Punic war

During the first Punic war the sides of the mountain were the scene of the military actions which moved from Lilybaeum, the present Marsala, to Drepanon, the present Trapani.

The Roman troops and the Carthaginians ones led by Hamilcar clashed there.

A Roman garrison, sent there by Consul Junius in 248, controlled the acropolis of Erice. Hamilcar besieged his enemies barricated in the acropolis.
At the same time Romans, who controlled the road connecting Erice to Drepanon,  besieged him in his defensive camp.

The situation changed only after the victory of Lutatius Catulus against the Carthaginians fleet in 241 B.C., at Egadi islands. After the defeat Hamilcar had to come to terms with Romans.

Romans conquired Erice

After Romans conquered Erice, it declined from a military point of view. So, after a great prosperity, the old shrine started declining. Segestans asked Emperor Tiberius to restore the almost collapsing temple.

Byzantines and Arabs

Under the Byzantines, the city on the mountain lose even its municipality autonomy.  Indeed its name doesn’t appear in any public document of the time.
The Arabs changed the name of Erice into Gebel-el-Hamid. During their domination the ancient Eryx was completely abandoned.

The Normans at Erice

Around 1015, Normans knights under the leadership of Robert Guiscard d’Hautville began making their way through mainland Italy. They would pass as pilgrims, while lending their considerable military skills as mercenaries.

They fought with the Lombards against the Greeks, and with the Greeks against the Saracens, as they made their way southwards through the Italian peninsula.
In 1059 Pope Nicolo’ II authorised the Hauteville family of Normans to occupy any area of Southern Italy as long as they don’t recognise the power of Constantinople.
So from 1071 onwards the Normans took possession of Sicily. As they were few, they had to accept and integrate Arab administration and justice systems.

This risulted to be very nice. They made use of Arab and Byzantine craftsmen and architects provoking a fusion of talent and leaving an incredible legacy of art and architecture.

Roger d’Hautville

Although Roger d’Hautville conquered Sicily in the name of his brother and the papacy, he took the title of Count of Sicily and was its real ruler. This began the most glorious period in Sicily’s history.

Count Roger’s deft administrative skills were perhaps his greatest asset. He allowed Sicily’s diverse inhabitants to continue practicing their respective religions, languages, and cultures, but in such a way as to strengthen the Norman stronghold on the island.

His was the first modern state, founded on an appreciation of what the pre-existing and different peoples on the island could contribute to its well-being.
Roger d’Hautville died in 1085, but his infant son was able eventually to inherit and develop Sicily during his reign.

Although a strict and efficient ruler like his father, his court in Palermo became renowned as a meeting place of Greek, Arabic, Jewish, and Christian scholars of the arts and sciences.

 Norman palaces and churches

Despite the relatively short period that the Normans held sway over the island, their influence over Sicily history and Sicily architecture is arguably the most profound.

The most visible lasting legacy of Roger II’s reign are the great palaces and churches.
King Roger’s successors continued the tradition of cultural tolerance.

Most notably by his grandson, William II, the last of the great Norman kings of Sicily.

William founded the wonderful cathedral, monastery, and royal palace at Monreale, which many consider to be Sicily’s greatest artistic achievement.

The legend of St. Jiulian

Erice flourished again under the Normans. The old town became and advanced outpost and Normans made it even more efficient. The name of the city changed again and also changed the object of veneration at its shrine.

A legend tells that in 1706 Count Roger’s son besieged Saracens living on the mountain. It was an hard besiege so Normans prayed saints to help them.

One day on the upper part of the mountain appeared a knight on a white horse, with light armour and a red cloak, holding a falcon.

The saint set the dogs on the Saracens. They were surprised so gave up their arms, ran away and abandoned the town.

According to the legend they had not enough courage to resist the fierceness and bark of the dogs, the rapacity of the falcon and the bravery of the knight.

Count Roger believed it was the apparition of Saint Julian so he ordered Mount Erice to change its name to San Giuliano Mount. He made a church to be built in honour of the saint. It was the first one in the Catholic style.

Legend or reality?

None of the chroniclers of the Norman time refers to a siege of Erice or to the miracle to which the legend attributes the reason for changing the name of the town. This legend is probably a rielaboration of facts happened in the XVII century.

Lakely the ancient Erice had already dedicated a place to St. Julian Hospitaller, protector of travellers and seafarers, even before Normars conquered the city.

Maybe his cult is earlier than that of Our Lady of the Assumption, that was widespread in the villages on the slopes of the mountain and at Custonaci.

St. Julian  Hospitaller

Saint Julian of Trapani and Erice was almost surely Saint Julian, the Carthaginian martyr. This results from a  document of the time about the martyrdom of Cipriano, Flaviano, Montano and Giuliano.

This document refers to a Giuliano who in his youth would have been responsible for the involuntary killing of his parents, welcomed by his wife in the nuptial bed in his absence.

Believing they were his wife with her lover, he killed both them.

He met Christ in the likeness of a leper and dedicated his life to charity towards the needy as a sign of penance. On 22 May 269 he went to martyrdom by the will of the Valerian Consul and was beheaded with a sword.

The spread of his cult in the Trapani area is probably due to the breakaway of many Christians persecuted from Africa to Sicily.

The Swabian at Erice

In 1130 Roger II of Hauteville founded the Kingdom of Sicily.
The House of Hohenstaufen came from Swabia, in south western Germany. Their leader had been Frederick the Great, the Holy Roman Emperor, Barbarossa for his red hair and beard.

His son Henry  married Constance, the sister of King Roger II of Sicily. So Henry inherited Sicily for the Swabians.

Henry had little time to rule because he suddenly died in 1197. Their son Frederick, born in 1195, inherited his debt-ridden kingdom upon reaching maturity, aged fourteen.

He sought to re-establish Sicily’s former glory.

He forcefully stamped out corruption and reformed the island’s laws and administration, effectively creating a federation of self-governing communes, with himself at their head, as Emperor.

Source: wikipedia