The Three Towers of Lampedusa

The first author to write about Lampedusa was the Pseudo-Skylax  in his “The Circumnavigation of the inhabited world” a work that, according to Graham Shipley (author of a study and the English translation of  the book) is not a record of an actual voyage: the work - preserved only in a single, late medieval manuscript - purports to be by Skylax, an explorer of the late 6th century BC named by Herodotos; but this cannot be true, for the text repeatedly refers to the Greek world as it was in the 4th century BC. For that reason it is known as Pseudo-Skylax. 


"And after the isthmus is Karchedon, a city of the Phoinikes with a harbour. Coastal voyage from Hermaia: a half of a day to Karchedon. And islets are at hand in Hermaia Cape, Pontia island and Kosyros.     And the voyage from Hermaia up to Kosyros: a day. 
 Past Hermaia Cape towards the sun rising, a small way from Hermaia, are three small islands opposite this place, inhabited by Karchedonioi:  Melite, a city with a harbour; Gaulos, a city; Lampas (LAMPEDUSA)—this one has two or three towers.   And past Kosyros up to Lilybaion, a promontory of Sikelia (Sicily): a voyage of days, one."


Skylax calls Lampedusa λαμπάς (a torch, a lamp, a flame) and he says that:


A-Lampedusa was inhabited by Carthaginians
B-Lampedusa had two/three towers. 

We are now going to analyse the last two important statements. 

A-Lampedusa was inhabited by Carthaginensis 
If Skylax describes the status quo of the fourth century BC we can assume that at that time the island was under Punic influence. We can therefore made two different hypothesis:
1-The Carthaginians took over Lampedusa from the Greeks early in the fourth century BC  peraphs after Aktagas (Agrigentum the nearest town in Sicily to reach Lampedusa by boat) fell to the Chartaginensis in year 406 BC. In this case Lampedusa (Lampas) was likely a Greek colony only from circa 550BC (Akragas was founded in year 581 BC) to circa the early fourth century BC. It is known that Lampedusa had its own coinage during its Greek phase: in this case  we can assume that the Greek coinage of Lampedusa  should be dated back to the fifth century BC rather than to the third century how it has been proposed (more details about the Greek coinage of Lampedusa in this post). 
2-The Carthaginians colonized Lampedusa much earlier (VII or VIII century BC) and the island remained under Punic influence till late in the fourth century BC and the Greeks took control of Lampedusa only early in the fourth century BC  perhaps after Aktagas was rebuilt (339BC) after the Timoleon campaigns in Sicily (344 BC): in this case  we can assume that the dating of the Greek coinage of Lampedusa  should be around the second half of the fourth century BC or early in the third. Also it is likely under this assumption that Lampedusa remained under Greek influence till it fell under Roman influence after the second Punic war. As far as the remains of the punic phase of Lampedusa are concerned, the only reference we have is the work of Ashby early last century.
Classic archeology should help us to understand which one of these two assumption is more correct.


B-Lampedusa had two/three towers. 
This looks like an incredible statement for those who live in Lampedusa and for those who have visited it at least: how such a tiny island could  have three towers worth to be mentioned in the most antique book of geography  Could such structures disappear without leave any trace? Could, more simply, the Pseudio Skylax be wrong?  History is full of examples showing how the literal interpretation of ancient text can sometimes lead to great archaeological discoveries (think about Troy). 


I stand with the Pseudo Skylax: the three towers of Lampedusa really existed and that were worth mentioning and that there are still traces of their remains that can be found on Lampedusa. I will try to prove it.

The Pseudo Skylax used the Greek word πύργος for tower,  this Greek word means "tower" but also "fortified walls" and "ramparts" : I will show a couple of examples in the Greek literature (from Homer) with the word πύργος used for "fortified walls":

τοῖοι ἄρα Τρώων ἡγήτορες ἧντ᾽ ἐπὶ πύργῳ.

οἳ δ᾽ ὡς οὖν εἴδονθ᾽ Ἑλένην ἐπὶ πύργον ἰοῦσαν,
Iliad 3, 146

αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν πόλιος ἐπιβήομεν, ἣν πέρι πύργος


ψηλός, καλὸς δὲ λιμὴν ἑκάτερθε πόληος,
Odissey 6, 251

We can therefore licitly think that the Pseudo Skylax choosing the word πύργος did not mean "towers" in a strictly medieval sense but rather more broadly  great earthworks such as circular ramparts. There is more: the word πύργος contains the word  πύρὰ ("fire" and "sacred altar") and γῆ  ("earth").
And now like pieces of a puzzle suddenly matching I realized that the Pseudo Skylax most likely was speaking of the great three circular structures that I found in Lampedusa and that I described in a dedicated working paper.  Three huge earthworks, looking like towers that must have caught the attention of those visiting the isalnd of Lampedusa thousand s of years ago, ritual places of a circular shape surrounded by a bank or and henge, looking like Stonehenge and worth to be mentioned in  The Circumnavigation of the inhabited world” . All this may probably explain why the Pseudo Skylax did not call Lampedusa with its proper Greek name (Lopadusa, the same name engraved on the Greek coinage of Lampedusa) but Lampas (a "torch", a "lamp" , a  "flame") a name connected to πύργος via πύρὰ .
This is a recurring motive of the history of Lampedusa: from the ninth century AD a sanctuary (today known as " Santuario della Madonna di Porto Salvo") has been visited by pilgrims and travelers venturing in the waters between Sicily and Africa: it was known for a light that was always kept alive by hermits. 
The Fire, the Light,  the Sacred Place,  these are all elements of the history of Lampedusa and that are undoubtedly better suited for explaining the etymology of the name Lampedusa rather than the improbable (sponge or "patella" mollusk  that are cited today (improperly in my opinion) for explaining the etymology of Lampedusa. 
But who built the towers of Lampedusa? Most likely boith the Greek and the Chartagininas found these towers and re-used them, the builders must have lived in Lampedusa probably thousands years before them  if we consider the style of these towers (see my dedicated post large circular stone structures) ...it is archaeology that must answer to this question by confirming or debunking my findings, in any case by coming back to study Lampedusa, too often forgot by the official research.
  
3D model of one tower according to my interpretation


The three towers of LAmpedusa brought back to life after thousands years !!!

Copyright © Diego Ratti
August 2011
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