Lampedusa and the Phoenicians

The first author to write about Lampedusa was the Pseudo-Skylax  in his “The Circumnavigation of the inhabited world” of 4th century BC. 

"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."

Despite the above literal evidence the archeological proof of the Carthaginians colonizing Lampedusa  was still missing to dateIn "Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology " issued by the University of Liverpool in 1912 (vol.4)  the British archaeologist Thomas Ashby (1874-1931). Ashby was the first archaeologist to visit Lampedusa described a group of at least 6 Punic tombs in the harbor of Lampedusa producing their plan and section drawings:

Plan and section of the Punic tombs of Lampedusa described ny Ashby 

In some old numismatic literature drawings of a Punic coin attributed to Lampedusa can be found.  Domenico Sestini  in 1821 described this coin as follows: “Numus Punicus in Museo Tòchon – Pagurus sub quo duae litterae punicae (Gaml and Mem ) et caduceus intra lauream”

Twenty years later Giuseppe Fiorelli (Napoli, 1823 – 1896) produced a drawing of such coin : 

Punic coin attributed to Lampedusa

Punic amphorae have been found in the sea around Lampedusa yet these can only prove that the Phoenicians passed by Lampedusa but no evidence of a physical settlement have been found yet. 
Some ipogeic caves which can be found in Cala Galera may originally have been used as punic tombs, unfortunately they have been re-utilized over the centuries and little is left to prove their original use.  

Ipogeic cave in Cala Galera - Lampedusa

Luckily enough the author of this blog has recently found a stone stele with drawings and a Phoenician inscription and this may well be the single most important piece of evidence that the Phoenicians settled Lampedusa. Below a small description of the Stele (whose finding has been reported to the local authorities according to the Italian Cultural Heritage Law): it is temporarily on show at the headquarter of the Associazione Culturale "Archivio Storico Lampedusa" while waiting that the authorities in charge pick it up.


  • Tipology: Funerary Stele
  • Provenance: Lampedusa Contrada Cala Creta (June 2013)
  • Description:  Funerary Stele with a square niche and inside this niche drawing of the goddess Tanit and below it an inscription in Phoenicians signs and a schematic drawing of a child  
  • Use: Funerary: most likely indicating a votive offer  and a human sacrifice
  • Period: between  VI and III century BC
  • Material: local calcareous rock
  • Dimension: Height 45 cm. 
Phoenician stele of Lampedusa and drawing/inscription (below)

Unfortunately the stele has been found in a bad conservation state and not in his original location so it was not possible to find the Tofet to which it most likely belonged. Among the Carthaginians, the Tophet was a place sacred to their god Baal. The Carthaginians placed urns there containing the remains of their children. Diodorus Siculus thought the Carthaginians may have sacrificed children at the Tophet for religious reasons. Whether or not the Carthaginians performed child sacrifice remains a subject for debate. Similar stele have been found elsewhere in the tophets of the Phoenician colonies in the Mediterranean (see pictures below).


Stele  with inscription

Phoenician Stele from Sardinia 

Phoenician Stele at Louvre

Phoenician Stele from Sardinia 

We wish that the lucky discovery of this Phoenician stele in Lampedua will help researchers to better understand the history of the Phoenicians in Lampedusa, the nature of their settlement their trad, uses and religion.

  • I Fenici e Cartagine, UTET, Torino 1972 Sabatino Moscati
  • "Fenici e Cartaginesi in Sardegna"  Sabatino Moscati
  • Domenico Sestini “Classes Generales seu Moneta Vetus Urbium Populorum et Regum” Firenze 1821
  • Giuseppe Fiorelli "Osservazioni sopra talune monete rare di città greche", Napoli 1843 
  • Il periplo di Scilace. Studio sul primo portolano del Mediterraneo1979 Aurelio Peretti
  •  The Phoenicians and the West: Politics, Colonies and Trade by Maria Eugenia Aubet and Mary Turton (6 Sep 2001)

    COPYRIGHT 2013 Diego Ratti