Akrai (Ancient Greek: Ἄκραι; Latin: Acrenses) was a Greek colony founded in Sicily by the Syracusans in 663 BC. It was located near the modern Palazzolo Acreide.
Akrai was among the first colonies of Syracuse founded by Corinthian colonists arriving in Sicilian territory in 663 BC. It was on the road to Gela, along with the Pantalica, Kasmene (military outpost on Monte Lauro), Akrillai and Camarina (the most distant of the colonies, founded 598 BC). Akrai and Kasmene were founded by the Syracusans: Akrai, seventy years after Syracuse, Kasmenae about twenty years later (c.640 BC). The original colonisation of Kamarina is attributed to the Syracusans, around a hundred and thirty years after the foundation of Syracuse; the founders were called Daskon and Menekolos. Loyal to Syracuse, it nevertheless had its own political life with administrative and military autonomy. Notably, its army intercepted the invasion force of Nicias in the Val di Noto or Anapo in 421 BC, contributing to his defeat.
Constructed on the peak of a hill, Akrai was difficult to attack and at the time of its construction an ideal point for watching the surrounding territory. Indeed, Dion of Syracuse, when marching upon Syracuse, halted at Acrae to watch the effect of his proceedings. By the treaty concluded by the Romans with Hieron II, king of Syracuse (270 - 215 BC), Akrai was included in the dominions of that monarch, and this was probably the period of its greatest prosperity.
During the Second Punic War it followed the fortunes of Syracuse, and afforded a place of refuge to Hippocrates of Syracuse, after his defeat by Marcus Claudius Marcellus at Acrillae, 214 BC. In 211 BC, after the fall of Syracuse, it became part of the Roman province, being known in Latin as Acre. This is the last mention of it in Classical history, and its name is not once noticed by Cicero. It was probably in his time a mere dependency of Syracuse, though it is found in Pliny's list of the "stipendiariae civitates," so that it must then have possessed a separate municipal existence, and is noted by the geographer Ptolemy. The city continued to be under Roman rule into the Byzantine period.
and the Greek cities in red and the Native settlements in blue. The Via Selinuntina
in yellow and the Via Elorina
One of the first scholars to identify the site of the lost city was a Sicilian monk Tommaso Fazello (1498–1570). Subsequently others showed interest in the site, especially baron Gabriele Judica, who undertook the first archaeological excavations at the site in the early 19th century and described his findings in the book Le antichità di Acre (The Antiquities of Akrai), published in 1819. Unearthed monuments were described also by German scholar Julius Schubring. In the 20th century Akrai had been investigated by various scholars including farther-founder of Sicilian archaeology Paolo Orsi (at the beginning of the 20th century), Luigi Bernabò Brea (in the 50s), Giuseppe Voza (in the 70s) and Maria Musumeci with Lorenzo Guzzardi (in the 90s).
Excavations of the archaic city have revealed a theatre which is relatively small but were very well reconstructed. There are two stone quarries known as Intagliata and Intagliatella that were used as catacombs and dwellings in the late Antiquity. On the flat area above Intagliata are the foundation stones of the Aphrodision, the temple of Aphrodite, erected in the mid-6th century BC. At the western end of the site is the Bouleuterion, where the city council met. East of the hill are the Feral Temples, dedicated to the cult of the dead.
Most of the researches that had been undertaken in the XXth century brought into light public architecture. Currently, the image of life in Akrai is being fulfilled by the results of researches on residential part of the city. Greek and Roman houses have been discovered recently by Polish mission from University of Warsaw led by professor Roksana Chowaniec.
Polish mission in Akrai
The residential part of the city was recognized during the first season of non-invasive researches in 2009. Archaeologists mapped the site and proceeded with geophysical detection. In between 2010-2017 regular archaeological excavations were carried out. Archaeologists discovered the remains of Greco-Roman houses and numerous artifacts. Currently, international team of archaeologists is elaborating the findings that include: coins, different types of pottery, glass, metal and stone objects. Multidisciplinary researches engage archaeometric, lipid, petrographic, and isotopic analyses. All the results are published regularly in international journals and in the form of monographs (Akrai Studies, see: Chowaniec R. ed., Unveiling the past of an ancient town. Akrai/Acrea in south-eastern Sicily, Warsaw 2015).
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