The Trinacria: History and Mythology
Symbol of convergence of Sicily with Hellenic and Norman History and Culture

by Ninni Radicini, 2007

The Trinacria is the emblem of SicilyThe symbol of Trinacria is now known because in the flag of Sicily and that of the Island of Man. Its history is complex and in some ways still shrouded in mystery, or at least in indeterminacy, as it relates to mythology. The Trinacria, symbol of Sicily, is composed of the head of the Gorgon, whose hair is entwined serpents with ears of corn, from which radiate the three legs bent at the knee. The Gorgon is a mythological figure who, according to the Greek poet Hesiod (VIII - early VII century B.C.), was each of the three daughters of Ceto and Phorcys, two gods of the sea: Medusa (the Gorgon for excellence), Stheno ("strong"), Euryale ("the large").

They had boar tusks, hands of bronze, golden wings, snakes on the head and in waist, lived at the Hesperides (daughters of Atlas, they lived in the Isle of the Blessed, in the westernmost part of the world) and were able, with a glance, to petrify men. The ears of wheat are the symbol of the fertility of the land. The three legs represent the three promontories of Sicily - cape Pelorus (or tip of Faro, Messina: North-East), cape Passero (Syracuse: South), cape Lilibeo (Marsala: West) - whose arrangement is made explicit in the Greek word triskeles and is linked to the geographic meaning: treis (three) and akra (capes): from which, also in Latin, triquetra (three peaks).

The arrangement of the three legs, suggesting a rotation, led the researchers to go back to the Eastern religious symbols, in particular that of Baal, god of Time (in whose monument at Vaga (Beja, Tunisia), over the bull, there is a trinacria) - or that of the Moon, where the three legs are replaced by scythes. In the Asia Minor, between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, the Trinacria was engraved on the coins of various cities, in ancient regions such as: Aspendo (in Panfilia, on the eastern Mediterranean), Berrito and Tebe (in Troade: territory around the city of Troy, between the Scamander and the Hellespont), Olba (in Cilicia, between Armenia and Syria) and in some cities of Lycia (South-West, close to the sea).

The symbol of Trinacria was also used in Crete, Macedonia, and in Celtiberian Spain (area north-central), despite the lack of references to the local geographical situation. Homer, in the Odyssey, alluding to the shape of Sicily, uses the term Thrinakie, which comes from thrinax (three peaks). The thesis on the origins of trinacria has a substantial reference in the history of ancient Greece. The Spartan fighters carving in their shields a white leg bent at the knee: a symbol of strength. This image is in the paintings of ancient vases and is also in a monograph on the subject written in 1863 by the German philosopher KW Goettling.

The Normans, arrived in Sicily in 1072, exported the Trinacria in the Isle of Man, who chose it as a symbol to replace the previous one - a vessel - of Scandinavian origin. An example of the symbolic importance of the Trinacria in the history of Sicily has had on August 30th of 1302 with the establishment of the Island in the Kingdom of Trinacria, following the Peace Treaty of Caltabellotta, at the conclusion of the War of the Sicilian Vespers, that saw the conflict between the Angevins and the Sicilian allies with the Aragonese. The sovereignty of the Kingdom of Trinacria was formally assigned to Frederick II of Aragon (1227-1337), in fact, however, was independent from the rest of the Aragonese dominions in southern Italy.

The Trinacria is also present in the coats of arms of several noble dynasties the Stuarts of Albany in England (perhaps from their dominion over the islands in the Irish Sea, including the Isle of Man), the Rabensteiner (France), the Schanke (Denmark), the Drocomir (Poland) and that of Joachim Murat, King of Naples and Sicily, at the beginning of the Nineteenth century. The Trinacria is at the center of the flag of Sicily, red and yellow diagonally, officially approved in January 2000. The law states that the Sicilian flag is exposed to the outside of the Sicilian Parliament, Regional Government, Provincial Councils and Municipal Councils, Educational institutions of each levels, and the buildings used as polling stations on the occasion of the elections for the Sicilian Parliament.

Flag of Sicily with Trinacria
Flag of Sicily
Flag of Isle of Man with Trinacria
Flag of Isle of Man

* Ninni Radicini has written and published articles on Greece and Germany (political-electoral-historical area). Articles on other topics have been published on various periodicals. He has written and published reviews and prefaces to books. Co-author of the book La Grecia contemporanea (1974-2006).

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Page in memory created by Ninni Radicini

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by Rudy Caparrini, Vincenzo Greco, Ninni Radicini
preface by Antonio Ferrari, "Corriere della Sera" journalist, corresponding from Athens; publishing house: Polistampa, 2007
* The book is in italian version only

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