The Trinacria, a form of the triskelion, has been the
symbol of Sicily since the Greek era and represents
the three geographical points of the island. The Greek term trinakrios
comes to us from treis (three) joined to the word àkra (promontory),
giving us Trinacria - one of the many medieval names of Sicily.
As displayed in Sicily, the triskelos, as the Greeks called it, features
the head of Medusa at the centre of three conjoined, nude legs. In antiquity
the Medusa was a generic gorgon's head.
The symbol appeared in the coinage of Greek Sicily. In the Syracusan
gold piece shown here the feet are winged like those of Hermes (Mercury).
Despite its widespread numismatic use, the trinacria itself never became
symbol in Sicily. That is to say, it never appeared in a Sicilian coat of
arms until very recently. Yet it was published in numerous official documents over the
By 1270, if not long before, a similar symbol became known as the heraldic
insignia of the Isle of Man, sometimes simply called Mann. The difference
from the Trinacria is that the Manx legs are armoured and accompanied by
no other feature. There is no head.
It is believed - through an unproved theory - that this symbol was introduced
on Mann during Plantagenet times. The Normans arrived
in England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, having landed at Messina five years earlier,
and while they did not rule Mann their influence across Britain was significant.
Although actual heraldry emerged only a century later, the Anglo-Normans
are thought to have imported several symbols from their Sicilian counterparts,
including the lion rampant displayed by the Norman kings
of both realms. It has also been suggested that when young Prince Edmund
was offered the Sicilian Throne in 1253 (it eventually went to Charles of
of Saint Louis)
he may have begun to use the device. The Scots king, Alexander III, may
have seen it during a visit to London and decided to assume it as the symbol
of the Isle of Man, which was in his dominion. It is also possible that,
in an earlier time, the Vikings introduced the Manx symbol following their
raids in Sicily.
Back in Sicily, the trinacria sometimes appeared on coins. In 1302, with
the treaty known as the Peace of Caltabellotta, an agreement sanctioned
by the Papacy following decades of strife in the wake of the Vespers
War of 1282, King Frederick III "the Simple" of Aragon (father
of Queen Mary) was recognized as the ruler of Sicily
if he styled himself "King of Trinacria," while his royal counterpart
in Naples retained the nominal title "King of Sicily."
About the Author: Carlo Trabia is an architect who
lectures on architectural history.