Biblical sources testify that as early as the 10th century B.C. Phoenicians had ships that were able to travel long journeys. The birth of an urban settlement in Motya can be dated to the end of the 8th century B.C. although there are remains of the prehistoric age which go back to the Bronze Age (15th-13th century B.C.)
“…Since they were the first to start metal exploitation in Iberia, and bring silver to Greece, Asia, and other places, they made great earnings…” This favoured the creation of ports of call and new places where one could find the needed supplies.
The isle of Motya was an important Carthaginian colony used as the base for exchange operations and against all attacks coming from Sicily. Generals Hasdrubal and Hamilcar landed here with their fleet of three hundred triremes and a hundred ships transporting 70,000 soldiers, many horses, and war carts. The place was apt to stand sieges, as Virgil recalls …et vada dura lego … saxis Lilybeia caecis… (Aaeneis III, 705) referring to the sand banks that make it difficult to sail there. For this reason, in 397 B.C. Denis’ army invaded the town and gave way to a huge massacre. The Syracuse tyrant headed his soldiers, mercenary and allied troops, and after a heavy attack, the isle was conquered and razed to the ground. “…The people who escaped and survived founded the town of Marsala in the proximity of Lilybeum Cape...”
Great quantities of silver and gold, along with precious clothes and objects were stolen.
A narrow passage connecting Motya with the land was destroyed by the inhabitants so as to prevent hostile attacks. “…This town was situated on an isle at six stadiums from Sicily and was of an extraordinary artistic beauty for the great number and elegance of its buildings thanks to the high welfare of its inhabitants…”
“…It was surrounded by a strong wall belt, a deep moat, and, at the sea side, it was protected by lagoons which forbade access to ports…”, as Diodorus Siculus tells us.
Built with great care, the town had both a natural and an artificial port, a series of civil and religious buildings, industrial facilities, and two large necropolis. Of the probable four gates, two are still visible: Porta Nord and Porta Sud (Northern and Southern Gate).
The name Motya seems to derive from metu of Accadic origin meaning still water. Mozia, Motya: MTW appears on Phoenician coins and motum on Greek ones.