Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.1.28


Bruno Gentili (ed.), Catania Antica. Atti del Convegno della S.I.S.A.C. Pisa-Roma: Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 1996. Pp. 329. ISBN 88-8147-076-4.

Contributors include: Salvatore Calderone, Giovanni Rizza, Giacomo Manganaro, Carlo Corbato, Giuseppina Basta Donzelli, Filipo Giudice, R.J.A. Wilson, Concetta Molé Ventura, Sebastiana Lagona, Werner Eck, Rosario Soraci, Irma Bitto, and Mario Mazza.


Reviewed by Adolfo J. Dominguez, Department of Ancient History, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. SPAIN, adolfo.dominguez@uam.es.

This book is a collection of papers presented to the Fifth Congress of the Italian Society for the Study of Classical Antiquity (SISAC), held in the city of Catania in May 1992. The general topic of the conference was Ancient Catania, from the origins of the Greek city to the Late Roman period, and the different papers analyse different topics within the general subject proposed.

Rizza's short "Catania in età greca: l'evidenza archeologica" deals with the few preserved remains of the Greek period; he presents, on a plan of the current city, those zones in which remains of the Greek city have been found, and he also offers a brief panorama of the main excavations carried out in the city during the last forty years. Perhaps one of the most important discoveries was in 1959, a votive stipe dated between the late seventh century and the late fifth centuries. R. makes a clear division between the archaic and the classical phases, related to Hiero's intervention and the re-founding of the city with the name Aetna. The excavations begun in 1978 in the area of the ancient Benedictine Monastery are also important because they reached the first levels of the Greek settlement, marked by the presence of Thapsos cups. Subsequent investigations in the 80s permitted observation of the expansion of the first city toward the sea.

The long paper by Manganaro, "Per una storia della chora katanaia" deals with many more problems than suggested by its title and serves, within the overall plan of the book, as a kind of argumentative thread on which the history of the city can be placed. His overview is based on written sources and on data coming from the main settlements surrounding the city of Catania. The territory of Catania has not been the object of surface surveys like other Greek cities. The occupation of a wide plain and the presence of a harbour means for M. the establishment of a Chalcidian style of occupation of all the region around Mt. Etna. This author even suggests that the harbour would explain why Catana could have chosen its own founder, Evarchus, as claimed by Thucydides (6.3.3), for it would be a means of asserting its autonomy with respect to Naxos and Leontini. The creation of the territory of Catania was accomplished to the detriment of the natives as seen in the occupation and fortification of some of their settlements. As a consequence of this policy, Catania was to receive many Sikels fleeing from their conquered villages. With respect to the relationships with other Greek poleis, M. suggests that the close connections (sympoliteia?) which Catana maintained with Naxos prevented in both cities the development of tyranny, in contrast to what occurred in Leontini. (This hypothesis, which M. attempts to reinforce with numismatic evidence, is somewhat risky.) Few conclusions can be extracted from the legislation by Charondas, beyond a general allusion to the moderate oligarchic character of the constitution of the city. Catana suffered an important modification of its chora after Hiero's occupation, with the change of its name to Aetna, and the addition of territories just conquered from the Sikels. Catana also plays an important part in the support of Athens during its second expedition, and it suffered important losses of citizens as well as territory through its hatred of Dionysius I. From this moment on, the presence of Campanian mercenaries in the city was increasingly visible. With Pyrrhus and the Romans M. ends his account of the territory of Catana. One might conclude from M.'s analysis that for him the three main moments of disruption of the unit polis-chora in the case of Catana are: the two periods of control by Syracusan tyrants (Deinomenids and Dionysius I), who introduced new inhabitants into the city and modified the traditional frontiers, and the period of the establishment of a colony of Roman veterans, which enlarged the territory of the city beyond the Etnean area.

The next two papers approach the problem of the literary culture in the city refounded by Hiero of Syracuse with the name of Aetna. Corbato's "Le Etnee di Eschilo" presents a new interpretation of Aeschylus' lost tragedy, placing it in the context of the propaganda developed by the tyrant Hiero after the refounding and renaming of Catana. The main conclusion C. extracts from his analysis of the tragedy is related to the desire for peace and forgetting the wars. Aeschylus is thus seen as offering a good augury for the new city, after having insisted on the comparison between the struggles against barbarians both in Greece and Sicily (against Persians and Carthaginians and Etruscans, respectively).

G. Basta Donzelli, in her paper "Katane-Aitna tra Pindaro ed Eschilo", expands her scope to include the Theban poet as well as Aeschylus. The work of both poets allows B. to reflect on the politics and attitudes of the Sicilian tyrants, depicted as surmounting the disruptive selfishness present in the Greece of the poleis and, at the same time, as decisive supporters of a hostile attitude toward the barbarians. Within this policy, the refounding of Catana as Aetna, with a change of population, occupies a prominent place. This refounding is an occasion for celebration on the part of the poets. While a strong Doric and specifically Spartan flavour can be detected in the Pindaric odes, in the Aetnaeae the emphasis returns to the world of the indigenous peoples, in which an important role is played by the gods called Palikoi. However, in contrast to what has sometimes been thought, B. suggests that the Aetnaeae did not represent an accommodation to the indigenous world by Hiero but exactly the opposite, an appropriation of it. The foundation of Aetna and the allotment of new land to 10,000 new citizens would have been done using Sikel territory. Through the appropriation of the national cult of the Sikels, and its integration within the Greek mythical universe, Aeschylus would have legitimised the occupation by Hiero. Undoubtedly B. is right when she thinks that, for the Sikels, this appropriation would have been felt as a true expropriation, in addition to that which was effected on their own lands. B. likewise emphasizes the different tone of the two poets, purely Doric in Pindar, more panhellenic in Aeschylus.

Through Giudice's paper, "Il ruolo di Catania nella rete dei traffici commerciali del Mediterraneo" we enter into the issue of the Greek city's position in the Mediterranean world. The study deals with the Attic pottery which was found in the city, dated between early sixth century and the first quarter of the fifth and coming largely from the archaic votive stipe previously mentioned. G. analyses, by quarter-century, the painters represented in the collection as well as their parallels, using Beazley's works and their various addenda. This allows G. to confirm the central role of Sicily in the distribution of Attic wares (as well as pottery from other origins) in the western Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian Italy, mainly Etruria. It is an interesting fact that there is a strong presence of black-figure pottery at some points (late sixth century -- first quarter of the fifth) in which we would expect abundant red-figure. The paper is accompanied by the lists of the painters represented, distributed by quarter-century, as well as by bar tables showing the figures and distribution of the painters in Catania and elsewhere. The usefulness of this analysis is great, in part because the greater part of the materials remain unpublished. The issue of the transport and diffusion of this pottery is not fully addressed in the paper, and a look at the western Mediterranean could have led to some answers. Regrettably, the finds in Spain in recent years are not well represented in Beazley; however, many of the painters and classes of pottery present in Catania are also represented in the Spanish finds; it seems that in the Iberian Peninsula we can also detect the same trend of a long survival of black-figure pottery, as in Catana. It would be desirable for the evidence coming from Iberia to be taken into account in future analyses of this kind because the Iberian Peninsula was, in many cases, the last goal of many of the traders navigating across the archaic Mediterranean.

With Wilson's paper, "La topografia della Catania romana. Problemi e prospettive", we enter into the Roman age of the city. Beginning with Ausonius' assertion that Catina was the sixteenth city in importance in the Late Roman Empire, W. attempts to verify whether what we know of the town allows us to accept such a claim. W concludes, after a thorough study of the known remains of the Roman city, that, in fact, Catina had the customary public buildings on a scale indicating that it was indeed a rich city during the Roman period. This fact, together with its approximate extension (around 130 hectares), allows us to accept Ausonius' observation and to place Catania among the large cities of the Late Roman world. In spite of this, however, there continue to be many gaps in our knowledge of Roman Catina, especially in such areas as the urban layout and the private buildings.

C. Molé Ventura writes on "Catania in età imperiale". Accepting the overview presented by Wilson in the previous paper, M., using mainly written sources, tries to relate the urban development of the Roman city to its territory. One of the features emphasised by M. is how exceptional Catina was in preserving its urban condition in the predominantly rural world of contemporary Sicily. The possession of an important harbour is, according to M., what explains the uniqueness of the Catanian case. The life of the city, therefore, develops without breaks during the Roman Imperial era, with a slow merging of different traditions (Greek and Roman) and with an important civic life attested by epigraphy. Besides, Catina displays close relationships with other parts of Sicily and with vital centres of the Empire, such as Africa or Rome itself. In sum, it was a city that was able to preserve an intermediate position within the Roman world and to maintain that position well into the Late Roman period.

S. Lagona, "Catania: il problema del porto antico" presents a rapid review of the existing information, dating from antiquity, on the port of Catania; she concludes that its size was certainly not very large, though it was well protected against the winds and had sufficient depth to harbour large ships.

In his "Senatoren und senatorischer Grundbesitz auf Sizilien", W. Eck carries out an epigraphical and prosopographical study of several members of the equestrian and senatorial families of the Roscii, of the Pompeii and the Falci, who had interesting careers in the administration of the Empire. The existence of several private inscriptions relating to members of those families in Sicily allows E. to establish their origins on the island. At the same time, E. demonstrates how their members continued to be linked to the places of origin of their forefathers for more than two hundred years, judging by the epigraphical evidence, which comes largely from the areas of Catania and Centuripe.

R. Soraci, "Catania in età tardoantica", approaches the main evidence on the city during the period that saw the end of the ancient world: the surviving public buildings, the survival of the collegia and other corporations and the vitality of the trade around the port. The Vandal raids from the mid-fifth century A.D. mark a period of rupture. The situation of the city in the age of King Theodoricus, known through Cassiodorus's Letter 3. 49, deserves particular attention; also, the figure of the defensor civitatis is stressed. A brief view of Christianity in the city and the new age of glory in the Byzantine period conclude the paper.

The paper by I. Bitto, "Catania Paleocristiana: l'epitaffio di Theodule", deals with an important document of Palaeochristian Catania. A reinterpretation of the text of Theodule's epitaph brings B. to suggest that the epitaph could be marking the tomb as that of a martyr.

The book concludes with "Qualche considerazione finale", written by M. Mazza, where the main results of the conference are collected, and with a profusely illustrated appendix written by G. Manganaro, titled "La monetazione di Katane dal V al I sec. a.C."

It can be said that, as a rule, the selection of the subjects and of the authors presents an up-to-date and quite complete account of what Catania represented in the ancient world. As compared to what usually happens with the publications of conferences, the topics dealt with are not superimposed on each other but complement each other. In terms of the formal presentation, perhaps a map of south-eastern Sicily could have been included in order to facilitate the easy location of the numerous places in that part of the island frequently mentioned in the different papers.