Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.06.23

Francesca Spatafora, Stefano Vassallo, Das Eigene und das Andere: Griechen, Sikaner und Elymer: neue archaeologische Forschungen im antiken Sizilien.   Palermo:  Regione Siciliana, Assessorato dei beni culturali e ambientali e dell'educazione permanente, 2004.  Pp. xi, 213.  ISBN 3-905083-21-3.  €39.00.  

Reviewed by Nassos Papalexandrou, University of Texas at Austin (
Word count: 1881 words

This carefully produced exhibition catalog is the result of the happy synergy of the Soprintendeza ai Beni Culturali e Ambientali of Palermo, Sicily, the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, and the Archaeologisches Institut of the University of Zurich. It was designed to supplement an important exhibit at the University of Zurich (October 2004-February 2005) that showcased the achievements and insights gained by recent archaeological work in central-west Sicily in the last few decades.1 Since antiquity, this area has been known as the home of various indigenous populations who merited only brief, inadequate or partial mentions in sources that chronicled the actions of various colonial powers (Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans). Until very recently these groups monopolized the interest of archaeological research in this island. As a result, the indigeni had remained largely unknown, not least because archaeologists had not looked for their material record as intensely as their historical agency warrants. This situation is now largely reversed, if one is to judge by the multifaceted and numerous finds included in the exhibit and the comprehensive, but by its nature not exhaustive, catalog. Its focus is the increasing archaeological visibility of these neglected populations and their culture. The importance of this material lies in its capacity to sustain analyses that seek to address issues of cross-cultural interaction, acculturation, and various processes of transformation of identities, such as "hellenization" of indigenous populations and vice-versa. In this respect, the book will be of interest not only for specialists in the area but for those seeking to understand relationships within a wider framework of symbiotic phenomena in the Mediterranean world.2 Unfortunately, this important contribution is destined to circulate among a narrow audience of specialists, and one wishes that an English version had been made available for use in the classroom by those focusing on cross-cultural interaction and its material manifestations. This book is valuable, nevertheless, and should find its place in institutions and libraries concentrating on any aspect of the Mediterranean throughout the ages.

Designed for a mixed audience of laymen and specialists alike, the contents of this handy book include brief essays summarizing the archaeological discoveries and their significance in no less than nine sites of west Sicily (Entella, Himera, Monte Maranfusa, Monte Iato, La Montagnola-Makella, Colle Madore, Monte Riparato, Montagna dei Cavalli-Hippana, and Cozzo Spolentino). Appended to each essay is a descriptive catalog of the finds that form the empirical basis upon which the authors/excavators have attempted the synthesis, reconstruction, or interpretation of their sites. The great majority of the finds are clearly and most often adequately illustrated in color or line drawings (263 color and 42 black-and-white ill.), thus facilitating the access to and study of artifacts that are otherwise hidden in various specialized publications. There are more detailed subsections on the important decrees from Entella (16-18, following the entry on Entella) and the splendid phiale from Caltavuturo (136-143, following the entry on Monte Riparato). The latter is wonderfully illustrated and the accompanying essay highlights its archaeological significance, including its convoluted history of illegal excavation and "repatriation" as a result of the combined efforts of scholars and the Italian authorities in the nineties. Discussions like this show that the current efforts of the Italian state to reverse some of the disastrous effects of illegal recovery and trade of antiquities belong to a long history of interventions that do not always make it to the front pages of newspapers. Equally convoluted is the unhappy history of the decrees from Entella and Nakone, which is treated in an important appendix edited by Carmine Ampolo of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (169-213). This section also provides a detailed and comprehensive update on various aspects of the scholarship about the decrees, including illustrations, transcriptions of the Greek texts, translations as well as chronological, historical, linguistic, prosopographical, topographical, numismatic, and archaeological commentaries. Moreover, it contains a brief synthesis of the fruitful archaeological investigations in Entella and its surrounding territory. In general, this volume provides an excellent introduction to the archaeology of indigenous populations in Sicily and their interactions with their distinguished colonial neighbors.3

The volume opens with a brief essay by Francesca Spatafora, who emphasizes that there is not any single model of cultural interaction that would describe the various types of contacts (economic and political) and influences among the various groups of west Sicily. There are various degrees of "hellenization" or resistance to it in favor of preservation of local identities. This is important for readers to bear in mind given the broad chronological range of this volume and the historical weight and privilege of attention enjoyed by the Greeks of Selinous or Agrigento since the inception of historical studies. Following this, the structure of the volume takes us first to Entella--an Elymian site at a crucial node of interactions among locals, Greeks, and the Phoenicians of the west--and then to Himera, a Greek colony with strong and well-documented evidence for contacts, perhaps even coexistence and mutual transformation of both Greeks and indigenous people (Sikanians). Between these poles there is a number of non-Greek settlements (Monte Maranfusa, Monte Iato, La Montagnola-Makella, Colle Madore, Monte Riparato, Montagna dei Cavalli-Hippana, and Cozzo Spolentino), all of which are located on naturally defensible sites with good access to natural resources (e.g., arable land, mountain pastures, and forests) and control of seminal routes leading to the coastal areas (usually along river valleys). In all these sites the nature and quantity of data are extremely varied. We have, for example, good evidence of habitation (settlement of various periods and sanctuaries) and carefully excavated cemeteries from Entella or Himera, but only a palimpsest of phases in residential remains from Monte Maranfusa (57-75); La Montagnola di Marineo is represented by the remnants of a votive deposit from an elusive sanctuary and also by residential remains (99-109); Colle Madore has yielded only the remains of a very important sanctuary thoroughly excavated by Stefano Vassalo (111-125); Monte Iato has important remains of an urban fabric continuously evolving from the Archaic though Hellenistic times; and Monte Riparato, Montagna dei Cavalli, and Cozzo Spolentino, albeit not thoroughly investigated, have produced material culture illustrating that by the onset of the late fourth century these sites fully partook of the wider Hellenistic koine of the rest of Sicily. Despite this variation, the finds presented and discussed in this volume enable the reconstruction of various modes of traffic of goods and ideas as well as action and interaction among the groups of the region.

Colle Madore near the village of Lercara Friddi (in the hill country SW of Himera), for example, quite characteristically termed a borderland ("Grenzland") in the subtitle of its introductory essay, yielded evidence that attests to the various strands of influences that shaped the lives and experiences of the local population. From the seventh century onwards, local life here must have experienced a major reorientation--if not a shock, as the excavator suggests--as a result of the foundation of Himera in 648 BCE and the ensuing contacts with the newcomers. From this point onwards the two sites developed a relationship of exchange of products and ideas. In the late seventh century, simple yet elegant Ionizing cups produced in Himera found their way to Colle (cat. nos. 228-9) alongside similar products imported from Attica (cat. no. 230). These products were probably exchanged for local products, agricultural or otherwise (Colle is rich in sulphur), and one cannot help but notice the extreme similarity of locally produced and decorated containers (pithoi, cat. no. 236) with those used in the east cemetery of Himera (Pestavecchia, e.g., cat. no. 84). These exchanges show that the streams of influence and traffic were flowing back and forth between the indigenous populations and the foreign colonists of the north coast. These exchanges, the precise nature of which cannot be verified, account for phenomena like the deposition of an indigenous jug (cat. no. 78) in the foundation deposit of Temple A at Himera or the plethora of non-Greek pottery from the earliest phases of habitation on the Himeran plateau (products of exchange or evidence of local population co-habiting the new settlement alongside the Greek settlers?). By the second half of the 6th century, Colle could feature a sanctuary with elements of an undeniably Greek flavor in terms of structural materials (rectangular plan, masonry, usage of architectural terracottas produced in a Himeran workshop such as cat. no. 239) but also in cult (cat. no. 233, relief in which S. Vassallo sees a representation of Herakles bathing in a hot spring). These elements enable the excavator to posit not only Greek influence (114: "Hellenisierung") but also the existence of a mixed population ". . .Zusammenleben. . .das in der religiƶsen Dimension einen intensiven Kontaktpunkt fand" (115). These observations are, of course, provisional given the fact that there is no straightforward evidence regarding the users of this material culture, their identities, or the values and interests they brought to bear on it.4 They provide, however, the indispensable background against which many scholarly debates on cultural osmosis and interaction in Sicily and elsewhere will evolve in the years to come.

The quality of the publication makes this book very easy and pleasant to use. Despite the small format, the quality of the illustrations is excellent. The editors of the volume generously provided full-page aerial views of each site. Less satisfactory is the inclusion of survey plans, which have been reduced to a size considerably smaller than the evidence discussed in the text warrants (e.g, fig. 2 in p. 79). On the other hand, the essays include numerous photos of objects or assemblages found in context (14: figs. 1-2, 101: fig. 3, 130: fig. 5). Given the long history of clandestine retrieval of artifacts in Sicily and other Mediterranean areas, this method of presentation is dictated not only by the methodological norms of the field. There is a clearly communicated subtext here, which claims that artifacts should always be retrieved, studied, and presented in context. This is the case no matter whether they are beautiful and visually enticing (such as the fragmentary column crater, cat. no. 153, by Lydos from a late archaic domestic context at Monte Iato) or humbler (such as the locally produced jugs from Colle Madore, nos. 221-24). This may sound trite to specialists in the field, but the creators of this exhibit made a conscious effort to reach out and educate a wider public about this sensitive issue. In general, there are very few spelling (e.g., pp. 3, 7, 140) or other mistakes (p. 114, left column, l. 7, text reads solenes instead of the correct strôteres [pan-tiles]). Each catalog entry is furnished with appropriate bibliographic references, and the same is the case at the end of every essay where one is happily surprised to encounter a constant stream of Italian publications presenting the results of new excavations and research.5

This exhibition catalog will be of great interest for those interested in the history, art, and cultures of Sicily and the Mediterranean. Its greatest merit lies perhaps in the fact that it brings together numerous recent finds and establishes their significance for reconstructing various experiences of contact, exchange, and transformation of diverse groups of people. It sets a good model for future approaches regarding similar phenomena in central-east Sicily or even in other "mixed" Mediterranean environments, such as Crete or Cyprus.


1.   This exhibit had already been presented at Palermo in 2002 in a simpler version titled Sicani, Elimi e Greci. Storie di contatti e terre di frontiera.
2.   For a wide conspectus of archaeological scholarship on cultural encounters in the Mediterranean, see Renate Rolle and Karin Schmidt eds. Archaeologische Studien in Kontaktzonen der antiken Welt (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1998). More recently, various aspects of Mediterranean interconnectedness on various levels are addressed in Irad Malkin ed. Mediterranean Paradigms and Classical Antiquity (Routledge, London and New York 2005), a review of which appeared in BMCR 2006.02.41.
3.   On west Sicily and its embeddedness in a wider Mediterranean dynamic, see also I. Morris, "Mediterraneanization" in Mediterranean Paradigms 30-55, esp. 46ff.
4.   Caution is recommended, especially in view of recent theoretical discussions regarding the fluidity of notions concerning ethnicity, identity etc. and the limitations of material culture as an index of identity. See, for example, Catherine Morgan, "The Archaeology of Ethnicity in the colonial world of the eighth to sixth centuries BC: approaches and prospects" Confini e Frontiera neall Grecità d'Occidente: Atti del trentasettesimo convegno di studi sulla Magna Grecia, Taranto 3-6 Ottobre 1997 (Taranto 1999) 85-144.
5.   Publications of archaeological reports and studies appear regularly in Sicilia Archeologica, Kokalos, numerous conference proceedings, and specialized publications by the contributors to this volume.

Read Latest
Index for 2006
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:31:03, Friday, 03 April 2009