Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.06.26

Fabio Colivicchi (ed.), Local Cultures of South Italy and Sicily in the Late Republican Period: Between Hellenism and Rome, Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series, 83.   Portsmouth, RI:  Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2011.  Pp. 224.  ISBN 9781887829830.  $99.00 (hc).  

Reviewed by Myles McCallum, Saint Mary's University, Halifax (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This edited collection of papers stems from a session of the Roman Archaeology Conference held in 2009 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. As is suggested by the book’s title, it is centered on an examination of the local or indigenous cultures of south Italy and Sicily from roughly the 4th to the 1st century BC, and the process of cultural change experienced by these local cultures as a result of their close and frequently intense contact with Greece and Rome. The volume presents a series of case studies that trace cultural interaction and change. Unlike many recent publications in English that focus on defining concepts such as Romanization, cultural change, resistance, and hybridization, the goal is to describe social and economic changes based on a range of archaeological data, and then to “place these phenomena within the broader context and to compare the local picture with the general interpretive models”(7). Consequently, the volume does not seek to present a single model for cultural change or Romanization in Italy during the late Republic, nor to debate the usefulness of the term Romanization; rather it presents a nuanced picture of highly localized patterns of interaction between local or indigenous cultures in south Italy and Sicily, and Roman elites and colonists.

Fracchia and Gualtieri’s paper on the countryside of Regiones II and III from ca. 300 BC to AD 14, revisits surveys conducted in the territories of Rocca Gloriosa (Bussento-Mingardo River Valleys) and the Upper Bradano Valley, which they have published separately elsewhere. Their aim is to comment on the widely held belief among historians that from the second to the first century BC southern Italy was a wasteland. They conclude that, while the Hannibalic War and its immediate aftermath did result in a shift in settlement patterns, in both regions there was some degree of continuity in rural settlement patterns and agrarian systems. At the same time, however, they argue there was a profound structural change in both the agrarian economy and the socio-economic organization of communities, particularly with the collapse of major fortified sites, and that this process was accelerated after the social war with an increase in the number of villa sites. This hypothesis merits further investigation as it acknowledges that there was not a complete demographic collapse in the post-Hannibalic period and that despite the continuity of rural site occupation, there was likely a significant social restructuring.

De Cazanove presents an excellent discussion of the significance and importance of Lucanian sanctuaries from the 3rd century BC to the early imperial period, which concludes that there is an element of cultural continuity encoded on the landscape through the preservation of the memory of native sanctuaries through toponyms. He sees this as part of a continuous and progressive transformation from a native to a Roman religious landscape, presumably with a concomitant retention of other elements of Lucanian culture.

Di Lieto examines the changes in settlement patterns in northern Lucania (west-central Basilicata and south-east Campania) during the Republican period, which includes some discussion of Lucanian ethnogenesis. He concludes that there is a significant reduction in the number of nucleated centers or settlements, a substantial depopulation of the countryside, particularly in the centre of his study area, and the creation of new nodal settlements or increased significance of old ones (e.g., Venusia), with a concomitant shift to intensive agriculture in their territories. The methodology here is sound and, based on the evidence provided, the interpretation justified.

Di Giuseppe mobilizes ceramic data to study cultural, economic, and demographic changes in Lucania after the Hannibalic War. Through the use of weighted averages, she examines the Black Gloss assemblages from a number of sites and surveys, including Pomarico Vecchio, the ager Venusinus, Civita di Tricarico, and Rocca Gloriosa. She concludes that, while sites at which there was little or no Roman presence prior to the Second Punic War were greatly reduced in size or wealth, the region was not a wasteland. She muses that perhaps the reduction in Black Gloss consumption at sites after the Hannibalic War indicates a decline in economic fortunes and stability rather than a population decline, and concludes that similar studies of locally produced coarsewares and cookwares might verify this hypothesis. While her results are interesting, it is clear that her method needs to be applied to different categories of pottery for her argument to be entirely convincing.

Calìo, Lepone, and Lippolis present the results of their examination of the Forum area at Larinum. They find that the process of Romanization at Larinum commences in the 4th century BC, but that its trajectory is not continuous; the authors caution that certain important changes in the town’s topography (such as the creation of a regular grid plan in the 3rd century BC) should be read as part of a complex and varied set of cultural relationships and networks and, as such, were somewhat independent of Roman expansion. They conclude that while the local philo-Roman attitude of the ruling class was seminal in the town’s political and administrative development from the late second century BC on, the presence of many different cultural groups within the community may have resulted in the development of a specific local identity and urban form that drew its inspiration from its southern neighbors in Daunia. This sort of local approach is to be commended as it acknowledges that cultural change is a complex dynamic with multiple inputs.

Colivicchi presents a concise study of the archaeological record of Daunia from the end of the 4th century BC to the Social War, focusing primarily on the funerary behavior of elites, but also incorporating survey and other archaeological data sets. He notes that Greek influence decreases with Roman control and that by the early decades of the first century BC the burial customs in Daunia are identical to those in other parts of Italy, presumably a reflection of a shift in allegiances on the part of local elites from the ruling classes of Italic poleis (e.g., Taras) to the Roman senate and the decuriate order of Roman colonies. Alongside this, he proposes that the typical Roman urban form arrived much more recently at sites such as Herdonia and Ausculum, probably after the Hannibalic War, which suggests that urbanization within the region was in part a result of Roman influence. Overall, Colivicchi’s contribution is interesting, provocative, and convincing. His conclusions about urbanism in Daunia are quite similar to those of Cazanove, La Torre, and Caliò et. al.

La Torre reflects on the Bruttians and Lucanians in Calabria between the Hannibalic War and the Principate. He suggests that what appear to be the origins of urban culture between the two indigenous groups with the adoption of orthogonal planning in the third century BC does not amount to a radical cultural change (an interesting conclusion), that the ‘thinning’ of settlement in the countryside began after the Pyrrhic Wars, and that the Hannibalic War was the beginning of the end for these indigenous cultures, although not the creation of an abandoned wasteland. Of particular note is La Torre’s analysis of Roman colonization in Calabria which, in the case of Vibo, he suggests was really a reorganization through cooption of indigenous peoples rather than a systematic effort to people the region with contingents of Latin settlers. Again, his conclusions are similar to those of other contributors working in Lucania and Daunia, albeit with a unique local angle which has to account for the presence of strategic sites along the coast and a substantial Greek population.

Campagna presents an interesting and valuable discussion of the evidence for social and cultural changes in the urban landscapes of the northwestern part of Sicily. His focus on what he calls sub-regional cultures is important and ought to be emulated in other studies of cultural change brought about by Roman conquest. In contrast to the more commonly held view of English speaking scholars, La Torre argues that the process of cultural change begins in the Hellenistic period rather than in the early imperial period, and that this process should be seen as both one of Romanization and Hellenization, since Roman culture during this same period could best be described as Hellenistic. Indeed, he concludes that the Hellenistic appearance of cities within his study area—the appearance of orthogonal planning and Greek-style public architecture—was a direct consequence of Roman government.

Malfitana seeks to identify and trace elements of what he terms a cultural revolution in Sicily similar to that seen at Rome through a careful examination of material culture, here pottery and artisanal production. In essence, he seeks to trace cultural identity through its expression in the production, trade, and consumption of pottery. In general, he demonstrates that the historical sources for republican Sicily are selective, and that the study of material culture can play an essential role in reconstructing the history of the island. His paper is part of a larger project—The Roman Sicily Project: ceramics and trade—that is currently examining published collections of transport amphorae and fine tablewares in an effort to understand better trade and artisanal networks, and how this manifests itself with respect to an international commercial system. Of particular interest to Malfitana are issues of agency, emulation, and integration. His contribution is tantalizing, and one hopes that his team’s continued research will expand our current state of knowledge about Roman Sicily during the republican period.

All of the papers are tied together brilliantly in Torelli’s concise and insightful concluding remarks.

Overall, this is an exceptional collection of papers and represents an important contribution to the debate about the process of cultural change in Italy as a consequence of Roman expansion. The general consensus here is that this process was as varied within south Italy and Sicily as it was throughout the empire, and that it was dependent on preexisting local cultural traditions, historical events, and the ideologies of local cultural elites. It is also highly significant that this book is written in English as it presents archaeological data from a part of ancient Italy about which many English speakers know very little, and for which the majority of important publications are in Italian. For those interested in further study of the transition from indigenous to Roman rule in southern Italy and Sicily, this volume is essential reading and a treasure trove of extremely useful bibliography.

Table of Contents

Addresses of Contributors, 4
1. Introduction, 7
2. H. Fracchi and M. Gualtieri, "The countryside of Regio II and Regio III (c.300 BC – AD 14)", 11
3. O. de Cazanove, "Sanctuaries and ritual practices in Lucania from the 3rd c.BC to the Early Empire", 30
4. M. Di Lieto, "The North Lucanian area in the Roman Republican period", 44
5. H. di Giuseppe, "Hannibal’s legacy and black glaze ware in Lucania", 57
6. L.M. Caliò, A. Lepone and E. Lippolis, "Larinum: the development of the forum area", 77
7. F. Colivicchi, "The long good-bye: the local elites of Daunia between continuity and change, (3rd - 1st c. BC)", 112
8. G.F. La Torre , "Reflections on the Lucanians and Bruttians in Calabria between Hannibal and the Principate: coloniae, civitates foederatae, municipia", 139
9. L. Campagna, "Exploring social and cultural change in provinicia Sicilia: reflections on the study of urban landscapes", 161
10. D. Malifitana, "The view from the material culture assemblage of Late Republican Sicily", 185
11. M. Torelli, "Concluding Remarks", 203
List of Figures, 217
Index of names and places, 221
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