Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.09.34 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.09.34

Salvatore De Vincenzo, Tra Cartagine e Roma: i centri urbani dell'eparchia punica di Sicilia tra VI e I sec. a.C. Topoi: Berlin studies of the ancient world, 8.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2013.  Pp. xi, 439.  ISBN 9783110290196.  $112.00.  

Reviewed by Laura Pfuntner, University of California, Berkeley (


This book, based on the author’s 2007 Tübingen doctoral thesis, provides an overview and reassessment of the material evidence for the Punic eparchia in western Sicily from the first stages of Phoenician settlement in the late eighth century BC down to the early Augustan period. It will therefore be of interest to historians and archaeologists working on ancient Sicily and, more broadly, to scholars of colonial movements in the central and western Mediterranean. The author’s attempts to bring together the “classical” and “Punic” strands of the archaeology of ancient Sicily, with an emphasis on the monumental development of urban centers within the Punic eparchia, may also appeal to scholars interested in urbanization, cultural contact, and community identity in the ancient world. Moreover, the work is particularly valuable for its inclusion of the results of recent fieldwork in Sicily, much of which is not easily available to scholars outside of Italy.

The first two chapters summarize the historiography, respectively, of the Carthaginian eparchia in western Sicily and of the transition from Carthaginian to Roman hegemony after the First Punic War. In the first chapter, the author confronts the vexed question of the nature of Carthaginian hegemony in Sicily (and the best Greek term to apply to it), rejecting its characterization as a heavy-handed epikrateia in favor of the more neutral eparchia. He focuses on Carthage’s treaties with Syracuse, as recorded in Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch, in an effort to determine the exact starting date of the Carthaginian eparchia in Sicily and to trace its (shifting) borders. Most significantly in this regard, De Vincenzo supports the hypothesis that the Lykos and Halykos mentioned in the treaties of 374 and 339 BC refer to two different rivers – the modern Platani and Salso, respectively – with the consequence that the border of the Carthaginian eparchia would have been pushed westward, back to the Platani from the Salso, following the conclusion of the war with Timoleon in 339 (p. 24-26). In the second chapter, his analysis of the early phases of the Roman provincia in western Sicily runs up against the problem of a dearth of reliable historical accounts, and some of his claims – for example, that the lex Hieronica was extended to western Sicily in 227 BC (p. 32-33), and that Pliny’s oppida refer to punitive settlements of veterans placed by Augustus in Sicilian cities after the civil war (HN 3.88-91; p. 48-50) – are acceptable only as hypotheses.1

The third chapter is the heart of the work. It provides an overview of the urban development of the centers contained within Carthage’s eparchia in western Sicily, categorized according to their origins as Phoenician foundations, indigenous Elymian settlements, Greek centers, or Punic (i.e. Carthaginian) foundations. De Vincenzo’s main question for all of these centers is whether or not they were organized according to a regular urban plan, and if so, when this plan was put into place (i.e. before, during, or after the Punic period) —though he does not fully explain why these questions have generated such interest among scholars of ancient Sicilian urbanism, or why they are pertinent to his own analysis of Carthaginian hegemony. Although he rightly emphasizes the diversity of the populations living in western Sicily and the complexity of their historical relations with each other and with outside powers like Carthage and Rome, the methodological value of his division of communities according to their origins is questionable, especially since the distinctions in the ethnic and cultural identities of these populations come primarily from the Greek historical tradition (beginning with Thucydides), and since other scholars have amply demonstrated the fluidity of these identities over time. Similarly, though he attributes the use of certain construction techniques to the Carthaginian phases of such Greek centers as Agrigento and Gela (p. 87f.), he does not fully address the question of what exactly constitutes “Punic” culture, or of how a “Punic” presence can accurately be detected in the material record of Greek and indigenous centers.

The main impression left by De Vincenzo’s analysis of the urban plans of the western Sicilian centers of Phoenician and Punic origin is—with the possible exception of Motya—the nearly insurmountable difficulty of assessing their earliest phases of occupation. According to him, excavations on Motya indicate that the original Phoenician settlement had a non-regular organization that bears some similarity to the layout of Kerkouane in North Africa. However, modern occupation has obscured the ancient layouts of cities like Palermo (ancient Panhormus), Trapani (Drepanum), and Marsala (Lilybaeum), and De Vincenzo rejects the hypothetical use of the Punic cubit as a basis for ascribing Punic origins to the regular urban plans of these centers. Furthermore, in keeping with recent Italian scholarship, he accepts the down-dating of the regular urban plan of Solunto—the only Punic center of western Sicily not occupied after antiquity—to the later second century BC, well after the Roman conquest.2

In the fourth chapter, De Vincenzo provides an overview of the development of the fortification systems of the centers of the Carthaginian eparchia. Again, the analysis is hampered by a dearth of reliable stratigraphic data (few of the wall circuits have been systematically excavated), but the chapter provides a useful summary of the current status quaestionis, especially in light of new research at Cossyra (modern Pantelleria). The next chapter analyzes the public architecture of western Sicilian centers according to building type (theatres, bouleuteria, and stoas), followed by an excursus on the “area sacra con altare a tre betili” of Solunto and an examination of the architectonic decoration of public buildings. While much of the public architecture of cities like Monte Iato, Solunto, and Segesta is preserved, the dating of the main monumental phase of these centers remains controversial. Again, in keeping with recent Italian scholarly trends (see note 2), De Vincenzo accepts the down-dating of the monumentalization of these cities to the later second century BC. As in previous chapters, some of his conclusions in this section should be treated with caution. For example, he asserts that gymnasia did not form part of the late Republican monumental “panoply” of western Sicilian cities, though the evidence upon which this conclusion is based is very limited (p. 186). In addition, while he effectively casts doubt on the identification of the “area sacra con altare a tre betili” of Solunto as a Punic sacred edifice, his alternative identification of the structure as a prytaneion would benefit from further supporting evidence (p. 193). And finally, he concludes that the decline in euergetism in Sicilian urban centers after the main monumental phase of the late second century BC was linked to the change in the Roman taxation system from the frumentum emptum to the stipendium in the middle decades of the first century BC (p. 208, and p. 40-42), though the nature and chronology of this transition are by no means certain.3

In the sixth chapter, De Vincenzo turns to sacred architecture and cults. Most interesting is his analysis of the results of recent excavations of the so-called “kothon temple” and the Cappiddazzu sacred area on Motya. While he acknowledges Levantine antecedents for certain sacred structures on Motya, he challenges the validity of applying Phoenician or Punic architectural typologies to temples and altars in other western Sicilian centers like Selinus, Monte Adranone, and Solunto, instead suggesting that the sacred architecture found in these centers should be assigned more generically “Mediterranean” models. In his discussion of the cults venerated in western Sicilian centers, his linking of the iconography of the famous monumental cult statue of Zeus found in Solunto with Augustan propaganda, while intriguing, must remain hypothetical (p. 297-299).

In Chapter Seven, which focuses on domestic spaces and architecture, De Vincenzo again rejects “Punic” typologies in favor of more “Mediterranean” models of spatial organization for western Sicilian urban centers. Here, too, he singles out Motya as an exemplar of Phoenician and Punic architectural forms, and accepts the down-dating of the monumental domestic architecture of Monte Iato and Solunto, along with Segesta, to the Roman Republican period. As with earlier chapters, the picture that emerges from De Vincenzo’s examination of western Sicilian domestic architecture, layout, and décor is that of a region whose urban centers were clearly inserted into the wider cultural context of the Mediterranean in both their Punic and Roman phases. The eighth and final chapter provides an overview of the burial areas and rituals used in western Sicilian urban centers, focusing on Motya, Marsala (Lilybaeum), and Palermo. Again, despite limitations in the quality and consistency of the archaeological data at De Vincenzo’s disposal, the main impression is that changes in burial practices in these centers were aligned not only with those of the “metropolis” of Carthage, but also with broader Mediterranean trends.

Whether or not one agrees with De Vincenzo’s conclusion that very little of the urban fabric of western Sicily can be confidently assigned Phoenician or Punic origins, he has marshaled an impressive amount of archaeological material to support his case. Overall, this book is a substantial and valuable work of scholarship on a time period and region whose history and material culture are notoriously difficult to interpret, but that are nonetheless key to understanding the nature of the central and western Mediterranean Carthaginian eparchia, and of the nascent Roman overseas empire that succeeded it.4


1.   Cf. the discussion of Pliny’s list of Sicilian communities in R.J.A. Wilson, Sicily under the Roman Empire: The archaeology of a Roman province, 36 BC - AD 535 (Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1990), p. 35-38.
2.   See especially the papers collected in M. Osanna and M. Torelli, ed., Sicilia ellenistica, consuetudo italica. Alle origini dell’architettura ellenistica d’occidente (Roma: Edizioni dell’Ateneo, 2006), for the recent tendency to down-date the main monumental phases of western Sicilian urban centers.
3.   Cf. Wilson, Sicily, p. 35.
4.   The text is mostly free of typographical errors and is well-illustrated with photographs and plans (many in color), though not all of the plans of sites and structures include cardinal directions – an omission that makes their interpretation alongside the text difficult at times. In addition, some references in the text do not match up with figures (e.g. p. 187 and fig. 93), while other figures do not correspond with the text (e.g. p. 279 and fig. 167-168).

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