BMCR 2000.07.13

Sikelika. Studi di antichità e di epigrafia della Sicilia greca. Biblioteca di Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica, no. 8

, Sikelika. Studi di antichità e di epigrafia della Sicilia greca. Biblioteca di Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica, no. 8. Pisa and Rome: Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 1999. 142, 181 figures. L. 45.000.

In 1979 Moses Finley pointed out that the epigraphic sources for ancient Sicily are “less rewarding than for other regions of the ancient world.”1 The sources are so described because their numbers and contents are not particularly amenable to historical reconstruction. Some truly remarkable finds for Sicily were made just after the ink had dried on Finley’s words — perhaps fate was tempted.2 Generally speaking, however, most epigraphic sources are more mundane, though, of course, that does not mean that they are not without their own interest.3

It is the latter kind of material which makes up the bulk of M.’s little book. The author is a well-known, highly productive and knowledgeable authority on the epigraphy of ancient Sicily who has dedicated the last four decades of his life to the subject. The material contained in the present work consists of new material, sometimes collected over thirty years ago, from a variety of sources — excavations, topographic surveys, and private collections (which he has quite a knack of tapping into) — as well as the re-study of older material previously published by M. himself or by others. The book contains eight chapters, each a self-contained study dealing with a topic in Sicily’s epigraphy, yet the numbering of the items studied and the footnotes are continuous across the various chapters. The text runs for just under seventy pages. The longest chapter (I) comprises twenty-seven pages, and the shortest chapters (III and VI) are a mere three pages. The text is accompanied by an abundant number of illustrations, which are generally of very good quality and helpful. “Sicilia greca” in the book’s title is a little misleading, in that M. also includes inscriptions from the Roman period and archaic Montagna di Marzo, thought by most scholars to have been native (see below). A criticism can also be made in connection with the format of publication. This is not a book in the conventional sense. For one thing, it has no preface. For another, the narrative appears to follow a random plan; the order of the chapters could have been shuffled around without at all altering the flow of the argument. One might ask whether publication as a separate monograph is justified in view of the brevity and nature of the individual chapters. Would they not have been better suited as articles in the standard journals, where researchers are more likely to come across them?4 These minor criticisms aside, we should take the work for what it is, namely a solid piece of scholarship. In the remainder of this review, the intention is to give an indication of the work’s contents, with special attention paid to the more noteworthy items or interpretations advanced by M.

The first chapter (pp. 7-33) is dedicated to the topography, numismatics, and epigraphy of the hill-top town of Montagna di Marzo. M. dedicates about half of the chapter to re-stating a position of his, first advanced thirty-two years ago, that Montagna di Marzo should be identified with Herbessos of the ancient written and numismatic sources.5 In the second half of the chapter, M. reviews what is known of the site’s epigraphy. In particular, he chastises other scholars for not heeding his earlier arguments, here reiterated, regarding the “Greekness” of Montagna di Marzo. M. bases his view on the similarities in alphabet and onomastics to nearby Gela, and draws the conclusion that Montagna di Marzo’s inhabitants were, at least from the sixth century BC onwards, Greeks from the gamoroi class of Gela (p. 20). Most scholars, however, regard Montagna di Marzo as Sikel, and will not agree with this conclusion.6 The final few pages of the chapter are devoted to the publication of eleven inscribed glandes found in excavation and on the surface. The glandes date to the third and second centuries BC, and each has a male name with his patronymic and a numeral inscribed on it. M. interprets the latter as indicating the battalion to which the individual belonged. Onomastic study also reveals individuals whose names originate in the Italian mainland and Greece (Boeotia and Crete), and he thinks them to have been mercenaries.

In chapter two (pp. 35-39), the focus is on thirteen inscriptions from Agrigento, of which eleven are new. The inscriptions, inscribed on limestone, marble, and clay (tiles and a pithos), range in date from the fifth century BC to the fourth century AD. The material is quite poorly preserved, but where secure identifications can be made we seem to be largely dealing with dedications and tombstones. On one (parallelepiped) tombstone (no. 1), of a kind common at Selinous, is found the patronymic ” διχίνας“, whose appearance M. claims to be found nowhere else. M. also speculatively interprets two other inscriptions (nos. 9 and 10), of late Imperial date, as referring to a group of Jews helping the poor and orphans.

Chapter three (pp. 41-43) examines ten funerary inscriptions (tombstones and an altar), three of them originally published by Orsi, from various sites in the island. There is nothing extraordinary in this group, although it is worth noting that M. disagrees with earlier attempts to restore a hexameter verse on a tombstone (no. 23 in his collection) from the Scala Greca cemetery at Syracuse.7

Chapter four (pp. 45-51) considers a group of nineteen inscriptions, both graffiti and dipinti, on clay products, most notably pots and tiles; one of the items studied (no. 42) he rightly regards as a nineteenth-century scholarly fake. The material in this chapter consists of new and revisited material. It is but a small part of larger project M. has in mind, for he promises “una raccolta sistematica” of this kind of material in the future. Here he offers material from Herakleia Minoa, Kamarina, Lipari, Morgantina / Aidone, Prizzi, and Vassallaggi, as well as four items from private collections and museum storerooms without known provenances. Worth noting are three items of a commercial nature. The first is a Late Hellenistic pot from Lipari found in the sewer of the Palazzo Vescovile with the word ” ἡδύοινος” painted on it; the second is a fragmentary tablet with handles, thought to be a receipt of some kind, with the name of a husband and wife inscribed before firing; and the third is a graffito on a pot from Vassallaggi which records the value of some ” κοινά“. The very end of the chapter is devoted to two previously published tablets (nos. 40-41) with scholastic exercises on them from Aidone and Prizzi (Monte dei Cavalli) on which M. adds some new thoughts.8

Chapter five (pp. 53-60) contains material from Marianopoli (perhaps ancient Mytistratos), Akrai, and Morgantina. The material from the first of these sites consists of the two well-known obelisk-like stelai and a silver litra. 9 The stelai’s inscribed texts, in an alphabet with parallels at fifth-century BC Selinous, indicate that they were dedications made by members of different phratries.10 M. hypothesizes that the stelai may have supported bronze sculpture. The last item from Marianopoli is a silver litra, which is now lost, but used to be in a Swiss Italian private collection, whence M. was sent a polaroid photograph of it. The observe depicts a nymph’s head, the reverse the head of Athena wearing a Corinthian helmet, above which appear the letters “MUTI.” The coin appears to date to the period of Dion/Timoleon. From Contrada Falabia near Akrai comes a fragmentary decree discovered in May 1996 by one of M.’s students. The decree is inscribed on a large limestone block, and on the basis of its letter-forms dates to the fourth/third centuries BC. At least eight lines of writing are preserved, which M. tentatively interprets as dealing with a local benefactor offering to restore a sanctuary after theft or damage. The last item discussed in this chapter is from Morgantina, photographed by M. over twenty years ago in the Syracuse Museum. The inscription appears on a fragmentary clay tile, which is thought to have been part of a stele. The letters, inscribed after firing, would date the inscription to the third/second centuries BC. The text seems to be talking about the raising and sacrifice of animals in a sanctuary.

In chapter six (pp. 61-63), M. re-examines seven inscriptions on bronze. Five of them have been previously published. They consist of four rationes quaestorum and a possible list of benefactors; M. sheds little new light on them. The remaining two inscriptions (nos. 52-53) are new items of unknown provenance from private collections. Even though they are very fragmentary, M. plausibly suggests that they once belonged to a decree and a list of ephebes.

The theme of chapter seven (pp. 65-70) is the gymnasium and athletic games, with fourteen inscriptions discussed. Only three of the inscriptions studied are new. One (no. 63) is a list of young men, perhaps ephebes, from Halaisa which may have something to do with the gymnasium. The second (no. 64) is a small fragment photographed in the storerooms at Syracuse, which M. hypothetically restors as referring to an actor. The third (no. 67) is a fragmentary pillar inscribed with the words ” κατὰ Ἀθηναίων” which M. photographed “In un viale del teatro greco di Siracusa” several (unspecified) years ago. He suggests that the stone originally belonged to a monument set up to commemorate the Syracusan victory over Athens. The other inscriptions in this chapter are already known examples from various sites (Halontion, Segesta, and Syracuse) for which M. offers the occasional new reading or interpretation. This is a handy collection of this type of inscription.

Finally, chapter eight (pp. 71-78) deals with the instrumentum publicum. Four different classes of material are investigated. M. first turns to a dozen inscribed strigils, with discussion centred on two examples from Montagna di Marzo and Monte Adranone. Next, he publishes a fragmentary lead anchor of probable Hellenistic date residing in the Antiquarium at Licata. The word ” ἀκτιονίκου” can be made out on it, and the anchor is interpreted as once having belonged to a ship victorious at the games in honour of Apollo Aktios in Akarnania. The third class of material comprises chancellery documents. There is some new material as well as old. He publishes two bronze ink-wells and a stylus of Roman date from private collections and three lead seals, one of unknown provenance and the other two from Halaisa and Herbita. The fourth class of material treated are ten marble balls, each with a single letter of the alphabet inscribed on it before firing. They were found in the area of Castel di Iudica and subsequently acquired in about 1970 by the Syracuse Museum. The letters are restricted to a small range: there are two instances each of alpha, eta, and lambda, and one instance of beta, mu, omicron, and possibly a closed aspirate, which, if true, would indicate a date in the fifth century BC for these objects. M. suggests that these marble balls could have been used for the drawing of lots or simply as some kind of game.

In conclusion, this little study contains valuable new epigraphic information, as well as fresh observations on previously published material. The material is, on the whole, rather poorly preserved. Nevertheless, the author presents it in a meticulous and scholarly manner, and, where possible, advances interpretations, some admitted to be no more than working hypotheses. It is an appreciated contribution to the field of Sicilian epigraphy.


1. M.I. Finley, Ancient Sicily, 2nd edition (London, 1979) 199. Cf. also L. Dubois, Inscriptions grecques dialectales de Sicile: contribution à l’Étude du vocabulaire grec colonial (Rome, 1989) xi; S. Berger, Revolution and Society in Greek Sicily and Southern Italy (Stuttgart, 1992) 13.

2. One thinks especially of the finds from Entella, Kamarina, and Selinous. See, respectively, G. Nenci, Alla ricerca di Entella (Pisa, 1993) 36-50 (with previous bibliography); F. Cordano, Le tessere pubbliche dal tempio di Atena a Camarina (Rome, 1992); M.H. Jameson et al., A Lex Sacra from Selinous (Durham, NC, 1993). Some thought-provoking material has also recently been published from Morgantina: C.M. Antonaccio and J. Neils, “A New Graffito from Archaic Morgantina,” ZPE 105 (1995) 261-277; C.M. Antonaccio, “An Inscribed Stele from Archaic Morgantina,” Kadmos 38 (1999) 87-96.

3. See Dubois (n. 1 above) for the sort of information that can be derived from such epigraphic sources. However humble, the archaic material for Greek Italy as a whole is being usefully collected by R. Arena (ed.), Iscrizioni greche archaiche di Sicilia e Magna Grecia, I- (Milan, 1989-).

4. Such has been M.’s own practice until the publication of this work: see, for instance, RAL 5 (1994) 485-517; RAL 7 (1996) 27-63; QUCC 49 (1995) 93-109; ZPE 106 (1995) 162-164; ZPE 113 (1996) 82-84.

5. For the original formulation of this view, see Kokalos 14-15 (1968-69) 196-202. There are supporters of this identification, though opinions to the contrary do exist as well: cf. G. Bejor, “Erbesso,” Bibliografia topografica della colonizzazione greca in Italia, VII (Pisa and Rome, 1989) 278-282, where the written and numismatic sources for Herbessos are also collected.

6. V. Tusa and E. De Miro, Sicilia occidentale (Rome, 1983) 296; A.J. Domìnguez, La Colonización Griega en Sicilia (Oxford, 1989) 306-309; R.R. Holloway, The Archaeology of Ancient Sicily (London and New York, 1991) 93; D. Moreschini and A. Cutroni Tusa, “Montagna di Marzo,” Bibliografia topografica della colonizzazione greca in Italia, X (Pisa and Rome, 1992) 229-235; R. Leighton, Sicily before History (London, 1999) 221. Could the site not have been home to a mixed population, as is believed to have existed at nearby Grammichele?

7. For these previous reconstructions, see H. Collitz and F. Bechtel, Sammlung der griechischen Dialekt-Inschriften, III.2 (Göttingen, 1905) 481 no. 5246; G. Sacco, Miscellanea greca e romana 16 (1991) 5-7.

8. The editio princeps of each inscription is as follows: for the Aidone specimen, see P. Orsi and D. Comparetti, NSc (1912) 451; for the Prizzi (Monte dei Cavalli) specimen, see V. Tusa, Kokalos 7 (1961) 113-121. M. gathers the subsequent bibliography.

9. For the site of Marianopoli, and the context of the stelai, see G. Fiorentini, “Marianopoli,” Bibliografia topografica della colonizzazione greca in Italia, IX (Pisa and Rome, 1991) 360-364.

10. Antonaccio (n. 2 above) 92 n. 12 takes one of the words on one of the stelai, ” πολέμαρχος“, to be the title of a magistrate, whereas M. regards it as a personal name.