BMCR 2002.05.37

Da un’antica città di Sicilia. I decreti di Entella e Nakone. Catalogo della mostra

, Money and the corrosion of power in Thucydides : the Sicilian expedition and its aftermath. Joan Palevsky imprint in classical literature. Pisa: University of California Press, 2001. xiii, 347 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 0520229843

It is now twenty-two years since the late Giuseppe Nenci first published a transcript, deriving from an anonymous English source, of six remarkable Greek inscriptions on bronze from the poleis of Entella and Nakone in western Sicily.1 In the years since, three more texts have emerged, one of which has been convincingly demonstrated to be a fake. Rumours persist that there could be as many as thirteen. The exact circumstances of discovery remain a mystery (‘tombaroli’, ‘clandestini’, metal detectors, and a ‘straniero avventuroso’ all had parts to play). Of the nine tablets, only the ninth has never left Sicily (now in Palermo Museum). The other eight, the fake included, emerged onto the antiquites market in the late 1970s, variously passing through Switzerland, London and the United States. Several eminent scholars, G. Bowersock and G. Daux among them, were briefly granted access to private collections to make copies of individual texts. Over time, photographs of all except the sixth and seventh reached Nenci, and were published in ASNP. The sixth, seventh (the fake) and eighth tablets have now returned to Italy by somewhat circuitous routes. Of the first five, the exact location remains unknown.

Despite the fascinating modern history of these inscriptions, or perhaps precisely because of the difficult and confusing publication of the texts which has resulted, the equally fascinating ancient history contained within them is not nearly as well known as it should be. The fact that only tablets VI and VII* have ever been subject to an English language edition has probably, unfortunately, contributed to this situation.2 The inscriptions are significant in all sorts of ways: there are few inscriptions of any sort from Sicily in this period (c.350-200 BC let alone on bronze; they provide a uniquely local perspective on events involving both Carthage and probably Rome; they record among other things a range of polis institutions, a synoikismos and an unparalleled form of dispute resolution by means of an ‘adelphothesia’. The late Professor Nenci championed both the inscriptions and the exploration of ancient Entella for many years, and Professor C. Ampolo has now taken on that role. This splendidly rich volume, produced by the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa under Ampolo’s direction and intended to accompany an exhibition currently travelling around Italy,3 is a welcome attempt to bring the material into wider circulation.

The book’s stated aims are two: first to bring the decrees to the notice of the wider public, while providing for scholars the up-to-date documentation and reference material necessary for ‘un bilancio provvisorio’. Secondly, this is intended to be the most up-to-date and reliable text available of the inscriptions themselves. In many ways it achieves both these aims. This is the first detailed synthesis since the fascicule of ASNP devoted to the texts back in 1982.4 The bibliographic detail is enormous and comprehensive. The texts themselves are the most up-to-date and reliable. It is apparent that A has himself devoted some effort to revising them (p. vii). Where this volume falls short, despite the huge wealth of bibliographic information, is in its presentation and referencing of previous scholarship, and in its presentation of the texts. I shall return to these two points in more detail below.

Only the introduction (pp. vii-xvi) and two short studies on specific topics are by A himself. The former sets out A’s considered interpretation of the inscriptions’ significance. It is undoubtedly the most original contribution within this volume and should be compulsory reading for all those interested in the tablets. Consequently it will receive more detailed treatment below. The remainder of the book consists of a presentation of the texts (pp. 11-31, edited by L. Porciani), a series of twenty-two individual studies by various Italian scholars, and two very comprehensive bibliographies (pp. 209-28, compiled by M. I. Gulletta). The first of these incorporates everything published on the texts since their appearance in 1980; the second covers Entella itself.5 The volume is excellently illustrated throughout in both colour and black and white, with a number of maps and tables, most of which succeed admirably in simplifying the wealth of detail.

Twenty-two individual studies defy individual review or summary, of the sort this journal prefers, within reasonable length. They cover a range of subject areas: i) modern history of scholarship; ii) the ancient historical context; iii) the content of the inscriptions; iv) history and archaeology of Entella. Between them they do a very thorough job of covering the main areas of interest and of placing the material in its historical and archaeological context. Inevitably there is little here that is actually new, but I would highlight three things: M. I. Gulletta’s piece on the tablets’ modern peregrinations is a unique account and probably the best place to begin in this volume (even if a desire to tell the story as the facts emerged does occasionally compromise the clarity);6 secondly, the notice (and photograph) of a newly excavated ‘Samnite’ bronze belt from a late-C4 BC tomb at Rocca d’Entella (p. 52); and thirdly the publication (by F. Spatafora, pp. 111-14) of a tile fragment from a Hellenistic context at the site of Montagnola di Marineo (πἀ, on which can clearly be read in lightly cursive uncials ‘μακελλα’ — the home of the Makellinoi, recorded also on the Duilius elogium, appears to have been identified, and the site’s location makes it obvious why it constituted a target for C. Duilius’ forces in 260 B.C. Many of the studies on aspects of the inscriptions (primarily pp. 59-92) are little more than updated versions of studies in the original set of 1982 studies (see note 4). Several others are essentially shorter versions of pieces in the 1993 volume on Entella published by Nenci.7 The archaeological pieces (esp. pp. 157-95) are in this respect more worthy of note, as being summaries of material that is generally more difficult of access.8

Of course, such updated coverage is exactly what this volume is aiming to provide. But to perform such a task successfully, it is not enough to conclude each study with a bibliography (in addition to those at the end of the volume). The majority of these studies make no reference within the text to any of the material that appears in the bibliographies. If you know the material well, then you will know which particular problems and authors are being discussed, and why. But to do so would require you to have read most of the bibliography provided already. This rather seriously undermines the aim of providing a useful starting point for interested scholars. In a couple of cases the problem is avoided by the incorporation, between text and bibliography, of a concise bibliographic survey (most notably those by U. Fantasia in his excellent surveys of mercenaries in Sicily (pp. 49-58) and of the institutions recorded in the inscriptions (pp. 59-68)). But elsewhere a more explicit acknowledgement of sources would be both helpful and desirable, as when B. Garozzo, in his survey of the onomastics in the inscriptions (pp. 75-80), simply repeats the conclusions of M. Lejeune from 1982, but with no acknowledgement other than the inclusion of the piece in the bibliography.9 Sticking with this example, this method of approach makes for extremely indirect and difficult argumentation when a particular position is adopted. Tablet IV is a proxeny decree for a Tiberius Claudius, son of Gaius, ‘Antiatas’. Garozzo (p. 76) comes down in favour of ‘Antiatas’ as a cognomen rather than the simple ethnic, ‘man of Antium’. To follow the argument, you need to go to the bibliography, where three articles are cited under a heading ‘per quanto riguarda esempi di cognomina con datazione alta’; but those provide little enough material to go on and, unless you realise that the argument goes back to Kajanto’s ‘The Latin Cognomina’, which is not cited, you will remain none the wiser.10 This is a pity, because the coverage generally is extremely good, and little that is directly relevant has slipped through the net.11

A’s introduction (pp. vii-xvi) on the other hand references its discussion throughout and adopts a very particular set of interpretations. Indeed, those new to the material may get more from this if they return to it after reading the rest of the volume! In many respects A reflects the current consensus on the inscriptions. He accepts, and argues cogently for, the dating of the events involved to the First Punic War and the tablets themselves to the period 254-241 B.C. He suggests c.249 B.C. as most plausible of all (pp. xi-xiii). (L. Porciani, pp. 43-5, very briefly summarises all the previous views on the possible dates, from the time of Timoleon down to the Punic Wars. Slightly disconcertingly, but quite healthily, there is disagreement within the volume: e.g., M. Moggi (‘Orizzonti politici’, pp. 115-21) retains the view that the war against Carthage mentioned in the decrees should be dated to 309/08 BC (p. 117).)

After some initial remarks, A divides his introduction into questions of provenance, chronology, and more general observations. While, as A notes (pp. viii-ix), the exact circumstances of the tablets’ discovery are uncertain, there is general agreement that they were found in a single location (although the location itself is disputed!). This has long presented difficulties given that one text pertains to Nakone, not Entella, and that the texts were intended to be displayed in three different locations. Nenci’s hypothesis that they were found in the workshop where they were made and were never displayed, largely rested upon the mistaken assumption that the fake tablet was not a fake but unfinished, or botched. To the various elements of, e.g., palaeographic variety which may argue against a single workshop, A adds the information (based upon study of the recovered VI, VIII and IX) that the tablets reflect technical differences of manufacture which argue against such homogeneity. Unfortunately the technical evidence on which this claim is based has still to be presented.

Central to A’s introduction is his justification of a new numbering system which is here applied to the tablets (pp. ix-xi). The logic is clear: the old numbering system (ι with VII marked as fake by an asterisk) was simply a reflection of the (random) order in which they were originally read and published; other numbering systems already exist to confuse the issue (although crucially, these did not actually change the internal order); the inscriptions divide logically into four groups, viz. the one from Nakone (III, now Nakone ἀ, two groups of three each decreed on a single day (V, VIII, IX, now Entella A1, A2, A3; and VI, I, II, now Entella C1, C2, C3), and a separate proxeny decree (IV, now Entella B1). A concordance is provided on pp. xvii-xviii. However, sound as the logic may be, new numbers bring problems. The first is purely practical: several of the other authors in this volume (e.g. Gulletta) resort to the old, and generally very consistently applied, numbering system, simply because the highly complex publication history of the texts makes any alternative extremely awkward (and since this volume has yet to achieve wide circulation, I have retained the old numbers). The second is more fundamental. In arguing for these groupings, the existence of which none would dispute, A must also argue for their significance, which is disputed. As A observes, the internal chronology of the inscriptions is a somewhat open question, the range being anywhere from c.36 days to an unspecified number of years. One’s preference depends upon what one thinks the significance is of the various differences between the different groups. But by renumbering the inscriptions into these groups A imposes his preferred order upon them, and all that goes with it (a chronological span of 1 year plus, and a transition from twin archons (possibly reflecting Campanian ‘meddices’) to a single Sicilian/Greek ‘hieromnamon’, reflecting an institutional change possibly supervised by a Roman prefect and in turn reflecting a transition to a pro-Roman, later-Hellenistic, increasingly oligarchic civic organisation). It becomes dangerously easy to accept the implied picture in accepting the numerical sequence. And yet, many of the individual criteria by which the groupings are constructed, such as linguistic forms and even magistrates, are more cross-cutting than is often acknowledged. The short, c.36 day chronology as proposed by W. T. Loomis12 remains as valid as any other, and in that case all seven texts belong together, with C1-3 actually prior to A1-3. Such criticism is not intended to detract from A’s presentation, but if the new numbers are to be adopted, this must be done with open eyes.

A’s more general observations on the decrees (pp. xiii-xiv) are of interest to anyone pursuing questions of ethnic or cultural change, hellenization, indigenous peoples, urbanization, etc. ‘Mescolanza di genti e culture’ is a repeated theme, and A reasonably asks whether the apparent changes in onomastics, institutions, etc., which the tablets reflect, signify a ‘volontà di essere culturalmente elleni’, or instead ‘solo il voler essere una città come si deve, con istituzioni ed edifici a livello delle altre città di Sicilia’ (p. xiv). Sicily continues to be a very fertile, and frequently untapped, area of study for many of these lively areas of debate, and the Entella tablets should not be ignored.

Finally, the texts (edited by L. Porciani, pp. 11-31). Most of the texts have been published some five or six times before, on the basis of transcripts, hand-copies or photographs (only VI, VII* and IX have actually been published previously from the originals; VIII is here published for the first time since its recovery). Porciani presents texts, Italian translations and photographs of the front of each tablet, including the fake (VII*). This is therefore the first time that photographs of all nine tablets have been included within a single volume. As an edition of the texts however, this does leave something to be desired. There are no line numbers. Measurements, where they are known, are not provided (the tablets are mostly c.20cm high and c.15cm wide). Neither do we see photographs of the reverse of the tablets, which exist in several cases. Photographs of the new resin squeezes of VI, VIII and IX (cf. pp. v, ix) might have been useful also. A much greater handicap is the absence of any textual apparatus or commentary (with a single exception, at VI=C1, line 6, which does not change the sense). It is apparent from the introduction (p. vii) that Ampolo himself has suggested some of these new readings, but the reader will have to work hard to discover the changes. This is not the place for a detailed discussion, but readers may find the summary below of use 13. In essence, the majority of the texts offer little new of substance and are subject to fewer typographic errors than some of the earlier editions. However, texts III (Nakone A) and V (Entella A1) are considerably revised, albeit mostly in minor details — and mostly to the good. But, without adequate reporting of the changes, they are difficult of use.

I=C2: no significant changes, but accidental omission of τους in line 16 (clearly visible on the photograph), following the same error in recent editions by Nenci (1991, 1993).

II=C3: the same text as that printed by Daux in 1984 and Nenci in 1991 (the only difference between those two being Nenci’s removal of square brackets in the last line).

III=Nakone A: this text contains some 16 readings which have no published precedent and another 6 which only appeared in the original SEG 30.1119 text. Study of photographs suggests that all of these are probably improvements. However, the use of < > brackets in lines 8 and 33 is incorrect, and their removal in line 13 inconsistent. These three instances do however raise the problem of how to print letters which the original engraver initially omitted and subsequently inserted superscript to the main text (all the letters in lines, 8, 13, 33 are present; in each case one or two are superscript, but not those here enclosed by < >).

IV=B1: This text is identical to that printed in ASNP 1982. However, the penultimate letter of line 11 should be an alpha, not an omega, as Nenci pointed out in 1991, although failing to include it in his printed text (it is clearly visible in the photograph).14

V=A1: this text appears to be heavily dependent upon the 1997 discussion of M. Lombardo (based upon the photograph published by Nenci in 1991),15 and most of the changes are prefigured there. In particular: οικισμον, instead of ικισμον, at the start of line 17; and the correction to γραψαντες, from εσγραψαντες, in line 29; the change to θεωδωρος, from θεοδωρος, in line 24 is more questionable. The uncertain ethnic in line 21 is slightly adjusted also. However, the treatment of the numerals is problematic. Lombardo’s understandable uncertainty is here translated into gaps: [—] and [.] (lines 21, 23). This is misrepresentative of what is visible on the photographs. Also, the change to the first numeric symbol in line 19 is debatable.

VI=C1: Loomis’ edition (cf. note 2) necessarily constitutes the ed. pr. for this tablet, and this text differs in 8 places from that edition (although two of these are only questions of accentuation, while the rest are simply differences over the visibility of individual letters, none of them crucial). The omission of the accent on the last syllable of line 5 is presumably a typographic error.

VII*: Loomis again provides the ed. pr. and this is essentially reproduced here.

VIII=A2: this text has remained unaltered (except in very minor details of accentuation and misplaced breathings) since its initial report by Daux in 1982. We await the full ‘scientific’ publication of this tablet now that it is in Pisa, although judging by the photograph it seems unlikely that this will change the text in any essentials.

IX=A3: this text remains essentially unchanged from previous editions.

To conclude, this is a very welcome and very attractive volume. It brings together all the elements necessary for the study of these remarkable documents in a single place for the first time. However for the reasons outlined above, it is potentially hard work to make use of much that is contained within (the absence of an index is an additional hindrance). Nonetheless it is a significant step towards greater knowledge and understanding of the Entella tablets, and we await Professor Ampolo’s promised study, of which his introduction is a mere foretaste, with considerable anticipation.


1. G. Nenci, ‘Sei decreti inediti da Entella’, ASNP s.III, 10.4 (1980), pp. 1271-5 (the texts are reproduced, with some significant amendments, in SEG 30 (1980), 1117-1123).

2. W. T. Loomis, ‘Entella tablets VI (254-241 B.C.) and VII (20th cent. A.D.?)’, HSCP 96 (1994), pp. 127-60, plates I-IV. The only other English discussions, aside from the entries in SEG, are: B. D. Hoyos, ‘A new historical puzzle: the Entella documents’, in ‘Prudentia’ 20 (1988), pp. 30-43, which is inevitably now slightly out of date; and a very thoughtful review by P. Lomas, in JHS 108 (1988), pp. 262-3, of V. Giustolisi’s ‘Nakone ed Entelle alla luce degli antichi decreti recentemente apparsi e di un nuovo decreto inedito’ (Palermo, 1985). Lomas’ review is absent from all subsequent discussion, including this volume’s bibliography (on which see n.5). I am grateful to Michael Crawford for bringing it to my attention.

3. The exhibition is currently at the German Archaeological Institute in Rome; in June/July 2002 it moves to Palermo, before then touring Marsala, Agrigento, Messina, and other locations in mainland Italy, including Lecce and Milan (I thank Prof. Ampolo for this information).

4. ‘Materiali e contributi per lo studio degli otto decreti da Entella’, ASNP s.III, 12.3 (1982), pp. 771-1103. The entire fascicule (sixteen articles, plus texts) is very conveniently summarised in SEG 32 (1982), 914.

5. Both bibliographies are excellent. Besides the review mentioned in note 2, the following are added merely for the sake of completeness: R. K. Sherk, ‘The eponymous officials of Greek cities V. The Register. Part VI: Sicily’, ZPE 96 (1993), pp. 267-95, esp. pp. 268-9; and F. Ghinatti, ‘Assemblee greche d’Occidente’ (Turin, 1996), esp. pp. 41-45; although both are mentioned by individual articles, these would seem to warrant inclusion in bibliography A since both devote several pages specifically to the Entella material. Likewise, C. Consani, ‘Koinai et koiné dans la documentation épigraphique de l’Italie méridionale’, in C. Brixhe (ed.), ‘La Koiné grecque antique. II. La concurrence’ (Paris, 1996), pp. 113-132, at pp. 120-22, is cited by Biondi in ‘La Lingua’, but not in bibliography A. Also, L. Dubois, in RPh 60 (1986), pp. 99-105, at pp. 102-5 similarly only appears in Biondi’s piece on ‘La Lingua’, where it is mis-cited as Dubois 1960. The inclusion of the SEG entries for the Entella tablets is eminently sensible, but the most recent, SEG 47 (1997 [2000]), (eds. H. W. Pleket, R. S. Stroud, A. Chaniotis, J. H. M. Strubbe), nos. 1418: ‘Entella. The archons’, and 1419: ‘Entella. Isopoliteia decree’, have been omitted. Also, if the SEG entries are included then for the sake of completeness it seems strange to omit the corresponding entries in BE (only 1989.851 is cited), which are not without interest. In brief: BE 1983.494 (L. & R. Robert); 1984.546 (L. & R. Robert); 1987.754 (L. Dubois), with nos. 297, 305, 314, 317, 318, 323, 335, 337; 1988.1044 (Dubois); 1990.293 (Ph. Gauthier); 1990.864 (Dubois); 1992.589 (Dubois); 1993.713; 1993.717 (Dubois); 1996.567 (Dubois). To bibliography B one might add: A. Italia, ‘Un museo per il territorio: l’Antiquarium di Entella’, in SicArch 31 (1998), pp. 233-8. One petty correction: ‘H.-M van Effenterre’ under 1988 in bibliography A should be ‘H. and M. van Effenterre’.

6. Loomis (note 2 above), pp. 127-31 contains a useful summary also. For those ‘Entellogues’ who like their ‘gossip’, and couldn’t guess, Nenci has now stated, in a posthumously published paper, whom he meant by the ‘Anglicus interpres’. See G. Nenci, ‘Varia Elyma’, in ‘Terze giornate internazionali di studi sull’area elima’ (Pisa, 2000), pp. 809-21, at p. 813.

7. G. Nenci (ed.), ‘Alla ricerca di Entella’ (Pisa, 1993). In particular S. De Vido on the numismatic and literary sources (pp. 141-50 in the volume under review) — the same author is responsible for the generally fuller versions in the 1993 volume — and M. De Cesare, ‘Storia della ricerca da Fazello ai nostri gorni’, which is a very summary and slightly updated (because 8 years later) version of a piece under the same title by Nenci himself in the 1993 volume.

8. C. Michelini and M. C. Parra on ‘Entella: la città’ (pp. 157-72); C. A. Di Noto and R. Guglielmino on ‘Entella: le necropoli’ (pp. 173-85); A. Corretti and M. A. Vaggioli on ‘Entella: il territorio’ (pp. 187-95). This last is a summary of one of several field survey programmes now taking place in this part of Sicily. Additionally, M. Gargini ‘Il contesto. La Sicilia occidentale dall’età arcaica alla metà del III sec. a.C.’ (pp. 131-39) is worthy of note as an excellent little survey of excavated sites in W. Sicily, although it suffers from the same lack of reference to its bibliography which is discussed more generally below.

9. M. Lejeune, ‘Noms grecs et noms indigènes dans l’épigraphie hellénistique d’Entella’, ASNP s.III, 12.3 (1982), pp. 787-99.

10. I. Kajanto, ‘The Latin Cognomina’ (Helsinki, 1965). The argument appears to be directed against the oft-cited statement in Kajanto (p.19) that cognomina are very rare in epigraphy before the late C2 BC. But Kajanto himself was well aware that this need only be a function of the evidence (also p.19). The examples appealed to (I can only find two or three in the articles by Alföldi, Solin and Torelli to which the bibliography refers) scarcely change the situation. More relevant are Kajanto’s observations that although geographical cognomina are indeed more common in the Republic (p.48), there is only a single instance of a Latin cognomen formed from the Greek ethnic of the city (Massiliota: p.45). The point is surely that ‘Antiatas’ is the Greek ethnic for Antium. The rest of the name is indisputably Roman in form, and for this to be a true cognomen would require a curious bit of ‘translation’ when the rest of the name remains Latinate. Equally relevant are the comments of C. Bruun (in the same volume as the cited Torelli article) ‘ “What every man in the street used to know”: M. Furius Camillus, Italic legends and Roman historiography’, in idem (ed.) ‘The Roman Middle Republic, Politics, Religion and Historiography, c.400-133 BC’ (Rome, 2000), pp. 41-68, specifically pp. 55-6.

11. The only ‘gap’ I have noticed is in C. Michelini (pp. 69-73, on civic buildings and cults) and A. Corretti (pp. 89-92, calendars, measures and numbers). Both these authors float the idea that the otherwise unattested month name ‘Adonios’ could attest to a cult of Adonis. The editors of SEG (32 (1982), 914, p. 259) pointed out the lack of other evidence, and neither offers anything new. But, see now I. Lee, ‘The flower of Adonis at Eryx’, in NC 159 (1999), pp. 1-31. V. Giustolisi, ‘Nakone ed Entella, alla luce degli antichi decreti recentemente apparsi e di un nuovo decreto inedito’ (= Sicilia archeologica che scompare 7, Palermo, 1985), pp. 31-38 also discusses the question in some detail. The evidence still remains rather thin however.

12. Loomis (note 2 above), pp. 140-42.

13. I am most grateful to Dr. C. Crowther and Dr. A.K. Bowman of the Oxford Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents for their assistance on matters Entellan, and in particular for giving me access to photographs of the tablets in the papers of the late Prof. D.M. Lewis.

14. G. Nenci, ‘I decreti da Entella ι s.III, 21.1 (1991), pp. 137-45, tav. VI-X, at p. 142.

15. M. Lombardo, ‘Il decreto V di Entella: note di lettura’, in ‘Seconde giornate internazionali di studi sull’area elima’ (Pisa-Gibellina, 1997), pp. 1039-47 (for the photograph, see note 14 above).