BMCR 2005.11.22

Un tempio arcaico nel territorio dell’antica Temesa: L’edificio sacro in località di Campora san Giovanni

, Un tempio arcaico nel territorio dell'antica Temesa : l'edificio sacro in località imbelli di Campora San Giovanni. Archaeologica, 133. Rome: Giorgio Bretschneider, 2002. 388 pages, 70 pages, 34 pages of plates : illustrations ; 30 cm.. ISBN 8876892060. €25.00.

In her seminal article on the Mycenaeans in Achaia, Emily Vermeule discussed the external relations of the Bronze Age Achaians, beginning with Thucydides’ statement (2.66.1) that Zakynthos was colonized from Achaia, and from there noting that both Zakynthos and Kephallenia saw political reorganization in the generation of the “grandsons of Herakles”.1 The latter traced their ancestry back to both Perseus and Pelops, and it is in the same myth-historical landscape that we find the island Taphos, as well as Taphios, Pterelaos and Komaitho, as related by Apollodoros (2.4.5-8) and, of course, the Taphian pirates of the Odyssey. The collected deeds of the Taphian pirates, and of their individual princes, like Mentes, read like a virtual primer for a new breed of Late Bronze or Early Iron Age entrepreneur. In Odyssey 1.180-185 (cf. 1.105, 417) the “oar-loving Taphians” sail across the wine-dark sea to the land of men of strange speech in order to trade shining iron for copper. Their specific target was Temesa, on the Tyrrhenian coast of South Italy, a failed colony in the historic period of the Aitolians, which later became a dependency of the Achaian colony of Kroton.2 In Odyssey 14.450-452 and again in 15.427, the Taphians engage in slave-trading; in the former passage Odysseus’ swineherd Eumaeus was able to buy Mesaulios from the Taphians with his own goods, whereas in the latter passage, the Taphians seized, out of Sidon, a Phoenician girl, the daughter of Arybantos. In Odyssey 16.425-430 we find the Taphian pirates raiding the Thesprotians. The adventures of these western Greek pirates span the eastern and central Mediterranean, from the Levantine coast to the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea, and provide just one colorful model of the movement of people, commodities and ideas.3

Gioacchino Francesco la Torre’s account of the excavations at the site of an Archaic Greek temple in the territory of ancient Temesa may not get us any closer to the elusive Taphian pirates, but it does add significant archaeological flesh to the close link between South Italy and western Greece in the early historic period. The site itself was located near Imbelli, not far from Capora san Giovanni on the west coast of Calabria, north of the Savuto and Torbido Rivers, and immediately south of the Oliva River. In the introduction to the volume (pp. 29-31), la Torre succinctly and cogently sets out both the historical and myth-historical landscape, linking the site to the territory of Temesa. The remainder of the book is presented in three parts: I. the archaeological data, II. the cult, and III. the sanctuary against the backdrop of the literary and archaeological topos of Temesa. The volume is in essence a meticulous excavation report, but it is also a good example of effectively combining an important archaeological discovery with the available literary sources: a classic case of historical archaeology.

Part I begins with the geomorphological and topographical setting. This is more a cultural than a scientific account: la Torre casts his net widely to include a historical and cultural overview of much of Magna Graecia, from southern Calabria to the Sibaritide and beyond. In this short, but dense section (pp. 35-47), the author sets the stage for much of the discussion that will be presented in Part III. This is followed by a short account of the discovery of the site and the excavations (pp. 49-55), as well as an account of the architecture and construction techniques of the building at Imbelli (pp. 57-72). In the latter section, la Torre from the outset places the building in the context of temples of colonial Magna Graecia, including a comparison of the Imbelli temple with similar seventh and sixth-century B.C. sanctuary sites on the Timpone della Motta at Francavilla Marittima (the extra-mural sanctuary of Sybaris), Building B at the Heraion at Capo Colonna (the extra-mural sanctuary of Kroton), as well as the smaller buildings — tempietti — of Vigna Nuova (Kroton) and that of Aphrodite at Centocamere at Lokroi Epizephyrioi, and there is further comparison with several sixth-century B.C. structures in Sicily (Himera, Agrigento, Metapiccola [Leontinoi], and Naxos). With the exception of the Sicilian examples and Lokroi, the latter a colony of Opuntian Lokris, the primary comparison is, appropriately, with buildings in the heart of the Achaian colonial sphere. Although the author is at home with Archaic religious architecture in southern Italy and Sicily, comparison with similar material in Greece — despite the fact that we are dealing with Greek colonial architecture — is lacking. I was surprised, for example, to see no reference to Barbara Barletta’s seminal article on Archaic Doric architecture on both sides of the Ionian Sea,4 and there is no reference to the temple at Agios Georgios, Skala on Kephallenia, which in plan and construction technique is so very similar to the Imbelli building, not to mention the apsidal building at Ano Mazaraki, Rakiti in Achaia in the northwestern Peloponnese, which provides a Late Geometric predecessor to such buildings. This is symptomatic of a broader problem in the study of Greek overseas travel and settlement: namely, that the majority of Italian scholars dealing with Archaic material in Italy are rarely at home with the recent discoveries and bibliography on Greek sites, and Greek scholars working on the Archaic period in Greece do not know the Italian material as intimately as they do the Greek.

The remainder of Part I, which forms the bulk of the volume, deals with the small finds associated with the Imbelli building, some 1630 votive objects (pp. 73-320). The material is both rich and varied, and is presented in succinct catalogue entries, beginning with the pottery, followed by terracotta figurines, metal objects, objects of glass paste, amber, ivory and bone, and a solitary silver coin. The pottery comprises the following categories: A. Corinthian (65 published entries); B. Lakonian (four examples); C. Attic Black-figure (16 examples); D. Ionian pottery and “di tipo ionico” (50 pieces); E. Locally produced figured pottery “ceramica figurate di produzione coloniale” (32 pieces); F. Black-gloss (17 pieces); G. Transport amphorae, including Corinthian, Etruscan, Ionic-Massaliote, pseudo-Chian, and Lesbian (eight examples in all); H. Locally-produced ceramics (351 published pieces), which comprise 63% of the total, and include banded, partially dipped, and unpainted wares, some enlivened with wavy lines, strokes, and similar decorative elements; I. Cooking ware (29 examples); J. Impasto (seven pieces); K. Pithoi, louteria, and basins (11 examples); L. “Utensili”, largely loomweights (six examples) and one unique spindlewhorl; M. Terracotta figurines (15 examples), including seated and standing figures, protomai, terracotta busts, as well as a terracotta siren and flower; N. Silver objects (12 examples), including a fibula, finger rings (with and without bezels), pendants, and earrings; O. Bronze objects (165 published pieces), including fibulae (of various well-known South Italian types), rings (mostly not finger rings), disks, pendent beads and spirals, bracelets, spiral ornaments, small so-called “buttons”, a fragment of a strigil, fragments of bronze vessels, bronze strips (some with repouss decoration), a fragment of a helmet, and what is dubbed a scepter;5 P. Iron objects (102 examples), including a couple of fibulae, numerous spearheads (classified according to at least four types), various utensils (knives, sickles, axe-heads, hammers, a possible chisel, nails, “temple keys”, as well as a piece of a kottabos, the latter unfortunately not illustrated, and various unidentified pieces); Q. Glass and glass-paste objects (three only), including a fragment of an alabastron and two beads; R. Amber objects (15 pieces), all from various items of jewelry or personal ornament; S. Ivory objects (19 pieces); T. A solitary silver coin. There follows a small catalogue of graffiti and dipinti, five examples in all, exclusively on pottery, which represent the sum total of the epigraphical material from the site. Apart from the ubiquitous X, the graffiti include an incised A and E or digamma. Among the small finds, special mention may be made of the solitary coin, a silver incuse issue of Sybaris. As I have argued elsewhere, the colonial coinage of Sybaris and later that of Kroton was actively used to produce social orders that had not existed before and that the coins themselves were central to the process of colonization.6 Coins are rare in good archaeological contexts, particularly at sanctuary sites (there is at least one silver coin, also of Sybaris, from the sanctuary at Francavilla, whereas the Edificio Quadrato at the Heraion at the Foce del Sele produced a substantial number of coins); this is a welcome addition to Archaic silver coinage found in situ in South Italy.

Part II, which is further divided into two sections, discusses the cult of the sanctuary. It begins with a consideration of the votive objects (pp. 323-334). Once more, the material from Imbelli is compared to that from other sanctuary sites throughout southern Italy and Sicily. The identified votive material is listed by the author among the following fourteen functional categories: I. Items of personal ornament, II. Small containers for oil or perfume (lekythoi, small oinochoai, aryballoi, amphoriskoi, alabastra, lydia), III. Pyxides, IV. Pouring vessels (oinochoai, olpai, jugs), V. Miniature hydriai, VI. Utensils used by women (loomweights, spindlewhorls), VII. Figurines, VIII. Arms and armor, IX. Large vessels for wine (amphorai, kraters, deinoi), X. Vases for eating or drinking (including much of the pottery), XI. Miniature banquet vessels (kotylai, kraters, cups), XII. Utensils for men (strigils, axes, hammers, etc.), XIII. Cooking vessels, and XIV. Sacred furnishings (pithoi, louteria, temple keys). The Appendices (pp. 339-352) belong with this section. The Appendices present the pottery and other small finds in tabular form, according to shape or categories/types of object, and these are followed by the fourteen categories of votive objects also given in tabular form. The material is then presented according to findspot, and it is a credit to la Torre as excavator that such control of all the archaeological material was possible. Among the various classes of votives, 37% was found in the antecella, 28% in the cella proper, 27% in the adyton, a mere 5% in the pronaos, while the remaining 3% represents sporadic finds; this is succinctly illustrated in a pie-chart on p. 345. On pp. 346-348 individual categories of votive offerings are presented in a series of histograms showing the proportion of material from the different parts of the building (adyton, cella, antecella, pronaos), whereas on pp. 349-352 four histograms of the different parts of the buildings show what material, broken down according to different categories, was found where.

The second section of Part II (pp. 335-338) hypothesizes about the identity of the divinity venerated at the sanctuary. Various possibilities are raised and discussed in this and the preceding section on the nature of the small finds associated with different divinities. Several likely suspects appear: Demeter and Kore, Persephone, so too Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis and Hera, but there is no conclusive evidence. Here la Torre proceeds cautiously, basing the discussion on careful analysis and comparison with the sanctuaries of known deities in South Italy and Sicily.

In Part III, we return to the historical and literary traditions that were first brought up in the Introduction. The first section (pp. 355-368) deals with the archaeological data and the literary tradition. From the very beginning we are introduced to Polites, the Homeric hero and companion of Odysseus, who met his demise at Temesa by being stoned to death, having violated a local virgin while drunk. Odysseus cut his losses and sailed away, completely disregarding his dead companion, whose spirit subsequently terrorized the region. In order to placate his daemonic spirit, a temple was built for Polites in an extra-mural sanctuary. We are also introduced to Eurytos, the Lokrian aristocrat and victor in boxing at the 74th, and several subsequent, Olympiads, who finally defeated the spirit of Polites within the temple and thus compelled it to disappear. In the second section of Part III (pp. 369-380), la Torre focuses on Temesa between Sybaris, Kroton and Lokroi, that is, the place of Temesa against the backdrop of the three local powers. We finally return, in the third and final section (pp. 381-386) to Polites, Euthymos and Temesa, but we are also introduced to Alybas, an “ambiguous personality”. The result is a proto-colonial tour de force, combining the cult of the hero, the temple at Campora and its votive deposit, the Greek colonists — particularly the rise of a Sybaritan “empire”, and the subsequent hegemony of an “alliance” headed by Kroton — with the indigenous population. It is a wonderful story that moves between prehistory and history, mythology and hard politico-economic realities.

There follows a table of contents (pp. 387-388), the figures, and the plates. The figures include two maps, a stone-by-stone plan of the temple together with a reconstructed plan, drawings of a few architectural elements, and a hypothetical reconstruction of the building (figs. 1-6). The remainder of the figures (7-70) are drawings of the small finds presented according to the votive categories already discussed. The photographic plates are good quality, crisp black-and-white images of the site, architectural members and small finds.

Un tempio arcaico nel territorio dell’antica Temesa will quickly take its place as a seminal volume on the archaeology and history of Magna Graecia. The author’s ability to present the archaeological “facts” in a no-nonsense format AND the available historical and literary evidence in a lively, well-written format is a true achievement. The result is a volume that is a “must-read” for anyone interested in Archaic South Italy.


1. E.T. Vermeule, “The Mycenaeans in Achaia,” American Journal of Archaeology 64, 1960, p. 20.

2. Ibid; and further discussion in I. Malkin, The Returns of Odysseus: Colonization and Ethnicity, Berkeley 1998, pp. 72-73.

3. J.K. Papadopoulos, “Magna Achaea: Akhaian Late Geometric and Archaic Pottery in South Italy and Sicily,” Hesperia 70, 2001, pp. 373-460, especially pp. 444-449. For Temesa specifically, see further G. Maddoli, ed., Temesa e il suo territorio: Atti del colloquio di Perugia e Trevi, 30-31 maggio 1981, Taranto 1982.

4. B.A. Barletta, “An ‘Ionian Sea’ Style in Archaic Doric Architecture,” American Journal of Archaeology 94, 1990, pp. 45-72.

5. Many of the bronze objects from Imbelli now find close parallels among the Archaic votive bronzes from Francavilla Marittima published in J.K. Papadopoulos, La dea di Sibari e il santuario ritrovato. Studi sui rinvenimenti dal Timpone Motta di Francavilla Maritimma, II.1: The Archaic Votive Metal Objects, Rome 2003.

6. J.K. Papadopoulos, “Minting Identity: Coinage, Ideology and the Economics of Colonization in Akhaian Magna Graecia,” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 12, 2002, pp. 21-55.