BMCR 2012.12.12

La scultura ideale romana nella Regio Secunda (Apulia et Calabria). Archaeologica, 161

, La scultura ideale romana nella Regio Secunda (Apulia et Calabria). Archaeologica, 161. Roma: Bretschneider editore, 2010. xv, 195; xciii p. of plates. ISBN9788876892486 €120.00 (pb).

A catalogue of sculptures is not expected to be thrilling reading. This book, by Vita Μ. Soleti, discussing the ideal sculptures found in the regions of Apulia and Calabria — the ancient Regio Secunda of Imperial Italy— follows this expectation. And yet, because the sculptures here examined come from a specific geographic area, this catalogue transforms into an interesting read. In fact, it offers the possibility of shedding light on matters related to production, circulation of models, trade routes, and the eventual adhesion to standards set in the centre of the Empire.

The first chapter (“Profilo storico”) traces a brief history of the region between the last quarter of the 4 th century BC and the early 3 rd century AD. The starting point is the Second Samnite War, which coincided with the earliest contact between Rome and the area of Apulia, as attested by Livy ( 8.25.3), who claims that during the Roman siege of Naples “the Lucanians and Apulians, nations which until then had had no dealings with the Roman People, put themselves under their protection and promised arms and men for the war, and were accordingly received into a treaty of friendship”. As she follows the history of Apulia and Calabria, Soleti stresses some turning points and underlines crucial moments in the relationship between Rome and these areas, such as the founding of the earliest colonies, the definitive disappearance of the division of populations into nations ( ethne), the organization by Augustus of the territory of Italy into regiones, and later the reorganization by Diocletian of this territory, which took the name of Provincia Apulia et Calabria, but was deprived of Samnium and the city of Beneventum.

The second chapter (“Catalogo delle sculture”) is the longest of the book, covering 112 pages. Here as many as 117 ideal statues are discussed: some are published examples, others have not been properly studied, and several are unpublished. The statues are divided between male and female, and are organized according to traditional criteria, that is, by date and findspot; they range in date from the 1 st century BC to the 2 nd century AD. Among the published pieces, it is worth mentioning two possible replicas of Polykleitan works, namely the Doryphoros and the Westmacott Ephebe (cat. nos. 1.a.BE.2-3, pl. IV). Both sculptures, made of basalt, were found at Beneventum and —together with another basalt figure of a naked man (cat. no. 1.a.BE.1, pl. III)— may belong to the decoration of one of the three temples of Isis located in the city. It is argued that the use of basalt in the Augustan period could be symbolic, as it could allude to conquered lands through the use of exotic materials.1 Some unpublished pieces are of extreme interest. A fragmentary statue in white marble, which very probably depicts a 2 nd -century AD Apollo Kitharoidos sitting on a rock (cat. no. 2.a.BE.1, pl. XXX), is an exceptional work. It may have been found in the area of the theatre of Beneventum, where it is today displayed. Even if its precise findspot is unknown, its relationship with that building is highly probable, especially because of the consistency of its subject with theatrical decoration . A female sculpture of the Poitiers Athena type (cat. no. 1.b.BA.1, pl. XV), in white marble, was found somewhere in Puglia during illegal digging. For this reason, it is now housed in the storerooms of a special Italian army corps for the protection of cultural heritage (Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale). It dates to the Augustan period and is of exceptional workmanship; unfortunately, the uncertainty about its original location prevents further conclusions. Finally, an unpublished statue of Jupiter from Canosa deserves mention (cat. no. 2.a.CA.1, pl. XXXVIII). It is made of white Aphrodisian marble and must have been produced in an Aphrodisian workshop around the mid-2 nd century AD, thus demonstrating that also sculptures from Asia Minor were imported to the area of Roman Apulia.

The third and final chapter (“Osservazioni conclusive”) deals with the possible provenances of the sculptures, their distribution and material, and their interpretation. It is often difficult or even impossible to trace the original location of these works, mainly because the Roman urban grid has in most cases been obscured by the modern one. This observation is, for example, true of Beneventum, whose Roman urban area coincides exactly with the modern city centre. Yet some remarkable cases in Beneventum and elsewhere can shed light on matters related to the ancient urban structure of the centres involved. From the baths of Aeclanum, a municipium which flourished especially during the mid-2 nd century AD, come three of the four ideal sculptures found in this city. Their high level of workmanship, along with the typology of the decorative architectural members of the structures and the building techniques used, suggest that masters from outside the city were at work in the baths. At the same time, the likelihood that the local aristocracy financed the construction, and that the emperor himself may even have been involved, must be taken into account. As to the chronological distribution of the sculptures in this catalogue, it is worth noting that few pieces dating to the period between the 1 st century BC and the 1 st century AD have been found, while most sculptures can be dated to the 1 st and 2 nd centuries AD, when more urban centres had fully developed. The situation seems to change towards the end of the 2 nd century AD, when an urban decline can be observed in this region.

This book gathers a rich quantity of data and offers an accurate analysis of numerous sculptures of the Roman Imperial age coming from two large areas of Southern Italy. Archaeological investigation in these regions is providing researchers with increasing evidence, as the archaeological reports published yearly on the occasion of the annual conferences about Magna Graecia held at Taranto illustrate. The study of ideal sculptures allows the author to shed light on the process of progressive conformance to the ideological and formal standards of Rome by the local élites of this territory. Ideal sculptures made of different materials circulated in Apulia and Calabria: Pentelic, Thasian, Parian, Aphrodisian, and Luna marbles, as well as basalt (see the statistics at fig. 5 of the book). This variety not only demonstrates a wide range of provenances and commercial contacts, but also suggests the presence in the region of foreign artisans, who are epigraphically attested. Interestingly, ideal sculptures in this region were also made of limestone, such as a statue of Herakles from Ordona (cat. no. 2.a.OR.3, pl. LVI). If this material points to local production, one cannot forget that workshops which created figured reliefs, sarcophagi, or funerary monuments, in high relief or in the round, commissioned by the ruling classes and the freedmen, are already attested in Apulia since the late Republican period.2 Limestone sculptures were probably set up in both public and private locations, just like the more sophisticated pieces made of several marbles. A conscious selection of models can be detected, which demonstrates the adherence to standards of Roman propaganda. It is, therefore, evident that copies of nobilia opera were preferred in public locations, while sculptures derived from Hellenistic and Asiatic models, alluding to the pleasures of life, were mostly used in private settings.

Traditional in its structure, this book is a precious inventory of ideal sculptures of the Roman Imperial period from two large areas of Southern Italy. Accurate editing of the text prevented spelling mistakes, with very few, negligible, exceptions. It is, therefore, regrettable that, in spite of its relatively high price, this book is not provided with higher quality photos, an indispensable element in a catalogue of sculptures. It is often difficult to “read” the pieces and some pictures are even blurred, something that the publisher should not have overlooked. If this book had been provided with better images, it would have deserved a place next to the great catalogues of sculptures from the most important museums and collections worldwide.


1. See also R. Belli Pasqua, Sculture di età romana in “basalto”, Xenia antiqua Monografie 2, Roma 1995, 57.

2. See L. Todisco, “Scultura ideale di età imperiale in calcare tra Daunia e Peucezia,” in: La Peucezia in età romana. Il quadro archeologico e topografico, Bari 2002, 113-116.