In 2006 Dieter Mertens, the best foreign connoisseur of both southern Italian and Sicilian archaeology, retired from his position as director of the German Archaeological Institute in Rome. On this occasion scholars in both fields came together for a colloquium on “Crisis and Change: South Italy in the 4th and 3rd century B.C.”
This title responds to Mertens’ own belief in a deep crisis in Magna Graecia at the end of the 5th century, which he expressed in his book that appeared in the same year.1 The colloquium was one of the first occasions in which scholars from southern Italy and the island of Sicily came together to reflect on the situation in late classical and early Hellenistic times. The result is far from clear.
On the one hand, elements of a general crisis seem to be indicated by declining indigenous settlements in the hinterland of Selinus (Andreas Thomsen, pp. 27 – 38), while others in Sicily are being abandoned (Stefano Vassallo, 55 – 78). A deep agrarian crisis seems to be reflected in early third-century poetry and the figural arts (Malcolm Bell, 193 – 206).
On the other hand, indigenous Sicilian populations rebuilt their settlements according to contemporary Greek town planning. Sometimes the natives erected new buildings of purely Greek type, such as the theater on Montagna dei Cavalli/Hippana (Stefano Vassallo, 55 – 78). The best documented site for this urbanization and monumentalization of Sicilian indigenous settlements comes from Iaitas/Monte Iato in northwest Sicily (Hans-Peter Isler, 147 – 174).
The Brettians of northern Calabria adopted Greek architectural models in the Hellenistic temple of Cirò (Pier Giovanni Guzzo, 21 – 26). In the southern Campanian hinterland of the Tyrrhenian coastline, in the 4th and 3rd centuries a new political identity developed among the local inhabitants, resulting in the introduction of new settlement patterns (Maurizio Gualtieri, 79 – 88). Inland Lucanian populations exhibit major settlement dynamics and probably social changes throughout the period in question (Massimo Osanna, 89 – 106). And even indigenous objects are present in the panhellenic sanctuary of Olympia (Alessandro Naso, 39 – 54). Only the appearance of Hannibal’s troops at the end of the 3rd century seems to lead to a profound crisis in the area (Massimo Osanna, 89 – 106). In Sicily, Punic settlement policy started a new phase (Sophie Helas, 175 – 192).
For the Greeks at Kroton (Roberto Spadea, 107 – 120) and Tarentum (Enzo Lippolis, 121 – 147) archaeological finds suggest a dynamic development throughout late classical and early Hellenistic times. Even here the war with Hannibal marked a real and deep crisis at the end of the 3rd century B.C. leading in the end to Romanization.
The discussions that took place during the colloquium have not been reproduced in the book. But Emanuele Greco’s conclusion, “la crisi non c’è stata,” has remained alive in memory. Already in 1999 the participants in the Agrigento colloquium “La Sicilia dei due Dionisi”2 were critical of the idea of a general crisis in the 4th century B.C., at least in Sicily. The recent Gela Survey came to the same result. No signs of crisis have been detected in the territory of Gela in the early 4th century.3
We have to deal with local situations differently from area to area. As for earlier periods, such as the time of arrival of Greek settlers in Magna Graecia, there can be no general judgment. In the future, studies focusing on specific regions will have to judge the matter on a case-by-case basis.4
1. D. Mertens, Città e monumenti dei Greci d´Occidente. Dalla colonizzazione alla crisi di fine V secolo a. C. ( Roma 2006) = Stadt und Bauten der Westgriechen ( Munich 2006) 420-438.
2. La Sicilia dei due Dionisi, Atti della settimana di Studio, Agrigento, 24 – 28 febbraio 1999 (Roma 2002); J. Bergemann, Der Gela-Survey. 3000 Jahre Siedlungsgeschichte in Sizilien ( Munich 2010) 146-148.
3. J. Bergemann, Der Gela-Survey ( Munich 2010) 146-148.
4. I thank Franco de Angelis (Vancouver) for correcting my English.