BMCR 2014.05.52

La necropoli occidentale di Castiglione di Ragusa (Sicilia): scavi 1969-1971. Monumenti antichi, serie miscellanea, 15; serie generale, 69

, La necropoli occidentale di Castiglione di Ragusa (Sicilia): scavi 1969-1971. Monumenti antichi, serie miscellanea, 15; serie generale, 69. Roma: Giorgio Bretschneider editore, 2012. 321; 72 p. of plates. ISBN 9788876892738. €240.00 (pb).

This excellent volume is the publication of the results of the excavations led by Paola Pelagatti in 1969-1971 for the Soprintendenza alle antichità per la Sicilia orientale in the western cemetery of Castiglione di Ragusa, in southeastern Sicily. This is an indigenous settlement in the hinterland of Camarina, which some would identify with the “Hybla Heraia” mentioned in literary sources. There is evidence for occupation at Castiglione in the Early Bronze Age. The next documented phase, and the most significant one, dates to the period between the last quarter of the seventh century and the early/first half of the fifth century BCE. Later, the site was inhabited only sporadically in the fourth-third centuries BCE and then in Late Antiquity.

After an Introduction by Michel Gras and Paola Pelagatti (5-6), Chapter 1 (15-28) consists of a general introduction to the site of Castiglione, and to the topography and chronological development of the western cemetery. As for the site, only a few remains are known of the inhabited area on top of the hill, which was originally surrounded by a system of fortifications. The current state of knowledge is synthetized by Giovanni Di Stefano at pp. 285-293 (this section would have been more properly placed at the beginning of the volume). The little we know about the Archaic phase of Castiglione is particularly interesting, in that neither the general urban plan—featuring a main, almost straight street, but not an orthogonal grid— nor the distribution of the rectangular houses—placed around a series of courtyards with silos— conforms to the model of the Greek cities on the coast, unlike the regular plans of other indigenous centers on the island, an element not missed by Di Stefano elsewhere.1 At the same time, the highest point of Castiglione is marked by a rectangular shrine partly made of ashlars and with setting lines incised on the lower course of the wall: this is the only monumental building thus far excavated at the site, and it shows clear Greek influence in its architecture. On the basis of this limited evidence, one would deduce that Castiglione was and remained for a long time a stronghold of indigenous culture, while gradually opening itself to Greek culture.

Besides the area of occupation on top of the hill, we have evidence concerning both the eastern and western cemeteries. The eastern cemetery is best known for the sculpture of a warrior carved on a lintel, accidentally discovered in 1999, and most likely funerary (this sculpture is discussed here at pp. 90-92, with excessive skepticism about its provenance2). The focus of this volume, however, is on the western cemetery, placed on the upper slopes of the hill.

More precisely, this volume consists of the publication of 122 graves excavated by Paola Pelagatti in 1969, 1970, and 1971. At the time, a total number of 253 graves (156 chamber and 97 a fossa tombs) were identified as belonging to this cemetery, of which 97 showed evidence of collapse or devastation. In 1951, 1956, and 1965, 34 more graves had been excavated, but they are not included in this volume. The period of use of this cemetery appears to correspond to that of the first occupation of the site during the historical period, from the last quarter of the seventh century (not the late eighth, it is argued in this volume, as previously thought on the basis of a higher dating of the indigenous pottery) to the first half/first quarter (the latter dating based on Attic imports alone) of the fifth century BCE.

Chapter 2 (29-34) discusses the architecture and funerary practices associated with the two different types of graves attested in this cemetery: elliptical rock-cut chamber tombs (“ a grotticella ”) and a fossa tombs. Of the 122 graves published here, 37 are chambers and 86 a fossa. As described in the first chapter, however, the majority of the documented graves in this cemetery were chamber tombs. Such graves are found along the NW, W, and SW upper slopes, and their distribution corresponds to most of the total area of the cemetery. The a fossa tombs are concentrated instead in the NW and W sectors, and are generally separated from the chamber tombs. It is important to note that, on the basis of the dating of the associated finds, the two types of burial were contemporary, and do not belong to two subsequent phases; in addition, the composition of the grave goods is basically the same, including the presence of both indigenous vases and vases of Greek production or shape. Chamber tombs were a continuation of an earlier local Bronze Age tradition, and Archaic practice saw the reuse of tombs of that period. A fossa tombs are found at indigenous sites in the Hyblaean region (Sperlinga and Paraspola), and are no longer explained as an influence from Greek colonists but rather as a local phenomenon. As usual, chambers are notable for the richness of grave offerings: G97 represents an extreme case, with a total of over 507 artifacts, of which 236 are pottery, and more than 250 are metals. On average, however, graves of this type contain about 75 artifacts. The material culture associated with chamber tombs is mainly indigenous, starting with the pottery. In addition, most of the bronze fibulas come from graves of this type. In comparison, the a fossa tombs are more modest in terms of quantity of grave offerings (although one, F69, contained at least 34 objects), and they contain a greater amount of material of Greek production or inspiration. Yet, the amphora type of the Licodia Eubea tradition is still found in these tombs. Anthropological analysis in the past has been limited, for three main reasons: the particular acidity of the limestone, which has caused most human remains in a fossa tombs to disappear; the later disturbance of inhumations in chamber tombs on the occasion of new burials; and last but not least, the absence of an anthropologist among the participants in the dig, not surprising for the time in which this cemetery was excavated. Ultimately, the human remains from only twelve graves, of which ten date to the Archaic period, have been studied. According to the author, many of the conclusions, including the possible evidence for the acephalous burial rite, are bound to remain hypotheses, considering that we are dealing with chamber tombs and subsequent depositions altering the state of previous human remains, either by clearing earlier depositions or by retaining only part of the skeleton, particularly the cranium.

Chapter 3 (35-82) analyzes the various kinds of grave offerings, primarily through typological and chronological considerations. Grave offerings are not attested for all graves (they are missing in the case of six a fossa tombs) and children burials include only one or two objects. In general, the majority of grave offerings consist of pottery. There is no evidence for metal vessels, weapons and cutting tools are rare, and jewelry is relatively modest and comes mostly from one grave, G97. The indigenous pottery (37% of the total) includes shapes and decorations characteristic of Eastern Sicily alongside shapes of Greek inspiration. The already mentioned amphora of the Licodia Eubea tradition, often combined with a bowl as the lid, represents the main form of grave offering at this cemetery, being found in most depositions. As for Greek pottery, imports consist for the most part of Corinthian vases (23%). Other wares are less represented, including East Greek (21%, including imitations), Laconian (1.5%), and Attic (4%). Western Greek productions consist in large part of East Greek imitations. The shapes most frequently attested are the exaileptron and the Ionian cup of the B2 type. It may be noted that only two Attic black-figure lekythoi are attested. There is also a significant amount of lamps, from both a fossa and chamber tombs: the author explains their larger number from chamber tombs with practical reasons.

Chapter 4 (83-88) presents the few inscriptions (a total of 25), all of which are graffiti on pottery, namely cups. Particularly notable is the presence of the word Νενδας on two Ionian cups of the B2 type from the same chamber tomb: this word is attested at a number of sites on the island and it is now generally regarded as a male Sikel personal name, rendered in Greek form, an interpretation strongly supported by the author.

Chapter 5 (89-97) discusses the western cemetery in relation to the eastern cemetery and, more generally, the site of Castiglione within the large context of southeastern Sicily, particularly in its relationship with Camarina, but also with Gela and Syracuse. Camarina has traditionally been considered the place of origin for Greek culture in Castiglione. The author, however, proposes to take Gela and Syracuse into consideration as well, in the first case because of the similarities between Greek pottery from Castiglione and pottery from the Rhodian-Cretan colony on the south coast. Yet, the pottery of Greek production from Castiglione is of the kind found at most sites on the island and the proposed argument seems inconclusive. Nonetheless, the author is quite right in expanding the field of inquiry so that it encompasses this entire sector of the island.

Finally, Chapter 6 (99-256) consists of the catalogue, which is arranged by tomb. For each grave, information is provided concerning the location and state of preservation; the topography and structure; the anthropological data; and finally the grave offerings. The finds are currently kept in the Museo Archeologico Regionale degli Iblei, at Ragusa, and in the archaeological deposits at Camarina. This publication is the result of a close collaboration between Italian and French scholars, reflected in the unusual adoption of the Italian for the catalogue and the French for the interpretive section.

This publication is clearly focused on the detailed analysis and presentation of the archaeological evidence, and as such represents a valuable contribution to scholarship on Archaic Sicily, for which we are most grateful to the author and the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. It may be noted, however, that larger interpretive issues that are now at the core of the debate in the archaeology of Greek colonization and, more generally, the humanities are somewhat left on the side, including the dynamics of cross-cultural interaction and the need for a pluralistic approach that is willing to consider the different perspectives of the various players involved in that process.3 The author has addressed some of these questions more specifically elsewhere,4 but the point of view here appears to be essentially the same, and it is Greek: focusing on which colony could have been the source of influence for Greek culture at Castiglione (a statist approach which can hardly explain much human migration in the hinterland), or by suggesting that some Greeks may have resided in a separate settlement near to Castiglione (a suggestion for which we have no evidence, and is contradicted by the provenance of the “Guerriero”).

The fact of the matter is that the eastern cemetery, dated to the first half of the sixth century, presents a larger variety of burial practices than the western one, including Greek burial forms such as a cappuccina tombs. This difference between the western and eastern cemetery, namely the presence in the latter of Greek burial forms, agrees well with the epigraphic record. From the western cemetery comes the Sikel name Νενδας, while three Greek names are featured in the dedicatory inscription of the “Guerriero,” one being most likely the patron (Sphylos), and another (Pyrinos the son of Pytikas), presumably the heroized warrior depicted. Inscriptions clearly speak to the presence of Greeks among the indigenous people of this site. One can certainly speculate about the possible provenience of these Greeks, but it is probably more interesting to consider the fact that in spite of this encounter, much of the material culture at this indigenous site maintained its local character. This is particularly the case of the western cemetery, in which the consistent use of only two types of grave, presumably both of local character, over a period of a century and a half, would seem to represent a telling case of (elite?) ethnic self-definition predicated on cultural and material difference and of indigenous persistence down to the fifth century. From this point of view, Castiglione would seem to offer yet another case of local response to Greek colonization, and of active appropriation of Greek culture involving a high degree of choice and self-determination:5 one that should definitely not go unmissed.


1. G. Di Stefano, ‘Castiglione.’ In R. Panvini and L. Sole (edd.), La Sicilia in età arcaica. Dalle apoikiai al 480 a.C. Contributi dalle recenti indagini archeologiche (Palermo 2009), 237-239, part. 237 (to be added to the literature quoted in this volume).

2. To the literature discussed in this volume one needs to add W.-D. Heilmeyer, “Der Guerriero di Castiglione: zweifach genutzt und zweifach zerstört.” RM 115 (2009), 13–20.

3. For Sicily see more recently F. Spatafora, ‘Ethnic Identity in Sicily. Greeks and Non-Greeks.’ In C. L. Lyons, M. Bennett, and C. Marconi (edd.), Sicily: Art and Invention between Greece and Rome (Malibu 2013), 37-47.

4. L. Mercuri, “Convivenze nei monti Iblei? Il caso di Castiglione di Ragusa.” Aristonothos 7 (2012), 281-299.

5. See more recently C. Antonaccio, ‘(Re)defining Ethnicity: Culture, Material Culture, and Identity.’ In S. Hales and T. Hodos (edd.), Material Culture and Social Identities in the Ancient World (Cambridge and New York 2010), 32-53.