BMCR 2015.09.43

Morgantina Studies, Volume VI: The Hellenistic and Roman Fine Pottery

, Morgantina Studies, Volume VI: The Hellenistic and Roman Fine Pottery. Princeton, NJ: Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University in association with Princeton University Press, 2014. xxxvi, 485; 143 p. of plates. ISBN 9780691156729. $175.00.


This monograph is the latest in the Morgantina Studies series, dedicated to the results of the American excavations at Morgantina, in southeastern central Sicily, which began in 1955. It is the first of two intended volumes on the site’s ceramics (the second will treat plain pottery, cooking wares, and lamps). Although the work is highly specialized, examining one category of pottery from a single site in Sicily, its tremendous contribution to the study of Hellenistic and Roman-era ceramic production and distribution in Sicily make it a valuable resource for archaeologists and historians of the central Mediterranean. It builds upon an earlier volume of Morgantina Studies devoted to the site’s kilns,1 as well as Stone’s many years of study of the site’s ceramics,2 taking into account the many advances made in the broader field of Sicilian ceramic studies over the last few decades.

Stone begins Chapter One (pp. 6-27) with clear and concise overviews of Morgantina’s history and archaeology—drawn from decades of preliminary excavation reports, monographs, and articles—that will be welcome to readers unfamiliar with the site (I know of no other more thorough or up-to-date introduction to Morgantina). This “historical sketch” of the city from ca. 340 BCE to its abandonment ca. 50 CE provides justification for the periodization Stone employs throughout the volume, with transitional points in the site’s ceramic history marked by two major destruction events. First, the Roman sack of 211 BCE and its aftermath (continuing into the early second century, when an earthquake appears to have caused additional damage to the city) marked the end of the “Hellenistic” phase of settlement (Period I) and ushered in the “Republican” phase (Period II). Second, fires destroyed many of the city’s remaining buildings in the third quarter of the first century BCE, resulting in a temporary abandonment and a poorly-documented rebuilding that inaugurated the last, smaller “Imperial” phase of settlement (Period III). Here, and elsewhere, 3 Stone dates this second destructive episode to ca. 35 BCE and hypothesizes a link to the Roman civil war and its aftermath in Sicily.

Chapter One continues with descriptions, by period, of the contexts and deposits from which finewares were excavated. Stone details the circumstances of accumulation of these fills and the ceramic and numismatic evidence used to date them, taking a generally cautious approach to chronology. He also provides references to the first publication of each fill and to the catalogue numbers of its finewares (cf. Chapter Seven) and of the coins, previously published in Morgantina Studies II.4 The descriptions of the fills are helpfully accompanied by plans (Figure 1, p. 30 and Plate 143) showing their locations, as well as summary tables for each period. The first chapter concludes with descriptions of the three major fabric types that Stone has distinguished among the excavated pottery by means of macroscopic observation; the limited geochemical analysis reported in Appendix Two appears to support this classification.

The next three chapters present the classes of fineware found at Morgantina in roughly chronological order, offering introductory overviews of the chronology and character of each ware, its history of study, and extensive bibliography—all of which will be especially helpful to the non-specialist. Chapter Two treats pottery of the fourth and third centuries BCE. The vessels found in late third-century deposits provide a number of insights into ceramic manufacture at Morgantina (the products of which are identified with Stone’s Fabric I), and into the distribution and use of these items. For example, the large number of locally-produced and imported lids found in Deposit IB, which was sealed by the collapse of the roof of the Agora’s South Shops ca. 211 BCE, indicates that they were for sale in the shops around that time, perhaps to be used in the nearby Central Sanctuary as coverings for dedications involving foodstuffs (p. 123). Chapter Two concludes with an analysis of “East Sicilian Polychrome Wares” (a.k.a. “Centuripe ware”). Stone notes Morgantina’s importance for the chronology of this rare and unique vessel class, since it is the only site where a significant number of vessels have been scientifically excavated from dated fills (pp. 132-136).

Chapter Three presents the finewares of the Republican period (after 211 to ca. 35-25 BCE), again in roughly chronological order. In Morgantina, as elsewhere in eastern Sicily, Campana C is the dominant black-gloss fineware of this era, and Stone’s account sheds new light on the circumstances of its introduction to Morgantina and its production there. The chapter also describes the site’s other black-gloss finewares and “Republican red-gloss wares” (a.k.a. “presigillata”)—both local products and imports—as well as the Eastern Sigillata A that was brought to the site. It concludes with an overview of the decoration on tablewares of the Republican period.

Chapter Four is devoted to the imported terra sigillata characteristic of Morgantina’s final period of settlement, after on-site ceramic production had apparently ceased. Stone’s introductory overview (pp. 207-208) highlights the difficulties of studying this period of Morgantina’s history—namely, the dependence on chronologically mixed, unclosed fills, as well as extensive gaps in our knowledge of the ceramics circulating in early imperial Sicily (especially products other than Italian terra sigillata). The chapter presents the Italian terra sigillata shapes and stamps found at Morgantina, as well as the site’s few, still-obscure imitation wares (mostly from Campania), one of which has a rare, intriguing Latin graffito on its undersurface (p. 228, cat. no. 517).

Breaking the chronological pattern, Chapter Five encompasses pottery with moldmade decoration ranging over the entire period of study (i.e. the late fourth century BCE to the first half of the first century CE). Here Stone is careful to note that, unlike the plain gloss wares, “virtually all” of the moldmade pottery found at Morgantina has been included in the catalogue, and that this should not obscure these wares’ relative rarity and status as luxury items (p. 229). The chapter leads with the site’s medallion wares—the most common class of vessel bearing relief ornamentation at Morgantina—followed by wares found in smaller quantities, including “Megarian bowls,” early Italian terra sigillata, and green-glazed wares.

Chapter Six offers relatively short analyses of the fabric, chronology, and shape typology of the thin-walled pottery found at Morgantina, most of which is tentatively dated to the late Republican era, before the destruction of the third quarter of the first century BCE. The catalogue occupies Chapter Seven, organized in the same order as the previous five chapters.

Four appendices follow: the first details the ceramic evidence for pottery production at Morgantina in the period of study and before (possibly going as far back as the sixth century BCE), summarizing and expanding upon the evidence of the kilns presented in Morgantina Studies III. Appendix Two is a report on the geochemical analysis of ceramics from the site by M. Johnson and M. Morgenstein, who confirm the broad validity of Stone’s fabric typology but acknowledge that more work is needed to refine the provenance analysis. Appendix Four is an overview of the history and contents of the Morgantina silver hoard, summarizing P. G. Guzzo’s definitive publication.5 The vessels in this hoard, deposited around the time of the sack of 211 BC, provide valuable insight into the types of metal vases available in third-century Sicily, as well as their potential influence on the form and decoration of ceramic finewares. The volume also includes concordances of the catalogued finewares with shapes found in Liparian tombs (Appendix Three), and with Morgantina inventory numbers.

Apart from its value as a record of the finewares excavated at Morgantina, this study contains much to interest scholars of the history and archaeology of Sicily and the central Mediterranean: for example, the insights it provides into ceramic production and distribution in Hellenistic and Roman Sicily. Stone’s analysis points to the significant length and scale of ceramic production at Morgantina—particularly of Campana C, but also of moldmade wares, thin-walled pottery, and possibly other types as well. It emerges that Morgantina’s potters were not at the vanguard of fineware production, but were greatly influenced by developments in the North (e.g. along the northern coast of Sicily and on the Italian mainland) and East (Syracuse and workshops on the eastern coast), and were attuned to changing tastes in vessel shapes, colors, and textures. Stone’s presentation of medallion wares in Chapter Five, for example, highlights Morgantina’s material-cultural (and broader cultural and religious) contacts with Syracuse and the wider Mediterranean world.6

The volume also provides insight into the effects of destructive events on the viability of an urban settlement. Morgantina’s pottery presents a vivid—and complex—picture of the cleanup and recovery efforts that followed the Roman sack of 211 BCE, and, later, the disruption(s) of the third quarter of the first century BCE. In both cases—but particularly with the latter destruction —it is difficult to tease out the relationships between single “catastrophes” and Morgantina’s material culture and occupation history. However, as Stone makes clear, these destructions (and the closed fills resulting from them, or from subsequent cleanup efforts)—even if only broadly datable—are a boon to the study of Hellenistic and Roman Republican-era pottery production in Sicily, since the excavations have unearthed the largest dated collection of several classes of regional finewares.

Stone bemoans the lack of closed deposits from the final period of habitation at Morgantina (ca. 10 BCE-40/50 CE), which would allow for a more refined chronology of early imperial pottery in Sicily. Yet the pottery from this period reflects a slow and apparently peaceful process of abandonment in the first half of the first century CE—as Stone notes, the relative scarcity of finewares may be the result of the last inhabitants taking most of their possessions with them upon their departure (p. 61). Since the study of urban abandonment processes in the ancient Mediterranean world largely focuses on sudden, violent destruction (e.g. Pompeii and Herculaneum) or on later periods (e.g. the “end” of the classical city in late antiquity), Morgantina and its material-cultural assemblage could be a valuable case study of the diverse, complex, long- and short-term causes of urban abandonment in the early imperial period.

The volume’s presentation as a whole is clear and effective, with drawings and photos of catalogued vessels, as well as numerous site plans, charts, and tables, and extensive indices and concordances. Naturally in a work of this size and complexity, there are a few errors and omissions, but nothing that significantly detracts from the high overall quality of production.7


1. N. Cuomo di Caprio, Morgantina Studies III, Fornaci e officine da vasaio tardo-ellenistiche (Princeton, 1992).

2. S.C. Stone, “Presigillata from Morgantina,” AJA 91 (1987), 85-103; and “Sextus Pompeius, Octavianus, and Sicily,” in Sextus Pompeius, ed. A. Powell and K. Welch (Swansea and London, 2002), 135-165.

3. Stone 2002 (see note 2 above).

4. T.V. Buttrey et al., Morgantina Studies II, The Coins (Princeton, 1990).

5. English edition: “A Group of Hellenistic Silver Objects in the Metropolitan Museum,” Metropolitan Museum Journal 88 (2003), 45-94.

6. E.g. Stone’s medallion types 1 and 2 (pp. 246-253), produced in Syracuse and other eastern Sicilian centers (including Morgantina itself), depict Sarapis and Isis in a number of sizes and formats, reflecting the spread of this cult in eastern Sicily during the reign of Hieron II.

7. The few instances that could cause confusion include the omission of the location of Deposit IIA from Figure 1 (p. 30), and an erroneous reference to Chart 2 on p. 72.