BMCR 2020.08.15

Una forma fenicia de ser romano: identidad e integración de las comunidades fenicias de la Península Ibérica bajo poder de Roma

, Una forma fenicia de ser romano: identidad e integración de las comunidades fenicias de la Península Ibérica bajo poder de Roma. SPAL Monografías Arqueología, XXIX. Sevilla: Universidad de Sevilla, 2019. 424 p.. ISBN9788447228645 €21,00 (pb).

Publisher’s Preview

Scholarship on the Phoenician and Punic world has begun to enjoy a moment in the spotlight in classical studies. Among recent highlights are Josephine Crawley Quinn’s brilliant book, In Search of the Phoenicians, which was awarded a Goodwin Award by the Society for Classical Studies in 2019.[1] Carolina López-Ruiz and Brian Doak co-edited The Oxford Handbook of the Phoenician and Punic Mediterranean (2019), a monumental work that brings together detailed presentations of regional histories, language, material culture, and reception of Phoenician culture.[2] And an edited volume about identity and identity formation in the Punic world was recently published (2014), another undertaking of Quinn together with Nicholas Vella.[3] Underlying these synthetic books and edited volumes is the proliferation of new discoveries and research on the Phoenician and Punic Mediterranean in various national, regional, and local contexts.

The Iberian Peninsula is one place where research has made impressive progress, spurred both by new archaeological evidence and by the reassessment of old research paradigms. Francisco Machuca Prieto’s book, Una forma fenicia de ser romano: identidad e integración de las comunidades fenicias de la Peninsula Ibérica bajo poder de Roma, is an important monograph in this new tradition. A revision of the author’s dissertation at the University of Málaga, it is a comprehensive view of the gradual integration of Phoenician communities across southern Iberia into the Roman order. The temporal focus ranges from the end of the Second Punic War until the Flavian period, although the author necessarily makes frequent reference to earlier evidence for Phoenician settlements in Iberia from at least the mid-9th century BCE. As the title suggests, Machuca Prieto’s book explores the ways that communities of Phoenician descent maintained their own cultural traditions and redeployed them to strengthen their collective identities following the Roman conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. The book draws from archaeological, numismatic, epigraphic, and literary sources in equal parts—and with equal fluency—integrating this evidence into a dynamic, theoretically informed, and historiographically grounded study.

In the introduction, Machuca Prieto outlines his argument that Phoenician communities found legitimacy and prestige by looking towards the past as they were integrated into the Roman world, centering their civic identities around shared cultural and religious practices with Phoenician origins—both real and imagined. Further, he views the perpetuation of identities not as hostile or active resistance as it often is in Romanization narratives, but as an acceptable way to maintain local distinctiveness while integrating into the global Roman world. One key point, which is not just a semantic argument, is the decision to use the term “Phoenician” rather than “Punic” throughout the book. “Punic” has become a standard way to refer to the Phoenician communities of the western Mediterranean after the fall of Tyre in 573 BCE. Machuca Prieto argues convincingly that the change in terminology for this later period assumes a rupture, obscuring real demographic and cultural continuities in Phoenician communities of southern Spain. With these core points outlined, the book proceeds in six chapters.

Chapter 1 presents the theoretical framing of the book, focusing on identity, ethnicity, and colonial encounters in the ancient world. Machuca Prieto explains that identity is formed through continual processes of negotiation, construction, and deconstruction that take place during everyday interactions. Ethnic identities can be imposed by colonizers as well as taken on deliberately by local people as a way of setting themselves apart—a strategic ethnogenesis. Finally, he traces the uses of “Romanization” and postcolonial theory in the Mediterranean. A central point is that scholarship on the “Romanization” of Iberia has neglected the Phoenicians in favor of a binary (Roman vs. indigenous) narrative, and that postcolonial approaches advocated in this book better account for local diversity and agency. This chapter is an intellectual tour de force, informed by nuanced readings of a wide range of social theorists and providing an expansive literature review on identity and colonial encounters in classics and Mediterranean archaeology.

The second chapter provides background on Phoenician identity in Iberia and a historiographic overview of Phoenician archaeology and history in Spain. Machuca Prieto traces the evolution of Greek and Roman terminology for the Phoenicians and the diverse ethnic groups across southern Iberia. He argues that ethnonyms—such as Turdetani or Bastetani—found in Greco-Roman texts encompassed multiple ethnicities, including people of Phoenician or Carthaginian descent and varied indigenous groups. “Phoenician” was not used as an ethnic term before the 1st c. BCE, which illustrates the strengthening of Phoenician identity under Roman rule. Machuca Prieto argues that this was not a singular ethnic identity shared across southern Iberia by groups of Phoenician origin. Rather, it was a heterogeneous one that emerged most strongly at the civic level, despite some common elements across the region tied to Phoenician language, religion, and other cultural practices. The remainder of the book is dedicated to exploring manifestations of this self-conscious Phoenician civic identity under Roman rule.

The next chapters proceed chronologically, focusing on the emergence of Phoenician identities in the 3rd century BCE (Chapter 3) and their consolidation in the late republic and early imperial period (Chapter 4). One longstanding debate concerns the nature of Carthaginian intervention in Iberia as the North African city gained power and before the Barcids established themselves in southeast Spain in 237 BCE. Machuca Prieto argues against territorial imperialism and in favor of the view that Carthage played an increasingly hegemonic role in maritime trade. This placed many Phoenician cities, especially Gadir, in subordinate economic roles, fomenting tensions. He suggests that Phoenician civic identities first emerged as a result of this situation, as communities pointed to their origins as a way to assert independence and emphasize their deep past. The author briefly describes changes under Barcid rule, when the powerful Carthaginian family took control of key economic and military areas and founded new cities. He argues that, once the Second Punic War began, the emerging civic identities influenced which cities remained loyal to Carthage and which allied with Rome, as Gadir did in 206 BCE.

This same strong civic independence also meant that there was no unified system of Roman treatment of these cities as they were integrated into the empire. Chapter 4 takes up this topic, providing a detailed history of the incorporation of the Phoenician cities into the Roman administrative and economic system. Initially, many cities near the Mediterranean coast (e.g., Carteia, Malaka, Seks, Abdera, Baria) became civitates stipendariae, while Gadir became a civitas foederata and enjoyed certain privileges because it had sided with Rome. The second phase lasted from Caesar until Vespasian, ending when Latin rights were granted universally in Hispania around 74 CE. Many of the cities that supported Caesar (Gades, Seks, Asido) in the Civil War were granted municipal status as a reward, while those that sided with Pompey were refounded as Roman colonies. Under Augustus’ provincial reorganization, the Conventus Gaditanus was formed, which encircled the former territories of the Phoenician communities along the Mediterranean coast—perhaps a nod to perceived ethnic cohesion. Across this chapter, a main point is that the efforts of local elite families with Phoenician roots were crucial to successful political integration.

The original arguments of the book emerge strongly in Chapter 5, which discusses the varied arenas in which Phoenician continuity is detectable: coinage, economy, funerary practices, sanctuaries, and origin stories preserved in Greco-Roman literature. Aside from collating new evidence, this chapter makes a convincing case that communities across southern Iberia deployed their Phoenician identities through various cultural and economic practices as a deliberate strategy of local integration and self-differentiation. A strength of the chapter is the numismatics section, which details the continuity of neo-Punic script and Phoenician iconography on local coinage minted in coastal and inland cities into the early imperial period. The coins suggest that Phoenician was read and spoken through the region in everyday contexts, even as Latin became the administrative language. The continuity of Phoenician religious elements is another principal theme. Some civic sanctuaries continued to be used, most notably the Temple to Melqart-Hercules at Gades. Also at Gades, funerary rituals included the use of incense burners associated with the Phoenician deity Tanit and the deposition of coins bearing the image of Melqart-Hercules. The foundation myth of Gades tied to Melqart-Hercules was also perpetuated across the region. On the economy, Machuca Prieto argues that many of the prosperous activities associated with Roman Baetica, including fish salting, mining, and agriculture, were already expanding prior to Roman conquest because of Phoenician influence and continued to be driven by Phoenician communities.

Chapter 6 is a succinct conclusion that reaffirms the main contention of the book concerning Phoenician ethnogenesis, the emergence of a self-conscious Phoenician identity under Roman rule: this was a strategy of integration driven by elites and especially identifiable at the civic level, a “Phoenician way of being Roman” that helped contribute to the diversity of the Roman world.

Among the most impressive aspects of this book is its comprehensive bibliography. Machuca Prieto cites all sides to debates, traces the evolution of thinking among prominent scholars, and provides plentiful references on the data and theoretical traditions that he builds upon. While the citation style can be attributed to the origins of this book as a dissertation, the literature review is a helpful tool for research and rarely detracts from the central narrative. Machuca Prieto does a particularly careful job of engaging with José Luis López Castro’s substantial corpus of work, the leading scholar on the Phoenicians under Roman rule in Spain. His influential book, Hispania poena, was the last major scholarly monograph on this topic.[4] Published in 1995, the book has a strong Marxist commitment, a reflection of Spanish scholarship of the era. Many of its core arguments center on the transition of economic organization to a slave mode of production under the Romans and the success of Phoenician elites in integrating themselves into this system. Machuca Prieto’s book won’t render this previous monograph obsolete, but the two should be read in concert. The author meticulously points to new material evidence and reassessments of literature. Importantly, he brings this corpus of data on Phoenician Iberia into conversation with more current theoretical debates on agency, practice, and the construction of identity.

For a book so rich in descriptive archaeological and numismatic detail, a more robust image program would have been welcome. Images are sparse in number and those that are included, especially the coins, are so small that iconographic details and legends are not easily legible. This is unfortunate given that these aspects play a central role in some arguments. Likewise, descriptions of archaeological contexts often lack plans or photographs that would have been helpful. But taken as a whole, the book is an important new addition to the growing collection of Phoenician research in Spain by a new generation of scholars. It is an impressive first monograph for its fluency in a wide range of sources and its attentiveness to social theory. Because it is a detailed, Spanish-language text, this work will be of most interest to specialists. However, the core argument—that we should account for the Phoenician past more in our narrative of the Romans in Spain—can be a lesson for all Roman historians and archaeologists.[5]


[1] Quinn, Josephine Crawley. 2018. In Search of the Phoenicians. Princeton and Oxford:Princeton University Press.

[2] López-Ruiz, Carolina, and Brian R. Doak, eds. 2019. The Oxford Handbook of the Phoenician and Punic Mediterranean. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[3] Quinn, Josephine Crawley, and Nicholas C. Vella, eds. 2014. The Punic Mediterranean: Identities and Identification from Phoenician Settlement to Roman Rule. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[4] López Castro, José Luis. 1995. Hispania poena: Los fenicios en la Hispania romana (206 a.C. – 96 d.C.). Barcelona: Crítica.

[5] This argument is also well articulated in a new edited volume on Roman Turdetania to which Machuca Prieto contributed, a book that provides a better entry into the discussion: Cruz Andreotti, Gonzalo, ed. 2019. Roman Turdetania: Romanization, Identity and Socio-Cultural Interaction in the South of the Iberian Peninsula between the 4th and 1st Centuries BCE. Leiden: Brill.