BMCR 2022.01.03

L’Adriatico medio-occidentale: coste, approdi e luoghi di culto nell’antichità

, L'Adriatico medio-occidentale: coste, approdi e luoghi di culto nell'antichità. Italian research on ancient world, 5. Rome: Arbor Sapientiae editore, 2020. Pp. 403. ISBN 9788894820867. €65,00.

The book considers religious phenomena and cults of the main port sites of the pre-Roman and Roman central western Adriatic in relation to their historical, archaeological, epigraphic, and literary sources. The area under investigation corresponds to the coastal area of the regiones V and VI, the present-day region of Marche, Italy.

The scope of this volume is broad, as it attempts to illuminate the history of a region that has been neglected by contemporary scholarship due to the fragmented nature of its evidence. Through the data provided by the cultic activities of the region, the author attempts to fill in this gap via the collection, organization, and analysis of the available material. Despite the secondary role of the examined sites in relation to more international Adriatic outlets such as Adria and Spina in the Po delta, the large quantity of data collected shows the extent to which these emporia engaged in a series of relationships with neighboring areas, especially Illyricum and Greece. Capriotti’s ability to combine the systematic analysis of data with research questions that approach themes of connectivity and interregional narrative allows her to successfully assess the role of Marche within broader Mediterranean dynamics.

The book is divided into four chapters, progressing from the history of the Adriatic Sea (Chapter 1) to the history of the region under investigation (Chapter 2) and into the core of the research, consisting of a detailed dossier of the main sites and their data (Chapter 3). The final chapter focuses on the main cults emerging from the analysis of the sites and contains an overall conclusion on the religiosity of the area in comparison to the Tyrrhenian and eastern Adriatic shores.

The first chapter offers a thorough overview of the history of the Adriatic Sea in antiquity, defining it as a peripheral area of the Mediterranean due to the isolating topography of its coasts. Through literary and archaeological sources, the author reconstructs the multiple phases of settlements in the area, ranging from the commercial networks and cultural contacts happening during the late Mycenean period to the increase of movement in the Classical period. Furthermore, the author propounds the importance of an art historical approach, emphasizing strengths and weaknesses of previous scholars’ works. The chapter flows in a methodic and systematic way, offering a brief but substantial introduction to the region, its settlements, and its importance within the wider Mediterranean world.

The second chapter focuses on the region of Picenum, located in central Italy on the Adriatic coast of present-day Marche. Initially, the author reconstructs the history of the region according to its geography and topography, emphasizing the close relationship between the Picentes and the landscape. Capriotti then offers a historical overview of the region and its inhabitants from the Paleolithic until the 2nd century BCE, relying on references in Greek literature, later erudite traditions, archeological reports, and epigraphic and linguistic sources. The author promotes the history of the Picenum in the Archaic period (6th–5th BCE) as the time where numerous contacts with the Etruscans and the first Greek venturers augmented the importance of the region within broader Mediterranean dynamics.

The third chapter embodies the central thesis of the research, consisting of a dossier of eleven cultic places located in coastal areas along the Adriatic shore, from the southern limen of regio V to its northern border within regio VI: Castrum Novum, Castrum Truentinum, Cupra Maritima, Castellum Firmanorum, Cluana, Potentia, Numana, Ancona, Sena Gallica, Fanum Fortunae, and Pisaurum. The dossier is articulated in two parts: the first concerns the historical context of each site, followed by a holistic analysis of the available sources related to its cultic area. When possible, the author reconstructs the daily routine of the cultic site, connecting it to comparable sacred places in the area or to specific maritime and harbor activities. In conjunction with the analysis, Capriotti relies on literary, epigraphic, and archaeological sources with some later references coming from the erudite tradition of the Byzantine period. The catalogue stands out from previous publications on the matter.

The fourth chapter offers overall conclusions of the work with an emphasis on the main cults of the central Adriatic coast. The chapter aims to investigate the identity of the worshippers and the deities, and to propose a broader picture of religiosity within western Adriatic emporia. The main deities—and related cults—considered are Apollo, Cupra, Aphrodite, Fortuna, and Bona Dea.

Although the author faces a noticeable lack of diachronic and synchronic sources, she is able to identify a strong cultic activity that revolved around the cult of few female deities, all of whom were connected to the fertility sphere. The preference for a female religiosity finds multiple commonalities around the Mediterranean coasts, demonstrating a connection between female deities and the port/maritime environment.

The amount of data collected and the detailed dossier show that this book is the product of years of thorough research which successfully proposes an organized analysis of all the available sources from the area, many of which are usually neglected by modern scholarship. Although the evidence is sometimes inconsistent or fragmented, its collection into a single volume allows for further progress in the archaeology of the region.

The book is not only a great work on central west Adriatic history and archaeology, but an interesting reference for anyone interested in Mediterranean maritime religiosity and cults, since it provides a comprehensive catalogue of the available data in a holistic and critical perspective. One of only a few critiques is the abrupt end of the final chapter, which finishes without referencing the current state of the field and the possibility of further research. As in the introductory section where the author explores connectivity and mobility of the area within macro-Mediterranean dynamics, the conclusions should have been contextualized in a broader perspective in order to place the results within a wider Mediterranean religiosity.