You are here

Local Cultures of South Italy and Sicily in the Late Republican Period: Between Hellenism and Rome

Local Cultures of South Italy and Sicily in the Late Republican Period: Between Hellenism and Rome

Edited by Fabio Colivicchi (JRA Suppl. 83). Pp. 224, figs. 111. Journal of Roman Archaeology, Portsmouth, R.I. 2011. $99. ISBN 978-1-887829-83-0 (cloth).

Reviewed by

The subject of Romanization in South Italy and the legacy of the Hannibalic War in that area continue to fascinate scholars more than four decades after Toynbee published his masterwork on the subject (Hannibal’s Legacy [London and New York 1965]). Toynbee’s dramatic theses regarding the “desertification” of the previously flourishing Magna Graecia and Italic territories following the social and economic disruption caused by the reckless conquest of the Roman army have been methodically challenged and revised by historians and archaeologists on the basis of better chronologies and new data emerging from recent fieldwork. This is the leitmotif of the book edited by Colivicchi, which has the important distinction of making easily accessible to English-speaking readers, for the first time, the most recent results of archaeological research carried out in recent years throughout South Italy. As the editor makes clear, the book stems from a session of the Roman Archaeology Conference held in 2009 at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and includes the papers that were presented at that venue. Therefore, it is conceived as a selection of case studies, rather than as a homogeneous analysis of a single research theme. The historic period is well defined (from the fourth century B.C.E. until the first century C.E.), as well as the geographical settings (South Italy and Sicily), and the main focus is on the Italic ethne more than on Greek colonies. Central and south Apulia are not treated, nor are Campania and most of Samnium, while special emphasis is given to ancient Lucania, northern Apulia, Bruttium, and Sicily. The book closes with a final synthesis written by Torelli, who summarizes the papers and draws conclusions relating to the current state of the research.

The first four chapters offer an in-depth analysis of the Lucanian area under different perspectives. Fracchia and Gualtieri’s contribution reports the final results of a series of systematic surface surveys conducted between 1980 and 1990 on the Tyrrhenian side of ancient Lucania, between the Mingardo and Bussento Rivers, and in the upper Bradano area in northern Apulia. Therefore, this first paper is mostly focused on the rural settlement patterns of the ancient Italic populations living in these areas and the manner in which the indigenous farm network was affected by the arrival of Roman colonists. De Cazanove presents the results of his studies on the evolution of the Lucanian sanctuaries (particularly the second-century B.C.E. temple of Civita di Tricarico) and how they dealt with the new social challenges posed by the Romans. In the next contribution, Di Lieto offers a general review of the settlement patterns in the north Lucanian area from the Archaic to the Late Republican periods and discusses how the territorial organization changed following the Roman conquest. In the final article, which concludes the first part of the book, Di Giuseppe provides an accurate analysis of black-glazed ware between the fourth and first centuries B.C.E. in Lucania, using it as a main indicator of social and economic changes. It is evident from these contributions how the process of “Romanization” in ancient Lucania was far from being a uniform process of assimilation to new political and social models; while the use of black-glazed ware falls into disuse in the third century B.C.E. in the indigenous settlements, and the density of ancient Lucanian sanctuaries decreases dramatically, it would appear that rural settlements seem to undergo a gradual process of transformation.

Caliò, Lepone, and Lippolis discuss north Apulia and offer a detailed analysis of the changes that occurred thorough time to the urban planning of Larinum and its forum. They describe a significant change that took place in the third century B.C.E., when earlier settlement was radically modified following a regular master plan. They also analyze the new monumental projects that began in the post-Hannibalic age, testifying to the new alliance between the local ruling class and the center of power in Rome. A similar picture is drawn by Colivicchi’s review of the funerary contexts in Daunia, which show how local elites were thriving in the third century B.C.E. and minimal changes occurred in the following century, even if the funerary practices testify to an increasing erosion of local traditions and reflect those of the rest of Roman Italy. Only after the Social War did the traditional social systems seem to have undergone profound changes.

La Torre’s contribution is the only synthesis focused on the study of Bruttium, the region of ancient Italy that probably suffered the direst consequences during the Pyrrhic and Hannibalic Wars. The author provides a well-documented and exhaustive review of the current state of research and includes numerous samples taken from the most important urban centers along the Ionian and Tyrrhenian coastlines. His analysis confirms the ruralization of the region following the Roman conquest, when a restricted aristocracy assumed control of the most fertile lands and a large portion of ager publicus. The few exceptions seem to be represented by the cities of Rhegium, Thurii, Vibo, and the little Petelia. Relating to Croton, however, the author’s standpoint that the Lacinium promontory could have been used as a major port for ships bound for Greece, is questionable. It is indeed more likely that the larger and better-suited harbor of the Greek colony never ceased being used for this purpose, while Capo Colonna remained an important landmark, but a minor landing, along the route.

The two final articles dealing with Sicily show that, thanks to the new data emerging from recent excavations, the island was not in decline after becoming a Roman province, but was able to make the most of its cultural connections with the rest of the Hellenic world and of its favorable geographic position along the route leading to Rome. Campagna’s contribution deals with the former Punic territories of the island, particularly the sites of Soluntum and Segesta. His analysis shows how, under Roman control, the local elites began renovating their cities with ambitious building programs based on Hellenistic style to underscore their wealth and power within their community. Malfitana confirms, in his review of ceramic production in Hellenistic and Roman Sicily, that the society producing it was not as economically depressed as previously thought, and that ca. 200 B.C.E., there was a “revolution” in ceramics, which became increasingly standardized and mass-produced in order to be sold not only locally, but on a much broader, Mediterranean scale, as the distribution of “Campana C” pottery in North Africa bears witness. More than “Romanization” on the island, the author affirms, it would be precise to speak of “integration” with the rest of the Roman world.

Torelli’s conclusions, far from being a simple synthesis and fine-tuning of what other authors have written, provides great insight, reflection, and evidence regarding the formation of the original Italic populations and the transformation of the Italic societies, which was dramatically accelerated by the appearance of Rome into the global picture.

As is customary for JRA publications, the book is well illustrated, with numerous site maps, illustrations of the most diagnostic artifacts, and accurate maps of the regions and areas treated. The volume is, and will unquestionably remain, a must-read for scholars interested in the development of the Italic populations in some of the most troubled—and engrossing—centuries of their history.

Dante G. Bartoli
Promare, Inc.
20129 Milan

Book Review of Local Cultures of South Italy and Sicily in the Late Republican Period: Between Hellenism and Rome, edited by Fabio Colivicchi

Reviewed by Dante G. Bartoli

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 117, No. 1 (January 2013)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1171.Bartoli

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.