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Communicating Identity in Italic Iron Age Communities

Communicating Identity in Italic Iron Age Communities

Edited by Margarita Gleba and Helle W. Horsnæs. Pp. xiv + 232, figs. 108, color pls. 15, tables 3. David Brown Book Company, Oakville, Conn. 2011. $60. ISBN 978-1-84217-991-8 (cloth).

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This volume, the result of a conference held in Copenhagen in 2008, represents a welcome contribution to the growing body of literature related to the archaeology of identity in early Italy. Consisting of 15 papers from American and European specialists, the book presents a number of different approaches to the question of personal and community identity, embracing a chronological range somewhat greater than that suggested by the title.

The introduction, by Turfa, offers an efficient explanation of the volume’s goals, presenting the idea of identity as an expression of personal, environmental, and societal factors, some well within the control of the individual, others expressed through community and yet more defined by broader cultural norms characteristic of the indigenous populations of early Italy.

In “Communicating Identities in Funerary Iconography: The Inscribed Stele of Northern Italy,” Lomas explores the means through which Venetic indigenous identity is expressed by a distinctive adaptation and application of a number of internal and external influences. Rejecting simplistic comparison with Greek stelae, Lomas instead places these unusual sculptures within the spectrum of indigenous, Italic funerary forms from the northern Etruscan and Venetic spheres while acknowledging the prestige value of certain superficial Hellenic attributes. In this observation, Lomas strikes a chord that resonates through a number of the volume’s contributions. Regardless of the source of any number of non-native influences seen on such stelae (or throughout the material record of early Italy), the motivating factors in the adaption of such material or iconographic forms is drawn from a purely indigenous matrix of motivations. The adoption and adaptation of Etruscan or Greek influences on these stelae is driven by the concerns of the Paduan elite.

Gleba’s “The ‘Distaff Side’ of Early Iron Age Aristocracy in Italy” continues her essential work on textiles and their fundamental role in women’s social and technological identity. Gleba suggests that distaff typology might point to intermarriage between culturally and linguistically distinct groups. Nevertheless, their presence in elite women’s graves is suggestive of a pan-Italic identity constructed by women of the Orientalizing period, emphasizing the social and economic importance of textile production.

The centrality of textile production in elite life is again emphasized in Norman’s “Weaving, Gift and Wedding: A Local Identity for the Daunian Stele.” Here, Norman liberates the iconography of these enigmatic Campanian stelae from an assumption of Greek influence. Focusing on one commonly employed type of scene, the Homeric Ransom of Hector, Norman instead argues that these scenes represent matrimonial processions wherein the instruments of textile manufacture are brought to the bride’s new household, another entirely appropriate expression of womanly identity within the context of the region’s social elite.

Robinson’s contribution, “Identity in the Tomb of the Diver at Poseidonia,” considers some of the less-examined iconographic elements of this famous burial, specifically the painted representation of vessels, concluding not only that the representation on the east wall of the tomb includes not a volute krater but rather an indigenous form of kantharos krater. Based largely on this observation, Robinson argues that the individual buried within the tomb was of Italic origin, most likely from the region south of Poseidonia. With this conclusion in hand, the essay explores the nature of non-native influence, which the tomb clearly manifests, on native populations throughout the region.

“Communicating Identity in an Italic-Greek Community: The Case of L’Amastuola (Salento),” a contribution by Crielaard and Burgers, presents evidence of excavation and survey from the region slightly northwest of Taranto. This combination of methods of inquiry allows the authors to speculate on the meaning of morphological changes within the community over time, such as the shift from curvilinear to rectilinear architecture, the construction of defensive works, and the introduction of non-native ceramics. The authors conclude that sites such as L’Amastuola present an opportunity to move beyond overly simplistic descriptions of Greek vs. native encounters and imagine community scenarios based less on assumptions of adoption of new forms and more on the knowledge of and adaptation of those forms within strategies of “accommodation” and “middle ground.”

Fracchia’s “Family and Community: Self-Representation in a Lucanian Chamber Tomb” focuses on an opulent tomb from Roccagloriosa (Tomb 24) and argues that the Greek mythological iconography associated with several of the vessels recovered from the tomb, along with other items such as a codolo-style knife, was used by the deceased’s surviving family to construct a physical reflection of a priestess’ identity. It is left unclear as to why the iconography of a given decorated vessel is privileged in the construction of identity over a vessel’s functional form.

Roccagloriosa is again featured in Gualtieri’s essay, “The Inscribed Caduceus from Roccagloriosa (South Italy): Image of an Emerging ‘Policial’ Identity.” Here, Gualtieri argues that a molded bronze and iron object, previously interpreted as a spear butt, is in fact an element of a kerykeion. The object is inscribed with an ΔΗ, the standard abbreviation of ΔΗΜΟΣΙΟΝ, or “of the demos” and thus clearly an element of public property. In viewing the object as a kerykeion, Gualtieri makes the case that in external relations with neighboring states, the native inhabitants of Roccagloriosa consciously and publicly present themselves through social and material means adapted from the Greek sphere of consciousness, thus molding their native political identity to conform to the prevailing social arena in which that identity was compelled to operate.

“Hybridity and Hierarchy: Cultural Identity and Social Mobility in Archaic Sicily,” by Shepherd, turns the traditional concern with identifying Hellenic hybridity in indigenous Sicilian settlements on its head, instead seeking out material evidence of Greek colonial negotiation of that same cultural “middle ground.” Although evidence for such behavior is difficult to identify, the site of Morgantina appears to offer examples of group burials consistent with Sikel traditions, while Castiglione preserves curious evidence of an unusual grave—that of the Guerriero di Castiglione di Ragusa—quite distinct from both Greek and Sikel traditional forms. This burial and other unusual, elite burials lead Shepherd to suggest that some examples of material hybridity in elite burials may relate more directly to issues of individual social status than group or cultural identity.

Kistler’s “Wohnen in Compounds: Haus-Gesell­schaften und soziale Gruppenbildung in frühen West- und Mittelsizilien (12.–6. Jh. v. Chr.)” continues the exploration of Hellenic influence on Sikel populations. Here, Kistler sees familial or clan-based social identity reflected in communal burial as well as domestic compounds that housed extended families. As these native communities adopted Greek domestic architecture that deemphasized communal living arrangements, the identity construction reflected in burial changes as well.

Fitzjohn’s “Constructing Identity in Iron Age Sicily” also considers domestic architecture, although from the perspective of the cultural assumptions implicit in a house’s construction. Building on Kistler’s approach, Fitzjohn here argues that visible changes in house form reflect meaningful changes in technological knowledge as well as in the social and cultural structures through which that knowledge is communicated.

“Constructing Identities in Multicultural Milieux: The Formation of Orphism in the Black Sea Region and Southern Italy in the Late 6th and Early 5th Centuries BC,” by Petersen, considers the use of Orphic texts in burial to suggest that the populations of colonial settlements in Sicily and the Black Sea area exploited emerging religious ideas concerning death to consciously construct identities. The appeal of Orphism among non-Greek populations perhaps made it an effective means of expressing and navigating the ethnic complexities of colonial communities that intermingled with native populations.

Handberg and Jacobsen’s contribution, “Greek or Indigenous? From Potsherd to Identity in Early Colonial Encounters,” tackles the enigmatic use of native, handmade ceramic forms in domestic, ritual, and funerary contexts of Greek colonial settlements. Rather than attempt to interpret specific instances of this phenomenon, the authors here wisely encourage future scholars to avoid an overly aggressive application of predetermined theoretical assumptions.

“Coinages of Indigenous Communities in Archaic Southern Italy: The Mint as a Means of Promoting Identity,” by Horsnæs, considers the wide array of small, local coinages that typifies colonial southern Italy. Unlike virtually any other category of evidence, coinages explicitly represent the economic identity of a given community, and the great number of relatively limited issues reflects the means through which even small communities brand themselves within the broader economic system of their regions.

Isayev’s “Corfinium and Rome: Changing Place in the Social War” adopts a considerably more historical posture to explore the emergence of the idea of the “capitol city” following the Social War. Isayev argues that the motivations and responses to the Social War create a definition of citizen freed from specific place, an innovation central to Rome’s broader economic and political success.

Finally, Farney’s “Aspects of the Emergence of Italian Identity in the Early Roman Empire” builds on the previous essay, noting how subsequent political success was often tied to individual promotion of Italic rather than specifically Roman ancestral origins.

Overall, the quality of contributions to this volume makes it an excellent addition to the growing body of scholarship focusing on the question of ancient Italic identity and its archaeological expression. While the chronological and cultural range of the various essays contributes to a degree of repetition, several studies will be of interest to a great number of students and scholars of early Italy.

Anthony Tuck
Classics Department
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Amherst, Massachusetts 01003

Book Review of Communicating Identity in Italic Iron Age Communities, edited by Margarita Gleba and Helle W. Horsnæs

Reviewed by Anthony Tuck

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

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1171.Tuck

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