You are here

The Archaeology of South-East Italy in the First Millennium BC: Greek and Native Societies of Apulia and Lucania Between the 10th and the 1st Century BC

The Archaeology of South-East Italy in the First Millennium BC: Greek and Native Societies of Apulia and Lucania Between the 10th and the 1st Century BC

By Douwe Yntema (Amsterdam Archaeological Studies 20). Pp. viii + 304, figs. 162, tables 5. University of Amsterdam Press, Amsterdam 2013. $99. ISBN 978-90-8964-579-1 (cloth).

Reviewed by

Recent volumes employing regional approaches to archaeological studies of southeastern Italy (including G. Volpe, La Daunia nell’età della romanizzazione: Paesaggio agrario, produzione, scambi [Bari 1990]; E. Isayev, Inside Ancient Lucania: Dialogues in History and Archaeology [London 2007]; M. Osanna, ed., Verso la città: Forme insediative in Lucania e nel mondo italico fra IV e III sec. a.C. Atti delle giornate di studio, Venosa, 13–14 maggio 2006 [Venosa 2009]; P. Attema, G.-J. Burgers, and P.M. van Leusen, Regional Pathways to Complexity: Settlement and Land-Use Dynamics in Early Italy from the Bronze Age to the Republican Period [Amsterdam 2010]) have been instrumental in providing important new archaeological data on this area for a variety of periods. They have also helped to counteract the previously dominant historical picture of southern Italy as a cultural backwater that remained devastated and impoverished after Roman conquest.

Yntema’s The Archaeology of South-East Italy in the First Millennium BC is a welcome addition, combining more theoretically oriented Anglo-Saxon-type archaeological approaches with Mediterranean idealist and humanistic traditions in research (vii). His synthesis of studies carried out by research groups from many different countries into a single, easily accessible, English-language volume presents this work to scholars and students previously unable to access the various dispersed publications about this area. The book is arranged largely chronologically, with an introduction and two brief background chapters, followed by four chapters broken into traditional periods as defined by classical archaeologists. The summaries provided at the end of most chapters are particularly helpful, giving a condensed version of what Yntema believes are the most important aspects of each period in southeast Italy.

Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the work, situating it within the existing discourse. It aims “to offer a new and coherent narrative of change of a particular region (southeast Italy) during a specific period of its history (1st millennium BC),” looking at both regional changes and subregional variability (1). Yntema defines the area of study using natural boundaries rather than modern regions.

Chapter 2 discusses Bronze Age preludes to the first millennium B.C.E. It is nice to see this earlier period included, since many books on pre-Roman Italy begin with the Iron Age. Yntema argues for considering the southeast Italian Bronze and Iron Ages as two subsequent, closely linked phases with no significant break. The Bronze Age rise of larger fortified settlements, increase in social stratification, birth of a distinct settlement hierarchy, emergence of elites, and exchange of surplus production lay the foundations for Iron Age societies.

Chapter 3 provides a brief account of the landscapes of pre-Roman societies, as well as frequently used terms for the southern Italian world. Here, Yntema discusses the Greek and indigenous dichotomy and the need to avoid seeing these groups as clearly opposed. This argument is expanded throughout the book in an attempt to remove the Graeco-centrism present in earlier studies. This chapter is particularly useful for those unfamiliar with this area, but less essential for experts.

Chapter 4, on the Iron Age, is organized by thematic segments, each focusing on an aspect of the material or historical record. The remaining chapters have similar, highly effective thematic organizations. Important changes highlighted by Yntema for this period include marked regionalization in the early eighth century B.C.E. that created indigenous “cultural groups” in particular geographic districts that persisted until the third century B.C.E.; a move toward agriculture and reclamation of formerly uninhabited areas in the Salento peninsula (and perhaps elsewhere); and the creation of the first urban centers. He argues that northern Apulia was more socially complex than previously thought, using evidence from the “Daunian” stelae. In discussing the nature of the Greek presence in the late eighth and early seventh centuries B.C.E., he prefers the term “migration” to “colonization.” He also argues that the Greek presence involved indigenous populations to a much greater degree than previously thought.

Chapter 5 investigates the Archaic–Classical periods. Yntema argues that population growth and prosperity in this period came from a better, more varied food supply that yielded surpluses. The four Greek apoikiai emerged along the Gulf of Taranto, creating new urban and rural landscapes and a clear settlement hierarchy. Indigenous settlements acquired different, more town-like appearances, suggesting continuity of tribal forms of organization. Urbanizing trends did not arrive everywhere at the same time; in northern Apulia, for example, they arrived only in the third century B.C.E. Yntema also discusses important changes in burial practices, religious architecture (in the Greek apoikiai), votive deposits, ceramic production, and trade. This chapter also deals with origo myths of both Greek and indigenous settlements.

Chapter 6 looks at the active and prosperous Early Hellenistic period, the time of the first intensive contacts between Rome and the southern Italians. Remarkable demographic growth and huge increases in the number of rural farm sites occurred. This phenomenon is well known throughout the Mediterranean (N. Terrenato, “The Essential Countryside,” in S. Alcock and R. Osborne, eds., Classical Archaeology [Malden, Mass. 2007] 142–44). Yntema sees inspiration for this settlement pattern in sixth–fifth-century B.C.E. Greek coastal ones (187), but I wonder whether the sudden appearance of these Hellenistic-period farms is not part of a greater, Mediterranean-wide process. Yntema ties the sudden appearance of new indigenous fortifications to changes in social structure and competition between settlements, rather than to defense. He also suggests that Lucanian oppida were true habitation centers. He argues that the use of the term “Lucanians” in this period perhaps stood for a new group identity of a people whose forbears had previously lived in Basilicata for many generations. Finally, he uses the substantial quantity of artifacts to overturn previous ideas about the Roman conquest’s debilitating effects and to argue for strong continuity after the conquest. He argues that various cultural groups began to blend into a cultural koine, with a “southeast Italy culture” shared by all (234). He notes that “since the material culture seems so patently Greek, the process has been (wrongly) described as ‘Hellenization’” (234). Instead, it created a “south-Italic cultural framework” for people holding “south-Italic views” (234).

Many narratives of southern Italy stop with the third-century Roman conquest, but Yntema, emphasizing the importance of the conquest’s long-term consequences, adds a much-appreciated discussion of the region under Roman dominance (ch. 7). He begins with the literary sources, dispelling “Hannibal’s legacy” (A.J. Toynbee, Hannibal’s Legacy: The Hannibalic War’s Effects on Roman Life [Oxford 1956]). He analyzes the multifaceted identities of those who belonged to local elites but had good Greek contacts and wealthy Roman patrons. He sums up the changes that occurred between the mid third and mid second century B.C.E. with four key words and a discussion of these processes: detribalization, peasantization, urbanization, and Mediterranization. He also argues that “Romanization,” if the term should be used at all in this area, “should be defined as a particular form of culture change that involved Rome” (274). Its impact on the various social groups differed enormously and took on many different forms, while also affecting Rome.

I would have welcomed a brief concluding chapter with a general summary and thoughts about future work (though the latter appear throughout). Also, recent works dealing with issues discussed in chapters 6 and 7 are absent from the bibliography: Isayev (Inside Ancient Lucania: Dialogues in History and Archaeology [London 2007]), Wallace-Hadrill (Rome’s Cultural Revolution [Cambridge 2008]), and Stek (Cult Places and Cultural Change in Republican Italy [Amsterdam 2009]). This must be the result of the long time span between the composition of the text and publication of the book, from 2006 to 2013 (viii).

Overall, the book will be valuable to both students and scholars, particularly for its English summary of the last 30 years of projects, many of which directly involve the author. It should be considered essential reading for anyone interested in southeastern Italy and the neighboring regions. The book has much to offer: it covers periods that are usually excluded from such works, combines Anglo-Saxon and Mediterranean approaches, questions longstanding views on critical issues, presents the material in a clear and approachable way, and is written by one of the leading experts on the archaeology of this area.

Elizabeth C. Robinson
University of Dallas Rome Program

Book Review of The Archaeology of South-East Italy in the First Millennium BC: Greek and Native Societies of Apulia and Lucania Between the 10th and the 1st Century BC, by Douwe Yntema

Reviewed by Elizabeth C. Robinson

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 120, No. 1 (January 2016)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1201.Robinson

Add new comment

Plain text

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