You are here

L’architettura greca in Occidente nel III secolo a.C.: Atti del Convegno di Studi, Pompei-Napoli 20–22 maggio 2015

April 2018 (122.2)

Book Review

L’architettura greca in Occidente nel III secolo a.C.: Atti del Convegno di Studi, Pompei-Napoli 20–22 maggio 2015

Edited by Luigi M. Caliò and Jacques des Courtils (Thiasos Monographs 8). Pp. 432. Quasar Editions, Rome 2017. €50. ISBN 978-88-7140-787-6 (paper). 

Reviewed by

This volume collects the proceedings of a conference held in Naples and Pompeii in May 2015 that focused on architecture, architectural decoration, and urbanism in the western Mediterranean in the third century B.C.E. It complements the collection of essays on Greece and the eastern Mediterranean edited by Courtils (L’architecture monumentale grecque au IIIe siècle a.C. [Bordeaux 2015]) and the proceedings of the symposium La Magna Grecia da Pirro ad Annibale: Atti del cinquantaduesimo Convegno di Studi sulla Magna Grecia (Taranto 2015).

The book includes 18 contributions by experts on Hellenistic architecture, preceded by a preface by Caliò and Courtils (9–10) and a brief introductory note by Pouzadoux (11). The real introduction to the volume, however, should be identified with the excellent essay by Lippolis (13–43), who manages to summarize in a nutshell the principal features and shortcomings of the study of third-century B.C.E. architecture across the Mediterranean. Bearing in mind the difficulties of dating the buildings of this period because of still-unresolved chronological problems with Hellenistic pottery, the paper describes the evolution of two- and three-story monumental architecture, the importance of interregional cultural exchanges that allowed reinterpretation of models, and the circulation of building materials and techniques that progressively led to more standardized construction processes.

The papers in this volume can be assigned to three thematic sections. The first groups together four papers on urban centers in Campania (45–114) and a paper by Giletti (115–31) on recent research on the acropolis of Tarentum and its evolution throughout the third century B.C.E. Osanna and Rescigno (45–65) outline the development of a common architectural language between Cuma, Neapolis, and Pompeii, while also pointing out the need for new studies and publication of comprehensive corpora, especially of the architectural decoration from these three towns. Some features of Pompeii’s urbanism—still essentially unpublished as a whole—are commented on by Pesando (67–81), who illustrates the transformation of the townscape, including public and private buildings, starting from the third century B.C.E. and with a clearly recognizable apex of building activities in the mid second century B.C.E. Finally, Sirano (83–94) draws our attention to the architectural experiences of towns in northern Campania in this period, and Greco (95–114) discusses the main features of public constructions at Elea.

The middle section of the book collects six papers on Sicily that are inspired by renewed scientific interest in this last decade toward the island’s Hellenistic and Republican periods (among the numerous recent publications, see in particular L. Campagna, “L’architettura di età ellenistica in Sicilia: Per una rilettura del quadro generale,” in M. Osanna and M. Torelli, eds., Sicilia ellenistica, consuetudo italica: Alle origini dell'architettura ellenistica d’Occidente [Rome 2006] 15–34; S. De Vincenzo, Tra Cartagine e Roma: I centri urbani dell’eparchia punica di Sicilia tra VI e I sec. a.C. [Berlin 2013]; R.J.A. Wilson, “Hellenistic Sicily, c. 270–100 BC,” in J.R.W. Prag and J.C. Quinn, eds., The Hellenistic West: Rethinking the Ancient Mediterranean [Cambridge 2013] 79–119). In the first paper of this group, Portale (133–77) stresses the importance of the building programs promoted by Hieron II in his capital, Syracuse, their supposedly direct impact on monumental complexes at Morgantina, Tauromenion, Camarina, Heloros, and Megara Hyblaea, and the architectural echoes identifiable in buildings at Iaitas, Soluntum, and Tindari.

Tréziny (179–88) offers a short but useful overview of the rural town of Megara Hyblaea, anticipating some of the contents of his soon-to-be-published book. Part of the study centers around the Hellenistic temple (probably dedicated to the joint cults of Olympian Zeus and Aphrodite), whose construction, initially placed in the fourth century B.C.E., is now more convincingly dated to the mid third century B.C.E. This hypothesis is corroborated by certain decorative analogies with the Altar of Hieron at Syracuse, which Wolf discusses in the next paper (189–203) together with two religious complexes at Tauromenion, whose remains are incorporated in the churches of San Pancrazio and Santa Caterina. In these pages, the reader finds synthetic information on sacred architecture in third-century B.C.E. Sicily—now available in more extensive form as part of a monograph by the same author (Hellenistische Heiligtümer in Sizilien [Wiesbaden 2016]), which also includes a detailed study of the Temple of Demeter at Heloros and the so-called Oratory of Phalaris at Agrigentum.

Drawing from his extensive expertise and publications, Campagna (205–21) presents a lucid synthesis of the status quaestionis of architectural decoration in third-century B.C.E. Sicily. By discussing the problems of the origins, adoption, and transmission related to the earliest examples of Italic-Corinthian and Italic-Ionic capitals, which previous publications (H. Lauter-Bufe, Die Geschichte des sikeliotisch-korinthischen Kapitells: Der sogenannte italisch-republikanische Typus [Mainz 1987]; S. Batino, Genus ionicum: Forme, storia e modelli del capitello ionico-italico [Oxford 2006]) did not satisfactorily consider, Campagna argues for a more diluted influence of Hieron’s decorative traditions on the rest of the island and for a less strict typological evolution of motifs such as the well-known Hieron kymation.

The last two papers of the Sicilian section deal with aspects of private architecture. La Torre (223–32) summarizes the results of his recent excavations at Finziade. The local fourth- and third-century B.C.E. houses maintained the design of the Late Classical period, although in the second half of the third and early second centuries B.C.E. one can identify changes to this layout, which are also paralleled by examples at Heraclea Minoa. The decoration of these houses, however, remained very modest, as opposed to the rich peristyle houses that are to be found in Sicily from the mid second century B.C.E. onward. In this regard, Aiosa (233–47) proposes a new hypothetical reconstruction of Peristyle House 1 at Iaitas (first published by K. Dalcher, Das Peristylhaus 1 von Iaitas: Architektur und Baugeschichte. Studia Ietina 6 [Zurich 1994]). On the basis of rather convincing arguments, he suggests that the Doric colonnade of the peristyle’s ground level was taller than the upper story’s Ionic columns, which might have been built above the north and east sides of the house only, instead of encircling all four sides. The remarks on the position of the staircase remain perhaps more speculative. Aiosa chooses not to engage with the much-debated chronology of this house and of the main private and public buildings at Iaitas. The most recent, strenuous defense of a late fourth-century date is by H.P. Isler (“La data di costruzione dell’agorà e di altri monumenti architettonici di Iaitas,” MÉFRA 123 [2011] 107–44); however, a more likely date in the second century B.C.E. for the local aristocratic houses is now also suggested by the new research of the Swiss team (see C. Reusser et al., “Forschungen auf dem Monte Iato 2013,” AntK 57 [2014] 92–113).

The last section of the book considers a broader Mediterranean framework. Guidone (249–64) discusses patterns of private architecture in Magna Graecia, highlighting the role of urban elites in the process of formation of a common architectural language. The next two papers deal with Latium: Jaia (265–84) analyzes sacred and other public buildings from Lavinium in the Middle Republican era, while Cifarelli (285–300) outlines historical and archaeological issues linked to the study of Signia. Public and private Etruscan architecture in the late fourth and third centuries B.C.E. is investigated by Michetti (301–22), stressing the growing influence of Rome on these urban contexts. In his substantial contribution, Caliò (323–67) thoroughly describes the layout and building techniques of fortified architecture in Epirus and its connections with Magna Graecia and Sicily. The author’s arguments further confirm the existence of interactions between these territories, as recently pointed out with regard to architecture and architectural ornament by Podini (La decorazione architettonica di età ellenistica e romana nell’Epiro del nord [Bologna 2014]). The final paper, by Mei (369–83), takes the reader to the shores of eastern North Africa through discussion of public architecture at Cyrene. It clearly emerges that the third century B.C.E. was a period of profound renewal of local architecture, as attested by the earliest use of mixed Doric and Ionic orders and the introduction of the peculiar (and very popular) Cyrenean heart-shaped angle pier and half column.

In conclusion, this volume represents a most welcome contribution to the study of Hellenistic architecture and urbanism in the third century B.C.E.—a field that, following Lippolis' observations (13–15), is still blurry because of the lack of an established tradition of studies. The book makes no attempt to provide a unanimous interpretation of these architectural and social phenomena (the different views on the impact of Hieron’s architectural and decorative traditions in Sicily are emblematic), but it does manage to put together some pieces of a much more complex puzzle. Indeed, trying to offer straightforward answers would probably be impossible, at least with the current state of knowledge, given that the third century B.C.E. was a long period of experimentation, adaptation, and interconnections between various realities all over the Mediterranean. However, this rich collection of essays and the comprehensive bibliography at the end of the book will prove a fundamental base for research in the upcoming years.

Niccolò Mugnai
British School at Rome
University of Leicester

Book Review of L’architettura greca in Occidente nel III secolo a.C.: Atti del Convegno di Studi, Pompei-Napoli 20–22 maggio 2015 , edited by Luigi M. Caliò and Jacques des Courtils 

Reviewed by Niccolò Mugnai

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 122, No. 2 (April 2018)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1222.mugnai

Add new comment

Plain text

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