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Leontinoi: Archeologia di una colonia greca

July 2011 (115.3)

Book Review

Leontinoi: Archeologia di una colonia greca

By Massimo Frasca (Archaeologica 152). Pp. xviii + 182, figs. 28, pls. 23. Giorgio Bretschneider, Rome 2009. €65. ISBN 978-88-7689-239-4 (paper).

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This book is a most welcome addition to the archaeological histories of Sicilian Greek cities. Leontinoi’s absence from these ranks has long been felt, as Pelagatti (xi–xiii) and Torelli (xv–xvii) observe in their respective forewords. Frasca, a long-time researcher involved in Leontinoi, has now admirably filled that gap, providing us with much more than a book on the ancient Greek city alone. Of the book’s six core chapters, three are devoted to the Greek city, with the remaining three chapters dealing, respectively, with modern attempts to identify ancient Leontinoi, prehistory, and the Roman and Medieval periods. The plates and figures, generally of very good quality, also illustrate this variety of subject matter.

Frasca’s introduction (1–4) and first chapter (5–20) sketch out the history of modern research. Interest began in the 16th century, when learned scholars generally repeated what little was known from the literary sources and often ascribed Norman and Swabian remains to the Greek city. Little changed in approach until the later 19th century, when Julius Schubring pioneered the first serious attempt to locate the city described in Polybius (7.6.1–6). Virtually all of the 19th-century archaeology, up to the arrival of Paolo Orsi in 1899, consisted of publishing as many of the chance discoveries brought to light via agriculture and building as possible. Orsi’s work at Leontinoi, undertaken over only two seasons (the other being in 1930), nevertheless marked a new standard in the study of its archaeology and history. He explored the native and Greek cemeteries, along with the Greek town plan and city wall. Archaeological work, along these and other lines, took off in a big way in the 1950s via the partnering of the Archaeological Superintendency based in Syracuse, the University of Catania, and local individuals and authorities. This established a unique synergy in Sicilian terms that has continued ever since.

In the second chapter (21–35), Frasca is on familiar terrain in his survey of Leontinoi before the Greeks, given his research specialities in both protohistoric and classical archaeology. He begins by giving an overview of the region’s geography in later prehistory, observing how modern agriculture has contributed to obscuring Neolithic remains (22). From the Bronze Age onward, we know something of the burial and settlement contexts of the inhabitants, including the arrival of immigrants (the so-called Ausonians) from Calabria (28, 31–2). While Frasca does not attempt to quantify the sizes of these prehistoric communities—a practice he in fact eschews throughout his book—they do seem to follow our expectations of village life in this period.

The third chapter initiates discussion of the Greek city and focuses on the years between 728 and 495 B.C.E. (37–97), from Leontinoi’s foundation by Chalcidians to the tyrant Hippocrates’ takeover. In this lengthy chapter, Frasca traces, insofar as possible, the development of the city, including the question of native—Greek relations, for which he concludes that it is hard to know whether the preceding inhabitants were incorporated into the civic body. He hypothesizes, however, that natives may have been part of the demos that the tyrant Panaetius supported in his rise to power, and that in general, Leontinoi’s population may have been mixed and (citing in particular Thucydides’ mention [5.4.4] of the district Phocaea) organized into different habitation quarters (60). The earliest Greek tombs remain unknown, though they are thought to have once lain in the valley bottom, which was heavily altered during the building of the city wall in the mid sixth century (44–5, 68–9). The agora’s location can only be postulated at the moment (58), and architecturally speaking, sanctuaries are best represented, as compared with the still fairly meager evidence for houses (71–81). Territorial expansion, including the foundation of the polis Euboea (to be identified most likely with Monte San Mauro), can be securely ascribed to the tyrant Panaetius, whereas his association with particular urban features is still unclear (40). Leontinoi’s artistic output reached its greatest efflorescence in the Archaic period, with ceramic, coroplastic, and possibly a local school of sculpture (in at least limestone) established. Several examples of fragmentary marble statuary are known, but it remains unclear whether they were locally produced. This statuary, at least, documents the ability of local citizens to make high-level commissions (95).

Chapter four (99–120) deals with the period from 495 to 403 B.C.E., in which Leontinoi lost, regained, and lost again its independence to Gela and later Syracuse. Little new building occurred at this time: reuse of the archaic city wall, sanctuaries, and cemeteries seems to have been the order of the day (106–9). Artistic production also continued as before, but its quality and extent were not comparable to previous attainments (112–15). Coinage was a new development in these years, and Frasca provides a handy overview of the various issues, which began, he stresses, during Syracusan control of the city (115–17). Naturally well studied are the Attic imports (113–14) and Athens’ political involvement with Leontinoi, as known from the written record. All in all, the impression is that outside control for a good part of this period stifled and sidelined the ambitions of Leontinoi and its citizens.

Chapter 5 (121–46) examines the period between 403 and 214 B.C.E., the period spanning the city’s takeover by, respectively, Dionysius I and Marcellus. This period is better known archaeologically than the previous one. Once again, Syracuse garrisoned Leontinoi for strategic and economic purposes; the silos that Diodorus Siculus (14.58.1) talks about would have contained regionally grown grain, for which Leontinoi had by now become famous (121). Dionysius I refortified Leontinoi; old and new houses also show evidence of occupation. The city acquired a certain level of prosperity during the fourth and third centuries, judging from the standout nature of the epitymbia tombs and the abundant Siceliot pottery (the Lentini-Manfria Group almost certainly produced here). These tombs, moreover, show a lack of respect for older burials and thus probably represent a grafting to Leontinoi’s civic body by Dionysius I (146).

The sixth chapter (147–55) contains a brief overview of Leontinoi during the Roman and Medieval periods. Leontinoi became one of the cities paying a grain tithe to Rome, a development accompanied by dispersed farmsteads on well-watered and fertile land along the main communication routes. The city declined because it sided against Octavian and because of the establishment of Roman colonies at Tauromenium, Catania, and Syracuse, which moved traffic and attention away from this interior city. Leontinoi’s river port nevertheless continued to be used and received new investment (150). Overall, while Roman Leontinoi certainly declined, archaeology has challenged the idea of total abandonment and decadence that one might deduce from the literary sources. For the Medieval period, some Muslim burials have been found in Piazza Umberto, and they probably belong to members of Frederick II’s garrison (153–54). The city’s physical appearance seems to have remained unchanged from the early modern depictions that followed (153).

A final chapter (157–63) summarizes all the main conclusions of the previous six chapters and highlights the areas in which future work could be done (also underlined at the start of the book by Pelagatti [xiii] and Frasca [3]). This book takes stock of Leontinoi’s current archaeological and historical picture by a leading researcher, who has done a great service in giving us a scholarly, thorough, and approachable synthesis. It is a book rich in detail and insights that deserves to be read and used as widely as possible in the coming years.

Franco De Angelis
Department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies
University of British Columbia
Vancouver V6T 1Z1

Book Review of Leontinoi: Archeologia di una colonia greca, by Massimo Frasca

Reviewed by Franco De Angelis

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 3 (July 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1153.DeAngelis

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