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Origin and development of Punic settlements in Sardinia until the age of Romanization

Chiara Biasetti Fantauzzi

University of Goettingen

This study presents new contributions about the Phoenician and Punic remains in Sardinia. The Phoenician and Punic phases were erased by restructuring measures in Roman times. In many cases no valuable evidence can be retrieved and documented anymore. With regard to the oldest phases of the Phoenician colonization, the most interesting data originates from Sant'Imbenia, which is located on the west coast near Alghero. Phoenician as well as indigenous materials have been found in the layers of the settlement, which argues for a hybrid culture. Hence, this settlement provides the rare opportunity of analyzing the early steps of the colonization process. The archaeological data related to the first Phoenician phase is very scarce in Sardinia and limited to a few wall remains. There is no sign of urbanism nor any evidence of sacral, public or private buildings. The most consistent data for the Phoenician period originates from the funerary contexts of the 7th cent. BC, mainly from Monte Sirai.

With regard to the Punic phase of Sardinia, many hypotheses regarding the Punic contexts should be reconsidered. Contrary to earlier views, the transition from the Phoenician to the Punic phase was not brought about by force. No clear breaks between the Phoenician and Carthaginian phase, which is dated by literary evidence from the late 6th century BC onwards, are visible within the surveyed settlements. Taking the data from the necropolises into consideration, particularly the newest insights from Monte Sirai, it is evident that there is indeed continuity and the burial custom of inhumation, which is seen as Carthaginian, can be traced back to the early 6th cent. BC, while the Levantine custom of incomplete cremation was still in use in the 5th cent. BC. In the course of the 5th cent. BC the ritual of inhumation in chamber tombs became predominant and remained stable in the 5th and 4th cent. BC, in which inhumation was the most common burial form. The late Punic phase, which is dated to the 4th and 3rd cent. BC, is much better understood and indicated a deeply rooted presence of the Carthaginians in the settlements as well as in the surrounding territories. The stratigraphically dated fortifications, for example from Tharros, date from this period.

A key aspect of this study is the urban organization of Phoenician and Punic cities in Sardinia, which is subject to vivid discussions in the relevant literature as well. One of the most important settlements for analyzing Punic urbanism in Sardinia is Monte Sirai. The town planning shows private buildings aligned alongside the circulating, elongated fortification wall. They are also connected to the center by roads, where two long blocks of houses can be reconstructed. This urban organization is dated to the middle of the 3rd cent. BC and wipes out the preceding Phoenician town plan. Contrary to common hypotheses, the completely irregular town plan of Monte Sirai, which is the only settlement where a pre-Roman urban organization can be indubitably determined, gives us reason to believe that the Punic settlements of Sardinia did not have orthogonal town plans. This becomes increasingly clear if comparisons to Mozia in Sicily or North African cities are considered. The case of Monte Sirai could be characteristic for Punic urbanism in Sardinia.

The few reconstructable temples, as well as the domestic architecture, show very homogeneous evidence, comparable to similar contexts in Carthage. Domestic building activity can be compared to well-documented, similar structures from the Punic Mediterranean, for example from Selinunte in Sicily. This is also the case for the tophet, which provides us with a clear link to North African cities in Punic times. 

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Carthage and the Mediterranean

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