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Punic Sicily Until the Roman Conquest

Salvatore De Vincenzo

Freie Universität, Berlin

The monumentalization of the Punic settlements of Sicily in the late period of the Roman Republic has greatly affected the preceding Phoenician and Punic levels. Almost all significant indications of the Phoenician and Punic phases of the island come from Motya and Selinus, which were not built over in the Roman era. These cities show an urban organization with buildings aligned to the settlement perimeter. Regarding religious architecture, with utmost probability, as has emerged from Motya, the so-called Pfeilertempel can be considered the prototype for the Phoenician temple on Sicily. The standard temple design of Punic Sicily, as particularly shown by Selinus, can be recognized in the temple without peristasis of the oikos type, generally considered to be of Aegean origin. These temples, like other elements of the Punic settlements (such as houses, fortifications, or necropolises), evidence a significant degree of Hellenization particularly from the 4th century BC onwards, which in this phase can be considered as the result of a Mediterranean koine.

On a methodological level, studies of the Carthaginian territories and the analysis of the problems related to the Punic phase, as well as to the successive Roman phase, are generally carried out on two parallel tracks, one of which represents “Punic Archaeology,” while the other “Classical Archaeology,” with rare moments of attempted engagement. Every one of these fields of study has consequently given birth to an autonomous point of view regarding the development of the settlements in Carthaginian-controlled territories, distinguishing, as required, their Punic, Greek or Roman character, in accordance with the respective field. This tendency has been reinforced by the frequent lack of solid stratigraphic data.

This contribution tries to show the necessity of a “stratigraphic” approach to Western Sicily. For a long time, there has been a kind of interpretative fundamentalism among scholars, who are inclined to point out a settlement’s “Punic” character based on manifestations of cults, architectural complexes or urbanistic structures in an apodictic way. However, a real reconstruction of these contexts in the Punic age cannot refrain from an initial analysis of the Roman phases, and of aspects connected with the process of Romanization in Western Sicily. One of the most important of these aspects is the urbanistic development of settlements. The archaeological evidence seems to suggest a radical reorganization of the urban structures of Western Sicilian cities and a contemporary monumentalization of their public areas in the late period of the Roman Republic. Some of the centers within the western sector of the island, like Palermo, Lilybaion and Soluntum, have been assumed to follow a Punic matrix, based solely on the calculation of the units of measurement that are supposed to underlie their urbanistic system. The study of buildings in sacred areas also shows a tendency towards biased interpretations that lead to a postulation of an oriental matrix in contexts which date from Roman times and are characterized as Punic in any sense. Thus, the existence of a Punic type of breadthwise-arranged temple in Sicily, the so-called “temple with three cellae,” has long been argued. This supposed building type was discerned in Motya (“Cappiddazzu”), Selinus (Temples A and O), Monte Adranone, Monte Iato and Soluntum.

In the specific case of Western Sicily, the framework of the evidence concerning Phoenician and Punic frequentation should be significantly reconsidered in light of these analyses, thereby performing a sort of “unpunicization” with regard to many of its archaeological contexts. The interventions of Roman times have indeed greatly affected the preceding Punic levels of these settlements, permitting today only a guess as to their structures, except for Motya, which, since no consistent Roman phase exists, preserved its Punic character.

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Carthage and the Mediterranean

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