You are here

Multiculturalism and Multilingualism in Written Practice: Western Sicily

Thea Sommerschield

University of Oxford

This paper situates itself within a broader investigation into patterns of practice in late Archaic-early Classical Western Sicily. Its purpose is to examine commonalities or lack of uniformity in material culture, from the perspective of the cultural identities coexisting within the fluid, ethnically and retrospectively categorized Western Sicilian milieu. The dataset this paper sets out to observe is epigraphic practice as evidence for multicultural and multilingual interaction. Cursing on lead (defixio writing) is set up as the springboard for a reflection upon other manifestations of written culture attested in Western Sicily (and beyond), and more specifically an analysis of the evidence for multicultural and multilingual interaction visible in the epigraphic record.

The plotting of the data in the ISicDef database of all published Sicilian curses, mapped across the island between 550 BCE and 200 CE, reveals a fragmented panorama of curse distribution within well-defined time periods of individual curse writing centers, due to both historical reasons and accidents of survival (Sommerschield forthcoming). One of the most noteworthy patterns to emerge from the mapping of this evidence is the greater diffusion of defixiones in Selinunte and Himera, rather than in Eastern Sicily. This state of the evidence allows to question the evidence for written culture in Western Sicily, drawing from an epigraphic record by no means limited to this specific region, nor exclusively to the island of Sicily as a whole.

I survey the reasons underlying the regionalization of the defixio evidence and, by observing the wider Sicilian epigraphic practice, I investigate whether defixiones share patterns and developments with other epigraphic subsets attested on the island. Surveys of the evidence for epigraphy on stone in Greek and Phoenician language (Amadasi 1986, Prag 2002) and pot graffiti in Elymian (Agostiniani 1977) are tested for overlaps with the defixio evidence. The uniqueness of Selinunte and Himera when compared to the rest of the island is also observed, and their evidence is set up against the quantity, quality and significance of the written practice of other Sicilian settlements. Indeed, the inscription process on metal is identified as particularly important, as is demonstrated through the comparative analysis of the tesserae publicae of Camarina (Cordano 1992), the Entella decrees (Ampolo and Parra 2001), the Ephesia Grammata at Himera (Jordan 2000), and the real-estate contracts from Camarina and Morgantina (Souza 2016). Finally, the shifts in contents, linguistic peculiarities and the historical milieu identified in Oscan curse tablets (McDonald 2015) is also indicated as a fruitful perspective for examining the issue of multilingualism and multiculturalism in the epigraphic evidence, this time from a context outside Sicily.

The conclusive aim of this study is to illustrate how the epigraphic evidence may complicate and define, differentiate and expand our understanding of the multicultural and multilingual identities operating in the setting of Western Sicily.

Session/Panel Title

Epigraphic Approaches to Multilingualism and Multilingual Societies in the Ancient Mediterranean

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy