Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Ernesto De Miro, Graziella Fiorentini, VI. Agrigento romana: gli edifici pubblici civili. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2011. Pp. 158. ISBN 9788862273817. €95.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Jonathan R. W. Prag, Merton College, University of Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site

[The reviewer apologises unreservedly for the delay in producing this review.]

This volume showcases two of the more spectacular parts of Roman Agrigentum to have been unearthed in the last 30 years – an early Imperial porticoed temple in the presumed area of the Roman forum and the Augustan gymnasium - and marks a welcome switch of focus away from attention-grabbing Greek Akragas and towards its Roman successor. The picture is reinforced by a companion volume (with a different publisher) presenting the area of urban housing known as the 'Hellenistic / Roman Quarter', uncovered in the 19th century.1 It is unfortunate therefore that the volume under review is something of a white elephant: the only original material is to be found within the section on the podium-temple and triportico of the early imperial period (pp. 45-70); the first 44 pages rehash earlier overviews of the Roman period while the last 30 pages on the gymnasium (by Fiorentini) are an abridged verbatim reprint of a 2009 publication in Sicilia Antiqua 6 also published by Fabrizio Serra; all in all a particularly egregious example of Fabrizio Serra money-spinning.

The archaeological core is preceded by three chapters (by De Miro): 'Contesto storico della Sicilia romana' (pp. 13- 22); 'Studi su Agrigento romana' (23-24); and 'Da Akragas ad Agrigentum. La romanizzazione' (25-43). The first repeats historical debates that go back to the work of Jérôme Carcopino, and passes over scholarship of the last twenty years.2 Consequently, the insistence on the negative impact of the later second-century BC Slave Wars, derived from the literary texts alone, sits awkwardly with the omission of archaeological evidence in this part of the book, and with a later statement that the major expansion and renewal of the Agrigentine urban plan falls in the same period (cf. pp. 14-15 and 25 with 98) – especially since that archaeological impression is in line with the wider evidence now amassing from across Hellenistic Sicily.3 The second chapter usefully summarises past archaeological study.4 The third overlaps with the first (and repeats several pages from an earlier publication), before quoting verbatim five pages from Marconi's 1926 publication of the late Hellenistic podium temple commonly known as the 'Oratory of Phalaris'.5 This extract is followed by the suggestion that the temple was surrounded on three sides by an open-ended triportico (one side is however invisible archaeologically, and the relationship of the exedra which abuts the portico is not explained, cf. figs. 5, 6, 14); and an allusion to De Miro's own hypothesis that the Latin inscription traditionally associated with the temple provides evidence for the temple being dedicated to Cybele.6 This chapter concludes with a resumé of the development of the bouleuterion building (published in the 1980s), which lies in the area between the two temples and was itself subject to transformation during the later Republican period.

What is not, however, discussed here or elsewhere is the problematic question of the location of the agora / forum at Agrigentum, which is nonetheless central to discussion of both temple and gymnasium, since arguments and assumptions made regarding function and development of both sites depend upon one particular conception of the forum(s) in the city. Formally, the forum at Agrigentum remains unidentified, although the area currently under the museum car-park, near the ekklesiasterion, bouleuterion, and the porticoed temple under discussion here, is a likely candidate. De Miro has elsewhere argued for a second 'agora inferiore' to the south-west, near the massive fifth-century Temple of Zeus; the gymnasium lies between the two, constituting a sort of corridor of public space. The entire construct remains hypothetical, not least because of the absence of any evidence for the existence of the gymnasium prior to the Augustan period (see pp. 97-100, where Fiorentini concedes this point, but then argues a priori that there must have been something there previously).7

It becomes increasingly unclear in the central chapter precisely how De Miro conceives of the relationship between the Roman forum and the porticoed temple precinct here published (which lies just to the north of the bouleuterion). The chapter's sub-heading is 'Il foro', and under this sub-heading we are presented with a simple description of the temple terrace. However, after brief description of temple and portico and consideration of their chronology (pp. 47-57), the remainder of the chapter is devoted firstly to a highly speculative hypothesis that this is in fact an Iseum (pp. 57-63); secondly to a brief catalogue of architectural blocks from the site (pp. 63-68); and lastly to rediscussion of a small honorific base found some years earlier in the approximate vicinity of the site (pp. 68-70).

The pi-shaped triple portico is 60 m long on its east and west sides and 36 m long on its shorter north side; the west portico (more fully excavated than the east) is 4.8 m deep, fronted by 25 columns, and a terminal semi- column built into the wall which closes off the square to the south. The columns are estimated to have stood 4.5-5 m tall, with the architrave adding another 1.2 m, and a single sloping roof covering the area behind. The temple consists of a cella, pronaos, and winged podium with side access stairs; the podium of the temple itself is distinct from that of the pronaos (the latter is 2.25 m wider than that of the cella). The whole is some 18 m long by 12 m wide. The excavators claim to have found fragments of Italian and African sigillata in the various foundation levels (pp. 54-55) to support a dating of the cella podium (and the portico) to the late Augustan period; the podium of the pronaos belongs a generation later; and the lateral access ramps to the pronaos appear to be Antonine. This is taken to suggest an initial construction of the whole, followed by a modification to the design of the temple, and then most likely a rebuilding of the access ramps in the Antonine period, after deterioration from use. The whole remained in use through to the fourth or fifth centuries, although the excavators are uncertain whether to attribute signs of collapse to the earthquake of AD 365 or the Vandal invasion of AD 440 (pp. 50, 56-57).

As De Miro observes, there is no parallel for this temple-type in Sicily. However, the ensuing attempt to suggest that this is an Iseum is unconvincing: having asserted that the cella held a statue, the presence (scale and provenance not recorded) of a foot from a statue of a female figure (Tav. XV.3) is offered as the only evidence of this. De Miro then calls upon: (1) a small, second-century AD oscillum (from a rubbish deposit of the fifth century AD to the north of the temple) which depicts a female figure that may be identified as Isis; (2) the parallel of the porticoed Iseum at Pompeii; (3) a miscellany of more or less 'asiatic' or 'egyptianising' elements, for which no archaeological context is provided and most of which have about the same evidential value as the first in the list, viz. a fragment of an over-lifesize female marble arm, which is tagged with the speculative '(Iside?)'. If the temple and portico complex is an Iseum, then it becomes hard to see why the connection or identification with the forum is maintained elsewhere (the Pompeian example hardly helps in this regard); vice versa, if this is the forum, then it cannot be an Iseum.

De Miro concedes that the excavated material has yet to be properly studied, so the material employed to build this argument is an unchallengeable and uncontrollable selection to support the hypothesis. The fallacy in the approach is exemplified by the treatment of statue-bases in the complex, which also reflects the apparent indecision over identification as temple precinct or forum. The main text (p. 57) claims that bases in both east and west porticoes should have supported marble statues of related divinities, as in the Pompeian Iseum. Comparison of the archaeological (fig. 20) and schematic (fig. 22) plans reveals that bases in the east portico are hypothesised by symmetry from the west (the bases are not discussed anywhere in the volume). Furthermore, the reconstruction drawing (tav. XIV) instead presents two bases flanking the altar in the middle of the piazza (not, be it noted, present in the archaeological plan, fig. 20, and there is no argument in support of this reconstruction anywhere in the text). A lengthy footnote (p. 57 n. 3) reports the find of two over-life-size togate statues (first-century AD) near the southeast corner of the temple platform (presumably the statues on the bases in the reconstruction), as well as the nineteenth-century find of two more in the general vicinity. The footnote quite reasonably suggests that these might be civic magistrates and/or euergetists responsible for the temple and portico – which is here again described more generically as 'il Foro' – but these are left out of all consideration in the main text, notwithstanding their clear relevance for debates about the nature of the space in question.

After a very brief catalogue of some 51 architectural fragments from the portico and temple, the final part of this chapter contains a rather disconnected brief discussion of a curious small marble honorific base (a dedication to Augustus and Gaius Caesar), inscribed on two sides, found previously to the north-east of the complex under discussion and already published by De Miro in the 1980s. Inclusion here provides the basis for hypothesising that there was an Augustalia in the vicinity (pp. 69-70 with n. 1).8

The remainder of the volume contains the abridged republication of the gymnasium by Graziella Fiorentini (omitting, e.g., the drawings of the important Augustan dedication inscription, SEG 46.1252, included in the original publication), followed by over 100 black-and-white photos of the material discussed (all of high quality, with a single exception) and a couple of reconstruction drawings of the triporticoed temple and the gymnasium portico. The final pages (pp. 97-101) summarise some of the earlier points on the chronology and use of the gymnasium area and its presumed relationship to the wider urban plan, while speculating freely on what may have underlain the Augustan gymnasium (for which there is, however, no direct evidence).

In sum, this is a richly illustrated, but rather unsatisfactory showcase of some of the most significant material from early Imperial and Constantinian Agrigentum. As an archaeological publication it really has the status of a preliminary report, since much of the material remains to be analysed and published — and many of the rather speculative arguments presented here must await that material for proper discussion — but as a preliminary report, it overlaps with existing publications, and in the case of the gymnasium is rendered redundant by the pre-existing fuller publication of 2009.


1.   Not referenced: E. De Miro, Agrigento. IV. L'abitato antico. Il quartiere ellenistico-romano, 2 vols. (Rome, Gangemi editore, 2009).
2.   It is hard to recommend the historical discussion: among the many slips and errors, Tyndaris is omitted from the list of colonies on p. 18 (contrast p. 26), as is the later elevation to colonial status of Lilybaeum; one would expect at least a reference to D. Vera, 'Augusto, Plinio il Vecchio e la Sicilia in età imperiale. A proposito di recenti scoperte epigrafiche e archeologiche ad Agrigento', in Kokalos 42 (1996), 31-58. It is unfortunate that new evidence for Agrigentum's rise to colonial status under the Severans came too late for inclusion: M. Silvestrini, 'Colonia Septimia Augusta Agrigentinorum', in S. Cagnazzi et al. (eds.), Scritti di storia per Mario Pani (Bari, Edipuglia, 2011), 455-68.
3.   The wider Sicilian archaeological context is completely unreferenced; for syntheses see, e.g., R. J. A. Wilson, 'Ciceronian Sicily: an archaeological perspective', in C. Smith and J. Serrati (eds.), Sicily from Aeneas to Augustus (Edinburgh 2000), 134-60; 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 (Rome 2006), 15- 34; E. C. Portale, 'Problemi dell'archeologia della Sicilia ellenistico-romana: il caso di Solunto', in Archeologia Classica 57 (2006), 49-114.
4.   The date of the excavations published in this volume is, however, nowhere recorded. To the list of earlier publications of the Roman material at p. 23 n. 12, add E. De Miro, 'Agrigento. Tempio romano di età imperiale nell'area del Foro. Note di urbanistica e di architettura', in S. Mols and E. Moorman (eds.), Omni Pede Stare. Saggi architettonici e circumvesuviani in memoriam Jos de Waele (Naples 2005), 168-76.
5.   P. Marconi, 'L'oratorio di Falaride', NSA (1926), 106-18.
6.   The inscription should be cited as CIL I2, 2649. The reference (p. 33 n. 2) to De Miro 2000: 95-6 (not in the bibliography) is to E. De Miro, Agrigento. I. I Santuari urbani. L'area sacra tra il tempio di Zeus e porta V (Rome, 2000), where De Miro suggests that ter pius means 'thrice pious' rather than Ter(etina tribu) followed by the epithet / cognomen pius. This is implausible, as is the idea that matrem suam might refer to a divinity such as the Magna mater. On the inscription, see L. Campagna, 'Architettura pubblica ed evergetismo nella Sicilia di età repubblicana', in C. Miccichè et al. (eds.), La Sicilia romana tra Repubblica e Alto Impero (Caltanissetta 2007), 110-134 at 119-20 (Campagna rightly questions the association of the inscription with the temple, since it was found amongst rubble to the east).
7.   See conveniently now C. Ampolo (ed.), Agora greca e agorai di Sicilia (Pisa 2012), with a full restatement of the argument by De Miro (pp. 101-110) and a detailed critique by R. J. A. Wilson (pp. 245-67, specifically 246-47).
8.   The inscription escaped L'Année Épigraphique; it was first published by De Miro in Kokalos 30- 31 (1984-5), 464-65 with tav. 34.1. For the reading vot(uria) rather than vot(um), see G. Manganaro, 'La Sicilia da Sesto Pompeo a Diocleziano', in ANRW II.11.1 (1988), 3-89 at p. 47 (and not the paper by Salmeri referenced by De Miro here at p. 68 n. 1, which has no substantive comment on this text). See now: F. Battistoni and P. Rothenöfer, 'Caesars Sohn und die Annii von Agrigent: eine wirtschaftliche Liaison?', in ASNP ser. 5, vol. 4.1 (2012), 103-15.

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