Sunday, November 23, 2014


Markus Wolf, Die Agora von Solunt: öffentliche Gebäude und öffentliche Räume des Hellenismus im griechischen Westen. Sonderschriften des Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Rom, Bd 16. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2014. Pp. 208. ISBN 9783895007262. €78.00.

Reviewed by Laura Pfuntner, University of California, Davis (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The past few decades have seen growing interest among scholars of ancient Sicily in the island's Hellenistic period, and particularly in the development of its urban public spaces in this era: topics of research to which this volume makes important contributions.1 The visible remains of Soluntum, located approximately 20 kilometers east of Palermo, are the result of a planned transfer of settlement in the fourth century BC from the original coastal site of Solous, a Phoenician foundation (cf. Thuc. 6.2.6), up to the eastern side of Monte Catalfano. Over the next two centuries, the domestic and civic spaces of Soluntum – including its agora and a number of monumental public buildings – took shape within a grid of paved streets contoured to the slope of the hillside. Although for this reason, the public architecture of Soluntum should be an integral part of any consideration of urbanism in Hellenistic and Roman Republican Sicily, the results of the excavations conducted in the 1950s by Vincenzo Tusa largely remain unpublished. This volume is the third in a series of recent publications by scholars at the Deutsche Archäologische Institut in Rome (including Wolf himself), in collaboration with the Soprintendenza ai Beni Culturali e Ambientali in Palermo, that aim to remedy the long neglect of the archaeology of Soluntum.2

Wolf is positioned well to produce an architectural study of Soluntum's public spaces, having previously authored a monograph on the city's domestic architecture. The present volume has only seventy pages of text, which are (for the most part) copiously illustrated, and accompanied by 113 plates of black and white photographs, architectural drawings, and plans, as well as two large inserts. The quantity of supplemental visual materials is a little overwhelming, as the readers find themselves constantly flipping between the text and the plates in the back of the volume. On the whole, however, the text is clear and concise, with very few typographical errors.

The long first chapter focuses on the agora of Soluntum, located near the northern edge of the city at the top of its main North-South thoroughfare, the Via dell'Agorà. After a brief summary of the history of research on Soluntum (pp. 11-12), Wolf presents the results of his comprehensive study of the agora and its structures in their current condition (12-26) – a section that, though valuable for the detailed descriptions and measurements it contains, is for that reason of limited interest to the general reader. Wolf describes the stoa on the western side of the agora, the row of nine exedrae along its back wall, its porticoes, and the structures surrounding it, including the numerous bases built into the paved plaza in front of it. He then deals with the large public cistern adjoining the stoa on the northern side of the agora, the "odeon" or bouleuterion built on the terrace above the stoa, and various features on the eastern side of the agora, which was not excavated as extensively as its western side. A feature that Wolf includes which, to my knowledge, has not been described before is the "Spolienbau" built in the remains of what appears to have been a well-appointed house on the southeastern edge of the agora (25-6).

Next (26-40), Wolf reconstructs the original dimensions and appearance of the stoa and the structures surrounding it from their remaining architectural elements. He concludes that the stoa originally had two stories, with a columnar façade on both levels (Doric below and Ionic above), and two shorter wings extending perpendicularly from the northern and southern ends of the single-aisled main hall. Wolf also hypothesizes that the open space formed by the roof over the large public cistern at the northern end of the agora was probably accessible from the upper story of the stoa, and functioned as a secondary public assembly area just below the theatre (from which the cistern itself collected runoff rainwater). From the remains of the seating area within the odeon/bouleuterion on the terrace above the stoa, Wolf calculates an original capacity of ca. 100 persons. He also identifies the rectangular walled complex adjoining the odeon/bouleuterion as an open-air sanctuary similar to the temenos or manteion of Apollo and Aristeas in Metapontum (discussed further in Chapter Five). Finally, he speculates that the assorted architectural elements found in the agora which cannot be associated with any of its known buildings could be from as-yet unidentified structures – either public buildings or houses – above the agora or on its unexcavated eastern side.

In the final sections of the first chapter, Wolf presents an overview of the construction phases, dates, and probable uses of the buildings in and around the agora. In the absence of stratigraphic evidence, his chronological analysis is based mainly on construction techniques and on the structural relationships between buildings. Wolf comes down on the "later" (post-Second Punic War) side of the ongoing debate over the chronology of the main monumental phases of a number of western Sicilian cities,3 attributing the visible remains of the stoa, the large public cistern, and the open-air sanctuary to the mid-second century BC, though he points out traces of a structure preceding the stoa that probably dates to the decades after the city's transfer to the slopes of Monte Catalfano in the late fourth century BC. He emphasizes the stoa's association with the theatre on the terrace above (via a staircase next to Exedra 9) as well as the likely use of Exedra 9 as an office for the city's chief magistrate (on the basis of inscriptions found within this room), and he hypothesizes that the stoa itself served a variety of functions, including as a resting-place and assembly-area for visitors to the theatre and for spectators and participants in processions and athletic contests held in the open space of the agora. Wolf's historical analysis in this section is somewhat superficial,4 but he does offer interesting new insights into the late phases of use of the agora and its buildings in the third century AD (41-42), presumably shortly before the final abandonment of the urban center.

The remaining chapters are comparative, analyzing the agora of Soluntum and its constituent buildings in the broader contexts of urbanism in the western Greek world and of the monumental architecture of the Hellenistic era. Chapter Two compares the stoa of Soluntum to similar structures in the Greek West. Here, Wolf provides a useful overview of agorai in Hellenistic Sicily and Southern Italy (49-59) - but one that is already slightly out of date, given the fast pace of publication of recent excavations in the agorai of Monte Iato and Segesta. Chapter Three provides a comparative overview of stoas of similar design to the Soluntum structure (i.e., with two flanking wings or two stories) in mainland Greece and Asia Minor. Oddly, there are no accompanying photographs or plans of the stoas described in this chapter. Wolf identifies close parallels in the design and decoration of the near-contemporary two-storied Attalid stoas in Pergamon and Athens.

In Chapter Four, Wolf shifts his attention to the odeon/bouleuterion above the agora of Soluntum, providing a comparative overview of bouleuteria in other Sicilian cities. Since Wolf identifies Sicilian bouleuteria as a small but distinct architectural group (67), at least a brief excursus on city council-chambers in the Aegean world would have been welcome here. In Chapter Five, Wolf compares the monumental layout of the agora of Soluntum as a whole with that of agorai in other western Greek cities, presented in chronological order from the oldest (archaic Megara Hyblaea) to the most recent (second-century BC Halaesa), and includes a brief excursus on comparanda in the broader Hellenistic Greek world. Here, as with Chapter Three, plans of the various agorai discussed would have been helpful. In these four comparative chapters and in the conclusion, beyond hypothesizing the influence on Soluntum of Hellenistic architectural forms and building techniques from Asia Minor,5 Wolf refrains from speculating on specific paths of influence among the cities of Hellenistic Sicily, and between the island and other regions of the Mediterranean. This restraint is wise, given the difficulty of precisely dating the buildings concerned, as well as the still relatively small number of Hellenistic agorai that have been excavated in Sicily.6

To conclude, in its thorough presentation of the architectural remains of the public spaces of Soluntum, this volume makes an important contribution not only to the understanding of Hellenistic and Roman Republican urbanism in Sicily, but also to the study of the emergence and spread of architectural forms within the broader Hellenistic Mediterranean (in which it should now be acknowledged that Sicily played more than a minor role). This volume should therefore be an essential reference for any scholar with an interest in the urban architecture of Hellenistic Sicily, as well as for scholars of Hellenistic public architecture in general.


1.   This interest in public spaces in Sicilian cities, and in situating Sicilian urbanism within its wider Hellenistic context, has largely been spurred by the excavation of the public areas of a number of western Sicilian urban centers, including Segesta, Halaesa, and Monte Iato, as well as the ongoing publication of the long-running excavations in and around the agora of Morgantina. C. Ampolo (ed.), Agora greca e agorai di Sicilia (Pisa 2012), to which Wolf contributed a chapter on Soluntum, is a recent example of work in this area.
2.   The previous publications on Soluntum are A. Wiegand, Das Theater von Solunt, Sonderschriften 12 (Mainz 1997) and M. Wolf, Die Häuser von Solunt und die hellenistische Wohnarchitektur, Sonderschriften 14 (Mainz 2003).
3.   Wolf provides an overview of this debate and some recent bibliography at p. 40 and n. 86.
4.   For example, at p. 45, Wolf emphasizes the growth of "latifundia" as a key factor in Soluntum's apparent prosperity in the Roman Republican period.
5.   Especially the use of terracing to create distinct public spaces within hilly urban terrain, as at Priene, Assos, Pergamon, and Aigai (p. 80).
6.   The locations and layouts of the ancient agorai of many important urban centers in Sicily (including Palermo, Syracuse, and Messina) have not been securely identified. See the chapter by R.J.A. Wilson in Ampolo (above n. 1) for a summary of the current state of research.

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