Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Margherita Bonanno Aravantinos, Marcella Pisani (ed.), Camarina: Ricerche in corso. Atti della Giornata di Studio, Roma, 12 marzo 2013. Temata, 16. Rome: Edizioni TORED, 2014. Pp. xvi, 294. ISBN 9788888617602. €100.00.

Reviewed by Clemente Marconi, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (cm135@nyu.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

This is a valuable volume on Camarina, containing the proceedings of a workshop held in Rome (University of Tor Vergata) in March 2013. The subcolony of Syracuse on the southern coast of Sicily, particularly important during the Classical and Late Classical periods, has attracted considerable scholarly attention in the past ten years, including a conference held in Ragusa to celebrate the 2,600 years since Camarina's foundation (598 BCE, according to the literary tradition) and an exhibition and conference on the Attic vases from its cemeteries.1

In her introduction, Margherita Bonanno Aravantinos (1–6) frames the workshop held in Rome within the context of a new research collaboration between the University of Tor Vergata and the Sicilian Ministry of Cultural Affairs, in particular the Archaeological Park of Camarina.

Following this introduction, the various papers are grouped according to four themes: the Temple of Athena and the city (part I), the cemeteries (part II), the river Hypparis (part III), and the inscriptions (part IV).

Part I opens with the contribution of Federica Cordano ("I cittadini di Camarina del V secolo a.C.," 9–23), who offers a new discussion of the lead tablets naming citizens of Camarina discovered in 1987 within the context of the city's second and third foundations. The second, led by Hippocrates, tyrant of Gela, c. 493 BCE, was a synoecism that in Cordano's view involved the participation of both new citizens, including people from Gela, and earlier inhabitants of Camarina. This refoundation brought Camarina into the orbit of Gela, which for Cordano would be reflected in the introduction of the poliadic cult of Athena (but we wish we knew more about the cult in the main urban sanctuary in the Archaic period), the anthroponyms, and the script. The third foundation took place after the fall of the Deinomenids (c. 461 BCE) and was also in the form of a synoecism, with the establishment of a new, "republican" regime (and not "democratic," the transition to this form of government being dated by Cordano to a few decades later). In particular, she links the introduction of the lead tablets with this third, "republican" foundation and their discarding with the subsequent change of government to a democratic regime. Cordano dates this latter transformation to c. 424 BCE, the year of the Congress of Gela and a time of close relationship between Camarina and Athens. Cordano next focuses on the anthroponyms, which are for the most part Greek and present distinct Dorian features. On the other hand, differences in the scripts on both the tablets and the defixiones are explained by the coexistence in Camarina of Greeks of various origins, as a result of the synoecisms of the second and third foundations.

The next essay, by Giovanni Di Stefano ("Il rinvenimento delle tessere nel Tempio di Atena a Camarina," 25–31), discusses the discovery of the lead tablets in their archaeological context. The tablets were found in association with the 19th-century building serving as the first, local Antiquarium. This structure was built against the remains of the Temple of Athena, and on the occasion of its restoration, two excavations were conducted, one in 1980 at the east front of the temple and the other in 1987 along its north side. The lead tablets were found during the excavation along the north side of the building, more precisely, in correspondence with the stretch of the north wall immediately to the west of the separation between pronaos and cella. The lead tablets were found in not a primary but at least a secondary context, as part of the fill following the spoliation of the north wall of the temple carried out between the18th and 19th centuries. Additional lead tablets (not analyzed and still unpublished) were found in subsequent excavations at some distance from the Temple of Athena. Although there is a good possibility that the lead tablets were originally stored in the temple (the use of temples as archives is well attested in Sicily), sound archaeological evidence is lacking.

In the third essay ("Una larnax con le tessere civiche nella cella del Tempio di Atena a Camarina," 33–53), Paola Pelagatti discusses the architecture of the Temple of Athena and the possible provenance of the lead tablets. The interior colonnades she suggests are unlikely, and references to later fourth- and third-century temples on the island—instead of the many important nonperipterals of the Archaic and Classical periods—are out of place, as the building is dated c. 460 BCE. Pelagatti speculates that the tablets were originally stored inside the Temple of Athena and placed in a wooden larnax.

In the next essay ("Camarina: Una città di seconda generazione. Gli spazi urbani e della chora," 55–64), Giovanni Di Stefano offers an overview of the urban development of Camarina and (to a lesser degree) the organization of its land. To the first phase, that of the colonial foundation, belongs the distinction between religious space (main urban sanctuary) and civic space (agora), including the construction of a first peribolos wall and possibly a shrine. But the only evidence for the latter is a terracotta relief fragment featuring three locks of hair, tentatively identified as an architectural gorgoneion and only generally datable to the sixth century, not specifically to the first half, as suggested by Di Stefano. The second urban phase is dated to the mid-fifth century and is thought to correspond with the third foundation of Camarina. This new phase involved a clearer definition of the public spaces, starting with the agora, whose eastern part served religious and economic functions, the western part being reserved for political activities. The next phase corresponds with the repopulation of Camarina under Timoleon, when the city reached its largest size in antiquity, with an orthogonal plan featuring five plateiai running in an approximate east-west direction. In this phase, the agora was restructured and a wall was constructed delimiting the acropolis, including both the sanctuary of Athena and the agora. The life of the settlement continued until the first century CE, with transformations in the area of the agora, including the introduction of workshops. Discussion of the cemeteries opens with the Archaic necropolis (Rifriscolaro, in use until the end of the sixth century BCE), including a series of depositions dated to the time of the colonial foundation on the basis of the presence of Corinthian pottery dating from the transition between EC and MC. At the cemetery of Passo Marinaro (where a total of 5,000 tombs are documented), the early fifth century saw the use of a new area for burials, a change associated with the second foundation under Hippocrates. A reorganization of this cemetery took place in the mid-fifth century on the occasion of the third foundation, including paths connected with the main avenues of the urban settlement.

In the following essay ("Nuova documentazione sui culti camarinesi in età arcaica e classica," (65–101), Marcella Pisani discusses the evidence for cults in Camarina between the Archaic and Classical periods by focusing on terracotta figurines. The cult of Athena is considered first. There is poor evidence for religious activities in the urban sanctuary during the Archaic period. By the time of the second foundation, the goddess worshipped in this area can be identified with Athena Polias. Pisani associates with this cult of Athena terracotta figurines of the enthroned goddess (of a type traditionally referred to as "Athena Ergane") dated to the end of the fifth century and featuring, in both style and iconography, an interesting combination of High Classical elements of Attic origin and features stemming from the local coroplastic tradition of Geloan derivation. This is in line with the general trend in the visual arts of Sicily toward the end of the fifth century. Pisani then discusses the southern, extraurban sanctuary of Persephone and the two votive deposits traditionally associated with it (although Pisani believes that only the first deposit can be safely associated with this sanctuary). To this Pisani adds another votive deposit found within the urban area (Cappuzzello), with types also relating to the cult of Demeter and Kore. Next comes a discussion of the scanty but interesting coroplastic evidence from the urban area. Finally, Pisani describes an interesting fragmentary terracotta figurine (probably later than the suggested late-fifth- or early fourth-century date) of an enthroned Aphrodite with Eros.

Part II opens with an essay by Jean-Christophe Sourisseau, on the Phoenician/Punic amphorae from the Archaic cemetery of Rifriscolaro (109–149). Only 17 of the 657 transport amphorae excavated in the cemetery by Pelagatti between 1969 and 1979 are Phoenician/Punic. Of these, the earliest, datable to the early sixth century, is attributed to Malta, whereas the remaining 16 examples, ranging to the early fifth century, are assigned to Carthage or its vicinity.

Next, Rossella Salibra ("L'incinerazione nella necropoli classica di Passo Marinaro a Camarina," 151–184) reexamines the evidence for incineration from the excavations at Passo Marinaro by Paolo Orsi, along with the more recent work by Pelagatti (1972–1973). The prevailing burial form in this cemetery was inhumation, accounting for about 85 percent of the total (about 2,100 burials). The evidence for incineration consists of both primary and secondary instances and of ustrina related to the latter. Incineration was already practiced in Camarina during the Archaic period (starting c. 550 BCE), as seen in the Rifriscolaro cemetery, where primary incineration was quite frequent, as was the practice of placing the remains of two different individuals in the same container. At Passo Marinaro, both practices are attested on a much smaller scale, with secondary incineration being more prevalent. Salibra offers a thorough discussion of the evidence for both primary and secondary incineration, including ustrina, which do not appear to have been confined to the margins of the cemetery, the cremation of the body being practiced fully within the funerary area and possibly in connection with individual family plots. No objects of intrinsic value (including metals) have been found in the tombs, except for the containers themselves. In the second part of her essay, Salibra examines vase shapes and iconographic themes associated with the ritual of incineration, including a discussion of status, gender, and age. Attic red-figure kraters are the prevailing type of container for secondary incineration, most often featuring the themes of the symposium and war. In general, there is no clear distinction between areas of inhumation and of incineration, yet secondary incinerations tend to concentrate in specific areas. Salibra suggests that after c. 461, the cemetery area was divided into a number of family plots, with certain families holding on to their elitist practice of secondary incineration.

Miriam Knechtel (185–202) offers a useful review of some of the fragmentary evidence for funerary architecture from Passo Marinaro and Cozzo Campisi , particularly column monuments and naiskoi. The former, of varying dimensions and with different forms of crowning, include Ionic capitals, column drums, and bases generally datable to the Late Classical and particularly the Hellenistic period. The evidence for naiskoi (whether or not prostyle is unclear), datable to the Hellenistic period before 250 BCE, includes wall fragments featuring half Ionic columns and pilasters.

Part III comprises only one essay, by Pisani ("Una statua fittile dall'Ippari," 209–223), opening with a brief discussion of the river Hypparis and the lacus Camarinensis. Pisani's main focus is on a fragmentary terracotta peplophoros (c. 460) found in the early 20th century during drainage work north of Camarina. Pisani identifies the figure as a Nike and restores the statue as a lateral akroterion, from a temple of the nymph Camarina erected after the new foundation of c. 461 BCE. In arguing for a view of the statue from below, Pisani does not seem to consider that anathemata could also be displayed above eye level. A votive function cannot be excluded for the terracotta, and more substantial evidence is required to posit the existence of a temple.

Part IV consists of Virgilio Costa's systematic review (231–240) of the work of Federica Cordano, a scholar who has greatly contributed to our knowledge and understanding of the inscriptions and history of Camarina.

The pictures printed at the end of this volume are small, but their number is generous. We are grateful to Bonanno Aravantinos and Pisani for this valuable publication on Camarina. The volume touches on major themes concerning the history and archaeology of this Greek city, and will be an indispensable reference for future scholarship on the subject.


1.   P. Pelagatti, G. Di Stefano, and L. de Lachenal. eds., Camarina 2600 anni dopo la fondazione. Nuovi studi sulla città e sul territorio. Ragusa: Centro Studi Feliciano Rossitto; Roma: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Libreria dello Stato, 2006; G. Giudice, ed., "Αττικόν ... κέραμον": Veder greco a Camarina dal principe di Biscari ai nostri giorni. 3 vols. Catania: Ediarch, 2010–14.

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