Survey of Archaeological Periods—Bronze and Iron Age Sicily

Sicilian Early Bronze to Iron Ages:

Sicilian history is far from uniform. For example, what happens along the eastern shore during the Diana period may or may not be analogous to what is happening in the mid-west. Cultural translation moved slowly into the middle of the island from the eastern epicenters. Of course, ideas and wares did move west, eventually finding a home in large cities and their surrounding settlements. By the Castelluccian period, regular contact appears to have been made over much of the island (Halloway 2000: 21).

The three main phases of the Bronze Age are as follows: Castelluccio (Early Bronze Age), Thapsos (Middle Bronze Age) and Pantalica (Late Bronze Age).

Early Bronze

Early Bronze Age Sicily is separated into four cultural regions: northern Sicily with the Rodì-Tindari-Vallelunga culture, western with the Naro/Partanna culture, the south-east with the Castelluccio culture and Capo Graziano culture at the Aeolian Islands (Piccolo 2018). Of all of these, the Castelluccian culture is the most homogenous, spread over two-thirds of the island (McConnell 1992: 23). The Castelluccian culture is not only spread over the island horizontally but also vertically through time, the earliest site representing Castelluccian culture being La Muculufa and having a radiocarbon date of 2,200 - 2,100 BC (Holloway 2000: 20).

The pottery of the Castelluccian Culture is decorated in black on a red ground (slip). The color patterns have clear antecedents in Serraferlicchian (Copper Age) pottery, though the design patters are completely different (Halloway 2000: 20). Most notably exaggerated are the extremely common open bowl on a pedestal. This is not to say that all Castelluccian ware is identical. There existed notable regional subdivisions. Pottery from Castelluccio itself is rather simple with undisciplined decorations, but the Agrigemtine Castelluccian having elaborate designs, and these designs are carried into the west. Of interest, the phallus-like horn finds itself “omni-present” in the Castelluccian culture (Halloway 2000: 24), an example being found at Gela, featuring a seven-horned plate. Halloway believes these to be phallic charms.

Middle Bronze

While not as widespread as the Castelluccian Culture, the Thapsos Culture of the Middle Bronze Age spread from the eastern coast of Sicily to the Belice Valley in the west (Halloway 2000: 36). In fact, Thapsos became a major center of trade, not only within the island but outside as well. “The years following 1,400 BC mark a decided change in the relations of the Aegean and Sicily” (Halloway 2000: 31). With the period of massive imports into southern Italy of Mycenaean pottery came also Aegean trade into the island, though the wares imported into Sicily were different in both quantity and type (Halloway 2000: 32). Of note is that imported vases found almost exclusively in tombs and concentrated in several necropolises in and around Syracuse. In addition to pottery, swords of either Aegean decent or manufacture have been found along with these vases. At Caldare, a pair of bronze bowls were found, and similar pieces were found along with bronze blades at Milena. (Halloway 2000: 32). Beyond the Aegean, Cypriote ware has also been found at Thapsos, and of course the Levantine statuette of a divinity was found off the coast of Selinunte.. Most impressive is at Thapsos, where familiar Early Bronze patterned huts took on more of an Aegean pattern. Inside these huts were found Early Bronze Thapsos ware and imported Middle Bronze pottery from Malta.

It is important to note that at Thapsos are what some believe to be Mycenaean-like thalos tombs. While this is certainly possible, Halloway points out that “elements such as the bench seem to recall fixtures of contemporary Sicilian houses and their Castelluccian antecedents” (2000: 34).

Late Helladic III C pottery is not known in Sicily except for a single vessel found at Pantalica.

Late Bronze Age

As the Mycenaean culture began to decline, the world was changed. With a diminished supply of Mycenaean goods, local substitutions began to arise. “In Sicily the break with the Aegean was abrupt, but in some ways the effects of the contact through the emporium of Thapsos were lasting” (Halloway 2000: 37), and though Thapsos continued until the end of the Bronze Age, Pantalica slowly came to power. Pantalica gives us some five thousand burials, which began as Mycenae was falling. Bernabò Brea sequenced these into Pantalica North (rich red surface), Pantalica South (vases are impoverished and show carinated shapes as those known from Lipari), and Cassible (which falls between and to some extents concurrently with the previous two). The Cassible Culture continues the Pantilica North and Thapsos traditions but adds the painted piumata wares (Halloway 2000: 40-41).

Iron Age

The coming of the Greeks brings on the Iron Age in Sicily. While the Sicels, Sicans, and Elymians played no direct affront to the Greeks, the Phoenicians (Carthaginians) might have, though the move of the Phoenicians to the west and settlement of sites such as Motya seems to had been an ideal response as no major conflicts have been recorded. Instead of outside problems, the biggest threat to Greek expansion in Sicily was at the hands of the Greeks themselves, specifically the tyrant lords.

Greek expansion into the island is seen in many fashions, but the longest lasting of these is found in Greek sanctuaries (the earliest of which is at Gela which represented simple shrines of the aristocracy), temples (expanded from the first colonies shrines), sculptures , and city planning (which remained throughout the archaic period) (Halloway 2000: 55-86).

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Bibliography:

Halloway, R. R.

2000 The Archaeology of Ancient Sicily. New York: Routledge.

McConnell, B.

1992 The Early Bronze Age Village of La Muculufa and Prehistoric Hut Architecture in Sicily American Journal of Archaeology, 96:1: 23-44.

Piccolo, S.

2018 "Bronze Age Sicily." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified February 08, 2018. https://www.ancient.eu/image/8072/.

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