Friday, February 25, 2011

Archeology in Sicily: Giant Temples...........Fallen

In Selinunte, Sicily, the remains of several Greek temples from the 6th- 5th century
BC can reveal much about temple construction, although they fell to Carthaginian invasions
and earthquakes not long after their building.                     Architect Mark Schara,
with his good eye for detail, took almost all of these photos. 
Temple E has most of its outer colonnade, the peristyle, restored.Classical harmony is apparent in the rhythm of fluted columns, continuing up into the triglyphs raised to the sky.
But many of the capitals have fallen. On the ground level, we can appreciate their large scale.

Temple F was badly damaged. Much of the white stucco facing for the fluted limestone column on right is still visible.

ple G, below, was the largest of the 7 temples of Selinunte, the ancient city of Silenus.

This temple had columns about 54 feet tall. Here, we see the columns were made of individual segments called drums, each of which are 12 feet high.

The overturned capitals, echinus on top of the abacus, has an 11' diameter. Here, the abacus and echinus were carved in one piece, unlike above at Temple E.
At the time of destruction, not all of the capitals had been fluted. Thus we
know that the temple was never completed

Nearby in Agrigento, the ancient city called Akragas, had a series of ten te
mples in the Valley of the Temples.
The Temple of Concord is one of the best preserved Doric temples.
It had been converted into a church in the early Christian period.

In the 8th -3rd centuries BCE, Sicily was a battleground between Greeks who settled 3/4 of the island and Carthaginians who settled the western portion; then it became the target of Roman conquest.

Though only a small portion of the peristyle remains, the
Temple of Hera was in better condition than most of these temples
which fell victim to Carthaginian destruction, then earthquakes.

But an even taller temple to Olympian Zeus would have been the largest of
Doric Greek temples, the height of a 10-story building; it was incomplete when the disaster struck.
Construction began in 480 BCE and was still in progress when it was decimated in 407 BCE. The Telemon or Atlas figures whose bent arms support the architravemay in fact represent Carthaginian prisoners who had been made to build the temple.
But even these giants, who appear to have held up the building, have fallen,
struck down by the Carthaginians who conquered Akragras.
Only a replica of one of the ruined giants remains on the site.

Ancient Akragas may have had 200.000 people in the 5th century BCE.Today we witness the fallen giant as a symbol of human pride grown too large,
and, consequently, fallen.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Archeology in Sicily: Earliest Dome?

(Thanks to Mark Schara for the use of his photographs)
The North Baths of Morgantina, in east central Sicily, date to the 3rd century BCE and may in fact represent the earliest dome that has been excavated in the ancient Mediterranean world. Like everything in the buried settlement of Morgantina, it was built before the Roman conquest in 211 BCE. This new evidence suggests that Hellenistic Greeks, not Romans, invented the first dome. However, unlike the concrete used by Romans to make domes, the construction material would have been terra cotta tubes found on the site; the sizes and formation of these tubes suggest they were used to make a domed space.
Public baths were a staple of the ancient towns and cities. Morgantina was a small settlement and the dimension of its baths are modest. Yet the roofing of the North Baths structure appears very significant. Two oblong rooms and one circular room were found to have curved ceilings made of these interlocking tubes, held together inside and out by plaster. They would have formed perfect arches when fit together, and each arch when placed in parallel alignment with other arches forms either a barrel vault or dome. There were two barrel vaulted rooms and one with a dome.
This method was also used in
the Roman baths of North Africa in the 3rd century CE, while builders in Rome were using concrete. The Morgantina baths are at least 4 centuries earlier than the others of this technique and predate Roman concrete vaults and domes by about a century.

Interlocking cotta tubes made in the Hellenistic settlement of Morgantina were
fit into each other to form arches. Arches placed adjacent to each other could form a dome, above, or barrel vaults, with masonry reinforcement as shown on the right.

Although some excavation began in the early 1900s, archeologists identifed Morgantina as the archeological site in 1958 using coins. The place had been described by Strabo and some early Roman writers, but it was abandoned by the end of the first century CE. Originally a Sikel settlement, it was occupied by Greeks in the 5th century BCE, conquered by Rome in 211 BCE and consequently taken over by Spanish mercenaries of Rome. In addition to baths, Morgantina has an agora, a theatre, graneries, an ekklesiesterion, several sanctuaries, homes with mosaics and two kilns which have been excavated.

An overview of Morgantina reveals the Greek theatre and other excavation structures.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Archeology in Sicily: A Statue from Mozia: Who? What? When? Where?

This tall elegant Charioteer of Mozia or "Giovane of Mozia," was excavated in
1979. It brings up problems of identity, meaning and dating in Greek Art.
A life-size statue was dug up in 1979 in Mozia, ancient Motya, a tiny island adjacent to the west coast of Sicily. The slightly larger than life-size Youth of Mozia demonstrates why it is necessary for art historians to constantly re-evaluate conceptions of style, meaning and dating in art. Everyone agrees it belongs to the 5th century BCE, and, based on exact location of the find and the layer in which it was buried, it cannot be later 397 BCE. Yet Mozia was a Carthaginian settlement and the Carthaginians were constantly at war with Greeks who controlled most of Sicily. The questions are:
* Who is the subject?
* What is the date?
* Where was it made?
* Why did it end up in Mozia?
This statue has physical beauty, elegance, grace and transparent drapery. Feet and arms are missing but remnants of one hand dig into the corresponding hip, a marvelous detail which only an artist of great skill could execute. Much of the face is damaged, perhaps intentionally. The head was detached but has been put back. Although Most experts agree that the statue is Greek dating to the 5th century BCE, some have claimed the hair and face appear non-Greek and perhaps Carthaginian.

Bent arms in opposite directions would have created a vigorous counterpoise, a surprise
considering the rigidity of some conventional aspects of the head and hair.

The pose, vigorous turn and thin, transparent drapery would suggest a classical date of 450-420 BCE. "Wet drapery" is
mainly a convention of female figures of this High Classical period or end of the 5th century BCE, as in the Parthenon goddesses or on the Temple of Athena Nike. Yet there are contraindications to a late 5th century date. Hair is very stylized, and therefore, Archaic, and the facial modeling is most akin to the Severe Style, 480-450 BCE. To get better idea of a date, we can compare to other Greek sculptures, and I will fill in a suggested idea of identity.

When I compare this beautifully carved wet drapery to other works, the strongest analogy is found to the Ludovisi Throne, probably representing the birth of Aphrodite. This relief, dated c. 460 BCE, is now in Rome, but is known to have been connected to an Ionian temple of Aphrodite in Locri, a far southern city in Italy. (Both Sicily and southern section of Italy were heavily Greek in the centuries before the Roman conquest.)
The Ludovisi Throne, usually dated to 460 BCE, comes from a Greek colony is
south Italy. It has similar "wet drapery."
When I look at the profile, I'm reminded of the Kritios Boy, c. 480 BCE,
also in marble, although the Kritios Boy had inlaid eyes of another
material. Short stylized hair held down on the scalp are characteristic of both statues. The Mozia youth's capped hair ends in ringlets, an atypical feature, but not without parallels. It's unfortunate the center of this figure's nose, mouth and chin are no longer visible in their original form for a perfect comparison.

The profile of the Mozia marble reveals holes in the ear and even some bronze in the back of the head, perhaps an attachement for the victory wreath of a charioteer.

The Kritios Boy,below, is in better condition.
His eyes, missing, were inlaid with another, colored material.

The Charioteer of Delphi, c. 470 BCE, is bronze and has original inlaid eyes.
He is a victorious chariot driver from Sicily but was dedica
ted in Greece.
The bronze cast Charioteer of Delphi, c. 470 BCE, represented the winner of the Pythian games who came from the city of Gela in Sicily, but the statue was made in Greece and erected to Apollo in thanks for a victory Apollo at the god's sanctuary in Delphi. He has copper inlays for lips and eyelashes, onyx for eyes and silver for the victory wreath, which fortunately remain intact. Yet the Delphi Charioteer, c. 470 BCE, is more rigid than our marble example and his face is mask-like. He was part of a bronze group composition, standing behind 4 horses and such stoic emotion was needed for the concentration of an athletic victor. (Remains of the horses, reins and the statue base with dedication are extant.)
The Mozia figure also wears a ankle-length chiton, the xystis that all chariot drivers wore, although without sleeves and in a very light fabric. Besides the xystis, there are other reasons that the Mozia youth can be considered a charioteer. His thick belt of a stiff material compares to the belted chests of charioteers seen on Sicilian coins dated to 460 BCE and later, an alternative to the Delphic Charioteer's belt on the waist and back. Such belts or ties were necessary to keep the fabric from billowing in the wind and interfering during a race. Here we see large holes to which a bronze belt buckle must have been attached. Finally, holes in the head above the row ringlets held bronze nails, two of which remain, evidence of a victory wreath attached to the original statue. The right arm, missing, was probably raised to attach the wreath, while the left arm was bent nonchalantly where the remaining hand reaches below at the hip. The statue may be something the charioteer himself erected to honor his victory, and placed it at home in Sicily, rather than in a sanctuary dedication on the mainland of Greece. (These details are explained by Professor Bell, who suggests it was made by a Greek artist for a victorious Sicilian charioteer patron.)

The Kritios Boy, about 480 BCE right, is in the Severe Style.
He is slightly under 4 feet tall.
The statue from Mozia has a stonger
shift to his hips than the Kritios Boy.
The Kritios Boy was excavated with many other statues in the Acropolis of Athens in 1865. It is generally known to mark the transition from Archaic to Early Classical or the Severe Style, as its legs shift position and transfer weight into a counterpoise, the relaxed pose of contrapposto. Severe Style art from 480-450 BCE is known for its stoicism or a lack of facial emotion.

There is a youth from Sicily made around the same time as the Kritios Boy, the Ephebe of Agrigento. If we compare his face with the Mozia figure, we see the similarities, a serious demeanor with broad features, less elongated than the Kritios Boy or the Charioteer at Delphi. So questions of his "Greekness" should be eliminated.

The Ephebe of Agrigento (ancient Akragas), left, comes
from Sicily and is dated around
the time of the Kritios Boy, above.
Why was the Mozia Charioteer, if made by a Greek for a Greek in the 5th century, found in Mozia? In a constant battle between Greeks and Carthaginians, with the major Greek cities being ravaged between 409 and 405 BCE, this prized statue would have been captured as war booty. If you have any thoughts of date or identity to add to this blog, please comment.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Archeology in Sicily: The Morgantina Acroliths

This is the first of 5 blogs on archeology in Sicily which will cover topics in art and architecture that can trace the island's history from the Archaic Greek period through the late Roman period in Sicily. I must thank Mark Schara and Kelli Palmer who have shared their photos.

As with so many archeological sites, the excavation of a Greek settlement in east central Sicily, Morgantina, was subject to theft and sale of its treasures, notably a cache of fine silver and the Morgantina Acroliths, statues with only the marble heads hands and feet. The rest of the bodies may have been wood or cloth. These acroliths can be compared to the “Warka Mask,” a marble head dating back at least five millennia to ancient Uruk in Iraq, which was looted in 2003 but recouped by authorities at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. The Morgantina acroliths have also returned close to home recently, on display since 2008 in Aidone, a town of about 6,000 inhabitants near Morgantina.
For the archeologist, art hist
orian, the regional and national governments, and the museum world, the Morgantina acroliths pose many questions:

  • Why were statues made of marble only in the head, hands and feet?
  • Who are the subjects or goddesses represented by the statues?
  • How do we repatriate stolen goods? And do museums have the moral obligation to return items if they are later found to be looted?
  • When back in their home location, how should the statues, with missing parts, be displayed?
These expressive faces charm us with their smiles . Marble--not as abundant in Sicily as in Greece--was limited to head, feet and hands. However, it is easy to see the Morgantina heads as comparable in style and date to the well-known Peplos Kore from Athens.c. 530 BCE. They could have been made later if made in a provincial location, such as Morgantina. (Morgantina is 126 km from Sircusa, the great city of Syracuse in Greek Sicily.) Unquestionably feminine, the Morgantina heads are very much alike, although one woman is clearly more mature than the other, giving us hints of their relationship.

Below, a Sicilian fashion designer has clothed the acroliths. Demeter has both her
hands and feet, while only one hand and foot belong to Persephone, also called Kore.

Demeter, goddess of grain, and her daughter, Kore, are the likely identities of the goddesses who sat in a sanctuary of ancient Morgantina. The particular honor given to these goddesses in Sicily was tied to mythology and to the island's fertility, as the soil was less rocky and more fertile than in Greece. According to mythology, Hades of the underworld abducted Demeter's daughter and caused deep pain. On a frantic search for Kore, the goddess of grain scorched the earth and let all vegetation die. Zeus promised the return of her daughter if she agreed to send her into the underworld for half of every year. For that reason, Kore, also called Persephone, goes underground every autumn. According to myth, Sicily, specifically Enna (Morgantina is in the province of Enna), was the site of Kore's abduction. When Demeter brought her daughter back from the underworld and restored the grain, Sicily was the first place to which vegetation returned. Paying homage to Demeter and her daughter, goddess of the underworld, insured fertility of the land. The cult of Demeter and Kore was strong throughout ancient Sicily, with more sanctuaries dedicated to these goddesses than any other gods or goddesses.

The unfortunate stealing of Persephone into the underworld played itself out again in 1978, when professional tomb robbers dug up the acroliths and, through a network of dealers, sold them. A private collector, perhaps unaware that the marbles were obtained illegally, paid $1,000,000 for the goods. Through a laborious process of tracking down what happened to the acroliths, as well as other stolen items from Morgantina, Professor Emeritus Malcolm Bell of the University of Virginia pursued the goal of returning them to their region of origin. The collector gifted the marbles to the University of Virginia Art Museum with the knowledge they would eventually go back to Sicily. The problem of repatriating stolen goods has been a difficult one for American museums to address in recent years.

Demeter the mother, left, and her daughter, Persephone (also called Kore), right

The goddesses now sit together in their own room, like a cult chamber, in the Aidone Archeological Museum. The artful display has special lighting and new armatures and clothing designed by a fashion designer from Sicily, Marella Ferrara. The goal is to make the display as authentic as possible, giving the public an impression as they may have appeared in ancient times. (I still wonder if Demeter was holding sheaths of wheat? Kore holding a pomegranate?) Gauze-like coverings are suggestive but not definitive of how the statues may have been in a cult sanctuary. We can once again witness the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone in a space about 2 km from their original home.