Archaic Italy : The Siculi
by: M. Moravius Horatius Piscinus
Contact between the Eastern Mediterranean with Sicily, Lipari, and southern Italy began in the Middle Bronze Age. Mycenaean trading posts were established in Sicily by the 1500ís, at Taranto soon after 1400 BCE. Mycenaean III A, B, and C wares found in the region providing a rough means of dating these sites. Other locations were further up the Tyrrhenian coast at Castiglione on Ischia, the nearby islet of Vivara, and at Luni. Mycenaean violin-bow fibulae are also found in the Po Valley. In the reverse direction, from the Po Valley a Terremara axe mould was discovered at Mycenae itself. Apennine pottery, of a form characteristic of the Marches, was found in the sixth and seventh levels of Troy. Direct contact with northern Italy was possible, suggested by a Mycenaean ingot found on the Dalmatian coast, however trade with the north more likely passed through the southern Italian region. When the Aegean area collapsed in the twelfth century, the indigenous people of southern Italy continued trade with the East, expanding their own trade network up the Adriatic coast. By the arrival of the Greeks in the eight-century, southwestern Italy was occupied by the Italic Siculi. A century earlier the Siculi had crossed over to eastern Sicily. In western Sicily were the Sicani. Practically nothing is known of the Sicani language, but their material culture is much like that found in eastern Spain of the same period. In northwestern Sicily were the Elimi. Only fragments of the Elimi language has been found, none longer than twelve letters, written in Greek characters of the fifth century. What does remain cannot rule out Elimi as an Indo-European language, posing the interesting possibility of an Indo-European people in the western Mediterranean prior to 2000 BCE.
By the Archaic period the Siculi were limited to eastern Sicily. Legend claimed they had been displaced by the arrival of an Oscan-speaking people into southwestern Italy. Greek colonization into the same region, and then along the shores of Sicily, pushed the Siculi further inland into Sicily. The Siculi can be identified as one of the people exhibiting the Fossa Grave culture of Campania and Calabria. Characteristic of this culture was their trench graves lined with slabs of stone found at Gaudo and Torre Castelluccia. Other graves were the rock-cut tombs of Canale and Janchina at Locri east of Reggio that are related to the Sicilian site at Pantalica. At such gravesites are found shaft-hole axes of the type traditional among the Siculi. Bronze artifacts Ė fibulae, knives, spearheads, and armbands - are of a general nature, indistinguishable from artifacts found throughout the rest of Italy. Fossa Grave pottery was handmade, plain, dark and burnished, in forms characteristic of the earlier Apennine culture.
A particular pottery form made in southwestern Italy, that of the binocular handle, is what links the Ausonian II on Lipari with Campania and Calabria cultures, and also signifies trade between the Fossa Grave people with northern Italy. A distinctive artifact of Fossa Grave sites is a terracotta truncated pyramid with a hole passing horizontally through the upper portion. These are elaborately decorated with deeply incised and cut-out meanders and swastikas. One possible use of these was as loom weights.
In southern Calabria there was a local cultus of Phersephatta at Locri, Medma, and Hipponion, with examples of its spread to Croton and Caulonia, and to Sicily at Syracusa, Naxos, and Selinus. Phersephatta combined aspects of Demeter and Persephone, but rather than a goddess of agriculture or a Queen of the Dead, she appears as a goddess of marriage, child bearing, and child nurturing. One of her local epitaphs is epilusamene, indicating her role as a protrectress of children. She was identified with Greek Demeter and with Persephone, yet she was unlike either goddess as they appear elsewhere in Grecian Sicily or in mainland Greece. On pinakes where she is depicted as Persephone, she is seen being seized by a beardless youth rather than by Hades. There are also depictions of her with Triptolemos that date to two generations before his appearance at Eleusis, and again unlike what is found elsewhere. Phersephatta appears only in Greek colonies of Magna Graecia where the Siculi were located, and the only other place where her name is found is at Corinth. As at Tarentum, where locally manufactured pottery depicted scenes that were not drawn from Greek myth, Locrian Phersephatta and her cultus represents the indigenous Italic traditions of the non-Greek populace of Magna Graecia. In spite of Greek colonization Phersephatta retained her own unique identity, never fully assimilated into Demeter or Persephone, and instead was adopted by Greek colonists from the local Siculi populace.
While the Siculi of Sicily is a linguistic group and can be identified as a Fossa Grave culture, the terms are not interchangeable. In northern Campania a Fossa Grave site appears at Cumae just prior to the arrival of the Greeks. The Val di Sarno site at the foot of Vesuvius began only in the eight century and continued beyond the Archaic period. The large Fossa Grave cemeteries at Alife and Alfedena began even later. When the Romans arrived in the area these sites were occupied by tribes of an Oscan-speaking people rather than by Siculi. The Greek trading post at Pythecusae was established on Ischia in 753 BCE. Cumae was founded later on the high ground overlooking the beaches where the Greeks came ashore, then the local population invited the Greeks to set up an entrepol in their community. The "princely tomb" of Cumae, indicating the cityís rulers were still the indigenous people, dates to no earlier than 720 BCE. While a Fossa Grave culture, Cumae and other sites in northern Campania exhibit binocular handle pottery with features of the northern Apennine, and some pottery with Villanovan decorations. The typical Iron Age sword of the north with the T-pommel is found in these sites made of bronze, rarely of iron. Another type of asymmetrical, single-edge sword is found in this area, and elsewhere only in the Latian site at Sermoneta. East of Cumae, an Ausonia people founded the city of Hyra in 801 BCE. In the fifth century its population was composed of Greeks and Calcides when it was seized by Samnites and renamed Noula (Nola). On Lipari Fossa Grave sites began to appear and Ausonian II material ended in the ninth century. Lipariís Siculi population, reported at five-hundred by Diodorus when the Greeks arrived in 580 BCE, and the change in its material culture agrees with the legends of Oscans displacing the Siculi from Campania and northern Calabria just prior to the initial arrival of the Greeks in the eight century.