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Book: The Archaeology of Medieval Sicily

Chapter: Introduction

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.24283


Broadly, this proposed volume will seek to reconstruct, primarily using archaeological sources (buried, built, material cultural), a social and economic history of Sicily across seven centuries; key components within this reconstruction will be institutions, culture, religions, exchange systems, production and consumption patterns, coinage, social structures, urban and rural housing, etc. There will be some comparative assessment, drawing notably on other Italian zones (chiefly south Italian), Visigothic and Islamic Spain, and Byzantine and Arab North Africa. One must emphasise that currently no extended synthesis of this type is available for Sicily either in Italian or in English; this volume would thus make a notable statement in drawing on, especially, the archaeological record to tackle to island’s significant and challenging multicultural history.

A particular aim is to bring to the fore how research on material sources, especially in the last two decades, had helped to substantially modify the perception of the economic and cultural role played by Sicily in the Mediterranean space, which has too often been viewed as marginal. It will also be valuable to demonstrate the constant tension which archaeology is able to highlight between the changes of power/authority in the island and the forms of social, cultural and religious ‘resistance’ of local/indigenous communities. This tension and the growing role of archaeology are best explored across the wide timespan of the 6th to 13th centuries A.D., from Byzantine to Swabian domination.

In order to illustrate all this a wide spectrum of material sources will be deployed: firstly, we will explore the types and distribution of the diverse kinds of settlement – from city to open villages, defended villages, military fortresses, scattered settlement (this weakly understood), religious foci, etc. Thus we will draw upon evidence such as the typologies of houses, material culture (with ceramics prominent in discussion), funerary practices, religious buildings, and communications. There will also be reference to monetary circulation and to specific object types like Byzantine- and Arab-period lead seals (e.g. to pay the jizya or personal tax), glass jetons, glassware, etc.
Unfortunately, currently research on the agricultural techniques, resources, palaeodemographics, etc. is limited, but mention can be made to certain themes, such as the claimed islamic agricultural revolution and the physical visibility/legibility of this on the island of Sicily.
Interestingly, however, the world of the farmers/peasants is that for which a more critical mass of data is available, most notably regarding actual zones and modes of settlement. Accordingly this – landscape and settlement – will form one of the core themes of the proposed book.

Chapter Contributors

  • Alessandra Molinari ([email protected] - amolinari) ' University of Rome Tor Vergata (Italy)'