Signature of a Great Sicilian Unearthed at Segesta
It was long thought that the Segesta Archaeological Park, in Sicily, had given up most of her secrets to Victorian-era archaeologists and treasure hunters. However, it now appears it hadn’t. A team of archaeologists studying what is described as a “monumental building” in Segesta located near the portico at the end of the ancient agora have made a stunning discovery. At the base of an ancient statue plinth, the excavators discovered the chiseled name, and a list of works, of an elite Sicilian who had financially supported and managed the building of several monumental public structures.
Archaeologists doing excavations at Segesta Archaeological Park have discovered the name of an elite Sicilian carved into the base of a statue plinth. (Università di Pisa)
An Ancient Site Where Everything Was Monumental
An article in The Thinking Traveler claims that “if anyone needed yet more proof that the Greeks had a good eye for where to build, Segesta would lay any doubts to rest once and for all.” Located roughly 75 kilometers (46 mi) from Palermo, the ruined Doric temple was erected by the Elymians, an indigenous population of Sicily. Built between 430 and 420 BC, the Segesta temple has 36 Doric columns and measures 61 meters (200 ft) long and 26 meters (85 ft) wide.
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Since the beginning of May this year, the team of postgraduate and doctoral students from various universities, along with their professors of archaeology, were deep into an archaeological project restudying the agora of Segesta, as well as its associated public buildings. These new excavations, which only ended last Friday, were directed by Anna Magnetto, professor of Greek history at the Scuola Normale Superiore. According to Archaeology News Network, the team have come up with some “very important results.”
The team of archaeologists excavating at Segesta in Sicily have unearthed evidence on the importance of patronage to the ancient Sicilians. (Università di Pisa)
Dr. Maria Cecilia Parra, a professor of archaeology of Magna Graecia and ancient Sicily at the University of Pisa, explains that the square of Segesta was built on three sloping terraces beginning around the second century BC. Parra explained that the latest excavation took place on the southern side of the large square, an area “where a monumental portico (stoa) marked the end of the agora.” The new discoveries demonstrate “the fundamental role that the patronage of the great families played in the history of ancient Sicily and the prominence that was given to them in the most important places.”
An Extraordinary Year of Discovery for Segesta
Cut into the bedrock, a monumental building was located on the upper portico facing the main square. A lower-level façade faced the road and a large entrance doorway led to public rooms. On the base of a massive statue plinth the researchers discovered the name Diodorus, son of Tittelos, who is known to have been a prominent figure at Segesta. Between the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, Diodorus funded and oversaw the design and construction of several monumental public building works, explained Dr. Parra.
Posing with the Greek inscription unearthed at Segesta Archaeological Park. (Università di Pisa)
Alongside himself, Diodorus also erected a statue of his sister, priestess of Aphrodite Urania that was discovered in the 17th century within the Doric temple. The researchers say another Greek inscription was discovered near the gate where Diodorus raised a statue of his father Tittelos, who had been a gymnasiarch financier of the building’s construction “for the city's young people.”
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According to the researchers, these new discoveries “enrich the Hellenistic-Roman Segesta's evidence of evergetism, of munificence towards the community,” because the statue “bears the same name that was found inscribed on a statue base (now in Palermo) in the theatre of Segesta.” It is thought that this was the name of the benefactor.
These clues have led the archaeologists to conclude that this one single family played an important role in the developmental stages of ancient Sicily and its architecture. Dr. Magnetto highlighted that the results achieved so far this year “are extraordinary” in that an entirely new vault of demonstrative evidence has revamped the archaeological understanding of Sicily’s famous ancient city of Segesta.
Top image: Doric temple at the Segesta Archaeological Park on the island of Sicily. Source: Roman Babakin / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie