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Studies in the urban domestic housing of mid-Republican Sicily (ca. 211 - 70 BC) : aspects of cross-cultural contact Aberle, Karen Ann


This study provides a systematic analysis of urban domestic housing in Sicily during the mid-Republican period (ca. 211 – 70 BC). It employs a methodological framework that is not grounded in traditional typologies, and instead uses relevant comparative and contextual models. The data are examined for the socio-cultural impact of Roman hegemony on Rome’s first province. The aim is to gain a better understanding of the nature of cross-cultural contact in the region, and, where possible, to interpret developing Sicilian ideologies and identities during this period. It was found that the domestic architecture and their decorative pavements suggest a mixture of Greek, Punic, Roman, and regional Sicilian cultural influences, stimuli, and interactions along a variable scale, but more significantly that Sicily, which was geographically central, and culturally diverse, acted as a ‘middle ground’, and had an active role in the (re)interpretation and dissemination of many of these features across the Mediterranean. This is particularly true for the colonnaded courtyard, the western tradition of decorative pavements, and the communal domestic bath-suite. Further, it was recognised that variable responses are relative primarily to 1) house type; 2) location within the island (possibly related to ethnic or cultural affiliation); 3) social status; and 4) function. There is an apparent dichotomy within the houses between the more ‘private’ domestic spaces, which largely maintain more traditional Greek or Punic features, and the ‘public’ reception spaces, which, while they belong to a Mediterranean-wide koine, begin to incorporate features more common to the Roman west. All of these variables themselves were likely to have been interrelated. Sicily, being Rome’s first province, is fundamental to any discussion about culture contact under Roman hegemony. The material manifestations of cross-cultural contact during the mid-Republican period as represented by the urban domestic architecture suggest a combination of multidirectional processes and multi-layered identities. This study represents a launch-point for further analyses of the impact of culture contact by illustrating some of the processes involved in the overarching practice of so-called ‘Romanisation’. It also provides a worthwhile approach to analyse other material assemblages in Sicily, as well as in other ‘new’ Roman provinces.

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