New York.- By Catherine Tsounis
“The glory Sicily had with the Greek colonies of two thousand five hundred years ago was the high point of Sicilian history,” said the museum display in the “Paolo Orsi” Museum in Syracuse, Sicily. “Modern Sicily is a shadow of the greatness it had under the Greeks.” This fact written by persons who were not Greek totally astonished me during the 2005 Arba Sicula (Sicilian dawn) Tour. It continued to mesmerize me during my return visit in the 2008 Arba Sicula tour.
The “Paolo Orsi” Regional Archaeological Museum of Syracuse, Sicily is one of the foremost institutions in Europe. It was built in the park of the Villa Landolina. It is dedicated to Paolo Orsi, an archaeologist and expert in Hellenic and pre-Hellenic civilizations. The building is nine thousand square meters of exhibition space on two floors. Eighteen thousand archaeological finds are displayed from the city of Syracuse and eastern regions of Sicily.
Section A contains the artifacts documenting prehistoric and protohistoric periods from XV-XIII century B.C. The Thapsos culture of Syracuse shows the influence of the Mycenaean world during the Bronze Age. Pottery from Mycenae, Peloponnese was present in the grave goods. This indicates trade relations with other Mediterranean centers such as Cyprus and Malta. Section A concludes with a display of the tomb contents from artificial grotto burials found in the Valle of the Marcelino, near Villasmundo. The Middle and late geometric Greek pottery included in those tombs documents the Greek contact with the Eastern Sicilian coast before the height of colonization.
Section B is dedicated to the Greek Colonies and Syracuse. Artifacts are from Naxos, Mylai, Zanite, Katane, Leontini, Megara Hyblaea and Syracuse. Exhibitions include furnishings from the Syracusan necropolis (cemetery). A vast collection of Corinthian, Ionic, Rhodian, Attic and Etruscan imported pottery are shown. Architectural terracotas from urban and extra urban sanctuaries of Syracuse are included. The temple findings of Apollo and the Athenaion are included. Findings from the Ciane sanctuary, Apollo Temenites temple, and the sanctuaries of Artemis, Scala Greca and Belvedere, the temple of Olympian Zeus are included. Terracotas manufactyured in Siceliot worshops in the fifth and 4th century B.C. are from Gela, Agrigento, Camarina and eastern island sites. Section C gives material evidence on the sub colonies of Syracuse, Hellenized centers and colonies of Gela and Agrigento.
The art forms are mesmerizing. The limestone “Kourotrophos”, a headless goddess feeding two twins, is from Megara Hyblaeaʼs northern necropolis. A small bronze statue of an athlete making an offering is attributed to Pythagoras of Rhegium (460 B.C.). The large, intact vases are simply amazing. Venus Anadyomene (rising from the sea) dates back to the second century A.D. It is know as “Venus Landolina”, discovered in a Syracuse nymphaeum (a sanctuary, reservoir or assembly room). It is a copy of a Rhodian original.
Another unique treasure is the marble funeral statue of doctor Sambrotidas, son of Mandrokles, 550 B.C. from the necropolis of Megara Hyblaea. The numerous figurines dedicated to Demeter, the Greek goddess of the seasons and crops, are incredible. The finest antiquities of Ancient Greece are located outside of Modern Greece in Sicily, Italy and Turkey. The tragedy of the Modern Greek nation is that their magnificent civilization reached its peak outside its present day borders. For one to see the flourishing of the “Greek Miracle” one must visit Italy, Sicily and in particular the coast of Asia Minor.
Who were the Greeks of Sicily? They came primarily from mainland Greece, the Aegean islands and the coast of Asia Minor, Turkey. Greek colonization began in the 8th and 6th centuries B.C. They formed new cities with the language, religious cultural traditions, myths and institutions from the original polis. Magna Graecia (Southern Italy) and Sicily were the greatest Greek settlements in Western Europe. Naxos (the Gardens of Naxos) was the first Greek colony founded in 735 B.C. by colonists from Euboea. In 730 B.C., Kalchedian colonists founded Zankle (Messina). Syracuse was founded by the Corinthians in 733 B.C. The Megareans founded Megara Hyblaea in the Gulf of Augusta. Gela was founded by Cretans and Rhodians in 688 B.C. This was the first wave of colonization.
The second wave of immigration involved cities establishing their own colonies. Syracuse founded Acre in 650 B.C. Syracusans founded Himera. Megara Hyblaea formed Selinunte in the 7th century. By the end of the 7th century, Syracuse founded Kamarina and Agrigento. “The Greeks were colonizers. They created all their economic power through work and sacrifice,” said Salvatore Furnari in his book, Myths, Legends and Customs in Greek and Roman Sicily. “We must say that the Greeks, among ancient peoples, were those that used slaves the least. They respected and never brutalized them. Even though they were excellent warriors, the Greeks were peaceful people who preferred colonizing to occupying. For them, war was their last remedy.”
Furnari continues saying that “the south of Italy and Sicily were a “gift from the gods” to the Greeks.” This unique wealth of antiquities is best seen at the “Paolo Orsi” Regional Archaeological Museum of Syracuse, Sicily.
Visit the following links:
Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum of Syracuse
http://archaeology.about.com/od/tterms/g/thapsos.htm – Thapsos culture.
http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9050004/Magna-Graecia – Magna Graecia
http://www.newsfinder.org/site/more/greek_colonies_was_wide_spread/ – Greek colonies