Work Package 3 : Petrography

Material choices and the monumentality of text. What was the value placed upon the monumentalization of the written word in ancient Sicily and what was the relationship between choice of material and creation of text? Epigraphic texts are not only ‘a special kind of text’, but also ‘a special kind of monument’ (Woolf 1996: 28). Inscriptions on stone are distinctively monumental; decisions to engrave on stone reflect active social and cultural choices; but the form and nature of stone directly affects the ways that text is created and presented (e.g. serifs have their origins in the technical challenges of engraving on hard, crystalline stone, but evolved into stylistic choices).

Epigraphers have rarely worked with petrographers, despite the developing emphasis upon monumentality, and have paid little attention to the detailed implications of stone choice. However, more than this, the use of native and imported stone on Sicily has not yet been studied in detail by archaeologists, despite the growing focus upon urban monumentalization (e.g. Campagna 2011).

To take just the most simplistic example: there is no native marble on Sicily, with the consequence that any inscription engraved upon marble reflects a conscious (and costly) import, as well as requiring different engraving techniques. Approximately 25% of all stone inscriptions in Sicily are engraved on marble, but the precise proportion changes over time, first appearing with some frequency in the Hellenistic period, but to a much greater extent under the Roman Empire.


Types of stone in Archaic and Hellenistic inscriptions in Sicily (I.Sicily data from 2016)]


A comprehensive analysis of stone use in epigraphic contexts will answer a series of questions around the choice of material – taking into account its social and economic value – and its use to monumentalize different categories of text in relation to language, monument and location over time. These questions go to the heart of any understanding of the interactions of society and culture through epigraphic texts, and of the importance given to the texts themselves.

However, a fundamental reason for the lack of detailed analysis of stone use is that accurate petrographic analysis is highly technical and requires an extensive programme of sampling. A prerequisite for the analysis of the use of stone on the island, native and imported, is the systematic identification of native Sicilian stones and their sources. To this end, this four-year subproject, will be led by a post-doctoral researcher with a strong background in petrography, mineralogy and mineralogical analysis. They will work under the close supervision of two senior petrologists at Catania University (Prof. Paolo Mazzoleni and Prof. Germana Barone), who have wide experience of working on archaeological material and Sicilian geology. Access to technical instrumentation and laboratory analysis of samples will be provided by our partner instution, Catania University. We aim to create a petrographic database for the presentation and statistical analysis of the results of the programme of classification detailed above, which will support the detailed annotation of this information in the primary epigraphic corpus. Creation of such a resource will be of major long-term benefit to the wider archaeological community in the study of ancient Sicily, since it will provide the basis for future study of the use and economy of stone in ancient Sicily.