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Claudia Sagona. 2003. Punic Antiquities of Malta and Other Ancient Artefacts Held in Ecclesiastic and Private Collections. Leuven: Peeters Press
Archaeologist Claudia Sagona, who has already published an extensive study of the Phoenician colonisation of Malta (The Archaeology of Punic Malta, 2002: Peeters) dates the arrival of the Phoenicians on Malta to c.1000 BC. The Phoenician-Punic legacy in Malta finds its largest expression in the pottery assemblage, which has attracted antiquarian interest since the 17th century. Phoenician and Punic pottery is found in significant quantities in public and ecclesiastical museums and private collections. However, modern scholarship concerning Malta has been hampered by the lack of properly studied and published material.
Sagona has already filled a huge part of this lacunae by the publication of The Archaeology of Punic Malta. Thus, in many ways, the present volume is a companion to the first. Like its predecessor, this book is a careful, methodical and detailed examination of the ceramic record of the Maltese islands, this time concentrating on ecclesiastical and private collections. Besides documenting the ceramic heritage, such studies have also made it possible for scholars to understand the nature and extent of Phoenician and Punic settlement in Malta.
This volume offers the reader a solid introduction to the Punic period in Malta, starting with the transition from prehistory to history. The nature of this transition still needs further study, and this volume presents all the data available to date. Due to the lack of published excavations for this period, pottery remains our best tool in order to study this change. There is more pottery dating to this period that remains to be studied, and one hopes that in the near future such studies will be possible.
Another 'transition' is also discussed. Following the Second Punic War, Malta surrendered to the Roman consul Tiberius Sempronius Longos, severing its administrative bond with Carthage. However, on a day-to-day level, the bond was not severed immediately. The archaeological record clearly demonstrates a slow transition to the Roman way of life, and once again, such changes can be seen from the ceramic repertoire.
Despite the official Romanisation of the islands, the archaeological record also shows that the local population still made use of its Punic burial grounds, with few changes readily visible in funerary practices. Although the range of pottery available in tombs does show some changes, basic shapes like pouring vessels, bowls and lamps are still present. Pottery from the Roman workshops in Italy and North Africa is present in Malta, however, the record has also yielded an enormous quantity of local vessels which show a continuity with the previous repertoire.
For the reader's convenience, Sagona provides a short description of available ware types. These descriptions are based on two sets of data: pottery from tombs and from the sanctuary of Tas-Silg, Marsaxlokk, Malta. The wares described are chalky reddish yellow ware, reddish yellow gritty ware, coarse grey gritty ware, thick-slipped crisp ware, crisp ware, biscuit ware, soft brown ware, soft orange ware, imported grey-brown ware, imported pink-buff ware, imported (?) red bricky ware, Attic and related wares, imported red wares and Roman fine wares and local red ware.
The author also provides a description of pottery shapes. This follows the author's classification of the Phoenician-Punic repertoire of the Maltese islands. Shapes are divided into amphorae, urns, jars, jugs, juglets, flasks, spouted flasks, askoi, bottles, unguentaria, beakers, bowls, cups, skyphoi, kylikes, open pots, tripod bowls, situlae, plates, lids, incense cups, braziers, cooking pots and lamps. Once the complete collection of Punic pottery in Malta is made available, these shapes could be further subdivided into more refined categories.
Following this excellent introductory material, which helps the reader view the pottery in its proper context, Sagona offers a detailed study of eight collections, each accompanied by a detailed catalogue. Four of the collections come from ecclesiastical museums - the Mdina Cathedral Museum, Wignacourt College (St Paul's Parish Museum, Rabat), St Dominic's Priory (Rabat) and St Agatha's Museum (Rabat). The remaining four are from private collections (the Sammut, Catania, Micallef and Courtyard collections).
The Mdina Cathedral collection had been looked at by F.S. Mallia in 1983, who provided a brief catalogue and in 1970, scholar William Culican described two of the pieces. Sagona has studied the complete collection, both on display and in the stores - a total of 153 items. The entire assemblage is the result of various collections donated to the Museum over time, and also pottery found within the cathedral itself and in the neighbouring suburb of Rabat.
The Wignacourt College collection comprises 83 artefacts. Little is known of their origins. Most objects were reputedly found in Bahrija and were later acquired by a certain Notary Francesco Catania, who bequeathed them to St Paul's Grotto and College. A larger collection (116 artefacts) is held at St Dominic's Priory. Due to the extensive collection in St Agatha's Museum, only 217 pieces representing the forms held in the collection in total were described in detail and illustrated. The remainder (over 900 vessles) are listed in an appendix according to Sagona's shape typology. The private collections yielded a total of 684 items.
Thus, this book presents a large corpus of Phoenician and Punic pottery in Malta which has been studied, catalogued and photographed. Sagona provides a methodical description of each artefact, starting with shape and a reference for the relevant photograph/drawing. Information is also given on the characteristics of each pot, the ware, and Munsell colour guidelines. The volume is indexed according to pottery shapes.My only gripe is that it is somewhat inconvenient for the reader to shift between catalogues and images and perhaps it would have been visually better (although probably much more costly) to have photographs and descriptions on facing pages. For the reader's convenience, Sagona also provides drawings of the main pottery shapes of Punic Malta, which are looked at in detail in her book The Archaeology of Punic Malta. Once again, Peeters have done an excellent job with images, which are very clear and printed on high quality paper. This book is certainly worth its price, and coupled with The Archaeology of Punic Malta, it is a must for scholars of the Phoenician world and the Mediterranean.
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