AREA ARCHEOLOGICA VASSALLAGGI

 
L'area archeologica vista dall'alto

The archaeological site of Vassallaggi, close to the present-day town of San Cataldo in the province of Caltanissetta, is located on a system of five hills between the middle course of the Salso river and the upper course of the Platani.

 

Again, due to its favourable position, the site was early frequented from the Early Bronze Age (2200-1450 B.C.), to which the necropolis of artificial caves opened on the sides of the second hill and the village located on the top of the same hill refer, indicated by many ceramic fragments decorated in the Castelluccio style.

 

Between the 8th and 7th centuries B.C., an indigenous settlement was established on the third hill, documented by many ceramic finds in the S. Angelo Muxaro - Polizzello style. It is linked to a necropolis of chamber tombs excavated on the southern slopes of the same hill.

 

In the course of the 6th century B.C. the centre, certainly because of its strategic location with respect to the routes connecting the southern and northern coasts of the island, was attracted into the political and military orbit of Agrigento (a sub-colony of Gela founded in 580 B.C.) which, under the tyrant Falarides, undertook a strategy of expansion northwards, towards the Tyrrhenian coast of Sicily. Thus began the Hellenisation of Vassallaggi, which was transformed into a phrouriom, or fortified military outpost, with, among other things, a boundary wall of the àggere type (i.e. with an embankment).

 

The necropolis of chamber tombs excavated on the slopes of the fifth hill is pertinent to this same phase, with rich grave goods characterised by both indigenous and imported ceramics and a considerable abundance of metal artefacts, such as bronze jewellery, knives, plaques and iron agricultural tools.

 

Between the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., in a central position between the second and third hills, the urban sanctuary dedicated to the chthonic deities Demeter and Kore was built, a typically Greek cult that was also widespread in Agrigento. Like other contemporary sacred complexes in Sicily, the sanctuary has a simple rectangular cell (oikos) inside a stone enclosure wall (temenos), with no columns. An altar in an oblique position (NE-SW), intended for the celebration of sacrifices, faces the short east side of the temple, which was also served by a series of smaller rooms, however sacred, arranged around it. Finds made inside the sanctuary included terracotta busts of the two female divinities, relief-decorated plates, zoomorphic figures, weapons, coins, architectural decorations in the form of a Silenian mask or with palmette motifs.

 

Archaeological research has documented a violent destruction in Vassallaggi around the middle of the 5th century BC, followed by rapid reconstruction. This circumstance, together with the location of the site, has been considered proof of the identification of Vassallaggi with the ancient city of Motyon, remembered by ancient historians (Diodorus IX) as a military stronghold in Agrigento conquered in 451 BC by the leader Ducezio, at the head of the confederation of Siculi rebelling against the Greeks of Sicily.

 

It was precisely the immediate reconquest of the post by Agrigento in 450 B.C. that would have been decisive in the repression of the revolt itself and the definitive defeat of Ducezio.

 

Nella seconda metà del V secolo a.C  l’insediamento, ricostruito in seguito agli eventi sopra citati, raggiunse la sua massima espansione, interessando tutte e cinque le alture del sistema collinare ed articolandosi in isolati quadrangolari e in complessi domestici a più ambienti, disposti intorno a una corte centrale, come mostrano in particolare i resti rinvenuti sulla seconda collina.

 

The southern necropolis at the foot of the second hill dates from this period in the life of Vassallaggi and is characterised above all by burials in alabastrine plaster sarcophagi or in 'capuchin' tombs, by incinerations, and by burials of children in enchytrismos (i.e. the deposition of children in ceramic containers). The relative grave goods are remarkably rich and refined, with a very high percentage of black glazed and red-figure Attic imports, often attributable to the best Athenian schools and workshops of the second half of the 5th century BC. In particular, the figurative production of the Polynesian Mannerists is well represented, with the Kleophon Painter and the Shuvalov Painter.

 

After the Carthaginian ravages of 409-405 B.C., the site probably experienced a revival around the middle of the 4th century, a period in which much of the island went through a phase of prosperity linked to the peace-making work carried out by the Corinthian leader Timoleon.

 

The use of the imposing fortified wall with its limestone block basement and mud-brick elevation is attributed to the 4th century, although it may date from a slightly earlier period. Partially unearthed between 1983 and 1986, the wall is technically comparable with similar examples at Gela, Camarina, Eraclea Minoa and Reggio di Calabria.

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