The Punic rural landscape in Sardinia

08/05/2015 08:49:43

The Punic rural landscape in Sardinia

The focus of Phoenician and Punic archaeology has long been mainly on urban centres and not so much on the countryside. In general urban centres have always been the dominant political, social and economical factor where power and wealth was reflected in public and private buildings and have attracted the attention of more archaeologists. Ofcourse there are the famous roman villa's in the countryside that have been extensively studied, but beyond the dwellings of the rich and powerfull in the countryside, rural sites have not attracted that much attention. In the past decades this has been changing, more and more archaeology has begun to focus on the life of the common man, the artisans in the towns and the farmer and his family in the countryside. How was life organized in antiquity? How did people manage, how did they live together?

The archaeology of Sardinia has followed suit on the changing questions archaeologists have been posing and the different answers they have been seeking. Notably the rural sites before the Phoenician-Punic period are widespread, the nuraghi are markers of this rural settlement pattern that developed in the Bronze Age and persisted in the early Iron Age. Archaeologists have studied these settlement patterns and with the help of modern techniques used at excavations are developing an understanding of this rural landscape. For the Phoenician-Punic period work has been done by a number of archaeologists in the entire region of the western Mediterranean, roughly the sphere of influence of the Punic world.

Excavations of a Punic house at Nuraghe s'Uraki
Excavations of a Punic house at Nuraghe s'Uraki

For the Sardinian case it is interesting to see the contrasting developments in rural settlement in the punic period, on the one hand the spreading of new punic farmsteads in the hinterland of several urban centres (notably the Terralba district around Neapolis), and on the other hand the association of punic style farmsteads with Bronze Age nuraghi more inland (an example is the association of a punic farmstead with the complex nuraghe s'Uraki at San Vero Milis). In fact already studies had been done on the continuity of occupation, or reoccupation, of Bronze Age nuraghi in the Roman period, and now this seems to be confirmed also for the Punic period.

Religion and cult are intimately connected with daily life, the coutryside is no exception to that. In fact a number of rural sanctuaries and shrines have been discovered and examined. In the Punic period these rural sanctuaries and shrines did not have specific architectural features with the known exception of the temple of Antas. In several cases complex nuraghi were used as rural sanctuaries, most notably nuraghe Lugherras at Paulilatino, nuraghe Genna Maria at Villanovaforru and nuraghe su Mulinu at Villanovafranca, but also Bronze Age wells are known to have been used in punic times as rural sanctuaries.

From the studies on Phoenician-Punic rural landscapes emerges an intriguing picture of connections between local people and cultural and material influences from the punic world. In fact it is not said that the Punic world in Sardinia was made up solely of immigrating Phoenicians and Carthaginians, the local population participated in the cultural changes as much as well. In fact for the later roman period they are often referred to as Punic Sardinians.

For detailed reading on the subject I recommend Rural Landscapes of the Punic World, Peter van Dommelen and Carlos Gomez Bellard in the series Monographs in Mediterranean Archaeology (ed. A. Bernard Knapp), London 2008 Equinox Publishing
For more information on rural Bronze Age settlement patterns I refer to the work of Alessandro Usai readily accessible on Academia.edu
Image of the excavations at s'Uraki, San Vero Milis, from Scavi s'Urachi on Facebook

The Punic rural landscape in Sardinia

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