Universiteit Leiden

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Dining with the dead in early Byzantine Sicily

  • Excavations at Punta Secca near Ragusa
Tuesday 28 November 2017
National Museum of Antiquities
Rapenburg 28
3211EW Leiden

Punta Secca (Ragusa province) on the south coast of Sicily is a late Roman and early Byzantine village, partly excavated in the 1960s and 1970s and identified as the Kaukana of the ancient sources, where Belisarius set sail for the conquest of Africa in 533 AD.

This talk will describe a more recent excavation which focused on one building, a house, which examined in detail its building phases and the commercial contacts that its inhabitants enjoyed with other parts of Sicily – and indeed with the wider Mediterranean world. Finds include the earliest well-dated example in Europe of a thimble, and what is arguably the earliest depiction anywhere of a backgammon board.

The biggest surprise was the discovery of a substantial, built tomb placed in what was probably the yard of the house in the second quarter of the seventh century AD, and of evidence for associated feasting in honor of the deceased. Who was inside the tomb, and why did that person deserve this level of respect? What evidence was there for feasts, and what did they eat? Was it a pagan or a Christian burial? And what was the tomb doing here, in a domestic setting, rather than in the village cemetery, or indeed, if the deceased was Christian, in or near the settlement’s church?

These and other intriguing questions will be addressed in this lecture, and the discovery set in the context of what else is known about such practices in late Roman and early Byzantine funerary culture.

Dining with the dead in early Byzantine Sicily: excavations at Punta Secca near Ragusa

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