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Notes et chroniques

The Scritti Africani of Professor Antonino Di Vita

David J. Mattingly
p. 193-196


La publication d’un recueil en deux volumes des travaux clés sur l’Afrique romaine par le professeur Antonino di Vita offre un moment approprié pour se remémorer sa brillante carrière. L’objet principal de son travail fut la Tripolitaine, en particulier les grandes cités de Sabratha et Leptis Magna, mais son ouvrage Scritti Africani démontre l’extraordinaire portée de sa compétence et de sa connaissance.

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  • 1   DiVita 2015.

1The death of the Italian archaeologist Professor Antonino Di Vita on 22nd October 2011 was not formally marked in these pages at the time by an obituary notice, but the publication in 2015 of a two-volume compendium of all his most important African writings merits a few words to celebrate some of his most notable achievements1. For 50 years, he was at the forefront of work on Punic and Roman Tripolitania. His work on North Africa always had a particular focus on Libya, but he also directed work in Tunisia at Leptiminus and Althiburos. Outside North Africa he achieved international prominence for his work on Sicilian archaeology and in Crete, notably at Gortin. He was Professor and later Emeritus Professor (also Magnifico Rettore) at the Università di Macerata for many years and served as the Director of the Scuola Archeologica Italiana di Atene for 20 years.

  • 2   DiVita 2015, p. 944, fig 1-2, reveals the speed with which the arena was emptied of sand (...)

2Antonino Di Vita was born at Chiaramonte Gulfi, Ragusa, Sicily on 19th October 1926. He trained as a Classical Archaeologist at the University of Catania, the Italian School at Athens and La Sapienza in Rome. Initially he worked in the Italian archaeological superintendancies for Syracuse, Rome and Florence, but in 1962 the sudden death of Ernesto Vergara Caffarelli created an opportunity for him to serve for four years as a special advisor on archaeological matters for the still young government of independent Libya. He excelled in the role and, in conjunction with the British archaeologist Richard Goodchild – who was Controller of Antiquities in Cyrenaica, transformed the structures and capabilities of the Department of Antiquity. They invested in training and capacity building, founded Libya Antiqua as the national archaeological journal and undertook (and encouraged other foreign missions to participate in) renewed fieldwork at the major Classical sites (Sabratha, Lepcis Magna, Cyrene, Ptolemais, Taucheira, Apollonia). This period saw the last wave of large-scale urban excavations at Libya’s Classical ruins, including the programme to unearth the remarkable circus and amphitheatre at Lepcis Magna2. What Di Vita did not initiate or carry out himself, he was instrumental in supporting and facilitating. Coincidentally, in 1968 both Di Vita and Goodchild were appointed to chairs in Archaeology back in their home countries, but within a few months Goodchild had died at the age of 50, while Di Vita was to continue to play a significant role in Libyan archaeology for a further 43 years.

  • 3   Levi della Vida, Amadasi Guzzo 1987.

3The landmark achievements of the Libyan aspect of Di Vita’s career are an extraordinary roll call of important monuments, primarily in and around the three Tripolitanian cities of Sabratha, Oea and Lepcis Magna. He excavated the famous Punico-Hellenistic mausolea at Sabratha and oversaw the reconstruction of Mausoleum B, one of the site’s most iconic monuments for subsequent visitors. He also excavated important funerary complexes there (the tophet, Sidret el-Balik, hypogea tombs). At Lepcis he carried out important work on the west side of the harbour and on the Serapeum and saw through to completion (after Lidiano Bacchielli’s death) the anastylosis and full reconstruction of the great four-way arch of Septimius Severus. Again, this has become an unforgettable entrance spectacle for visitors to the site. This sort of reconstruction work on many important Libyan monuments was a vital contribution to the mise en valeur of Libya’s cultural heritage, especially during the last years of Ghadaffi’s rule, when tourism finally started to receive more official encouragement. He also excavated a coastal villa at Tagiura, near Tripoli, with rich mosaics, several extraordinary painted tombs of early Roman date and did important work on the great four-way arch at Tripoli (Oea). Another important dimension of his career concerns his encouragement of the next generation of archaeologists, Libyan and Italian, and his success in helping other specialists complete important work, as with the definitive monographic publication of the Punic inscriptions of Tripolitania3.

  • 4   A thematic or site-by-site arrangement might have been alternative possibilities for the (...)

4The Scritti Africani volumes were conceived before Di Vita’s death – indeed he had played a full role in selecting papers and determining the order of arrangement. The project assembles all his major publications on North Africa in one place, arranged in chronological order of publication for the most part4. From his overall African bibliography of 123 outputs, the 74 individual items included in the volumes comprise a total of 52 articles and chapters from books, 5 encyclopaedia entries, 17 miscellaneous pieces (short notes, prefatory comments, concluding remarks, obituaries). Given the rarity outside Italy of some of the books and journals in which the original materials were published these volumes are a resource of the highest scholarly value. The present edition has been reformatted in a coherent house style, but the original page numbering schema is highlighted within the text to facilitate correlation with references to the originals.

  • 5   An overall synthesis on the history and archaeology of Tripolitania was projected during (...)
  • 6   See DiVita 2015, p. 325-344.
  • 7   It is also important to note that some of his ‘articles’ were lengthy and detailed treatm (...)

5Re-reading some of his classic studies in these beautifully produced volumes I was reminded of the huge scholarly impact of his work, while also struck by how little of what he argued has been surpassed or overturned in the intervening years. The material presented in these volumes remains highly relevant to archaeological debate today. However, there is a paradox in his work in that although he was a prolific writer, as the combined 1000 pages of these volumes attest, he was less successful at producing definitive monographic publications5. His parallel archaeological field careers in Sicily and Crete (especially Gortin where a series of monographs were produced) and his large administrative responsibilities at Macerata and the Italian School at Athens all played a part in frustrating his best intentions. For this reason, the editors have included additional unpublished documentation and illustrations on some of the key monuments, notably some beautiful water colour reconstructions of Mausoleum B by Carmelo Catanuso6. Where colour versions of photographs originally published in black and white exist they have generally been used in preference throughout the book. While we may regret the lack of definitive reports on some key monuments, the cumulative evidence presented in these two volumes is impressive and his analyses and interpretations of the data are never less than insightful and agenda-setting7.

  • 8   DiVita 1969 (= DiVita 2015, p. 223-228); DiVita 1976 (= DiVita 2015, p. 303-354); Di(...)
  • 9   DiVita 1982a (= DiVita 2015, p. 429-486); DiVita 1983 (= DiVita 2015, p. 523- (...)
  • 10   DiVita 1964 (= DiVita 2015, p. 1-38); DiVita 1967 (= DiVita 2015, p. 73-92).

6One of the things that makes his work of such wide and continuing importance was his polymathic knowledge and engagement with a vast number of issues and sub-specialisms. Thematically, the papers in Scritti Africani range from studies of architecture (with a particular focus on monumental arches, temples, theatres, Hellenistic and Roman mausolea and hypogeal tombs), urban planning, funerary archaeology, mosaic art, wall-paintings, coins, stratigraphic excavation, earthquakes, Christian archaeology, antiquarian writings, the history and geography of Tripolitania, ancient harbours, Trans-Saharan trade, the cultural interactions in Libyphoenician and Romano-Libyan societies. In all of these areas he produced landmark studies that have stood the test of time. When he first arrived in Libya he followed in a distinguished line of Italian archaeologists, but his approach and his interpretation was highly original and marked a departure from the previous work. For one thing, he was less focused on the Roman period and brought to the fore the importance of the Libyphoenician heritage of the area, epitomised by his studies of the origins of the Tripolitanian emporia and their architectural embellishment in the Hellenistic period8. His contributions on the urban topography and early development of sites like Lepcis and Sabratha were radical in drawing out the importance of innovations of the Hellenistic era in paving the way for the spectacular Roman developments9. Like Goodchild, he also saw the importance of the rural hinterland and the frontier zone for providing a wider context for the great coastal cities10.

  • 11   DiVita 1982b (= DiVita 2015, p. 491-522); contra the views of Ward-Perkins (...)
  • 12   DiVita 1990 (= DiVita 2015, p. 645-686).
  • 13   Kenrick 1986, p. 5-6, 315-316.

7His knowledge of the Roman layout of Sabratha and Lepcis Magna was unrivalled, though his views were sometimes controversial, as when he proposed a revolutionary new interpretation of the original design of the Severan forum and basilica complex at Lepcis11. His experience of excavating the clear traces of earthquake damage at Sabratha and Lepcis, led him to research the history of seismic activity in Libya and to associate some of the major building phases at Tripolitanian cities to an earthquake chronology12. Although some details of Di Vita’s list of precisely attributed earthquake-related rebuilding have been questioned, the fact that seismic events did on several occasions inflict significant destruction is now generally accepted13.

  • 14   Key page references for DiVita 2015 as follows: Sidret el-Balik p. 294-295, 559-566, 595 (...)
  • 15   DiVita 2015, p. 300.
  • 16   DiVita 2015, Tripoli (Gheran) tophet p. 157-158; Sabratha tophet p. 597, 745, 764-766, 9 (...)

8Several of his most important discoveries related to Roman funerary monuments with well-preserved wall paintings. One of the great bonuses of the new volumes is that they reunite all his major discussions of the funerary area of Sidret el-Balik (Sabratha), the ‘tomba della Gorgone’ and ‘tomba del defunto eroizzato’, the ‘hypogeum 1’ (Zanzur), the ‘hypogeum of Adam and Eve’ and the tomb of Aelia Arisuth (both at Gargaresc, near Tripoli)14. The cultural significance of these tombs is their extraordinary hybrid nature, combining Punic, Alexandrian, Greek, Roman and Libyan elements. Another rare treasure is the republication of an air-photo mosaic of Sabratha and its suburbs indicating the exact location of the main funerary areas and monuments, including the tophet and the catacomb15. This is in effect the most detailed published ‘map’ of the suburban landscape. The short notes on the tophets of Gheran and Sabratha and the sacred area of Ba’al Hammon close to Sabratha are also important because of the rarity of such distinctively Punic religious structures in Tripolitania16.

  • 17   As will be apparent from my Tripolitania (Mattingly 1995).

9The ‘preliminary’ nature of some of the original articles notwithstanding, Di Vita’s œuvre has set the agenda on many issues and remains as relevant now as it was revolutionary when first published. It certainly shaped my own academic development and engagement with Tripolitania17. In the absence of the complete publication of some of projects, these collected papers provide the reader with the material to make a pretty good ‘anastylosis’ of his discoveries. The overall value of these volumes is hopefully clear from the above, as too the fact that they form a fitting memorial and monument for a remarkable man.

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DiVita A. 1964, “Il ‘limes’ romano di Tripolitania nella sua concretezza archeologica e nella sua realtà storica”, LibAnt I, p. 65-98

DiVita A. 1966, “La villa della ‘Gara delle Nereidi’ presso Tagiura: un contributo alla storia del mosaico romano ed altri recenti scavi e scoperte in Tripolitania”, in Supplements to Libya Antiqua II, p. 11-62.

DiVita A. 1967, “La diffusione del Cristianesimo nell’interno della Tripolitania attraverso i monumenti e sue sopravvivenze nella Tripolitania araba”, QAL 5, p. 121-142.

DiVita A. 1969, “Le date di fondazione di Leptis e di Sabratha sulla base dell’indagine archeologica e l’eparchia cartaginese d’Africa”, in J. Bibauw (éd.), Hommages à Marcel Renard, III. Archéologie, étruscologie, numismatique, Bruxelles (Coll. Latomus 103), p. 196-202.

DiVita A. , Procaccini P., Pucci G. (1974-75) [1978], “Lo scavo a Nord del mausoleo punico-ellenistico A di Sabratha”, LibAnt XI-XII, p. 7-111.

DiVita A. 1976, “Il mausoleo punico-ellenistico B di Sabratha”, MDAI(R) 83, p. 273-285.

DiVita A. 1978, “L’ipogeo di Adamo ed Eva a Gargaresc”, in Atti del IX Congresso Internazionale di Archeologia Cristiana II, Rome, Città del Vaticano (Studi di antichità cristiana 32), p. 199-256.

DiVita A. 1982a, “Il progetto originario del forum novum Severianum a Leptis Magna”, in 150-Jahr-Feier Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Rom, Ansprachen und Vorträge 4.-7. Dezember 1979, Mainz (MDAI(R) XXV), p. 84-106

DiVita A. 1982b, “Gli ‘Emporia’ di Tripolitania dall’età di Massinissa a Diocleziano: un profilo storico-istituzionale”, in ANRW, II. Principat, 10/2, Berlin, p. 515-595.

DiVita A. 1983, “Architettura e società nelle città di Tripolitania fra Massinissa e Augusto: qualche nota”, in Architecture et société, de l’archaïsme grec à la fin de la République romaine, Actes du Colloque international organisé par le Centre national de la recherche scientifique et l’École française de Rome (Rome 2-4 décembre 1980), Rome (CÉFR 66), p. 355-376.

DiVita A. 1990, “Sismi, urbanistica e cronologia assoluta. Terremoti e urbanistica nella città di Tripolitania fra il I secolo A.C. ed il IV D.C.”, in L’Afrique dans l’Occident romain, Ier siècle av. J.-C. – IVe siècle ap. J.-C. Actes du colloque organisé par l’École française de Rome sous le patronage de l’Institut national d’archéologie et d’art de Tunis (Rome, 3-5 décembre 1987), Paris, Rome (CÉFR 134), p. 425-494.

DiVita A. 2015, Scritti Africani, I-II, M.A. Rizzo DiVita, G. DiVita Évrard (éd.), Rome (Monografie di archeologia Libica 38).

DiVita et alii 1999, DiVita A., DiVita-Évrard G., Bacchielli L., Polidori R., Libya: The Lost Cities of the Roman Empire, Cologne.

Kenrick Ph.M. 1986, Excavations at Sabratha 1948-1951. A Report on the Excavations conducted by Dame Kathleen Kenyon and J. Ward-Perkins, London (JRS Monograph 2).

Levi della Vida G., Amadasi Guzzo M.G. 1987, Iscrizioni puniche della Tripolitania 1927-1967, Rome (Monografie di archeologia Libica 22).

Mattingly D.J. 1995, Tripolitania, London.

Ward-Perkins J.B. 1993, The Severan Buildings of Lepcis Magna, Ph. M. Kenrick (éd.), Tripoli (Society for Libyan Studies Monograph 2).

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1   DiVita 2015.

2   DiVita 2015, p. 944, fig 1-2, reveals the speed with which the arena was emptied of sand between 1962 and summer of 1964.

3   Levi della Vida, Amadasi Guzzo 1987.

4   A thematic or site-by-site arrangement might have been alternative possibilities for the order of papers, but since many articles summarised work on multiple projects conducted in parallel, the chronological approach makes sense.

5   An overall synthesis on the history and archaeology of Tripolitania was projected during the 1990s as Volume XII of the ‘Monografie di Archeologia Libica’ Series, Tripolitania ellenistica e romana alla luce delle più recenti indagini archeologiche (and foregrounded by his masterly article DiVita 1982 = 2015, p. 429-486). A co-authored book produced in multiple languages, provides a briefer but accessible account, DiVita et alii 1999 (excerpt on Sabratha in DiVita 2015, p. 757-776). When Volume XII of the ‘Monografie di Archeologia Libica’ did appear under the editorship of Di Vita and M. Livadiotti in 2005, it had a much narrower title, I tre templi del lato nord-ovest del Foro Vecchio a Leptis Magna, and instead brought to final publication one of his most brilliant ideas about the topography of the Old Forum.

6   See DiVita 2015, p. 325-344.

7   It is also important to note that some of his ‘articles’ were lengthy and detailed treatments. See, for instance: DiVita 1966 (= DiVita 2015, p. 93-153); DiVita 1978 (= DiVita 2015, p. 363-393); DiVita 1990 (= DiVita 2015, p. 645-686).

8   DiVita 1969 (= DiVita 2015, p. 223-228); DiVita 1976 (= DiVita 2015, p. 303-354); DiVita, Procaccini, Pucci 1974-75 [1978] (= DiVita 2015, p. 393-424).

9   DiVita 1982a (= DiVita 2015, p. 429-486); DiVita 1983 (= DiVita 2015, p. 523-536).

10   DiVita 1964 (= DiVita 2015, p. 1-38); DiVita 1967 (= DiVita 2015, p. 73-92).

11   DiVita 1982b (= DiVita 2015, p. 491-522); contra the views of Ward-Perkins 1993.

12   DiVita 1990 (= DiVita 2015, p. 645-686).

13   Kenrick 1986, p. 5-6, 315-316.

14   Key page references for DiVita 2015 as follows: Sidret el-Balik p. 294-295, 559-566, 595, 622-625, 745-747, 859-872, 894, 928, 932-933; ‘tomba della Gorgone’ and ‘tomba del defunto eroizzato’ p. 294, 528-532, 567-594, 597-598, 615-619, 690-694, 827-831, 886-888, 929; Zanzur hypogeum p. 294, 530-533, 617-620, 694, 830-833, 873-890; Gargaresc - ‘hypogeum of Adam and Eve’ and the tomb of Aelia Arisuth p. 363-392, 625-628.

15   DiVita 2015, p. 300.

16   DiVita 2015, Tripoli (Gheran) tophet p. 157-158; Sabratha tophet p. 597, 745, 764-766, 930; Sabratha Ba’al Hammon sacred area p. 930.

17   As will be apparent from my Tripolitania (Mattingly 1995).

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David J. Mattingly

School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester, UK

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