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EMINENT FIGURES | Antonia Ciasca, The Mediterranean between Etruscans and Phoenicians

The November column

We would like to dedicate the November Eminent Figures column to the women who have made the history of archaeology and culture in Italy, starting with an archaeologist who, without a doubt, has left an indelible mark in her studies on the Phoenician and Punic Mediterranean.

Antonia Ciasca

Antonia Ciasca was one of the most prominent archaeologists in the Italian and Mediterranean panorama of the second half of the 20th century. Etruscologist and scholar of the Phoenician civilization, student of giants such as Massimo Pallottino and Sabatino Moscati, she left her mark on the history of the excavations on the island of Mozia in Sicily.

She was born in Melfi (PZ) on 21 March 1930 from Raffaele Ciasca (historian and Senator of the Italian Republic) and Carolina Rispoli (writer, essayist and novelist). Following the relocation of her father, a university lecturer, she attended schools first in Genoa and then in Rome, where she obtained her classical high school diploma.

Between Etruscans and Phoenicians

In Rome she graduated from the University La Sapienza, where she was a pupil of Massimo Pallottino and Sabatino Moscati and participated in the excavations of the Etruscan centre of Pyrgi (Santa Severa). Pyrgi, a very famous centre in which, a few years later, gold foils with bilingual inscription in Etruscan and Phoenician were found, is a first thin thread which, uniting the Etruscan and Punic worlds, brought the new Ph.D. Ciasca closer to studies on the Phoenicians.

She soon became assistant professor to Sabatino Moscati, at the time teacher of Semitic epigraphy, and with him began the path that would take her to the East, until she became one of the field archaeologists, in 1959, of Ramat Rahel’s archaeological expedition in Israel.

A youthful portrait of Antonia Ciasca with Palestinian kefiya (from http://www.lasapienzamozia.it )

Since 1963, for six consecutive years, she directed the excavations of the first Italian archaeological mission in Tas Silg (Malta): here she identified the sanctuary of Astarte, known by classical sources (Cicero speaks of it) as a well-known place of worship where the faithful from all over the Mediterranean landed.

The following year she became director of the archaeological mission in Mozia (TP), a site to which she dedicated a large part of her work. In Mozia Antonia Ciasca chose to start her research from a place that was a symbol of Phoenician and Punic civilization: the Tophet, the burial place of children and, according to some ancient texts, the place where infants were sacrificed to the god Baal Hammon. At the same time, however, he began to systematically excavate the inhabited area of the Punic city, starting the first discoveries concerning the urban planning of the island. A brilliant and methodical archaeologist, Antonia Ciasca published annually the preliminary reports of her researches in the field, showing that she mastered the stratigraphic method in a commendable way. Her devotion to work led her, in 1966, when she was only 36 years old, to take up, first in Italy, the newborn chair of Punic Antiquities at La Sapienza University.

 

A historical image of the excavations of the Tophet of Mozia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mozia in the context of the Western Mediterranean

The studies and research in Mozia led the Lucanian scholar to participate in excavations and research in other Punic centres in the Mediterranean, in order to have a wider vision of the Punic culture that the Sicilian island was returning. In 1975 Ciasca went to Tharros (Sardinia), in the 80’s to Algeria and Tunisia, to Cap Bon and Ras ed-Drek; finally, in 1998 she resumed the research in Tas Silg.

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