Ancient peoples of Apulia: the Peucetians

The room on the first floor of the Museum is dedicated to the Peucetians, people who in pre-Roman times occupied the territory of the present - day Province of Bari, as well as part of the territory of Taranto and part of the in- land of Basilicata. They were one of the three groups into which Iapygia was divided, the other two being the Daunians and Messapians settled in the north and in the south of Apulia respectively, as the result of a differentiation process that had begun in the 8th century BC and that was certainly brought about by the impact of contacts with “foreigners”.

In addition to the well established tradition of commercial relations with the Greeks, the indigenous population of the Salento area established in fact close contacts with the Greek colonies of Taranto and Metaponto in south Italy; the northern part of Apulia, which was later influenced by the Greek culture, maintained instead active trade relations with the opposite coast of the Adriatic (inhabited by the Liburni) and with the adjacent Etrusco-Campanian area. Lastly, as for Peucetia, it appears evident that on the one hand it established intense relations with the colonies on the Gulf of Taranto, on the other it was part of a trade network that linked it to both Greece and Etruscanized Campania. Peucetia was characterized by a dense network of thriving agricultural settlements, devoted to craft production and trade.

The latter was favoured by the natural routes provided by the lame (karst valleys), which from the Murge highlands slope down toward the coast, as well as by easy coastal moorings. The gradual transformation of the main settlements into real urban centres ended in the second half of the 4th century BC with the construction of massive defensive walls both of Greek type (use of large squared blocks of tuff) and of indigenous type, called “megalithic” (employment of roughhewn limestone boulders). The best preserved and most widely explored Peucetian city is Monte Sannace with its four circuit walls (12 km long in total), the acropolis, the settlement on the plain and necropolises.

Yet there is still limited knowledge of the urban fabric of other important centres, such as Kailìa (Ceglie del Campo), Azetium (Rutigliano), Norba (Conversano), Rubi (Ruvo di Puglia), Sidìon (Gravina in Puglia).

The study of the numerous necropoli, which suggest the rise and consolidation of refined elite groups, lovers of Greek art and culture, contributes to improving the understanding of the Peucetian culture and society over the centuries. The “acculturation” process, revealed by the presence in burial assemblages of pottery imported from Greece and pottery produced in the Greek colonies of South Italy, as well as by the adoption of purely Hellenic ritual practices, such as the symposium, appears already completed in the 4th century BC.

The burial assemblage IV / 1905 of Noicattaro

Discovered on may 16, 1905, in Noicattaro, the assemblage is dated to the second quarter of the 6th century BC and is characterized by the presence of a precious bronze defensive panoply produced in Greece, maybe at Argos in the Peloponnese: a large shield made of thin bronze sheet (applied on a disc made of perishable material) equipped with a porpax (arm strap), is accompanied by a magnificent belt embossed with running quadrigae and two laminae featuring mythic battle scenes (Achilles and Penthesilea, Hercules and the lion, Theseus and the Minotaur), maybe applied on a leather banner placed on the shoulder.

the two burial assemblages 2 e 8/1929 of Ceglie del Campo

The symposium, which took place after the banquet, was in ancient Greece an actual ritual associated with the cult of Dionysus. It strengthened social ties between the participants who, lying on small beds (klinai), conversed and enjoyed the pleasure of poetry, music and dance. The adoption of this ritual by Peucetian communities is revealed by the composition of Peucetian burial assemblages dated to the 5th and 4th century BC, which included real symposium sets probably already used by the deceased, in accordance with a belief in the continuity of life after death.

An example of this are the two burial assemblages on display here, found in 1929 at Ceglie del Campo, dated to the first half of the 5th century BC. Composed of different Greek vase shapes used for containing, mixing and consuming wine, they both refer, however, to different socio-economic levels. In tomb 8, in fact, the central wine vase is an indigenous krater of mixed style (that is decorated with bands as well as with floral motifs), whereas the other assemblage displays luxury goods such as the valuable red-figure krater imported from Greece and metal vessels attributed to south Italian artisans.

Theatrical performances between sacred and profane

A particularly important aspect of social life in the ancient world was theatre. It is represented on a large number of Apulian red-figure vases called “Phlyax” through scenes of comic theatre showing actors (Phlyax) with masks and padded costumes perform on simple wooden stages.

A significant selection of Phlyax vases are the four kraters on display and the krater found in Bari exhibited in the museum section dedicated to the Archaeology of Bari.

Probably inspired by the Attic comedies of the 4th and 5th centuries BC, the plays depicted on the vases deal in a farcical way with scenes from daily life, as in the krater from Valenzano, or they represent famous myths, as in the krater from Ruvo di Puglia, with Helen encouraged by Dionysus to leave Menelaus and follow Paris. The considerable presence of Phlyax vases in the Peucetian territory testifies to the popularity among the indigenous communities of comic plays, probably performed by touring companies at religious festivals, which took place in the open, in sanctuaries that were also places of cultural and economic exchange between the indigenous peoples and the Greek colonists.

The bronze figurine from Ceglie del Campo

A rare attestation of the Apollo cult in the indigenous area is represented by the valuable bronze figurine unearthed in 1904 at Ceglie del Campo, by some attributed to the great Greek artist Pitagora di Reggio, active in South Italy in the first half of the 5th century BC.

Gold, silver and amber for the Peucetians’ women

The refined jewelry found at Noicattaro must have belonged to female “princely” burials dated to the Archaic period: a pendant with embossed decoration, probably imported from Eastern Greece, and two discs, produced in Etruria or Greece (perhaps dated to the 8th century BC). There is instead information about the contexts of the female princely burials of the Archaic-Classical period (6th - 5th century BC) from the necropolis of Rutigliano–Purgatorio. They represent an extraordinary evidence of the important role played by women in the Peucetian society with their rich symposium sets and magnificent parures composed of gold, silver and mainly amber ornaments.

The Peucetian female grave assemblages indicate indeed a special predilection, in general, for artifacts made out of the precious fossil resin from the Baltic and North Sea, very popular due to the healing and magic properties attributed to it. In the 4th century BC the taste for bone jewels spread, as attested by the assemblage in tomb 7/1929 from Ceglie del Campo, which contains a series of silver and iron fibulae as well as pendants made of amber and bone. Social status was instead displayed mostly through Apulian figured vases, which evidently re- fer to the female world and to the pleasure women took in adorning themselves.


Via Venezia n. 73 - 70122 BARI

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