Centre for the Study of Ancient Sicily

The Centre for the Study of Ancient Sicily (hereafter CSAS) at the University of British Columbia was created in 2007 to reflect the research interests in the central Mediterranean of a number of CNERS faculty. The largest island in the Mediterranean, and strategically set at its very centre and at the crossroads of major shipping routes, Sicily is a wonderful laboratory for the study of ancient Mediterranean history and archaeology, and a key area for studying processes of cultural assimilation – of the various indigenous peoples of the island with Greeks and Phoenicians and later with Carthaginians, and then the impact of Rome from the third century BC onwards.

The CSAS has the following aims:

  • to conduct and publish world-class research on ancient Sicily
  • to offer undergraduate and graduate students the possibility of familiarization with ancient Sicily, particularly through a field school in the island itself
  • to offer supervision for higher degrees on Sicilian topics
  • to conduct first-rate archaeological fieldwork in Sicily

It welcomes applications from suitably qualified students to study ancient Sicily at Doctoral or Post-Doctoral level.

CSAS is directed by Professor Roger Wilson, who is well known in the island as the leading expert in the world on Roman imperial Sicily. He has close academic contacts with many colleagues there, both in universities and in the Archaeological Service, as well as with other Sicilian scholars world-wide. He has published many books and papers on Roman Sicily. He was recipient of the Killam Prize for Research from UBC in 2013, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

In recognition of the importance of networking and collaboration with other scholars with Sicilian interests, ones who have supported the work of CSAS in various ways, the following have been made Associate Members of CSAS:

  • Professor Johannes Bergemann, since August 2009 Director of the Archaeological Institute of the University of Göttingen, who has directed and published important regional surveys in the hinterland of Gela and in the Monte Sicani, and who is now surveying and excavating in the territory of Camarina;
  • Professor Ernesto De Miro, long-time Superintendent of central southern Sicily and formerly Professor of Archaeology at the University of Messina, who has made a colossal contribution through his excavations and numerous publications to our knowledge of all periods of Sicilian antiquity, and who directs the leading academic journal Sicilia Antiqua;
  • Professor Giovanni Di Stefano Professor of Late Antique Art and Archaeology at the University of Cosenza and leading authority on the archaeology of Ragusa province, where he has conducted numerous excavations, especially in and near Camarina, and on which he has published extensively;
  • Dr Lorenzo Guzzardi, currently director of the cultural heritage of Syracuse province, and former Superintendent of Caltanissetta province, who has directed numerous important excavations over the past thirty years in Syracuse and its province, as well as elsewhere in south-east and central Sicily, and is the author of many contributions in learned journals, conference proceedings and books;
  • Dr Maria Costanza Lentini (Naxos), long-time Director of the archaeological park and museum of Naxos, where she has directed excavations for many years and on which she has published extensively;
  • Professor Paola Pelagatti, Academician of the Accademia dei Lincei, Corresponding Member of the German Archaeological Institute and Honorary Fellow of the British School at Rome, who is an acknowledged expert on archaic and classical Greek Sicily where her excavations at Syracuse, Naxos and Camarina in particular have brought her world-wide renown;
  • Professor Jonathan Prag of the University of Oxford, and leading historian of Roman Republican Sicily, on which he has published extensively, who is director of the ISicily project that aims to publish on-line every Sicilian inscription in all media from 700 BC to 700 AD;
  • Dr Francesca Spatafora, until recently Director of the Palermo Archaeological Museum, who has conducted many excavations in western Sicily over the past 30 years, both in Palermo itself and its hinterland, specializing on relations between Greeks and the indigenous hill-top settlements of the interior, and author of numerous specialist papers and books; and
  • Dr Stefano Vassallo, who has also through his excavations made notable advances in our knowledge of indigenous centres in Palermo’s hinterland, as well as of the Greek colony of Himera, where most recently he excavated over 7000 burials which included victims of the iconic Battle of Himera in 480 BC.

Fieldwork is an essential part of historical research: it provides the oxygen of fresh discoveries which allow the subject to be continually re-assessed and our knowledge to be always expanding. Student involvement in fieldwork in Sicily has been promoted through the establishment of two successive field-schools, which have run continuously between 2008 and 2019 (with the exception of 2011, 2012 and 2014) until interrupted by the pandemic, and which have provided students with extraordinary educational and archaeological experiences. CSAS owes a huge debt of gratitude to the Social Studies and Humanities Council of Canada (SSHRC), which has supported the Centre’s fieldwork research projects through the award of multiple Research Grants.

  • The Kaukana project was designed to investigate the economic and social character of a building in the late Roman and Byzantine village of Kaukana near Punta Secca, on the south coast of Sicily (province of Ragusa). The most surprising discovery was of a built tomb, containing the bodies of a woman and her daughter, inside a house, hey were buried 630 AD. The woman suffered from atretic cephalocele and was probably epileptic; after her death her memory was revered through periodic feasting at her graveside. A summary of results is available in the XIth Byvanck Lecture delivered by Professor Wilson in Leiden in 2017 and published on line at http://www.babesch.org/downloads/BABESCH_Byvanck_Lecture_2017_Wilson.pdf

More details are available via Professor Wilson’s website here.

  • The Gerace project, launched in 2013, is designed to study a Roman villa in Enna province in its historical, social and economic context. For more details, see the excavation reports posted on the CNERS website, through 'Archaeological Field Schools' on the Home Page here. Part of a villa, a storehouse, a bath-house and several kilns have been excavated, all belonging to the fourth and fifth centuries AD. The cold room of the baths has an intact mosaic pavement with an inscription around all four sides, unique in the Roman Empire: it tells us the estate name, the praedia Philippianorum. In 2021 microscopic analysis of a deposit inside a chamber pot has revealed that at least one inhabitant at Gerace in the fifth century suffered from intestinal whipworm.