National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Roger Wilson

Affiliation: University of British Columbia

Born in South London, Roger Wilson was caught at the age of 18 months devouring a page of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He learned Latin from age 8 and Greek from age 12, and at the latter age he asked his parents (for reasons now obscure) to give him a book for Christmas on Roman Britain. He dug for the first time at age 15 in London, and avidly read all he could lay his hands on about Roman Britain; but his academic training was at Oxford. His first book, a Guide to the Roman Remains in Britain, was published in 1975. He landed a classical archaeology post at Trinity College, Dublin. Realizing that he would have to teach Greek archaeology, he set off in a Morris Minor to Greece in the summer of 1975 to learn it for himself. In 1994, he moved to the University of Nottingham. Then, in 2006, he was lured across the Atlantic to the University of British Columbia. From his new standpoint, living in a wonderful city barely a century old, he can appreciate all the more the niceties of Greek colonization, and the practical problems faced by Roman planners when settling new territory in a distant land.


Gerace is a Roman estate centre in the heart of Sicily, 10 km south of Enna, where the speaker has been excavating since 2013. A substantial estate granary, built c. 275/325 CE but violently destroyed, probably by earthquake, was succeeded by a compact Roman villa in the late fourth century, which had been equipped with some mosaic pavements but appears never to have been finished. Ubiquitous tile-stamps recording the name of Philippianus indicate the identity of the estate owner at that time. Further up the hill, in a compact bath-house built perhaps c. 380 CE, the frigidarium was found also to have been left partially incomplete (one of its cold pools was never installed), but its mosaic floor was still intact: it had a unique design, and an inscription around all four sides. Interpretation of the latter is controversial, but it may contain a possible clue to the interests and activities of the estate owners and of a link with Rome. The bath-house’s heated rooms had been decorated with polychrome marble on the walls, and geometric mosaics on the floors, but the structure was systematically stripped of its ceramic building materials (and the mosaic pavements in these rooms smashed) – an interesting example of Roman recycling – when life in the bath-house was brought to an end by a second serious earthquake, sometime after 450 CE. The villa building, however, was patched up after this event, but lasted only a few more years, before a devastating fire c. 500 CE brought élite life at Gerace to a close.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic: [and /2018, /2017, /2016, /2015]

Current World Archaeology 89, 16–23 and 92, 14–15 (both 2018)

The Roman villa in contrada Caddeddi on the Tellaro river, near Noto in south-east Sicily, was discovered by chance in 1970. Although brief notes have been published about the villa and its mosaics, and the site is mentioned in passing in general surveys of late Roman villas and late Roman mosaics, it has remained unpublished in detail until very recently. The villa dates to the second half of the fourth century CE, and so belongs a generation or more later than the famous Casale villa near Piazza Armerina. This talk will consider the iconography of the three main figured mosaics at Caddeddi – a mythological scene, the ransoming of the body of Hector; a floor depicting a bust of Bacchus at the center with satyrs and maenads in the panels around; and an action-packed hunting scene with many episodes paralleled in general terms on the Piazza Armerina floors. The paper also sets the Caddeddi mosaics in context by comparing details from all three with parallels in north Africa; like those at Piazza Armerina, it seems very probable that all the floors at Caddeddi were laid by itinerant African craftsmen based at Carthage. Above all, the talk will present colour images, taken by the speaker, to illustrate both the dazzling polychromy of these mosaics and the wide range of incidental detail that they contain.


Short bibliography on lecture topic:

R.J.A. Wilson, Caddeddi on the Tellaro: a late Roman villa in Sicily and its mosaics, Bulletin Antieke Beschaving Supplement 28, Leuven, Paris and Bristol, CT: Peeters 2016

This talk will describe the results of the University of British Columbia’s archaeological excavations in Sicily between 2008 and 2010, at Punta Secca (RG), known to millions of Italians as the home of TV cop, Salvo Montalbano; it lies right on the south coast of Sicily. A late Roman and early Byzantine village was partly excavated here in the 1960s and 1970s by Paola Pelagatti, and identified by her as the Kaukana of the ancient sources, where Belisarius set sail for the conquest of Africa in 533 CE. The aim of the new excavation was to focus on one building, a house, and examine in detail its building phases, its function, and the commercial contacts that its inhabitants enjoyed with other parts of Sicily – and indeed the wider Mediterranean world. While substantial progress was made on all these questions, the biggest surprise was the discovery of a tomb placed in what was probably the yard of the house in the second quarter of the seventh century CE, and of evidence for associated feasting in honour 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 the talk, and the discovery set in the context of what else is known about such practices in the late Roman and early Byzantine world.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

‘Banquets for the dead: new discoveries in early Byzantine Sicily’, Current World Archaeology 44, 38–45


See Roger Wilson's work in the American Journal of Archaeology.

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