SICTRANSIT: an introduction

The Archaeology of Regime Change: Sicily in Transition - SICTRANSIT - was a European Research Council project conducted between 2014 and 2022. It studied the lives and times of Sicilian farmers, merchants and their families through five regimes on the island spanning 550-1250 AD.

Aims

The project's purpose was to explore the changes of demography, agricultural production and trade of Sicily through five successive regimes:

  • Byzantine - Greek speaking Christian imperial power based at Constantinople (Byzantium, now Istanbul), active in Sicily 6-8th century with a headquarters at Syracuse.
  • Aghlabid - Arabic speaking Islamic North African power of the Abbasid (Sunni) confederation based at Baghdad in Iraq, gaining control of Sicily in the 9th century and making its headquarters at Palermo.
  • Kalbid - Arabic speaking Islamic North African Fatimid (Shi'ite) power based at Cairo in Egypt, exercising control over Sicily in the 10-11th century from a principal base at Palermo.
  • Norman - Latin/French speaking Christian power from Northern Europe exercising control over Sicily and southern Italy 11th to 12th century from a capital at Palermo (Roger II).
  • Swabian - Latin/German speaking Christian power from Germany exercising control over Sicily and much of Italy in 12th-13th century with its Sicilian base at Palermo (Frederick Barbarossa, Frederick II).

Sources and Method

The archaeological data sources were:

  1. Excavations at Mazara del Vallo. Rescue excavations carried out in 1997 by Alessandra Molinari were taken through multiple analyses to the publication of a 630 page monograph in 2021. The site was a residential street dominated by assemblages of the 10-12th century, notably a rich harvest of well preserved plants and animal bones.
  2. Investigations at Castronovo di Sicilia, focussing on the sites of Monte Kassar (7/8th century Byzantine stronghold), Colle San Vitale (possible 9-11th century Arab then Norman citadel), Casale San Pietro (Byzantine then Arab agricultural centre), Castronovo town (Arab, Norman, Swabian and extant town).
  3. Previously excavated cemeteries. Samples of human bone were taken from 22 cemeteries ranging in date from the 6th to the 13th centuries, in religion from Christian to Islamic and from Palermo and Segesta in the west, to Agrigento and Enna in the centre and Catania and Villa del Tellaro in the east. The analyses included stable isotopes for diet and lifetime mobility,  aDNA for ancestry and consanguinity, and most essentially radio-carbon dates. Two hundred and fifty three individuals were aligned with their burial rites and cemetery locations to write an account of the changing demography of early medieval Sicily.

The method is to investigate the experience of the people on the ground using settlement forms and patterns, pottery, animal bone, human bone and paleoecology.

The line of argument is that data collected from our sources (coins, seals, pottery, plant remains, faunal remains and human remains from cemeteries and settlements) will be analysed using scientific procedures (thin section, organic residues, stable isotopes, aDNA) to reveal the character of peoples, farming, diet, industry and trade and the way these changed between the sixth and thirteenth centuries.

The samples were analysed in the laboratories of the three partner universities: 

  1. ceramics and other artefacts at Rome (Tor Vergata)
  2. human bone, animal bone and organic residues at York (Bioarch)
  3. botanical remains at Salento (Lecce)