The Second Punic War and the sack of 211 BCE

Hieron II remained an ally of Rome from 262 until his death in 215 BCE, at the start of the second Punic War. After changing sides and joining Carthage in 214 BCE, Syracuse fell to Rome in 212 BCE.  Morgantina stayed with Syracuse and was captured by Rome the following year; before the city fell, it seems that many residents buried valuable possessions beneath their floors, among which was the recently repatriated silver treasure formerly in New York.  As had been the case at Syracuse a year earlier, this was a catastrophic moment in Morgantina’s history. The former population disappeared, probably sold into slavery, and Rome could present an intact city to a band of Spanish mercenaries to whom it owed a major debt. In the second century BCE Morgantina’s population declined greatly.  The mercenaries occupied the finest houses, and some buildings in the agora (theater, sanctuary, offices) continued in use.  Yet excavation has also shown that many public structures (shops, stoas, public baths) and even whole residential neighborhoods were abandoned. The only major new public building was a closed market or macellum, replacing abandoned shops of the Greek period. The agora now became an industrial center with the establishment of five ceramic workshops in earlier buildings of quite different function.   At some point in the second century BCE the city—which Cicero calls Murgentia—minted a series of bronze coins bearing the legend HISPANORUM, “of the Hispani”, indicating that the mercenaries retained their ethnic identity.

The lex Hieronica had been adopted opportunistically by Rome because it guaranteed a regular source of grain for its growing urban population, but the reinvestment of the tithe as practiced in the Greek period now ceased.  The city was affected by the slave revolts of the later second century, and Eunus, the leader of the second revolt, died in prison at Morgantina (Diodorus). In the 70’s of the following century it seems likely that the city was exploited by the corrupt governor Verres, who may have forced the city to set up in the agora a bronze equestrian sculpture of himself, as he did at Syracuse and other places (a large statue base of the period survives).  Cicero’s courageous prosecution of the governor in 70 BCE resulted in the publication of his Verrine orations, which contain much irreplaceable information about Sicily in the early first century BCE.

This last phase of Morgantina’s urban history ends in the 30’s BCE, when the city appears to have been harshly punished by the Roman emperor Octavian for having supported his opponent Sextus Pompeius.   Although there was an exiguous reoccupation at the turn of the eras, lasting into the first half of the first century CE, the final settlement is no more than a village.  The city’s large territory was evidently now farmed by slave labor based on large estates or latifundia, and there was no longer any need for an urban center. Urban settlement would not return to the area until the Norman foundation of Aidone ca. 1090 CE.  The site of the medieval city was the safer but less accessible mountain top high above Serra Orlando. The ancient city was allowed to disappear into the rural landscape, until it finally attracted the attention of antiquarians and archaeologists in the modern era.

– Malcolm Bell, June 2012 –