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BUTERA (“Omphake”) Sicily.

Probably the site of an ancient Sikanian center, the first to come into conflict with the Greek colony of Gela, founded in 689 B.C., ca. 20 km to the SE. Quite probably Butera should be identified with ancient Omphake, the Sikanian town which, according to Pausanias (8.46.3), was conquered by Rhodio-Cretan colonists from Gela led by its founder Antiphemos. The formidable location of this site, on a high and steep mountain that dominates the plain of Gela, explains both the presence of an important native town and the need for rapid conquest by the Greek colonists in defense of the fertile plain.

Excavation has clarified, at least partially, the history of the settlement. The large necropolis in the area Piano della Fiera contained four levels of tombs; the deepest layer (1st stratum) comprised grotto-like tombs (a grotticella) with carved covers, indigenous vases with painted or incised decoration, bronze fibulae and razors datable from the 8th c. B.C. to the early 7th. A few vessels already document Greek influence. The next layer (2d stratum) dated to the second and last quarter of the 7th c. B.C., clearly reveals contact with the Greek colonists of Gela. Most of its burials (several hundred) show close parallels with the archaic necropolis of Gela, while others are of local type, with stone enclosures and, in one case, a characteristic large “dolmen” tomb, still preserved in situ. Funerary customs are also mixed, and both inhumation and cremation occur. Frequent and typical is the custom of partial cremation, with the skulls of the dead preserved in vases. Funerary gifts include Protocorinthian, Geloan, and local pottery. That this necropolis was abandoned for over three centuries is indicated by the lack of tombs with Corinthian, Ionic, and Attic vases. The following layer (3d stratum) indicates a resumption of city life in the second half of the 4th c. B.C., probably as part of the reconstruction program carried out in Sicily by Timoleon. This phase is characterized by monumental stepped tombs surmounted by columns (epitymbia) and funerary gifts of Sicilian red-figure vases. The topmost layer (4th stratum) revealed rather poor graves of the 3d c. B.C. containing unpainted alabastra (fusiform vases).

Investigation on the slopes below the modern city has revealed a few protohistoric huts and a Hellenistic building, but the chronological gap noticed in the necropolis remains unsolved. A few more items were yielded by the excavation of a votive deposit in a rural sanctuary below Butera, in the vicinity of Fontana Calda, along the present torrent Comunelli. According to a graffito on a vase, the sanctuary was dedicated to a female deity referred to as Polystephanos Thea, probably a nymph comparable to Artemis, whom the votive figurines represent with bow and hound. Some objects from the votive deposit go back to the archaic period, but the vast majority of the offerings are vases and statuettes of the period of Timoleon (second half of the 4th c. B.C.). The cult continued, however, till Roman times, as shown by lamps of late Republican and Imperial date. Further evidence from the Greek and Roman periods can be found in various areas of the Buteran territory. Greek farmhouses datable between the 6th and 3d c. B.C. have been identified or excavated at the locations Fiume di Mallo, Priointo, Milingiana, S. Giuliano, etc. Graves of Roman Imperial date connected with farmhouses or small villages have been explored in the vicinity of Priorato e Suor Marchesa. All the material from the excavations of Butera and its territory is in the National Museum of Gela.


D. Adamesteanu, “Butera,” MonAnt 44 (1958); id., NSc 1958, 350ff; id., Kokalos 4 (1958) 40ff; P. Orlandini, Kokalos 8 (1962) 77ff; id., Kokalos 7 (1961) 145ff.


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  • Cross-references from this page (1):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.46.3
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