The Regional Archaeological Museum Baglio Anselmi of Marsala (Sicily)

Rossella Giglio

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The museum building

The archaeological Museum was installed in a traditional wine factory. This structure, which is typical of the marsala wine-producing area, was in full activity throughout the last century. Formed by a quadrangle of buildings opening onto a courtyard, the baglio offered the same kind of enclosed protection as the late Roman vallum or ballium (which continued into the Middle Ages).

The two big warehouses, with ogival arches and where the wine barrels were stowed, form the museum display halls.

The museum display

The museum, part of the Archaeological Park of Lilybaeum, was chosen to house the Marsala Punic Warship as well as the archaeological remains illustrating the history of Lilybaeum and its environs, from Prehistory to the Middle Ages.

Lilybaeum (the present Marsala) was built on the headland at the westernmost tip of Sicily, opposite the north African coast. Indeed its name, recalling the ancient Roman African region of Libya, is closely connected with its particular geographical position. The site was renowned in Antiquity according to literary sources for the presence of a spring of water. The advent of a true urban centre can be dated to 397 B.C., when the survivors of the nearby Phoenician island of Mothya, destroyed by the tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse, founded the town. Lilybaeum soon became an impregnable Carthaginian stronghold which covered a large quadrangular area, protected by the sea and by a mighty town wall and fortified by towers.

During the First Punic War, Lilybaeum became the main defensive stronghold of Punic power in Sicily. In 241 B.C. following a peace treaty, the town was consigned to the Romans. During the Second Punic War, the Carthaginians tried to reoccupy it, but failed. Between the end of the third and the beginning of the second century B.C., Lilybaeum was used as the naval base for the expedition against Carthage. Under Roman rule the town maintained its grandeur as a large, wealthy commercial and social centre. During the Augustan era, the city become a municipal town, and was raised to the rank of colony by either the emperor Helvius Pertinax or by Septimius Severus. The importance of the town is also attested by later itineraries and maps, in which Lilybaeum is represented as a staging-post along the ancient Sicilian routes. At the beginning of the fifth century, the town was sacked by the Vandals. The presence of a Christian community in the Roman town is documented since the time of Pope Zosimus, when the diocese of Lilybaeum was founded.

The collections

The museum was created for the conservation and display of the Marsala Punic Warship. Since 1986, it has housed archaeological materials from excavation campaigns carried out within the archaeological area of Lilybaeum by the Soprintendenza Archeologica of Palermo and, since 1987, by the Soprintendenza of Trapani. In addition, it displays a small group of finds from the Regional Museum 'Agostino Pepoli' of Trapani and from the Whitaker Museum of Mothya.

The display

The display is arranged in chronological and topographical order, and is articulated in sections introduced by didactic panels.

Room 1

To the right of the entrance, in the larger room, stands the hull of the Punic Ship discovered in 1971. Other wrecks had already been examined previously in the same area off Isola Lunga, in the zone called Punta Scario near the northern entrance to the Laguna dello Stagnone (itself north of Marsala).

The ship went down around the time of the Battle of the Egadi Islands, which concluded the First Punic War in 241 B.C. The recovery of the wooden remains and their subsequent conservation and study were carried out, with the assistance of several international institutions, by a British archaeological team led by Miss Honor Frost.

The hull, of which ten metres of the port side from the stern forward are preserved, consists of a shell of planking (originally sheathed in lead), into which frames were subsequently positioned. Current methods of calculating the original shape give this vessel an estimated length of 35 metres, a width of 4.80 m, and a weight on the order of 120 tons. The ship is an oared galley.

Thanks to the letters of the Phoenician-Punic alphabet painted onto the planking, as well as other marks and guidelines (both painted and incised), experts have been able to understand the construction method used by the Punic shipwrights. This included a form of mass production that accounts for the remarkable speed of ship-building described by Classical writers such as Polybius and Pliny. The long, narrow proportions of the hull and a band of deflectors strakes which break the smoothness at the waterline, have led experts to identify this ship as a war galley.

Some of the vessel's contents, including pottery, rope, leaves of cannabis sativa and ballast stones, are on display. At the close of excavation, the architectural information provided by the stern of this wreck was supplemented by the recovery of a prow bearing the framework of a pointed type of ram. Belonging to another wreck lying nearby, it has been identified as a contemporary Punic vessel on the basis of an alphabetic letter painted onto it, as well as by associated diagnostic pottery.

Room 2

In the lobby to the left of the entrance, explanatory panels illustrate the geographical position of the site, the history of Lilybaeum and its urban structure.

Room 3

The first showcase on the left contains prehistoric material from the environs of Marsala and Mazara del Vallo. Of particular interest is a big fruit-vase from Mothya (Thapsos Culture), several stone instruments from Canneto D'Anna (Upper Palaeolithic) and from Sant'Onofrio (Upper Neolithic).

Continuing along the left, showcases 2 and 3 contain various objects from Phoenician Mothya, including a burial urn, two stelae from the tophet and several items of jewellery. Further on, panels provide a visual explanation of the subsequent Punic development and fortification on the Cape. Objects from the necropolis are displayed chronologically. Showcase 4 contains a significant lekythos with a Punic inscription (III cent. B.C.), a strygil; a pair of iron shears; a bronze mirror with a vegetable-fibre case (III cent. B.C.) and two Punic stelae (IV-III cent. B.C.) together with ornaments and objects used for make-up toiletry.

Showcase 5 contains decorated pottery typical of the so-called "Lilybaeum Group" (end of IV-beginning of III century B.C.). Of special interest are two lekythoi, one from the "Lentini-Manfria Group" and the other called "Pagenstecher", with the figure of a swan. The central part of the large showcase contains two sets of burial furniture from excavations carried out during the 1970s; of great importance is a child's burial with a miniature inscribed vase of the first half of the third century B.C. In addition, a clay cinerary urn, modelled on a metal prototype, contains the remains of an 18-year-old girl (III cent. B.C.).

The next showcase contains a public honorary inscription found at Capo Boeo (II century B.C.) and two mosaic floors: one with white marble tesserae, the other with polychrome chips, both from ancient Lilybaeum.

Two mosaic floors displayed in the middle of the room represent, respectively: a quadrupede (ibex?) of the early fifth century A.D. and a small polychrome example from the third century A.D. Capo Boeo insula, a model of which is exhibited.

Also in a central position are displayed a headless male statue (a Roman copy of a Greek original) as well as another marble statue (Roman Imperial period).

Showcase 7 contains some lagynoi (end of III-II century B.C.) and several glasses (I century B.C.-I A.D.) known as "thin walled", a bone handle decorated with an Isis Tyche (I century B.C.), some inscribed sheets of lead, a hospitalis tessera (I century B.C.) and various amphora handles.

Further along, a funerary shrine in the shape of a small temple (naiskos) is decorated with a funeral feast in relief, with various symbols which derive from Punic models.

Showcase 8 displays a number of fragments of corner-stones decorated with leaf patterns; as well as clay plaques and various terracotta figures (III-I cent. B.C.).

Showcase 9 at the far end of the hall contains the remains of small tufa funerary monuments with polychrome decoration. The Roman Imperial Age of Lilybaeum is represented by a series of photographs of the Roman villa of Capo Boeo.

Showcase 11 contains a small bronze statue (Asclepius?); a hoard of coins; a group of lanterns, and a small marble statue inspired by late Hellenistic models.

Showcase 12 presents a marble female torso from the time of Hadrian and a floor in opus sectile. Palaeo-Christian finds are represented by photographic panels of paintings in local catacombs as well as related maps.

Showcase 14 contains Medieval remains, while the last showcase presents items, including small amphorae, from the wreck found in 1983 off SW coast of Marsala.

Room 4

This small room displays seven Latin inscriptions, which are significant for the light they shed on daily life in Lilybaeum.

The courtyard

Within the courtyard can be seen part of an excavation that was carried out during the restoration of the baglio. The finds, which include a tomb, a furnace and some walls, demonstrate a high degree of urbanisation during the IV century B.C.

Museum address:
Regional Archeological Museum Baglio Anselmi
Marsala (Trapani)
Lungomare Boéo
Tel/fax (+39) 923 952535

Opening hours
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9.00 - 14.00
Wednesday, Saturday 15.00 - 18.00
Sunday 9.00 - 13.00

Entrance fee: L. 4000; Free entrance for EU citizens under 18 and over 60.