A forgotten Roman marble base in the National Museum of Archaeology

By: Roger J. A. Wilson

A badly damaged Roman marble base now in Valletta, Malta, was first published in 1647 and then in 1787. It has been neglected since, mainly because there have been doubts about whether or not it is a genuine antiquity. This study argues for its authenticity, and contextualizes the relief sculpture that decorates three of its sides. The front carries a depiction of Sicilia, the personification of the Roman province of Sicily to which the Maltese Islands belonged. The image is set in context within the small group of known personifications of Sicilia elsewhere. Identical side panels each show a man with what is interpreted here as a turtle balanced on his knee, an apparently unique depiction of these creatures in Roman sculpture. It is suggested that turtles, now scarce in the Mediterranean, were once plentiful in the waters off both Malta and Sicily. In a secondary period, perhaps in the late eighteenth century, the base was badly mutilated during its conversion for use as a fountain. Whether it ever functioned as such is uncertain.

Malta Archaeological Review 2022, issue 13, https://doi.org/10.46651/mar.2023.2
Received: 11 April 2023 | Accepted: 4 July 2023 | Published online: 10 October 2023