Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.03.07


R. Ross Holloway, The Archaeology of Early Rome and Latium. New York: Routledge, 1994. Pp. xxiii + 203; figs. 126. ISBN 0-415-08065-7.


Reviewed by Jean Turfa, Lansdale, PA.

This work covers topics of great interest both to a general (undergraduates) and specialist audience (teachers of Latin and ancient history, archaeologists) and has identified many of the hot issues of current scholarship. It discusses with some authority the prehistoric background of the Italic (and related) peoples, and most of the key monuments of the early period of Roman and Latian history. This includes the Roman cities of the Palatine hut villages, early cemeteries of the Forum and Esquiline, the Regia and archaic monuments of the Comitium such as the Lapis niger, and the Forum Boarium and Sant' Omobono sanctuary. The remains in Latium predating the late Republic are represented by the better-known or -documented towns: Gabii (Osteria dell' Osa necropolis), Castel di Decima and Acqua Acetosa Laurentina (tombs), Ficana (buildings and tombs), Crustumerium (regional surveys), Lavinium (13 altars complex and sanctuary of Minerva) and Praeneste (famous tombs). It is sure to be attractive to students who must work in English, and to scholars legitimately seeking background outside their own fields. I fear, though, that discerning readers will often be disappointed.

H. tells us (xvi) that this book was originally delivered as a series of lectures in Sao Paolo, and unfortunately, the printed version betrays its oral origins, apparent in a paucity of footnote references for the material discussed. Frequently, the most recent (sometimes variant) articles is cited, but backup reports etc. are omitted. In a few cases, the author's eagerness to acquaint his audience with fascinating new material has outstripped his list of sources (see below, Murlo). And the highlights of a thought-provoking lecture, the speaker's own surmises and challenges, are provided here -- but an audience of readers is owed more thoroughly reasoned arguments if they are to handle surprising new interpretations (e.g., Sant' Omobono, earliest temple). Rarities and challenges enliven a slide lecture -- but readers cannot assess them properly without easy access to the original scholarly publications.

Part of the problem is an identity crisis on behalf of Rome. H. has not established a clear distinction between Roman/Latian material culture and the culture of the neighboring Etruscans, Faliscans, Campanians et al. Since he chooses to cite at length a number of important Etruscan monuments, and to invest a great deal of description (chap. 12) in the princely tombs of Praeneste (whose luxury goods, a selection of imports and Italian utensils, seem characteristic of the Etruscan sphere), he really ought to have distinguished among these. He further seems to use the term Punic somewhat indiscriminately, which is annoying, since "Punic" should refer to the arch-enemies, the Carthaginians and those old Phoenician colonies within their sphere. Maybe "pseudo-Egyptian", the epithet most applied to the Phoenicians (4 times on p. 160 alone) is supposed to show the difference. Among the commercial goods in Latian tombs, H. has dubbed "Punic" an unspecified number of amphorae which most scholars find to be of Etruscan or Italic manufacture (pp. 117, 167ff.). H. chose to follow two divergent articles (chap. 9 note 3) and to omit any reference to the dozens of substantial corpora documenting these items. (Petrographic analysis has not covered all forms of 8th-7th century transport amphorae yet. For instance, see the articles of P. Bartoloni, M. Py and C. Albore-Livadie in the same volume cited, Il commercio etrusco arcaico; also P. Pelagatti, ed., Le anfore da trasporto e il commercio etrusco arcaico [Rome 1990, ongoing].)

The Castel di Decima amphora illustrated as H.'s fig. 9.4, p. 119, without tomb designation, looks much more Italian than what H. must have been imagining in parallels, such as the Levantine ogival amphora from a burial at Pithekoussai, see David Ridgway, The First Western Greeks [Cambridge 1992, hereafter cited as FWG] pl. 11 left, vase 339-1, but the bulging belly and upswept handles of the Decima find set it apart from genuine Levantine. It presumably came from an Italian/Etruscan workshop not previously represented in the archaeological record.

As for identity crises: throughout, all major locations such as Ardea, Ficana, etc. are invariably termed cities -- yet, in their early centuries, they were not so complex. The work ignores the seminal question of the chronology and mechanism of urbanization in Italy, a much discussed issue for Etruria and of even greater interest for Latium.

One good trait of the work: H. usually sets the background of famous finds by describing the scholars and traditions which gave rise to the great discoveries, sketching profiles of the famous scholars such as Pigorini, Pinza, et al., and of the debunked infamous such as Helbig, now shown to have been the perpetrator of the Manios fibula hoax. It is not a cover of the portraits drawn by Paul MacKendrick's The Mute Stones Speak (New York and London, 2nd ed. 1983) for some scholarship there discussed is here omitted. I suggest that, in contrast to H.'s pp. 18-19, students still refer to MacKendrick's table of Roman building stones, pp. 91-92 and discussion of the pioneering work of Tenney Frank; MacKendrick's graphic table, Fig. 3.1, p. 73, of early chronology, although one might argue with specific dates or correlations, is still easier to read than the two lists of H., pp. 37 and 46, which he avoids really justifying with each other.

H. makes much of certain methodologies (cf. chap.3, notes 11ff), citing certain scholars' works but curiously omitting relevant others, for instance, the ground-breaking analysis of Joanna Close-Brooks on the pottery and tomb groups of Veii, with respect to the chronology of Greek Late Geometric imports. (To cover this, see Close-Brooks and D. Ridgway, "Veii in the Iron Age," in Italy Before the Romans, D. and F.R.S. Ridgway eds., London etc. 1979, pp. 95-127; also FWG pp. 129ff. and references there.) Interestingly, H.'s chap. 1 note 66 is his only mention of FWG, but it is incorrectly belittled as a translation of an earlier work. Readers with interest in Greek colonization and trade in Italy and condominium with Italic indigenes should consult FWG and its copious, accurate references. Start from there and its references, and Lilian Jeffery's LSAG and CAH vol. 3.1 (1982) pp. 819-833 if you want the origins of the alphabet and skip H.'s twice-cited article (p. 190 note 14, p. 196 note 9) now out as ArchNews 18 (1993) pp. 1-5. And for Greek Geometric exports and Phoenician chronologies, where H. cites only himself and Coldstream's 1968 volume, see FWG's bibliography and pp. 20ff., 60ff., including a number of recent Coldstream articles such as "Greeks and Phoenicians in the Aegean," in Die Phoenizier im Westen, ed. H.G. Niemeyer (Mainz 1982), pp. 261-275; also G. Kopcke, "What Role for the Phoenicians?" in G. Kopcke and I. Tokumaru, eds., Greece Between East and West: 10th-8th centuries B.C. (NYU meeting, 1990/ Mainz/Rhein, 1992) 101-113. Studies of Greek vases in Phoenician and Cypriot sites (Tyre, Amathus etc.) are also available.

The list is far from complete here, but I hope it illustrates the wealth ignored by H., or at least not made accessible to his readers. In the same vein, I fail to see why H. did not cite the short, English article by Frank Brown, "Of Huts and Houses," in In Memoriam Otto J. Brendel (eds. L. Bonfante and H. von Heintze, Mainz 1976) 5-12, say at note 24 of his chap. 4, entitled "Huts and Houses"... The Capitolium of Rome still benefits from the thorough study of Agnes Kirsopp Lake [Michaels'] "The Archaeological Evidence for the Tuscan Temple," MAAR 12, 1935: 89-149. And surely H. has read, whether or not he would agree, Charlotte Scheffer's "Domus Regiae -- A Greek Tradition?," OpAth 18, 1990: 185-191; while his comments on the bronze Capitoline wolf statue would profit from the stylistic and technical treatment offered by Otto J. Brendel's Etruscan Art (Harmondsworth etc. 1978) 250-253.

It is only realistic to treat the archaeological history of early Rome and Latium monument by monument, for the subsequent history of these areas has made an unbroken sequence of occupation too difficult to identify in any given region. Still, a map or plan showing the relation of the streets cited to the hills and other features would be welcome.

If we must jump from the Palatine hut village to the Regia and Lapis niger, why complicate the process with other digressions such as the northern Etruscan site of Murlo (pp. 55-57)? Although the chronological period under discussion should be the 7th century, H., with a brief notice of the Murlo Lower Building, proceeds to describe at length the Archaic, Upper or Courtyard Building instead. It is better represented in the recovered finds, but it was constructed c. 575 B.C., and, while it might have had a similar plan, the Lower Building of the end of the 7th century has only been exposed in part, and can only be documented as a single, long narrow rectangular structure, probably protected by terracotta revetments and rooftiles. These revetments included some cut-out acroteria of the type H. later (pp. 60ff.) attributes to Acquarossa and Rome, and they were studied by the same Swedish experts whose works are "cited" for Acquarossa ("various fascicles of Skrifter 38"), but H. chooses to ignore the very early Murlo examples -- and thus the strongly Etruscan aspect -- of the material.

H. curiously gives NO references for his presentation of the Murlo material, leaving one to imagine that the chronologically relevant Lower Building looked just like the Upper Building. Throughout subsequent notes, H. cites a plethora of good but very abstruse references, frequently in Italian journals difficult of access. Yet, where a series of site reports and specialty studies, almost all in English, exist for the Murlo material, the reader is offered not a one. Further, H's reference to a "sea-horse" (hippocamp) statue on the Murlo roof can only have been derived from a paper delivered at the 1993 Archaeological Institute of America annual meetings by the originator of that identification, Dr. Danielle Newland. This represents material from her dissertation (Bryn Mawr College, 1994) which has otherwise not yet been published. Maybe one can play fast and loose in an oral presentation, but there is no excuse for rendering this into print without professional acknowledgement.

H. believes, inexplicably, that the gens, "a phenomenon of the social changes of the ninth and eighth centuries, was in full flower by the time the Murlo building was built", and that "this consideration clarifies much about Murlo". No proof, except a fanciful assumption that the human statues on the roof represent clan leaders. On one page (56) H. says the seated personages on the Murlo frieze plaques should "be interpreted as mortals", and on the facing page, that the same figures, when three-dimensional statues, "must be divinities".... It is true that Etruscan inscriptions of the 6th century often show the use of family names, the formulaic equivalent of the Roman nomen gentile, but that the social and political conditions were the same in northern Etruria seems unlikely and unknown. The use of matronymics would seem to suggest otherwise. Why the gratuitous speculations here for material that is not even Latian?

H. attempts (chap. 5) to tear down past identifications of monuments, such as the single, later double temples at the Sant'Omobono site in the Forum Boarium, on the grounds that associations with Fortuna and Mater Matuta are too convenient and are not attested by any 7th or 6th century inscriptions. He then (pp. 80, 90) proposes his own identification of the cult with Minerva -- because an Etruscan sanctuary, the Portonaccio, built slightly later at Veii [he says simultaneously], also had terracotta statues of Menrva and Hercle on its roof, and inscriptions naming Menrva were found there! (This was the same temple previously attributed to Apollo because one of its other statues portrays him, among other scenes of Greek and Italian myth/legend...) Again, archaeologists who can navigate this material have no reason to -- they will use the primary sources, and may well take offense at the book's tone. Neophytes would be either desperately misinformed or at least disenchanted at its lack of logic. The association of the feline reliefs on the early temple at Sant'Omobono with the Artemis temple at Corfu ignores all sorts of discrepancies, like a difference of two or more generations, and it is not germane to the problems of interpretation.

Another logic problem: H. prefers a low date for the so-called Servian walls of Rome; they are definitely the oldest of Rome's masonry defensive circuits. H. cites (pp. 91ff.) the presence of an agger and fossa, ditch and mound structure as a development evolved to counter the threat of 4th century and Hellenistic artillery, and so the configuration of the Servian walls means they came after the invention of Greek artillery. How then do we explain the construction of agger and fossa at Murlo at the end of the 7th century, as at a number of cited Latin towns, most notably Ardea? The cemetery and street patterns are the key to the Servian enceinte, surely (see chap. 7 note 14), although the evidence H. illustrates as strongest -- a Genucilia plate from Esquiline tomb LXI -- isn't actually the evidence he's talking about! His fig. 7.5, p. 98, illustrates neither the Esquiline find, nor the name-plate in the Rhode Island School of Design which he cites. Although the caption says "similar", his Brown University plate has a foot, unlike the piece at issue, and its painted decoration is slightly different. (See BullComm 40, 1912: 81 fig. 24.) I find his lowering of the dates of this group somewhat arbitrary; certainly many of the export contexts for Genucilia plates seem to agree with Del Chiaro's original 4th century and following generation production period. Production of the popular item did continue for a long period. In fact, though, the association of that particular plate with the tomb remains tenuous as well.

Yes, the illustrations have their problems. Almost all are cadged from other publications, whose authors or proprietors are duly thanked, but the original publications are not referenced. So when the buildings at Satricum are illustrated (chap. 11, figs. 11.1-11.5, 11.16) in greatly reduced reproductions, it is not easy to go back to their original Dutch publications -- which you must do in order to read labels or see any meaningful details. Fig. 11.9, a roof segment, is shown upside down. Maybe that's why H. didn't say anything about the revolution in structure which its terracotta revetments indicate: this is the changeover before the end of the 6th century, from low, figured frieze plaques to revet horizontal beams to the much deeper, openwork plaques with abstract and floral ornament. The decoration is for a different structure with much deeper architrave beams, among other things. Much thought has been given to this by Etruscan and Italic experts, but none is presented here.

And with H.'s willingness to recycle illustrations, why did he substitute for the famous fibulae of the Roman Forum burials (or maybe duplicates from related contexts) artifacts without provenance from Brazilian and other collections (figs. 3.1-3.5)?

Throughout, H is quick to associate a known archaeological feature, such as the tumulus, so-called heroon of Aeneas at Lavinium, or the Lapis niger, etc., with ancient historical references. He then takes the lack of correlation as proof that the ancients couldn't even keep their own history straight for a mere 250 years or so. He never allows for the possibility that the problem could be ours -- that we have rushed to link each recovered monument with something or someone famous, whether or not the association is proven.

Another speculative example: chap. 9 at note 3, in reference to Gras' insight into the discrepancy between the presence of wine jars in Latian women's graves and the ancient sources, H. says we should simply throw out all the ancient texts, and then suggests his own notion -- even more fanciful, that the ancient authors have all misunderstood a Roman comedy reference taken out of context!

Plenty of interesting topics are introduced only to languish: the Latian predilection for miniaturization ( passim). Skepticism is well placed on just how Homeric Italian banquets were (chap. 9 note 3) -- H. is right to remind us of an Italian/Sicilian koine from the Late Bronze Age: thousands of families over dozens of generations had a full repertoire of customs and would have seen no compelling reason to abandon these. Further tidbits of support for early wine use and communal eating are beginning to be known e.g. F. Delpino, "L'ellenizzazione dell'Etruria villanoviana: sui rapporti tra Grecia ed Etruria fra IX e VIII secolo a.C.," Atti II Congresso Internazionale Etrusco (Firenze 1985) [Rome 1990] I, pp. 105-116.

The overriding importance of family traditions in religion and burial has long been recognized for Romans, with the example of the Scipiones (cf. Mute Stones p. 92 etc.); the analysis of early Gabii by Anna Maria Bietti-Sestieri as cited by H. is now available for English readers (The Iron Age Cemetery of Osteria dell'Osa (Rome) - A Study of socio-political development in central Tyrrhenian Italy [Cambridge 1992], so why not avail oneself of that and cut out the too facile derivative work?

This is not a concerted effort at damage control, there is not the space. What references H. provides are not incorrect, at least their errors are not especially misleading (Archeologia Laziale volume numbers are off by about two since they are confused with the concurrent series numbers as Quaderni del Centro di Studio per l'Archeologia etrusco-italica; Stips Votiva (chap. 5 note 10) is actually 1991. As for H.'s more abstruse references such as (chap. 5 note 14) his own "Aedes Minervae in Foro Boario," in Rivista do Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia da Universidade de Sao Paolo concerning that belabored identification of the temple under Sant-Omobono, I haven't succeeded in checking it, mehercle.