Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.07.70

G. Camporeale (ed.), La città murata in Etruria: Atti del XXV Convegno di studi etruschi ed italici, Chianciano Terme, Sarteano, Chiusi, 30 marzo - 3 aprile 2005: in memoria di Massimo Pallottino. Atti di convegni / Istituto nazionale di studi etruschi ed italici; 25.   Pisa/Roma:  Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2008.  Pp. 538.  ISBN 9788862270267.  €960.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Ivo van der Graaff, University of Texas at Austin (
Word count: 3223 words

This book is a publication of the papers and posters presented in 2005 at the Studi Etruschi conference dedicated to the memory of Massimo Pallottino. The proceedings focus upon the most evident but least studied of Etruscan remains: city walls. Greek and Roman studies supply a wealth of publications upon the subject, but the imposing Etruscan remains have never drawn systematic scholarly attention. In the early 1990's a renewed interest in Etruscan urbanism led to a plethora of research on city walls. This landmark publication aims to present Etruscan city walls in the context of new results. The participation of authors such as Mario Torelli, Armando Cherici, Giovanni Camporeale and Mauro Cristofani signals the scale and importance of the publication. Over thirty-two articles and the texts of four posters approach city walls through anthropological perspectives and site-specific excavation reports. The table of contents follows the order of conference presentation, but for purposes of this review, I have grouped the articles according to subject. I first consider the broad approaches, continue with articles focused on small regional sites, and finish by highlighting contributions concerning large Etruscan settlements. I attempt to examine every entry, but given the limits of the review, I refrain from analyzing every contribution in depth. Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.

After a brief introductory address elucidating the aims of the conference, Camporeale opens the proceedings with an assessment of the meaning of city walls within literary and figurative traditions. He presents a selection of sources that trace the historical and archaeological problems related to our understanding of Etruscan city walls. Although he purposely avoids the archeological evidence due to issues of space, Camporeale presents a well-rounded and incisive overview. Armando Cherici continues with what may be the most important contribution of the publication. In ancient texts authors often refer to walls of bronze, wood, earth, and stones. Cherici postulates that bronze is a metaphor for Hoplite formations, wood for ships, earth for the simple embankments fortifying a network of strongholds, and stones for solid city walls. He goes on to frame these terms within historical, sociopolitical, and military developments. By analyzing the Greek evidence, Cherici concludes that analysis of defensive networks leads to an understanding of the social motivations and tensions that produced them. Despite the paucity of such evidence for Etruria, he successfully applies the model to the Roman destruction and relocation of Volsinii with interesting results.

Marjatta Nielsen continues with a brief contribution on the depiction of city gates and sieges on funerary urns. A series of examples depicting foreign scenes such as the sack of Troy and the Seven Against Thebes portray the outer façade of the Volterran Porta all'Arco to represent the urban side of city gates in the Aegean. Nielsen suggests that the motif of the arch and the passage between life and death correlates directly with the communal identity that city walls established. The images of the local gate therefore acted as a marker of place and identity also in death.

For her part, Hilary Becker successfully correlates the terms urbs, oppidum, castellum, and vicus, to the emerging archaeological evidence. Ancient sources use the terms to describe the settlement hierarchy throughout the Etruscan territory, but modern scholarship has remained skeptical of such a direct correlation. Becker suggests that scholars should adopt the ancient terms in future publications to elucidate better the settlement differentiations operating in Etruria.

Lidio Gasperini follows with a brief contribution describing a few of the Scaean gates in southern Etruria. The author eventually hopes to identify the gate type as a commonly used form in Etruria, but admits that the article is only a preliminary assessment and is far from presenting a complete picture.

Dominique Briquel addresses the religious aspects of Etruscan foundation rituals and urban layouts. In simple terms, the primigenius sulcus defines the extent of divine protection as well as the city limits, but the associated ritual also expels otherwise uncontrollable forces of nature. Briquel downplays the religious role of city walls within this context, arguing instead that the structures merely protected rather than occupied the established pomerial boundary. The author indicates that the general Hippodamic layout of cities such as Marzabotto seems to play a far greater religious role than walls in Etruscan urban concepts. For instance, the axial street alignments of some cities mirror the Etruscan cosmological religious organization. Furthermore, theumbilicus urbis placed at town centers echoes the religious relationship between gods and humans by positioning settlements between the dei caelestes above and the dei inferi below. As a result cities functioned both as earthly and cosmic centers in the Etruscan worldview.

Paul Fontaine contributes a broad analysis of our knowledge on Etruscan fortifications and highlights regional defense patterns. The article elucidates some of the major problems in the field, such as dating and the correct identification of walls as either defensive or terracing structures. He also looks at how local materials, settlement placement, and military practices influenced enceinte designs. Within this last category he examines the literary evidence in an effort to ascertain to what extent direct attacks actually posed a threat to urban centers. Fontaine admits the precariousness of our knowledge, yet he advances some interesting suggestions upon the dynamics influencing enceinte design with the advent of complex siege machines and their use in Italy.

Mario Torelli makes an important contribution to the chronological development of Etruscan defenses. In particular he assesses the architectural responses to social and military developments occurring during the Roman conquest of Etruria between the fourth and second centuries BCE. Torelli begins with the late Bronze Age, exploring the complexities of enceinte design and the introduction of siege warfare on the Italian peninsula. The author discusses the remains in important cities such as Vulci, Perugia, Cortona, and others in order to contextualize their appearance within the military developments. The article also discusses the effect of walls upon visitors as markers of civic identity. The cases of Falerii Novi and Perugia form examples validating the thesis that walls developed from purely defensive elements into integral parts of the urban image.

Three articles examine the enceinte designs and defensive networks on a regional scale. Stephan Steingräber looks at enceinte design in southeastern Etruria, limiting his choice to seven sites. Despite the small sample size and related dating problems, he concludes that local factors such as topography and the availability of material decisively influence fortification design. Adriano Maggiani provides a valuable contribution to our understanding of territorial defensive networks. Despite his sweeping title, he admits that limited resources must reduce the analysis to the territories of Pisa, Populonia and Fiesole. His article provides a vital insight into the relatively unknown territorial mechanisms and settlement patterns of the region during the fourth century BCE. In particular Maggiani recognizes a pattern where rectangular fortresses replaced earlier archaic boundary sanctuaries throughout the landscape.

Luigi Malnati and Giuseppe Sassatelli contribute to this group by assessing regional settlement patterns in the Po valley. They begin by establishing that regional occupation rests primarily upon urban conglomerates. Malnati then presents Bologna, Spina and some minor regional centres, while Sassatelli writes primarily about Bagnolo S. Vito, Marzabotto and to a lesser extent Spina and Ravenna. The Hippodamic alignment of Marzabotto in particular suggests astronomical and cosmic calculations governing urban layouts. Overall, the article offers a deeper understanding of the role walls played within urban development and settlement identities of the region.

A group of articles concentrates on site specific archaeological reports, including quite a number of smaller sites receiving first publication. Three contributions focus on the Albegna valley. Maurizio Michelucci discusses the results of excavations aimed at dating and assessing the construction technique of the walls of Doganella, while the contribution by Giulio Ciampoltrini and Mario Cosci discusses the wider settlement pattern and the role of the via dei Tumuli in the valley. Finally Paola Rendini and Marco Firmati publish the oppidum of Ghiaccio Forte on the eastern side of the valley for the first time. Interestingly, the development of the oppidum seems to behave according to the pattern Maggiani identifies further north.

Similar events appear to govern the Hellenistic fortress of Poggio Civitella. Luigi Donati and Luca Cappuccini describe three successive phases of abandonment and reoccupation, from a cult area in the late Bronze Age to a settlement in the sixth century BCE, and as a fortress in its final phase. Strikingly, the stronghold presents three distinct contemporary enceintes placed in succession up the slope. The authors describe the construction technique of each wall and present some of the most significant excavation finds from the site, including much of the uncovered cult material.

In two separate articles, Friedhelm Prayon and Jean Gran-Aymerich describe the walls of Castellina del Marangone. This small site at the fringes of Caeran territory builds two concentric enceintes in the period of Roman expansion. The first author discerns the presence of spoliated material in the outer wall and proposes their origin from a temple that dominated the hilltop in the fifth century CE. Gran-Aymerich presents the stratigraphy associated with a secondary upper enceinte uncovered during recent excavations.

Two contributions concern the territory around present-day Siena. Silvia Vilucchi and Ada Salvi present preliminary research on the oppidum at Piazza di Siena, while Silvia Goggioli and Guido Bandinelli describe the defensive castellieri settlements in the territory of Etruscan Siena. These two articles help to further assess the previously little known Etruscan defensive network in this territory.

Maria Chiara Bettini presents a similar preliminary study on the strategic site of Pietramarina. Lying upon an important territorial road network connecting Volterra and Fiesole in the Valdarno the site seems akin in size and role to neighboring Artimino. The article presents preliminary but interesting results on the development of the site and further campaigns will certainly help shed more light on the settlement pattern of this particular region.

The other site--specific articles discuss results of some of the better--known Etruscan centers. Francesca Boitani, in collaboration with Sara Neri and Folco Biagi, present the results of emergency excavations near the northwest gate of Veii. An earlier wall running parallel to the outer archaic defenses is possibly the most significant discovery of the campaign. The stratigraphic evidence dates the construction of the wall sometime between the eighth and seventh centuries BCE, suggesting that the development of Veii mirrors the urbanization processes occurring in neighboring Latium at the time. Using new mapping studies and small excavations, Giorgo Baratti, Maria Cataldi and Lucia Mordeglia revisit Tarquinia in an effort to end the controversy concerning the date and route of the enceinte. The results suggest a wider route and place the first construction to the early sixth century BCE, setting the conventional date back almost a century. The results remain preliminary, since later restorations of the structure complicate the interpretation.

Anna Maria Moretti Sgubini reports on the progress of conservation efforts at Vulci. The excavation of the fossa in front of the agger near the west gate suggests defensive works protecting the city by the second half of the eighth century BCE. More importantly, Sgubini reports on the discovery of a secondary double fornix gate beyond the primary line of defense at the ponte rotto crossing the Fiora River. Although we need to await further elaboration of the results, the evidence suggests a previously undocumented complex double line of defenses on this side of the settlement.

The well known walls at Todi are next on the list. Paolo Bruschetti summarizes the restoration work and projects their role in the social and infrastructural developments of the city between the fifth and first centuries BCE. More importantly, he contests the pure defensive nature of the walls, pointing out their primary function as terracing elements constructed to accommodate the expansion of the urban area over the centuries.

Mario Cygielman and Gabriela Poggesi revisit the famous walls of Roselle as part of the general restoration effort carried out in recent years. The article mostly summarizes the history of research, but also includes some new insights gained during the project. In particular, the hypothesis postulating that the first Orientalizing settlement occupied only the north hill gains further momentum. Pasquino Pallecchi adds an appendix explaining the eclectic nature of the stone types used in the circuit. His geomorphological analysis allows a direct correlation between the types used and the quarries identified next to the walls.

Volterra and Populonia also feature on the list of larger Etruscan sites in the book. Antonella Romualdi and Rosalba Settesoldi discuss the state and research development of the lower enceinte at Populonia, while Anna Maria Esposito and Roberto Sabelli follow with a similar examination of the restoration works on the third circuit of Volterra. This report includes a previously unpublished drawing of the remains of the Porta Solis and an in--depth description of the works in Località Sant'Andrea. Marisa Bonamici concentrates further on the Archaic circuit at Volterra, publishing the first photographs of the wall segment under the Centro Studi of the Cassa di Risparmio. Bonamici re-proposes the structure, otherwise buried in a small publication, to a wider audience and repositions the segment in the current urban matrix using new survey data. She also casts doubt on its function, arguing that the structure possibly operated as a terracing rather than defensive structure. This premise allows Bonamici to propose a new wider circuit for the Archaic enceinte, but she admits that only further data canconfirm this hypothesis fully.

Concerning the southern fringes of the Etruscan influence, Valeria Sampaolo proposes a tentative plan on the walls of Capua. Excavations reveal a few scant remains of the structure and establish a previously unknown organic civic plan dating to the sixth century BCE. In the north, Piera Melli presents a similar preliminary report upon a fifth century BCE wall section uncovered in Genoa. The small section allows a glimpse of the construction technique but any further circuit reconstruction remains difficult. The author postulates construction of the walls in response to Syracusan sea raids. The associated stratigraphy attests a short use of the wall, which already seems to be abandoned at the time of the Celtic incursions in the Po Valley.

Finally, Jacopo Ortalli discusses the defenses of Felsina. Recent discoveries show that the city formed in the eighth century BCE as a planned foundation resulting from syncretic processes of smaller hamlets. Excavations point to a complex tripartite palisade with towers, galleries, walkways, frontal water filled ditch and a rear agger forming the primary defensive line of the city. The differences in construction technique compared to the enceintes further south relates to the available materials and the general absence of stone in the Po region.

Overall, the articles present highly sophisticated scholarly contributions. Each article provides a wealth of images, including specialized plans, profile drawings and illustrations of associated finds. Photographs follow the text in separate plates, while plans and maps are distributed throughout the text. Each entry is a self contained unit with a bibliography allowing easy consultation of sources and figures. At 960 euro, the cost of the book is a significant drawback. At such an exorbitant cost one would expect a sturdy binding and the inclusion of some color photographs. Unfortunately all the images are black and white and the cover of my copy has already completely detached from the main body after just a few consultations. The scholarship, however, is of the highest standards and presents immensely valuable contributions to our understanding of Etruscan walls and urbanism. In particular, the emphasis on smaller regional strongholds allows a new understanding of Etruscan defensive systems, while the earlier dates reported for the enceintes in larger cities such as Veii and Tarquinia demands a future re-evaluation of Etruscan urbanism. Finally, the more general contributions allow the new placement of the structures within Etruscan social perspectives. For all of these reasons, this volume is indispensable to our understanding of Etruscan urbanism; any serious classics library should incorporate it into their collection.

Table of Contents:

Sommario: Elenco degli iscritti e dei partecipanti.
G. Camporeale, Il XXV Convegno di studi etruschi ed italici
G. Camporeale, La città murata d'Etruria nella tradizione letteraria e figurativa
A. Cherici, Mura di bronzo, di legno, di terra, di pietra. Aspetti politici, economici e militari del rapporto tra comunità urbane e territorio nella Grecia e nell'Italia antica
M. Nielsen, Mura e porte urbiche nell'immaginario del cittadino
H. Becker, Urbs, oppidum, castellum, vicus. Settlement differentiation and landscape nomenclature in Etruria.
L. Gasperini, Porte scee in Etruria meridionale
M. Michelucci, La cinta muraria e la distruzione dell'abitato etrusco di Doganella
G. Ciampoltrini, M. Cosci, La via dei tumuli della bassa valle dell'Albegna e le porte di Doganella
D. Briquel, La città murata: aspetti religiosi
F. Boitani, Nuove indagini sulle mura di Veio nei pressi di porta Nord-Ovest; Appendice di S. Neri e F. Biagi, Elenco dei materiali
G. Baratti, M. Cataldi, L. Mordeglia, La cinta fortificata di Tarquinia alla luce della nuova documentazione
A. M. Moretti Sgubini, Le mura di Vulci: un aggiornamento sullo stato della ricerca
P. Bruschetti, Le mura di Todi: tradizione umbra e cultura etrusca.
P. Fontaine, Mura, arte fortificatoria e città in Etruria. Riflessioni sui dati archeologici
L. Donati, L. Cappuccini, Poggio Civitella: la fortezza ellenistica e le testimonianze cultuali nel sito
M. Cygielman, G. Poggesi, Cinta muraria di Roselle. Alcune considerazioni alla luce dei recenti lavori di restauro. Appendice di P. Pallecchi, Aspetti geomorfologici.
M. Torelli, Urbs ipsa moenia sunt (Isid. XV 2, 1). Ideologia e poliorcetica nelle fortificazioni etrusche di IV-II sec. a.C.
F. Prayon, La cinta muraria di Castellina del Marangone nel suo contesto storico e urbanistico
J. Gran-Aymerich, Les deux remparts de la Castellina del Marangone, au sud de Civitavecchia le mur de pente et le mur du sommet
S. Steingräber, Testimonianze di mura urbane e di fortificazioni nell'Etruria rupestre (Etruria meridionale interna)
A. Romualdi, R. Settesoldi, Le fortificazioni di Populonia. Considerazioni per la cinta muraria della città bassa
A. M. Esposito, R. Sabelli, Volterra: mura etrusche. Un progetto di restauro
M. Bonamici, Contributo alla cinta muraria arcaica di Volterra
A. Maggiani, Oppida e castella. La difesa del territorio
P. Rendini, M. Firmati, Ghiaccio Forte: un oppidum nella valle dell'Albegna
S. Vilucchi, A. Salvi, L'oppidum etrusco di Piazza di Siena a Petroio di Trequanda (SI)
S. Goccioli, G. Bandinelli, I castellieri della Montagnola Senese. Monte Acuto di Torri
M. C. Bettini, L'insediamento etrusco di Pietramarina (Carmignano, PO). Un avamposto nel medio Valdarno.
L. Malnati, G. Sassatelli, La città e i suoi limiti in Etruria padana
V. Sampaolo, La perimetrazione di Capua e l'abitato arcaico. Nota preliminare
P. Melli, Le mura di Genova preromana. Scavi 2001-2004
J. Ortalli, La prima Felsina e la sua cinta.

Poster texts:
A. Averini, O. Cerasuolo, Siti fortificati di IV secolo nell'Italia centrale appenninica. Contributo allo studio tipologico
L. Cenciaioli, L'oppidum di Monte Murlo ad Umbertide (PG). Appendice di F. Fico e S. Ranucci, Schede dei materiali
O. Cerasuolo, L. Pulcinelli, Fortezze di confine tardo-etrusche nel territorio tra Caere e Tarquinia. Note di topografia e architettura
O. Cerasuolo, L. Pulcinelli, F. Rubat Borel, Rofalco (Farnese, VT). Una fortezza vulcente tra la metà del IV e i primi decenni del III secolo a.C.
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