Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.03.29

Daniele Federico Maras, Il dono votivo: Gli dei e il sacro nelle iscrizioni etrusche di culto. Biblioteca di "Studi Etruschi" 46.   Pisa/Roma:  Fabrizio Serra editore, 2009.  Pp. 514.  ISBN 9788862270861.  €495.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Ingrid Edlund-Berry, The University of Texas at Austin (

The study of votive offerings continues to give important insights for our understanding of ancient cultures and religion, in particular for the Etruscans and the peoples of central Italy. As can be expected, inscriptions, whether isolated words or longer sentences, form an important element of the votive material, but they are often treated primarily as texts, with little or no attention paid to the archaeological context. The book discussed here is therefore of particular importance in that it presents the formulas of votive dedications as well as a catalogue of important inscriptions from major Etruscan sites. As indicated in the preface, the author claims no attempt at completeness, but has chosen to focus on examples which illustrate the variety of inscriptions within a chronological framework.

The first section of the book covers a classification of the inscriptions and an analysis of their translation and contents, whereas the second section includes a selection of 326 inscriptions, arranged in order of provenience.

The introductory chapter in the first section deals with the thorny subject of typology of the inscriptions categorized as 'sacred'. Although ideally the find context and contents of an inscription should point to a sacred use, there are many variables due to Etruscan usage as well as the difficulties of interpreting the language and the find context. The basic element of the gift ('dono') inscriptions is that they express exactly this, that something is a gift, but a gift does not necessarily have to imply a sacred act. Other inscriptions refer to acts of consecration, including divination, ownership, and various forms of rituals. In defining these categories, Maras supplies examples from the catalogue and comments on regional usage wherever relevant.

The second chapter presents the ritual of gift-giving in which Maras applies sequences of production, forms of inscriptions, and purpose according to the period and the location. Here the choice of words and their order may indicate where and under what circumstances a gift was presented, including the practices at harbor sanctuaries such as Gravisca or Pyrgi.

Since the precise translation of Etruscan words and sentences often remains uncertain, the study of inscriptions may seem vague and arbitrary to the novice. In the third chapter, Maras addresses this issue by defining the types of words included in an inscription (offerant, object, divinity, action, etc.). Obviously, not all types appear in all inscriptions discussed in this book, but it is helpful to be able to identify common terms indicating, for example, the action of giving (mul-, tur-). By far the most frequent in the inscriptions are general references to deities (for example, ais-, flere) as well as their names (discussed in chapter four), but the object given is also important, as shown by the use of the personal pronoun mi- referring to the object speaking (l'oggetto parlante). Words indicating sanctity (for example, tincsvil inscribed on the Chimera from Arezzo) and indication of place or time add to the basic formula of gift and giver.

The pantheon of Etruscan deities is discussed in chapter four, and here we recognize many of the names from the Piacenza liver and other texts. Maras presents the names in chronological sequence by centuries thereby providing a progression of types of deities and the locations where they occur, ranging from the seventh to the first century B.C. This interesting approach allows Maras to introduce the earliest documented names (for example, Menerva and Uni), followed by names such as Fufluns and Selvans. In addition to these local names, translations from Greek names appear early, as shown in the form Aritimi, followed by Aplu and Hercle. Variations include references to parentage (father, daughter) and groups of deities.

Of utmost importance for our understanding of Etruscan religion is the type of offering and the circumstances in which it was presented to the deity. In chapter five, Maras analyzes the different media of offerings, including pottery, local and imported, and figurines of terracotta and bronze. Numerous charts help to clarify the distribution of gifts and inscriptions, but unfortunately the lack of illustrations prevents the reader from visualizing the objects and their place in the wider context of votive offerings, well documented in studies of votive terracottas and bronzes.

In chapter six Maras summarizes the evidence from the inscriptions to identify the names of the individuals mentioned and the family names recorded. Although women are cited as dedicants, their number is surprisingly small.

The second section of the book contains a catalogue of the inscriptions used to analyze the language of dedications. Each catalogue item is identified by origin (Arretium, Clusium, etc.) and the description includes the findspot, if known, the type of object, the reading of the text, with bibliography and comments. Some entries include a line drawing of the inscriptions, but there are no illustrations of the objects.

An appendix presents the inscriptions arranged by modules or formulas, indicating the combination of words and the order in which appear. Particularly useful features are the chronological analysis, and the provenience of the inscriptions illustrating each module.

Maras has provided much valuable material for the continued study of Etruscan religion and of votive inscriptions in particular. Because his interests are mainly philological and the system of presenting the texts is linked to the accepted format of Etruscan epigraphy, a reader with a different background and interested in more general issues of Etruscan culture and religion may find it difficult to locate the relevant information included in the individual catalogue entries. As new discoveries appear, this volume will provide a useful tool for a synthesis of the importance of inscriptions in Etruscan sanctuaries. For now, Maras' study deserves to be available to all as a reference work, but the price (and poor binding) may unfortunately prevent individual purchases as well as library acquisitions.

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