Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.04.42

N. T. de Grummond, I. Edlund-Berry (ed.), The Archaeology of Sanctuaries and Ritual in Etruria. JRA Supplementary series, 81.   Portsmouth, RI:  Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2011.  Pp. 167.  ISBN 9781887829816.  $87.00.  

Reviewed by Tesse D. Stek, Leiden/Glasgow University (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This volume bears the fruits of a fully packed conference session on the subject during the APA/AIA Annual Meeting in 2008 in Chicago. The enthusiasm and excitement felt during that session can now be shared by a broader audience in the form of this very welcome volume, which not only discloses much new and important archaeological evidence, but also offers sophisticated methodological reflections on it. The time period covered ranges from the 6th to 1st centuries BC. The first four chapters each discuss a major site under recent excavation, and are followed by three more synthetic discussions on religious ritual, a conclusion and a topographic bibliography.

All papers share a constructive focus on the material evidence and what we can do with it rather than on the unavoidable limitations of our data. This laudable approach props the Introduction by Ingrid Edlund-Berry, which emphasizes the significance of the spatial context in the recognition and definition of Etruscan sacred places and religious ritual.

Simonetta Stopponi presents the latest discoveries at the Campo della Fiera sanctuary near Orvieto, which may be identified as the famous federal sanctuary of the twelve Etruscan peoples of Fanum Voltumnae known from Livy. Among the many tantalising finds is a stone rectangular monument, which may be dated to the mid-3rd century BC. As this date coincides with the historically documented engagement of Fulvius Flaccus in the area (i.e., the conquest of Volsinii in 264 BC), this building phase can tentatively be connected to his endeavours. Equally fascinating is a structure containing several statue bases. One base has three small bronzes still in place, and can be reconstructed as supporting a male figure in archaizing style in the centre surrounded by seven worshippers, arguably representing the veneration of an archaic statue present in the sanctuary. One of the most striking outcomes of the new excavations is without doubt the continued significance and indeed exuberance of the cult place in the period after the conquest by Rome. These include significant building projects and objects (such as a thesaurus filled with late-Republican and Augustan coins) dating as late as the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, and even later finds such as an imperial bust (perhaps Gaeta) and coins dating to the Constantinian era, recalling the continued or revived importance of Etruscan sanctuaries in this period as documented in the famous Hispellum decree.

Giovanna Bagnasco Gianni reports on the excavations at the Ara della Regina sanctuary at Tarquinia. The paper focuses on the Archaic and Late Classical/Hellenistic periods. The new excavations complement previously gathered evidence for the development of the site. The first temple, I, of the oikos/sacellum type, can be dated to around the first half of the 6th century BC, whereas its successor, temple II, was built toward the end of the same century. The altar-precinct complex in front of the temple has now been excavated, revealing the reason for the difference in orientation between the temple and the complex: altar α covered a stone cist. The apparent significance of the cist invites comparison with hero-cult buildings or cenotaphs known from other sites, and may be related to an imperial-period inscription found earlier in the same area where the name of [Tar]cho[n] – the mythical founder of Tarquinia – appears. Evocatively, the Late Classical/Hellenistic phases of the temple also respected the complex.

P. Gregory Warden discusses the archaeological evidence for ritual in the sanctuary of Poggio Colla. The hilltop sanctuary and related settlement have produced finds dating to the mid-7th to early 2nd centuries BC, when the site was destroyed. Warden zooms in on some high-resolution data for ritual practices seemingly relating to actions of abandonment and/or purification and re-use of the Archaic (Phase I) temple. For one deposit, the exceptional evidence enables Warden to reconstruct a sequence of actions, involving the dismantling of a votive column or altar, placing its top upside-down in a pit, meticulously arranging two statue bases next to it, and, after sacrificing a piglet, depositing a bronze bowl and gold wire. The pit also included intentionally broken bronze objects. The act of turning an object upside-down and breakage occurs at other spots in Poggio Colla too. Some time after the destruction of the Phase I temple, a broken block of its podium was placed in a natural fissure in the bedrock – again upside-down and accompanied by gold wire. Warden links the breakage and overturning acts to the destruction and fragmentation of the Phase I temple itself, as an act needed in order for the objects to be buried and laid to rest.

Nancy T. de Grummond offers a synthesis of ritual practices at the sanctuary of Cetamura del Chianti. Research at this hilltop site has focused on the sanctuary on the ‘acropolis’ and a lower zone with an artisans’ quarter, including a kiln and another sanctuary. The best evidence dates to the Hellenistic period. Eleven ritual contexts have been identified at Cetamura, nine of which in the sanctuary site, one from the kiln, and one from the gate area. De Grummond interprets these different contexts using the framework developed by Bonghi Jovino and Bagnasco Gianni for Pian di Civita, Tarquinia, distinguishing four main ritual categories (propitiation, foundation, celebration, obliteration) and their physical ‘containers’ (natural or artificial, open or closed, etc.). This does not mean that it is always easy to differentiate among these categories, both because of possibly multiple and overlapping functions in antiquity and our capability to tell them meaningfully apart. Cetamura demonstrates to be a good case in point. For instance, de Grummond interprets the earliest ritual evidence from the acropolis (2nd half of the 4th century BC), two closed refuse pits, as the reflection of an act of obliteration after sacrifice, or alternatively as a liminal deposit – but the two interpretations need not exclude one another. As to the kiln, Black Gloss pottery in both praefurnium and firing-chambers can plausibly be explained as propitiatory offerings, putting the transformation of the clay under protection of a deity. Other high-resolution contexts include dedications that can be related to different artisanal specializations (e.g. miniature brick and iron objects), although postulating a direct link between specific objects and social groups has it risks. One of the most interesting aspects of Cetamura is precisely its combination of artisanal and cultic contexts, which raises many questions on the relationship between cult place, the artisans, and other groups of people involved.

Katherine Rask puts forward some interesting reflections on the role and character of cult statues in Etruscan contexts. Her paper is largely methodological. First, Rask effectively busts the myth of an evolutionary development from aniconism to anthropomorphism by pointing out its origin in romanticising ancient sources and modern evolutionary thinking. For Rask, cult statues are better understood as ritualized objects in specific contexts – i.e., the sacredness of an image is not intrinsic but acquired by context. Manipulation of statues is one of the key tools in this acquirement process, for instance by dressing and carrying them in procession, or by their special location. Rask warns against the tendency to consider only a principal cult statue: often many different images stood in and outside the cult site, which might have been differentially important according to temporal or other circumstances. Turning to iconography, a major methodological problem in reading Etruscan images of ritual and cult sites emerges. In the absence of standardized ritual scenes, it usually is only in Greek formal imagery that we can recognize cultic contexts as such. Nevertheless, some specifically Etruscan characteristics can be identified, most notably the theme of touching or violating the divine, which resonates with the little we know from textual sources. Rask’s plea for more methodological flexibility, taking note of possibly very different Etruscan ways of acting with respect to the Greeks and Romans (and other Italic peoples, we might add), is salutary.

Helen Nagy gives a foretaste of an extensive study in progress on Etruscan votive terracottas, teasing out from them the evidence for four cult sites at Veii and Cerveteri. She tentatively explains differences in these votive assemblages in terms of the social groups involved or differing ritual requirements. Although statistics have only limited value in disturbed contexts like these, at the Campetti sanctuary for instance the proportion between female (over 1800) and male (272) images is remarkable, and may suggest preferential use of the site by different (gender or otherwise) groups. The Vignaccia sanctuary also yielded mostly female heads, whereas the Manganello site produced a high proportion of male heads. Suggestively, some of the later types were adapted to emphasize particular personal features. The resulting difference between these sanctuaries may be a function of contemporary differential wishes c.q. cult communities (i.e., more individuality in males at Manganello), but may (also) reflect a chronological development.

Lisa C. Pieraccini reviews the ritual role of wine in the Etruscan world. Wine is closely associated with Mediterranean elite behaviour in banquet and funerary contexts, but the emphasis on funerary versus sanctuary contexts (the difference between the two is ambiguous; cf., for instance, the Cannicella sanctuary, but that is another matter) might result from our biased archaeological dataset. Because of the volatile nature of the subject, the use and relative significance of wine remains hard to substantiate without recourse to Roman, Latial and Greek contexts. The growing body of archaeological evidence for vegetal and animal remains at cult sites will doubtlessly form a welcome future addition.

De Grummond wraps up the volume with an effective conclusion, while Edlund-Berry and Stephen A. Collins-Elliott offer a highly useful bibliography of Etruscan cult sites, granting easy access to cult sites not covered in the volume.

This volume stands out by the range of different cult sites and ritual actions examined: from major temple sites to small sanctuaries, from the humblest propitiation rites to mass votive religion. The diversity of approaches presented, which never derails in theoretical reflections unrelated to the actual evidence, forms another strength of the volume. Notwithstanding this variety in both subject matter and approach, some convergences emerge. I single out the relationship between ritual and community, and the use of Etruscan sanctuaries in the Roman period.

In several papers, the character of ritual assemblages is linked to specific social groups, i.e.,by reasoning from the detailed archaeological finds up to their social context. The adoption of the matrix established by Bonghi Jovino and Bagnasco Gianni for interpreting ritual actions and direct archaeological contexts (‘containers’) goes a long way towards a contextualized interpretation. However, also the wider topographical and geopolitical contexts of sanctuaries provide important clues about the sanctuary’s place in Etruscan society, as Edlund-Berry demonstrated. The rich evidence for specific types of ritual (obliteration, propitiation) spurs curiosity about the day-to-day functioning of these sanctuaries. What was their place in the regional settlement organization? Should we see Poggio Colla and Cetamura as ‘frontier sanctuaries’, and if so, what rituals were performed by whom? The question about the relationship between sanctuaries and economic activities is equally pressing. At Cetamura, rituals may principally be explained in terms of the requirements of local artisans, but in other cases cult places become a focal point in economic networks, and secondary services agglomerate around them. Where this volume illuminates detailed examples of ritual practice, one challenge is now to extend the matrix by grafting it onto the broader framework of societal organization.

Another theme regards the consistent presence of post-Roman conquest phases. Partly, this results from more positive scholarly attitudes to other than Archaic-Classical monumental remains, a development we also note for South Italy. These later phases do not reflect mere survivals or persisting nostalgic loners. On the contrary, we witness vigorous new building activity, at Campo della Fiera for instance. The meaning of the continued or resumed frequentation of Etruscan cult places of old must be read from case to case. The straightforward arrival of new inhabitants, ritual practices and ideological frameworks (the Anchises-Aeneas statuettes, the Tessennano votive heads), or the integration of these into existing cultic communities, represent just one of a range of possibilities. Direct involvement of Roman magistrates in temples, perhaps documented at Campo della Fiera, and, on the other side of the scale, cultural resistance or revivalism are more extreme examples. Later phases of Etruscan sanctuaries are therefore better understood in terms of active strategies by diverse stakeholders than as obtuse persistence. Moreover, the widening of our chronological perspective invites comparison with the situation in other parts of ancient Italy and the Mediterranean. This volume forms a milestone on this path to further exploration.

Table of Contents

Preface 6
1. Introduction, Ingrid Edlund-Berry 7
2. Campo della Fiera at Orvieto: new discoveries, Simonetta Stopponi 16
3. Tarquinia: excavations by the University of Milano at the Ara della Regina sanctuary, Giovanna Bagnasco Gianni 45
4. The temple is a living thing: fragmentation, enchainment and reversal of ritual at the acropolis sanctuary of Poggio Colla, P. Gregory Warden 55
5. Ritual practices at the sanctuary of the Etruscan artisans at Cetamura del Chianti, Nancy T. de Grummond 68
6. New approaches to the archaeology of Etruscan cult images, Katherine Rask 89
7. Etruscan votive terracottas and their archaeological contexts: preliminary comments on Veii and Cerveteri, Helen Nagy 113
8. The wonders of wine in Etruria, Lisa C. Pieraccini 127
9. Conclusion, Nancy T. de Grummond 139
A bibliography of sanctuaries and ritual in Etruria, Sephen A. Collins-Elliott and I. Edlund-Berry 143
Notes on the contributors 166
Comment on this review in the BMCR blog
Read Latest
Index for 2012
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review
Bryn Mawr Classical Commentaries

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
HTML generated at 22:17:44, Monday, 23 April 2012