Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.03.14 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.03.14

Giovanni Colonna, Italia ante Romanum Imperium: scritti di antichità etrusche, italiche e romane (1999-2013), Vol. V-VI (2 vols.).   Pisa; Roma:  Fabrizio Serra editore, 2016.  Pp. xxiv, 1254.  ISBN 9788881474400.  €380.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by L. Bouke van der Meer, Leiden University (

These two volumes are the sequel to volumes I-IV (3250 p.) that were published in 2005. They reproduce 66 of 94 articles of Giovanni Colonna previously published in journals, mostly in the Annali della Fondazione per il Museo “Claudio Faina,” Archeologia Classica, Studi Etruschi and Etruscan Studies, and also in collections of conference papers, Festschriften, and exhibition catalogues, between 1999 and 2010. His bibliography for the years 1999-2016 lists 128 titles and 8 forthcoming ones. The total number of his publications, including books on Castel d’Asso (1970), Norchia (1978) and the Sanctuary of Portonaccio at Veii (2002 and 2009), among other subjects, is approximately 400. With two exceptions all articles in volumes V-VI are in Italian. They are very readable, without abstracts and conclusions, and presented in chronological order of publication, under the headings: ‘I. Between history and archaeology’ (vol. V), ‘II. Between art and archaeology,’ ‘III. Epigraphy,’ and ‘IV. History of research’ (vol. VI). Since many articles with related themes could have been collected under sub-headings, and cross-references and a thematic index are missing, I first mention them in a thematic order, incidentally with very concise indications of their content.

In the first section Colonna tries to define the original characteristics of Etruscan culture: its non Indo-European language, its (revealed) book religion known as the disciplina etrusca (see also p. 831-842, on city foundations and mundi), early urbanism around 900 BC, the hydraulic art, the equal position of women (but not in politics), ancient literary views on Etruscan piracy, hybris, and tryphe. Other articles deal with the history of other regions, Etruscan presence there, and elite and commercial contacts with them: Umbria, the Po valley, Picenum, the Adriatic Sea area and the role of Adria between ca. 800 and 500 BC, Liguria, South Gaul, Iberia, and Sardinia and a possible, late influence of nuragic towers on Etruscan conical funerary towers.

Articles on places focus on: Lipari and its Etruscan occupation from the tenth century to 474 BC, Volsinii veteres (Orvieto) and its territory to the north, east and south of Lake Bolsena after ca. 500 BC, the relations between Orvieto and Vulci (8th – 4th centuries BC), the birth of the city of Veii (Veio) around 900 BC, Monte Tezio (near Perugia) and its cult in honour of the Tec Sa(ns), probably a ‘speaking’ father (Sans) deity as Tec(u(m)) derives from I.E. * deik- (393-421 and 481-507), Perugia (see below), Felsina (Bologna), Marzabotto identified by G. Sassatelli as *Kainua, from the Greek kainon (new [city]), Verucchio, and ‘the city of Remus’ (Rome). The island of Pelagosa is identified as Pindar’s Diomedeia thanks to Greek vases dedicated in situ to Diomedes (3-14, and 159-162); it was a pivotal place for Greek merchants in the Adriatic Sea during the fifth century BC.

Also discussed are Umbrians of the Tiber (in Otricoli and Terni), Umbrians in the Po valley, Faliscans, Celts, and Ligurians. Other essays are about mythical and historical persons: Tyrrhenus, brother of Liparus (87-94, and 509-543); the ‘tyrant’ Porsenna’s rule over Chiusi and Volsinii, his connections with Picenum, the Peucetians, and his expedition in Latium; Caere’s ruler Thefarie Velianas (see below). As for historical events, Colonna deals with the battle between Etruscans and Carthaginians against the Phocaeans in the Sardinian Sea around 545 BC and the first treaty between Rome and Carthage in 509/508 BC seen in the light of a donation to Astarte in Pyrgi.

Articles about artefacts concern bronze disc-protectors (of women) and their distribution, which casts light on migrations; Greek (South Italian) bronze shin-guards, maybe booty from Porsenna’s son Arruns’ war against Aristodemos of Cumae in Latium (504 BC), which were dedicated to Menrva, according to the added inscription in Volsinii veteres, and brought, again as booty or reward, from Volsinii (destroyed in 264 BC) to Perugia, probably by a socius of the Romans; and an enigmatic terracotta fragment from Veii (see below). Colonna still holds, for stylistic reasons, the Lupa Capitolina to be an original bronze from the beginning of the Roman Republic.

The second section presents articles on the Orientalizing culture in Etruria and the topographical origins of its materials and motifs; the art of Picenum and Picenian artefacts in Etruria; sacred architecture and religion1; the five phases of the Portonaccio sanctuary at Veii (ca. 700-200 BC); temples I, II, III of Mater Matuta at Satricum (for archaic Latin inscriptions on a dolium from Satricum, see 961-966); funerary architecture in Populonia; Celts and Celtomachies in Etruscan art; the Etrusco-Corinthian vase painter Velthur Ancinies from Veii; Tarquinian tomb paintings (see below); the coroplast Vulca; the cult in honour of the Apollo-like deity Rath in the sanctuary of località S. Antonio in Caere, including a study on a second/third century AD magic nail studied in connection with the famous Pergamene oracular Zaubergerät; and Śur(i), a ‘black’ deity (cf. Apollo Sourios and Soranus) in the southern area of Pyrgi. In eighty pages Colonna presents the main results of his excavations in Caere’s harbour sanctuaries at Pyrgi, including a fine analysis of the terracotta antepagmentum from the rear tympanum of temple A, dedicated to Thesan (470-460 BC) that illustrates, in an un-Greek, overlapping way, episodes from the myth of the Seven against Thebes (796-801, and 927-931).

The third section deals with the fragmentary 6th-century BC inscriptions on two sides of a boundary pillar from Tragliatella (near Caere), which contain the word hil (probably meaning ‘enclosure’); the Tomb of the Graffiti Inscriptions at Caere (see below); an Etruscan gem from Perachora (near Corinth) with an inscription reading Nanivas (a nomen gentilicium) above the engraved suicide of Ajax; a paleo-Umbrian inscription reading vobúrí (identified as the Italic deity Liber) on a seventh century BC biconical urn (from Otricoli?) at Uppsala; a paleo-Italic inscription on a bucchero cup from Sorrento (in the collection Fluss, first published by M. Russo in 2015); and Greek inscriptions from Pyrgi (dedicated to Demeter, Kore, and to both deities together) and Caere (dedicated to Hera). Colonna holds that the famous inscription from Osteria dell’Osa does not mention the Greek word eulin or euoin (read from left to right) as it is often transcribed but rather nilue (from right to left, except for the letter E) which he translates as ‘don’t loose, steal’ or ‘don’t destroy,’ comparing it to Latin *ne luas. His comparison between Etruscan and Latin inscriptions shows that names of Etruscan magistrates are mainly mentioned in funerary but rarely in public inscriptions, in partial contrast to Roman practice.

The last section pays attention to impact of the Campanari exhibition in London in 1938 (1089-1124, and 1159-1160), the so- called the Corazzi Mars in Leiden (from Ravenna), the historical engravings of Bartolomeo Pinelli (1781-1835), crowned bronze helmets (the crowns don’t belong) in nineteenth century collections, and the role and activities of Colonna’s maestro Massimo Pallottino at Veii, Rome, Pyrgi and the University of Rome, and a (too) short sketch of his life.

The volume concludes with a lexical index, curated by Laura M. Michetti, and an index of names prepared by Daria Colonna Sinisgalli and Alice Landi. (These three, together with Elena di Paolo Colonna and Rita Gianfelice, comprised the editorial committee.) All articles are presented in their original form, without changes and additions. The reproduction of the many maps is good except for those that are copied from colour plates. The quality of the black and white photographs varies. Greek words are transliterated but sometimes in an Italian way (79: ghenos instead of genos).

Colonna’s meticulous method consists of a thorough use of data from mytho-historical, historical, epigraphic and archaeological sources. The broad perspective is never missing. He has a keen eye for phenomena like migrations, colonisations, interethnic contacts, networks, commerce, exchange, irradiation, influences, in short, many forms of connectivity. The contents of most articles are original, top class, and rarely polemical, apart from the one about Śuri (887-893).

Fascinating is the article on the roots of Thefarie Velianas, who is mentioned in the golden sheets from Pyrgi (ca. 510 BC). It seems that his father, Larice, is named,together with sodales in the Tomb of the Graffiti Inscriptions (530-520 BC) at Caere (357-367, and 993-1031). Thefarie, no homo novus, probably called *zilath in Etruscan, but mlk (king) in Phoenician, lost his power or life around 480 BC, after which also the nomen gentilicium Velianas disappeared.

Some articles, in my view, are more open to question.

Colonna presumes that a terracotta fragment from the Campetti South West sanctuary at Veii showing two hands holding up horizontally a 32.5 cm long bundle of textile (452, fig. 4-5) belonged to a life size statue of Aeneas carrying on his shoulders his father Anchises, who would hold the wrapped sacra troiana above his head. However, other fragments and an iconographical parallel are missing. Usually in visual arts, Anchises holds a chest or a pilgrim flask in his hands. Anyhow, the suggestion (474) that the Veientes saw Aeneas as their city founder around 500-480/470 BC is not supported by literary evidence.

Colonna holds that the painting on the left wall of the Tomb of the Ship at Tarquinia (ca. 450 BC), showing a large cargo ship followed by four small ships, represents a voyage to the Islands of the Blessed, symbolized by a colourful, high rock (826, fig. 11). In that case the kylikeion behind the rock, the symposiasts on the rear wall, the dancing figures on the right wall, and the musicians on the entrance walls are also situated in an Elysian afterlife (815-830). The eschatological interpretation of the pictorial program, however, does not convince. The rock may refer to the perils of the sea. The greeting man standing behind the rock suggests a safe return of the fleet. The men on board the cargo ship are gesticulating, evidently inviting the other ships to follow. The whole scene is realistic. In contrast to the Tomb of the Blue Demons (ca. 420 BC), there are no underworld deities or afterlife elements. In addition, a tympanum fresco in the Tomb of the Bulls (ca. 540 BC) shows a man alone travelling on a hippocampus to the blessed islands which means that this rite de passage had a mythical flavour, as it did much later on Hellenistic stone sarcophagi und urns.

Finally, Colonna derives the name of the deity Veltune on the famous Pavatarchies mirror (ca. 300 BC) from *Velthunie (< archaic *Velthunaie), but the inscription near the other flanking deity reads Rathlth (Rath-l-th) which means ‘in (the area) of Rath’ (34-35). So, for symmetry, Veltune, if derived from Veltune-i < Veltuna-i, may be a locative of Veltuna (cf. capue, locative of capua), who is probably identical to Varro’s deus Etruriae princeps, worshipped in the Fanum Voltumnae.2 Colonna suggests that Voltumna was first introduced to the Vicus Tuscus at Rome not from the Fanum (which he locates at Volsinii), but rather via the analogy between Veltune < *Velthumna and *Tulune < Tulumne (cf. Lat. Tolumnus, name of a Veiian king) from Veii. This argument is questionable, as e.g. Lat. Volumnius, well- known from a bilingual in Perugia (CIE 3763; TLE 605), may derive from Etr. Velimna. The ending on -mna/e- does not only occur in inscriptions from Veii.

In view of the price of the volumes, the question presents itself whether a reproduction of articles is useful. My answer is partially positive. University libraries may possess the journals represented in the collection, many of which lack online versions, but not the usually very expensive Italian conference papers. But as many students of classical or Mediterranean archaeology, unfortunately, do not master the Italian language, English translations of the articles, in open access, would have a more global impact.


1.   For Colonna’s more elaborate English version, especially on Pyrgi’s Southern sacred area, see N. Thomson de Grummond and E. Simon (eds.), The Religion of the Etruscans. Austin 2006, 132-168.
2.   See the reviewer’s article in BABESCH 88, 2013, 99-108.

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