BMCR 1998.10.12

Etruscan Italy. Etruscan Influences on the Civilizations of Italy from Antiquity to the Modern Era. Seth and Maurine D. Horne Center for the Study of Art, scholarly series.


One of my recurrent nightmares is that students, scanning electronic library catalogues, will discover certain books with promising English titles which I try to keep out of the hands of the innocent. This volume, however, is one I shall be pleased for them to peruse and use, a little gem incorporating good overviews of some subjects, and unique coverage of several unusual topics. This Etruscan Italy is not a handbook, but it should engage the interest of many scholars and others, and each article offers ample references to enable interested readers to pursue its many offerings.

Any seeming inadequacies may be attributed to its original format, as a series of lectures presented at Brigham Young University on the occasion of the opening of its new Art Museum and the visit of the Vatican exhibition of Etruscan artifacts which toured the U.S. in 1992-94. Some of the authors are famous experts on Etruria or classical Italy, and others have new information to contribute based either upon recent dissertation work, or expertise in different fields such as music, Roman literature or Renaissance art. Many articles are interrelated via artifacts, sites (especially Vulci and Cortona) or historical developments, and are amply cross-referenced.

R.E.A. Palmer, “Locket Gold, Lizard Green”, the opening address, still shows the effects of a highly amusing oral presentation on bullae. It is not a corpus of these “bubble-lockets”, but offers interesting literary/Roman sidelights, and consideration of the Lares, evil eye and ethnicity or citizen status in Etruria. The Vatican’s bronze votive boy who wears the amulet (p. 16 fig. 1) was dedicated to Tec Sans (Semo Sancus?) at Sanguineto near Cortona (cf. p. 195 fig. 3). I suspect there is a good Master’s thesis (at least) on the topic of bullae: they also were worn by animals, even divine ones such as the winged horses of the Tarquinian Ara della Regina.1

We all have cause to regret Mary E. Moser’s passing. “The Origins of the Etruscans: New Evidence for an Old Question” presents a fine update on the state of the art and recent excavations such as Sorgenti della Nova which have demonstrated a prehistoric tradition for the Etruscan heartland of Vulci. Since several of these new finds are published only in Italian and/or difficult to find, this is an invaluable reference for students and non-archaeologists. It is beginning to look as though, based in part upon evidence from Tarquinia, the major cities of the Archaic period were those which stayed on top of their Protovillanovan roots; the villages on plateaus too small to accommodate accelerated population growth were abandoned in a sort of Villanovan synoikism.

H. Nagy, “The Judgement of Paris? An Etruscan Mirror in Seattle”, and A. Carpino, “Greek Mythology in Etruria: An Iconographical Analysis of Three Etruscan Relief Mirrors”, offer discussions of Etruscan works that may be seen in the U.S., or consulted via the Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum. Carpino’s recent dissertation is the basis of a thorough analysis of the Classical relief mirrors often associated with Vulci. She notes how intensely Etruscan artists have engaged Greek myths (Philoktetes, Talos and the Boreads, Helen’s Egg) yet portrayed a radically different understanding of them. Nagy offers evidence of the great sophistication and individuality of the clients of one 3rd-century Chiusine workshop whose products may be seen all over the world.

L. Pieraccini, “A Storage Vase for Life: The Caeretane Dolio and its Decorative Elements”, distills her dissertation work on this 7th-5th century ware to provide much new information (a monograph is eagerly anticipated). Caeretan Red Ware was not just a funerary offering, but has begun to be recognized in municipal, sanctuary, and domestic contexts, and also in simpler versions than those known from the Orientalizing tombs. One curious note is the total absence of female figures in its stamped decoration. In addition to her promised work on the associated braccieri, see an example in the Getty Museum, De Puma CVA USA 31, Malibu 6, reviewed here.

D. Dvorsky Rohner, “Etruscan Domestic Architecture: An Ethnoarchaeological Model”, applies methods of spatial analysis to late 7th-6th century Etruscan houses, with discussion of the 5th-century Marzabotto house type and comments on the Roman atrium-house design. I would eschew the old term “megaron house” (p. 123) and be very wary of designations of tripartite cellas in temples, or of restoring cult statues therein, on the basis of the meager evidence to date (cf. p. 133 fig. 12, p. 138 fig. 19). Analysis of the Acquarossa complex (pp. 125 ff.) would be aided by reference to the excavation reports, and articles like C. Sheffer, “Domus Regiae — A Greek Tradition?” OpAth 18 (1990) pp. 185-191, in addition to the secondary analyses presented.2 Rohner’s interest in the distribution/gender plotting of artifacts, and the drainage system at Marzabotto are certainly the shape of studies to come.

J.F. Hall, “From Tarquins to Caesars: Etruscan Governance at Rome”, demonstrates that there is a relative wealth of documentation showing Etruscans completely entrenched in Rome from the earliest days, if we are able to decipher the onomastic and circumstantial evidence. Ethnicity probably had little to do with politics; for instance, Horatius’ colleagues at the bridge were a pair of Etruscans. (Although I am not convinced that the real fight was between Porsenna and the Tarquins, still the Franois Tomb of Vulci leaves no doubts that many different versions of 6th-century history were in circulation just four to five generations after events.)3 After a period of modest participation by Etruscans, Maecenas and Agrippa serve as icons of the scores of Etruscans brought on board by Augustus. This article, and the notes of several other authors here, cite Hall’s dissertation, leading one to hope for its speedy publication.

H. Fracchia, “Etruscan and Roman Cortona: New Evidence from the Southeastern Val di Chiana”, offers a synopsis of our knowledge of Curtun,4 with firsthand information from her excavation of a late Republican villa inhabited through the 5th century A.D. at Ossaia. The site shows sporadic Villanovan and Etruscan finds, and a thriving agricultural establishment from the late 2nd century on, thanks to the peaceful Romanization of this area. Stamped bricks link it with the Vibii Pansae (cited also by Hall, pp. 165 ff.), and with Lucius and Gaius Caesar, confirming the suspicion that some property had been deeded over to the imperial family. The ongoing excavation, which has trained many young scholars, should further clarify our view of the Augustan links with this part of Etruria.

M.J. Johnson, “The Mausoleum of Augustus: Etruscan and Other Influences on its Design”, also presents fresh dissertation results. This monument was surely seen by the Roman public as a native Italian burial type with strong Etruscan affinities, and held clear connotations of a heron like that of Aeneas at Lavinium (whether or not the mound excavated there was the correct one of several).5 As a tumulus, it fits well with Etruscan types. Its central pier presumably supported a statue, although many Etruscan tombs were topped with a cippus, as at Orvieto, Crocefisso del Tufo; and some Caeretan tumuli show evidence of altars or other cult installations. I would suspect that the pier in Orientalizing tombs like the Montagnola was simply to stabilize a built structure intended to have a dome-like interior. The Res Gestae near the entrance might be paralleled in the funerary inscriptions of the Etruscan ruling families, like the Spurinnae of Tarquinia (Tomba del’Orco I, CIE 5360, T. degli Scudi, CIE 5388).6 The annular corridor is not an Etruscan feature, however, but perhaps a comparison with Hadrian’s mausoleum would provide more ideas on usage of these structures.

R.T. Macfarlane, “Tyrrhena Regum Progenies: Etruscan Literary Figures from Horace to Ovid”, demonstrates, by meticulous sleuthing, that late Republican and early Imperial Rome had room for many Etruscan authors, yet, like Maecenas himself, they virtually never composed in Etruscan or on Etruscan themes. While the term vates came to be reinstated in public opinion, and those who wrote on religion or related topics like almanacs seem to have been highly respected always, yet only stray lines exist today. The high point for pro-Etruscans seems to be Propertius’ (4.2) Vertumnus monologue. Until a new linen book turns up, there is much to contemplate in this article and its notes.

R.L. Maxwell, “Quia Ister Tusco Verbo Ludio Vocabatur: The Etruscan Contribution to the Development of Roman Theater”, offers the intriguing notion that many of the Tarquinian painted tombs portray specific performances of dramas or mimes. While not really proven, it is something to be explored, and could explain some oddities like the scene of “Aranth Heracanasa” on the Tomba dei Giocolieri (p. 276). The character of Phersu in the Tomba degli Auguri remains problematic: if he is part of a mime, why is he the only actor ever wearing a mask? There is recent literature on the phersu,7 since the Tomba della Scimmia (Chiusi) and Tomba del Gallo, in addition to several painted vases and figurines, have related costumed figures.8 Note that pp. 276 ff., figs. 6-9, 12-14 concern the Tomba dei Giocolieri, NOT Tomba delle Olimpiadi;9 the central juggler balances a flaming incense burner on her head while a boy seems to toss rings onto it.

H. Powley, “The Musical Legacy of the Etruscans”, offers an excellent basis for a study of actual and pictured Etruscan musical instruments. The Etruscans are credited with invention of the cornu,10 tuba and lituus. Perhaps the most famous instrument will be a recent find from the Pian di Civita excavations at Tarquinia, where a folded lituus was deposited in a 7th-century shrine associated with the earlier burial of an unusual child.11 Is it possible that the horn came first, and the solid or flat staff of office succeeded the functional version (cf. De Grummond p. 365 note 28)?

S. Bule, “Etruscan Echoes in Italian Renaissance Art”, offers several tantalizing accounts of medieval Italian collecting and civic/political interest in the Etruscan past, although it is very difficult now as then to separate Roman from Etruscan. He offers several examples of probable Etruscan influence on medieval sculptors and painters, for instance Hellenistic bronze votive figurines related to Donatello’s David, and the resemblance of Michelangelo’s Vatican Piet to Chiusine anthropomorphic urns. The pulpit scene by Nicola Pisano in Pisa (p. 319 fig. 4) is of course a Nativity (not Annunciation) which resembles Etruscan funerary portraits. The hair ornament of many madonnas resembles that of ubiquitous early Hellenistic priestess/votaries in bronze.12 “The Velcha Woman” has a name: she is Velia, wife of Arnth Velcha (CIE 5355). Many no longer think of the Belvedere torso and Laocon (p. 322) as Greek works or copies thereof, but see them as Roman, and thus closer to Etruscan/Italic roots. In the Masolino painting of the founding of Santa Maria Maggiore (315 fig. 3), I would have thought the pyramid was that of Cestius, and its mound the Testaccio, but, like Bule’s meta Romuli, they too are Roman; the mattock in the pope’s hand, though, surely has its roots in the Italian Bronze Age flanged axe.13

N.T. De Grummond, “Etruscan Italy Today”, ought to be read by students before they commence Etruscan studies (and again, after). In masterful and good-humored fashion, she makes it clear that the character of modern Italy is due in large part to the development of Etruscan Italy, since it was they who introduced tiled roofs, alphabets, numerals, techniques of agriculture and architecture, and many common beliefs, behaviors and symbols to the peninsula, and through Rome, to the western world. Of note are more papal symbols of Etruscan origin: the hammer used at the deathbed, and the bishop’s crozier.

The volume has been very carefully planned, and it seems mean to complain of copy editing. The map of Etruria, p. 2, is very useful, although a few names seem to be in wrong typeface: Acquarossa, San Giovenale, Marzabotto, Orvieto, Orbetello are modern terms rather than Latin. The final sections of the book include a chronology, list of technical terms, large bibliography and an index, rarely found in anthologies. Typographical errors seldom impede easy reading (e.g., p. 133 fig. 13, should be Tomb of the Greek Vases; pp. 224-225 fig. 7 should be “Tomb of the Curiatii”). Readers will now have cause to regard differently everything from olive oil to the alphabet in which they may read a satire — they owe much of this to Etruscans, and the recognition of that fact to Hall and his co-authors.

1. For a photo, see M.-F. Briguet “Art,” in L. Bonfante, ed., Etruscan Life and Afterlife (Detroit, 1986) p. 168 fig. IV-105. The collection in the Liverpool Museum includes some gold bullae and many variants shaped like tiny vases no bigger than a coffee bean, which were fitted inside the lids with a perfume dabber instead of the lizard eyes.2. The building in Zone F is monumentalized by columns and ashlar masonry as well as terracotta revetments. See now C.B. Persson, “The Field Architect’s Urbanistic Notes,” in Acquarossa VII (Stockholm, 1994) 289-302. An extensive literature on huts-to-houses is also important, e.g.: . Wikander, “Ancient roof-tiles — use and function,” Opuscula Atheniensia 17 (1988) pp. 203-216; and “Archaic roof-tiles: the first(?) generation,” OpAth 19 (1992) pp. 151-161. . Wikander, “The Early Monumental Complex at Acquarossa. A Preliminary Report,” Opuscula Romana 18 (1990) pp. 189-205, with previous references. On early construction, cf. R. Drews, “The Coming of the City to Central Italy,” American Journal of Ancient History 6 (1981) 133-165. Other Archaic houses are at Massa Marittima (Lago d’Accesa): G. Camporeale in G. Pugliese Carratelli, ed., Rasenna (Milan, 1986) 244-247, 261, figs. 156-157, tav. I-II.3. See T.J. Cornell, The Beginnings of Rome (London and New York, 1995) 237 — which appeared after Etruscan Italy went to press. Also F. Buranelli, ed., La Tomba Franois di Vulci (Exhibition, Vatican City, pub. Rome, 1987).4. Cortona of the princes is represented by famous recent finds of Orientalizing tumuli and Archaic cults linked to them (see Fracchia’s notes 1-5). Past scholarship knew Cortona only through funerary finds, the bulk of which had been sold and are now in Leiden: see L.B. van der Meer, De Etrusker: inleiding tot de verzameling etruskische oudheden in het Rijksmuseum van Oudheden te Leiden (exhibition) (s’Gravenhage, 1977), 82-85 and passim.5. Round structures were also imbued for Greeks with the atmosphere of hera, for instance, the Philippeion at Olympia.6. M. Pallottino, Testimonia Linguae Etruscae (2nd ed., Florence, 1968) nos. 87 and 91.7. J.G. Szilagyi, “Impletae modis saturae,” Prospettiva 24 (1981) 2-23; P. Blome, “Das Opfer des Phersu: Ein etruskischer Sndenbock,” Rmische Mitteilungen 93 (1986) 97-108; L.B. van der Meer, “Greek and local elements in a sporting scene by the Micali Painter, in J. Swaddling ed., Italian Iron Age Artefacts in the British Museum: Colloquium, 1982 (London, 1986), 439-446.8. See B. D’Agostino, “La Tomba della Scimmia. Per una lettura iconografica delle imagini etrusche,” in La civilt di Chiusi e del suo territorio (Convegno di Studi Etruschi ed Italici, Chianciano Terme 1989) (Florence, 1993) 193-202. The standard reference for tombs is S. Steingrber, Etruscan Painting. Catalogue raisonn of Etruscan Wall Paintings (New York, 1985) (here, 273-275 no. 25, right wall, left).9. Steingrber pp. 310-311 no. 70.10. P. 294, the cornu must have had a diameter of 3 feet, surely not 3 meters: compare the back wall of Tomba dei Rilievi, Cerveteri and Tomba Giglioli, Tarquinia. P. 298 should read Dionysos.11. See M. Bonghi-Jovino and C. Chiaramonte Trer, edd., Tarquinia. Testimonianze archaeologiche e ricostruzione storica. Scavi sistematici nell’abitato. Campagna 1982-1988 (Rome, 1997), p. 173, pls. 125, 126.6 (first quarter of 7th century B.C.). A child who saw visions and was buried in a cleft in the ground would remind some of the legend of Tages.12. Many of these figurines were found in the area of Florence: M. Cristofani et al., I bronzi degli Etruschi (Novara, 1985) figs. 70-71, 77-78.13. Cf. D.H. Trump, Central and Southern Italy Before Rome (New York, 1966) p. 102 fig. 31.