BMCR 2012.10.32

Il sepolcreto etrusco della Galassina di Castelvetro (Modena). Studi e scavi, nuova serie 24

, Il sepolcreto etrusco della Galassina di Castelvetro (Modena). Studi e scavi, nuova serie 24. Bologna: Ante Quem, 2009. 210; 32 plates. ISBN 9788878490444. €22.50 (pb).

Transalpine Europe in the 6 th -4 th centuries BC was a dynamic region, with quaint, distinctive art and dress, strong social hierarchy and burgeoning wealth. Etruria padana (Etruria in the Po Valley) was Europe’s source for much material culture, social structure and technological and political developments, and the tombs of some of its ruling class have been identified in the site of La Galassina di Castelvetro. Some 37 tombs of the modest Etruscan necropolis have been studied, and the richest of them are displayed in the Museo Civico Archeologico Etnologico of Modena; finds cover a range from Late Villanovan (end of 8 th century BC) to the 5 th century BC. The site was discovered in 1841 during agricultural work, extensively excavated in 1879-80 and published by Celestino Cavedoni and Arsenio Crespellani. Unfortunately, no bones were recovered/retained, so gender identifications are based on artifact types.

Pizzirani has conducted intensive research into the archives (especially the Fondo Crespellani in the Biblioteca Estense) as well as on the objects themselves (those that survive: not everything could be acquired by the Modena Museo Civico). She offers up-to- date parallels and analyses of the topographical and cultural contexts of the burials and the town linked to them, now identified with the historic town of Castelvetro di Modena. The architecture of the tombs and the data on placement of the offerings are also discussed, and landscape surveys, made from the 1960’s on, have been integrated into the study. Color aerial photos are overlain with the antiquarian plans to show location and details of the necropolis and probable settlement site in the modern landscape (46 fig. 24 and pl. 32): two watercourses separated the town from its burial grounds. Surface surveys have shown that the town was supported by farming hamlets along roads radiating for up to 2 km from town and linking it to the Piedmont and Apennines; Castelvetro’s evident affluence (through the 5 th century at least) stemmed from the production of agricultural goods and an excellent location from which to ship them to neighboring regions.

Number 24 in the noteworthy series Studi e scavi of the Department of Archaeology of the University of Bologna is a beautifully finished volume that contains the author’s thesis of specialization, submitted in 2008, on one of many burial grounds in the orbit of Felsina—Etruscan Bologna, before its Celtic and Roman transformations. The catalogue (49-116; with appendix catalogue of the mid-5 th -century Tomba Nosadella, just north of Galassina, 155-163) furnishes transcriptions of the original excavation documents and new descriptions of finds; it ends with analytical chapters on the dynamics of development of the necropolis, the archaeological evidence of its funerary rituals, the famous engraved mirror and situla of Galassina Tombs I and 2, and the place of the settlement at Castelvetro in relation to Felsina-Bologna and western Etruria padana.

Pizzirani has painstakingly controlled the 19 th -century inventories against the finds that remain in the Modena museum; color facsimiles of 19 th -century daybooks and plans, unlike many such illustrations, are quite clear and legible, intriguing to study. Her identification and interpretation of objects is reasonable and thoughtful: she indicates many subtle details embedded in the narrative art, and suggests with some authority that many bronze instrumenta, such as the stamnoid situla of Tomb 1 (72 no. 6), were manufactured in Bologna rather than Vulci, until now considered the main source for many Etruscan metal exports.

Settlement and necropolis are attested by burials of the end of the 8 th and early 7 th century Villanovan III phase, and by ample evidence of the Orientalizing period. These tombs had been disturbed by the later burials, but the pottery and metal objects are unmistakable Iron Age types common in funerary use. Mirroring the situation in Bologna itself (and in clear contrast to the situation of Spina), the necropolis shows its richest phase through most of the 5 th century BC (Certosa phase, c. 500-425 BC), with the import of ostentatious Attic red-figured vases (including the workshop of the Penthesilea Painter, 70 no. 2, 82 no. 1), fine locally produced bronzes and “horseshoe”-shaped stelai. Unfortunately the damage done to the site in subsequent eras, beginning with looting that probably followed the Gaulish occupation of the region, has obliterated evidence for its later chronology and horizontal stratigraphy.

The 5 th -century burials evince an enviable level of affluence and a strong adherence to local customs and local products (see Tomb 15’s imitation Attic column-krater and skyphos in gray clay, pl. 27), alongside the display of imported Greek pottery, and express a certain level of sophistication (read Hellenized social traditions and education). The socio-political hierarchy of Bologna extended to Castelvetro. Funerary art and architecture and details of the burial ritual demonstrate the strong ideological links of Castelvetro with Felsina: the necropolis held at least two important persons (both female, Tombs 15 and 16) who were buried beneath markers very like the horseshoe-shaped stelai unique to Bologna, marking this settlement as politically linked to the great city. Other aspects of the burials also illustrated the Felsina-connection: trench-like tombs covered by a “roof” of river pebbles, and funerals characterized by the banquet-display of Attic or imitation Attic wine service and fine, locally produced bronze utensils. (The only food offerings are egg[shell]s [77 no. 13, Tomb 1], now lost.) Tombs not identified by the iconography of the male symposium displayed a cista and accoutrements of the Etruscan matron, as in Tomb I, which held a metal cista a cordoni and the famous mirror, a bronze basin, ornaments and perfume vases, and a strigil (elsewhere perhaps a symbol of male athletes, but here a marker of feminine status as well as of Greek-tinged culture).

Tomb I, excavated in 1841, produced the famous engraved mirror—it had been made (end of 6 th -first half of 5 th century BC) two or even three generations before the rest of the offerings there, a situation analogous to Arnoaldi tomb 104 of Bologna, which also held an heirloom, situla-style mirror. One of the most intriguing aspects of the archaeological finds is the art of the Galassina mirror, cast and decorated in a Felsina workshop, but with narrative engraved scenes in the style and iconography of so-called situla-art, so aptly organized by Larissa Bonfante ( Out of Etruria: Etruscan Influence North and South [BAR IS. 103, Oxford, 1981]: a new edition is in preparation.) Pizzirani (135-148) bravely offers an analysis of the controversial motifs featured on the disc: hieros gamos/symplegma scene (in a palace?), man and woman, audience scene of enthroned man and standing matron, a procession with horses that covers half the circumference (the lead horse has a very unusual frontal face), and huge bird in the tondo whose beak points toward the mating couple. This is neatly illustrated by color-coding that links images to other works in the situla style (the Vače, Montebelluna and Sanzeno situlae, a Tarquinian lastrone a scala [stone funerary slab] and the Tragliatella oinochoe). Pizzirani suggests the matrimonial connotations of mirrors and bath/toilette utensils were selected for metaphorical, funerary purposes. The file of horses parallels that on the other objects, with details like the type of reining so deliberate that these must be the ceremonial, public displays of the ruling class; the subtle details of costume and pose of the men and women indicate at least two different social ranks among the participants. The marriage-bed scene with a female attendant holding a finger to her mouth for silence, enhanced by an infantry procession and cavalry display is surely related to the images from Tyrrhenian Veii, incised on the Tragliatella oinochoe, which, according to some interpretations (see J.P. Small, “The Tragliatella Oinochoe,” RM 93, 1986: 63-96), represents the life and burial of a noblewoman (Thesathei as she is labeled). Etruscans/Italians on both sides of the Apennines would have understood the scenes as reflecting the sacred bonds of marriage and family, the conception of new generations and the temporal power maintained by aristocratic families. The movers and shakers of Etruria padana were importing Attic vases and holding symposia as symbols of their social sophistication—yet the narrative art they chose to produce (mainly on bronze) was derived from Etruscan (and especially northern/interior) graphic arts traditions.

Mirrors were so valuable and distinctive, it is not surprising to find them retained as heirlooms, but social messages must also have been encoded in the deposition of the large, angular, bronze Celtic-type ( “tipo Kurd”) situla found in Tomb 2, which was otherwise characterized by an assortment of rich 5 th -century bronze equipment, including a candelabrum with kriophoros figurine, Attic pottery, game pieces, and personal valuables and ornaments. The situla follows an Iron Age typology and cannot be more recent than the late 6 th century BC. Pizzirani suggests that it may have outlived its use for serving wine, when its bottom and lid were replaced in wood for it to serve as a cinerary urn: clearly its symbolic significance was foremost in the funeral. The Celtic aristocratic design was either a gift from a different people or a design specified to an Etruscan bronze-smith when it was commissioned. (Pizzirani notes, 149-150, a cauldron in Rubiera that furnishes a similar puzzle.)

This work is highly specialized in its subject, but very thoughtfully developed: the Galassina mirror is an abiding document of the Etruscan elite of the Adriatic/Po region of greater Etruria – a region that had been in the forefront of Iron Age technological progress (metallurgy) yet preferred to acquire and imitate the artistic advances of Athens (vase forms), particularly after the defeat of Cumae (474 BC) shifted the axes of trade with Greece from there to the Adriatic. The dissemination of Etruscan culture from and through this region went far toward the formation of Europe, furnishing the alphabet, metals, art, social institutions. The graphic and narrative style of metalwork that followed in its wake offers rich material for study of the settlements and societies of Etruria padana and beyond.1


1. In addition to the works cited for the art of Etruria padana and the situla phenomenon, see also: Bonfante, L., “The Etruscans: Mediators Between Northern Barbarians and Classical Civilization,” in L. Bonfante, ed., The Barbarians of Ancient Europe: Realities and Interactions. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011:233-281; Bonfante, L., “The Etruscan Impact on Ancient Europe,” in G.R. Tsetskhladze, ed., Colloquia Antiqua 1. The Black Sea, Greece, Anatolia and Europe in the First Millennium BC. Leuven, Peeters, 2011:203-231; Bonfante, L., “Marriage Scenes, Sacred and Otherwise: The Conjugal Embrace,” Art Studies Quarterly [Sofia, Bulgaria] 4 (1999) 20-25; Frey, O.H., “The World of Situla Art,” in L. Bonfante, ed., The Barbarians of Ancient Europe: Realities and Interactions. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011:282-312. An intriguing compendium of information and illustrations is Kossack, G., Religiöses Denken in dinglicher und bildlicher Überlieferung Alteuropas aus der Spätbronze- und frühen Eisenzeit (9.-6. Jahrhundert v.Chr. Geb.), Munich, Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1999. For basic background in English on the phenomenon of Adriatic Etruria, see E. Govi, “Etruscans in Po Valley Etruria: urbanism and domestic architecture,” in Housing and Habitat in the Mediterranean World: responses to different environments (International Archaeology Conference, Monash Prato Centre, 2011), forthcoming; and also G. Sassatelli and E. Govi, “Chapter 15: Etruria on the Po and the Adriatic,” in The Etruscan World (ed. J.M. Turfa, London, Routledge, forthcoming January 2013).