BMCR 2020.03.43

Recipienti bronzei a labbro perlato: produzione, circolazione e destinazione

Rosa Maria Albanese Procelli, Recipienti bronzei a labbro perlato: produzione, circolazione e destinazione. Biblioteca di Studi etruschi, 60. Roma: Giorgio Bretschneider Editore, 2018. xi, 245 p., 62 p. of pl.. ISBN 9788876893087 $56.05 (pb).

In recent years, scholars have approached connectivity and transcultural exchange in the ancient Mediterranean using an increasingly wide range of materials. This growing diversity contributes to an awareness of regions like Etruria not only as consumers of Mediterranean-wide styles, but also as major contributors.[1] In this regard, Albanese Procelli’s book, focused on an understudied class of bronze vessels characterized by rims bearing one or two rows of circular bosses, is a welcome addition. The author’s discussion of production, distribution, and consumption patterns effectively demonstrates how Etruscan metalworking facilitated elite expression and exchange within Etruria and the broader Mediterranean.[2]

Those already familiar with the topic, or Etruscology generally, will be better equipped to tackle this book’s structure. The introduction is brief (IX-XI), and crucial discussions of diagnostic features and of past scholarship (111-112) appear after the catalogue. There is no synthetic conclusion, and illustrations are limited to line drawings of the vessels themselves and two distribution maps in Chapter Four. That said, a diligent reader will be rewarded, as the different methodological approaches in each section build to and reinforce the conclusions reached in Chapters Six and Seven.

The Catalogue (1-110) contains 792 entries, organized by the country or Italian region of their discovery. Formal descriptions are brief, with contextual information privileged. Most bibliographies include at least one citation, focusing on original excavation publications and object analyses.[3] Previously unpublished basins from sites such as Vulci are included. Certain choices made in the structure of the catalogue are unexplained —e.g., the inclusion of 20 vessels published between 2003 and 2016 as addenda despite having contextual information.

Following the Catalogue, Albanese Procelli summarizes her new typology (112-135). Fragmentary examples or those lacking legible illustration in prior publications are left out of the author’s discussion. The principal variables used in prior classification systems[4] remain largely the same: a single or a double row of bosses along their rims and whether the wall of the vessel flares out or turns inwards. The author’s major innovation is in providing nuance to the forms through the introduction of a greater number of types and subtypes, based on the Etruscan centers to which she attributes their production (e.g., Tipo Orvieto, Tipo Vulci, Tipo Bolsena).

In a short chapter on crafting techniques (137-143), Albanese Procelli considers several technical elements evident on the vessels within her sample, with conclusions applicable more broadly across Etruscan toreutic production. The author notes that, with metallographic examination restricted to only six basins, the conclusions drawn from autopsy are necessarily limited. Technical differences within a sample may be evidence for production by different workshops, or simply variations within a workshop’s production. Nevertheless, consistencies within regions associated with certain types are observable, whether in the thickness of the hammered bronze, or the shaping of the vessel and the use of inserts to reinforce the embossed lips. Other technical features, like the appearance of repairs and post-production alterations, speak to the long lives of these objects and a desire to alter them to conform to new fashions.

The following chapter presents a diachronic survey of the principal production centers (145-153). Albanese Procelli associates embossed-rim vessels almost exclusively with Etruscan production—hence the narrative here principally concerns Etruscan centers between the third quarter of the eighth and the end of the sixth centuries. Within these parameters, she outlines a dynamic and multimodal network in which no center dominates for long, with growth in terms of quantity and typological variety associated with broader trends in Etruscan history.

A brief chapter (155-157) acknowledges the thorny question of local production (in this case, whether vessels were produced outside Etruria). Without archaeometric study, such a distinction requires not only clear formal divergences, but also the absence of such divergent types in Etruria. While production is evident in Central Europe, and undoubtedly occurred elsewhere, the author is more circumspect than other scholars in identifying local productions.[5]

In Chapter Six (159-177), Albanese Procelli turns to questions of use. While these bronzes were highly adaptable, a strong association with aristocratic display and commensality may be identified. To understand their function, the author draws on faunal and archaeobotanical evidence, depictions of their use in other media, and analysis of their archaeological contexts and associated assemblages. The first two forms of evidence (159-162), while limited, speak to expected patterns of use for meat consumption, at times for wine, and as prizes in athla. It is in the author’s third section that her choice to privilege contextual evidence in the catalogue bears fruit. Most of the bronzes were found in funerary contexts (the exceptions appearing outside Etruria), many being wealthy burials of a martial character. She always carefully notes the exceptions that appear both within Etruria and cross-culturally. The idea that the larger basins were associated with meat consumption is supported by the presence of knives and spits in most assemblages. Albanese Procelli argues that novel functions, especially their occasional use as braziers, can be explained by preexisting local forms for the cooking of meat.

The final chapter (179-203) considers the circulation of these vessels in terms of trade and consumption patterns within the Tyrrhenian region and the wider Mediterranean world. In keeping with modern substantivist approaches to ancient trade, Albanese Procelli situates the distribution of vessels with embossed rims within a complex network that connected Etruria not only with areas of intense contact like Lazio and Sicily, but also within a broader Mediterranean context predicated on elite expression and the exchange of status objects. In doing so, the author effectively draws on recent studies by other scholars.[6]

A brief appendix (205-207) focuses on terracotta imitations from Sican contexts in Sicily, outside the territories of coastal Greek centers. Mention is also made of imitations in Etruria proper, elsewhere in peninsular Italy, and further afield. Given the complex relationship between metal and ceramic production in other media like Etruscan bucchero, this topic deserves future study.

A bibliography, illustrations, and a site index follow. As with other books in the Studi Etruschi series, the editing was effective and printing mistakes are rare. The lack of photographs may disappoint some but makes for a more affordable volume.


[1] While recognition of the robustness and range of Etruscan production and trade is nothing new (Cristofani, M. 1978. L’arte degli Etruschi. Produzione e Consumo, Turin; Gras, M. 1980. Trafics tyrrhéniens archaïques, Rome), new perspectives have stimulated the topic (e.g., Pieraccini, L. 2003. Around the Hearth: Caeretan Cylinder-Stamped Braziers, Rome; Della Fina, G.M. 2006. Gli Etruschi e il Mediterraneo. Commerci e politica, Rome; Sciacca, F. 2006. “La circolazione dei doni nell’aristocrazia tirrenica: esempli dall’archeologia” Revista d’Arqueologia de Ponent 16-17, 281-292).

[2] While Albanese Procelli demonstrates that these vessels were primarily used for meat consumption, her argument may be meaningfully compared to more prevalent discussions about commensality and elite expression in terms of wine consumption. In Anglophone scholarship, particularly: Iaia, C. 2016. “ in Perego, E. and R. Scopacasa, Burial and Social Change in First Millennium BC Italy: Approaching Social Agents, Oxford; Riva, C. 2017. “Wine Production and Exchange and the Value of Wine Consumption in Sixth Century BC Etruria,” JMA 30(2), 237-261.

[3] Publications that discuss these basins within regional and contextual analyses are not always included. As an example, for a basin found in a grave in Pilatovići, Serbia, the catalogue does not refer to recent references to the piece in the context of local elite expression (Ljustina, M. and K. Dmitrović. 2010. “Elements of prestige in the Iron Age graves from the west Morava Valley, Serbia” Istros 16, 123-142).

[4] Especially: D’Agostino, B. 1977. “Tombe ‘principesche’ dell’orientalizzante antico da Pontecagnano,” MonAnt 49, 1-74; Krausse, D. 1996. Hochdorf III. Das Trink- und Speiseservice aus dem späthallstattzeitlichen Fürstengrab von Eberdingen-Hochdorf, Stuttgart.

[5] Albanese Procelli effectively outlines these positions in the chapter’s notes. It is worth noting similar types of bronze vessels, like the Chavéria-Corminboeuf group, are intentionally left out of this study (1).

[6] For example, Alessandro Naso’s work on Etruscan objects in Greek sanctuaries (e.g., Naso, A. 2006. “Anathemata etruschi nel Mediterraneo orientale” in Della Fina, G.M. 2006: 351-416).