BMCR 2022.07.02

Chiusi Villanoviana

, Chiusi Villanoviana. Monumenti etruschi, 14. Roma: Giorgio Bretschneider Editore, 2021. Pp. xii, 293. ISBN 9788876893285. €180,00.


The research on early Iron Age urbanization processes and settlement formation in Central Italy has a long tradition and has also inspired various fruitful debates.[1] While the settlements of Southern Etruria and Latium vetus provide much significant data on urbanization, the reconstruction of ‘proto-urban’ sites and developments in Northern Etruria has proven a particularly challenging task. One main reason for the lack of data and difficulties in reconstructing early Iron Age settlements and topographies within this region is the simple fact that the most important contexts have been destroyed and covered by both later and modern villages, meaning sites are often only accessible through necropoleis, or through scattered, isolated household contexts. Research on early Iron Age communities in Northern Etruria has nonetheless been undertaken and has indeed produced interesting results, for example in Fiesole,[2] as well as in Volterra,[3] Populonia,[4] and Chiusi.[5]

In Chiusi Villanoviana, Maria Chiara Bettini aims to reconstruct the Villanovan period, i.e., the early Iron Age phases, of Chiusi and its surroundings (“fornire un quadro più completo di Chiusi villanoviana”, p. XI). The work is a revised and updated publication of her doctoral thesis, completed at the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’ and defended in 1995.[6] However, the book also frequently refers to the long-term research of Bettini and others within Chiusi and its territories and thus provides an up-to-date overview of Chiusi’s topography during the Villanovan period.

The book has a clear structure, and is divided into eight chapters: Chapter 1 deals with the long research history of the Villanovan period in Chiusi from the 19th century onwards. The discovery and immediate publication of the Poggio Renzo necropolis in 1872 was of particular importance as the findings were directly compared to those from Bologna and recognized as being part of the same Villanovan culture, which led to a broader discussion. The 20th century saw Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli’s early and groundbreaking work on the topography of Chiusi,[7] and the systematic excavations and research of the ‘Soprintendenza’ from the 1980s on led by Guglielmo Maetzke, Anna Rastrelli, Giulio Paolucci, Bettini herself and others, with the aim of analyzing and reconstructing the final Bronze Age and early Iron Age phases at Chiusi.

The second chapter gives a short overview of the topography of Chiusi and its surroundings at the end of the Bronze Age: a general map of the landscape and the most important reference points would have been useful here, to assist readers unfamiliar with this region. Bettini describes the area as a chain of gentle hills at the southern end of the Chiana Valley, intensely inhabited during the late Bronze Age, with settlement clusters established at short distances from one another. She argues that these settlements were located at strategic points for the control of territories and communication routes, while some contexts at lower altitudes may have served to facilitate economic activities such as production of handcrafts and trade.

Chapter 3 discusses the core topic of the book, the settlement contexts of Chiusi and the discoveries dating to the Villanovan period. The three sites discussed here are Montevenere, La Rocca (Paolozzi) and I Forti, as well as surface finds throughout the area of Chiusi. This chapter provides a short introduction to each context with a description of the position, archaeological structures and interpretation; however, the main part of this chapter is a dense and comprehensive catalogue of finds. The catalogue is ordered by context, the stratigraphic units of each context, and finally by the material groups (mainly pottery) and types, forms and vessel shapes. Each entry provides measurements and a short description, and many objects are published with drawings and photographs. Bibliographical references are given for previously published objects.

The most important site presented here is Montevenere, which has by far the most associated objects (1271), and at least 12 hut structures. Bettini describes the structures as clustered into at least two groups located ca. 200 m apart, and convincingly interprets Montevenere as a permanently and densely populated settlement. One aerial photograph and a plan of the sites (fig. 4–5), as well as the detailed description, excavation photographs and plans (pl. 95–105) help the reader to understand this important settlement. However, a general map with clear references and a precise indication of the positions of contexts is lacking, and this will make it difficult for the reader to orient themselves.

There is a valuable analysis of the faunal remains from Montevenere (1053 items, of which 349 can be attributed to specific animals), and the summarized results in this chapter are especially interesting and meaningful for our understanding of the society of Chiusi during the Villanovan period. The data indicates mixed husbandry with cattle (37.2%), sheep/goats (27.2%), and pigs (29.2%). The wide age range of animals shows varied uses of livestock, e.g., animals kept for meat consumption, as well as some kept as breeding stock, or for milk, dairy products and wool, while hunting was already a secondary field in the economy of this community.

Unfortunately, neither of the other settlements examined in the book provides much information about the archaeological structures. La Rocca is described as a settlement of the very late Bronze and early Iron Age, although Hellenistic walls and a Roman fortress destroyed most parts of the Villanovan structures. The catalogue contains 171 objects from this site. Few discoveries (pl. 65–66) have been made at I Forti, a public park directly south of the historic center of Chiusi, and they are presented here in brief and without catalogue numbers. The rest of the catalogue contains surface finds from the surrounding area of Chiusi.

In Chapter 4, Bettini sorts the objects from the catalogue in Chapter 3 into a typology with the goal of forming a representative picture of the material culture of Villanovan Chiusi. The main material group is pottery, ordered here according to closed and open vase shapes, miniature vessels, and instrumentum domesticum (cooking stands, textile tools, weights). The two other groups used in Bettini’s typology are bronze objects and common motifs, such as geometric patterns and the typical metope decorations on Villanovan pottery. The catalogue is logically structured and easily accessible, and a concise compilation of the typology, pottery shapes, bronze objects, and motifs can be found on plates 87–94.

Chapter 5 deals with the chronology of the settlement contexts discussed in Chapter 3. Montevenere plays a crucial role here due to its significant archaeological structures, but also because of the radiocarbon analyses of five samples from different stratigraphic units, which allow an absolute dating of the settlement to the 10th–9th centuries BCE. Bettini divides the chronology of Montevenere into five phases (MV 1A, 1B, 2, 3, 4) that correspond to the Villanovan phases Tarquinia IA–IIB after Hencken, and to Bologna IA–IIIB after Dore.

In Chapter 6 Bettini discusses the funerary evidence from the necropoleis of Villanovan Chiusi and arranges the material according to a typology. The numbers of vase shapes and types correspond to the previous classification of the settlement material, and new numbers are given for previously unclassified shapes and types (e.g., biconical urns). The range of vase shapes and types is compiled on plate 91 and is thus easily accessible.

The last two chapters outline a general picture of Villanovan Chiusi. In Chapter 7, Bettini reconstructs its community and topography. Some sites, such as the Monte Cetona, were abandoned during the transitional phase between the late Bronze and early Iron Age, while many other sites in the area of Chiusi remained continuously populated, e.g., La Rocca, Monte San Paolo and probably I Forti as well. The settlement of Montevenere is certainly the most important documented site for Chiusi in the early Iron Age. Bettini reconstructs Villanovan Chiusi as a system of settlement clusters and scattered nuclei located on hilltops with territorial control of the southern Chiana Valley. In doing so, she refers to the models and interpretations of Marco Pacciarelli and Patrizia Gastaldi, and identifies the early Iron Age settlements of Chiusi as a unified socio-political community (“comune unità organizzativa”, p. 329). According to Bettini, the groups of different hilltop settlements would have worked together and coordinated the economic exploitation of resources, trade and exchange, as well as control of their territories and communication routes. A map (fig. 9) shows the known sites and find locations of the Villanovan period; however, a clearer map of the region with highlighted locations would have been more useful for readers not familiar with this region.

The last chapter aims to reconstruct the cultural contacts and exchange relationships existing within Chiusi during the early Iron Age. Bettini interprets Chiusi as a central hub and point of mediation for commerce and the distribution of commodities and products, in particular of minerals and metal, coming on one hand from west to east between the Tyrrhenian Coast and Umbria and the Adriatic Sea, and on the other hand from north to south between the Po River Valley and Bologna and Southern Etruria. Bettini traces important connections with Bologna and Tarquinia, while also identifying relations with many other regions, such as the ‘colline metallifere’ and Volterra, the Adriatic Coast, as well as Capua and Campania.

The volume concludes with an appendix that provides a compilation of the material from the funerary contexts, including 146 plates showing photographs and drawings of the discussed material, along with plans and photographs from the contexts and excavations.

Bettini’s thorough study is clearly structured and successfully collects the scattered data and mostly unpublished findings of Villanovan Chiusi into a single volume. However, readers seeking a ‘big picture’ approach and general outline of the economy, society and settlement communities of Villanovan Chiusi might be disappointed. By focusing mainly on cataloguing the material, Bettini misses an opportunity to explore the contexts and findings beyond the scope of a catalogue and typological classification. Possible alternative approaches could, for example, have included a statistical analysis of attested pottery shapes and functions and a comparison to those of other Villanovan settlement contexts, as well as a more in-depth and transregional study of settlement patterns, or a more detailed reconstruction of the Villanovan long-distance network and Chiusi’s role in it.

Despite this minor criticism, Chiusi Villanoviana is a thorough and highly competent presentation of mostly unpublished material, and will certainly become an important foundational work for future research into Villanovan Chiusi and its neighboring regions. Hopefully, the new data will also become a reference point and inspire further general discussions about early Iron Age communities and urbanization processes in Central Italy and beyond.


[1] See most recently: S. Stoddart, “An Etruscan Urban Agenda. The Weaving Together of Traditions”, Journal of Urban Archaeology 1, 2020, 99–121; S. Stoddart, Power and Place in Etruria. The Spatial Dynamics of a Mediterranean Civilization, 1200–500 BC. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

[2] M. Salvini, Fiesole. Contributi alla ricerca delle origini. Biblioteca di Studi Etruschi, 19. Firenze: Olschki, 1990.

[3] G. Camporeale and A. Maggiani (eds.), Volterra: Alle origini di una città etrusca. Atti della giornata di studio in memoria di Gabriele Cateni, Volterra, 3 ottobre 2008. Biblioteca di Studi Etruschi, 49. Pisa – Roma: Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2009.

[4] M. Milletti, “La nascita di Populonia: dati e ipotesi sullo sviluppo della città etrusca all’alba del primo millennio a.C.”, in: M. Rendeli (ed.), Le città visibili. Archeologia dei processi di formazione urbana. I. Penisola Italiana e Sardegna. Atti del Seminario Internazionale in onore di Gilda Bartoloni e Alberto Moravetti. Officina Etruscologia, 11. Roma: Officina Edizioni, 2015, 59–96.

[5] Chiusi dal Villanoviano all’età arcaica. Annali della Fondazione per il Museo “Claudio Faina” 7. Roma: Quasar, 2000.

[6] M. C. Bettini, “Chiusi nell’età del Ferro (IX–VIII secolo a.C.), tesi di dottorato di ricerca”, Università di Roma ‘La Sapienza’ 1993–1994, VII ciclo. The supervisor was Giovanni Colonna.

[7] R. Bianchi Bandinelli, “Clusium. Ricerche archeologiche e topografiche su Chiusi e il suo territorio in età etrusca”, Monumenti antichi 30, 1925, 210–578.