BMCR 2023.02.18

Archaeological landscapes of Roman Etruria: research and field papers

, , Archaeological landscapes of Roman Etruria: research and field papers. MediTo: archeological and historical landscapes of Mediterranean central Italy, 1. Turnout: Brepols, 2021. Pp. 295. ISBN 9782503591391.

The table of contents of this book alone suggest that this will be an interesting read. The sites listed include Vetulonia, Populonia, Rosellae, Cosa and Luni and the authors include Elisabeth Fentress, Franco Cambi and Astrid Van Oyen among others. This edited volume contains a preface, an introduction and 18 articles on a topic that has received little attention: Roman Etruria. Most papers originate from the first International Mediterranean Tuscan Conference (MediTo) held in Paganico (Grosseto, Italy) in June 2018, although there are also additions in order to incorporate some of the most important research in progress. The original idea seems to have been to take an economic approach to analyse the society in Central-Southern maritime Tuscany during the Roman times. This should have already been reflected in the title, since this volume does not cover inner Etruria but only coastal areas with the exception of the villa at Aiano (Cavalieri) and perhaps the Middle Ombrone Valley sites (Campana and Vaccaro, Van Oyen et al.).

The volume opens with the preface (Manacorda), the introduction (Sebastiani and Megale) and two relatively short introductory articles (Cambi, Fentress). All four pay tribute to the excavations of Settefinestre[1] and the survey of the Albegna Valley.[2] The following articles do not seem to be in geographical nor chronological order but the reader moves back and forth between northern and southern Tuscany and northern Lazio. However, the last two articles, Vanni’s on economics and religion and Bianchi’s on rural settlements and natural resources in early Medieval southern Tuscany have wider themes than the presentation of new field research projects.

As Cambi indicates the aim is to present long-term projects studying long-term settlement sites. Fentress gives a rundown of the central themes: rural sites, both large and small, towns and landscape. An important fixed point is the Roman Peasant Project of the University of Siena that excavated the Roman site of Santa Marta (Campana and Vaccaro), a residential and possible mansio site in the Middle Ombrone Valley that dates at least from the second century BC to the sixth century AD. The overall project is a key to understanding the character of the so-called minor Roman sites and their variability, but at Santa Marta they have uncovered the most prestigious local site. The late production activities are something encountered also at other sites such as Aiano (Cavalieri) and Podere Marzuolo (Van Oyen et al.). It would have been interesting to hear more about the small sites covered by the Roman Peasant Project; even if they are listed in Campana and Vaccaro’s article, in the book the same large sites the project wanted to get away from take centre stage.

The contribution by Cavalieri on the villa of Aiano brings in an interesting case of continuity in place-names where there are hiatuses in archaeological material. However, the new project at Rusellae (Celuzza et al.) has shown that the use of the later episcopal boundaries to reconstruct the boundaries between the different Etruscan towns in the area is not adequate anymore and material studies are needed in order to look at the frontier shrines and the distribution of cremations in the direction of Volaterrae and Clusium. Otherwise, it is clear that the Rusellae project will be a key in developing the site in the future and publishing the results of the earlier excavations.

The Rome Department of the German Archaeological Institute (Colombi) is looking for the Etruscan harbours of Vetulonia and mapping the extent of the Prile Lagoon. This very interesting chapter outlines the known history of the Prile Lagoon and shows the results of the magnetometer survey in two areas along the northern side of the Grosseto plain. Sadly, the study of the coastal zone of Vada Volaterrae (Genovesi) is based on the restudy of unpublished amphora features and does not include any new environmental work. However, this study is a result of valuable work at the local museum and describes the research situation in the area.

The article on the complex at Vignale (Giorgi) is another important project by the University of Siena. This site is noteworthy due to its longevity until the tenth century AD. It developed into a high-status coastal lagune villa in the Imperial period and its road mansio seems to have developed into an Imperial mansio during Late Antiquity, perhaps to be identified as Aquae Populoniae.

The two articles on Populonia discuss two different aspects of the town: Mascione discusses the building and desertion periods of the sacred area on the Acropolis of the town, resulting from the collaboration between three different Italian universities, whereas Megale’s article expands from a description of a harbour castrum into a wider discussion on piracy in the Mediterranean and its archaeological (in)visibility. The following two articles both present domus, the first in Luni, excavated by a team from Pisa (Menchelli et al.), and the second a Greek-type pastás house from Vetulonia (Rafanelli). The latter was built with mud-brick on a stone foundation and is the earliest find of this Greek-type structure in the area.

Then follow two articles on Cosa: in the first one Romeo and Panariti describe the Strade di Cosa initiative of the University of Florence and the resulting excavations within a residential house facing the Street P; in the second, Scott et al. describe the new Cosa Excavations as a collaboration between two American and one German university. This latter project combines excavation, geophysics, geological coring programme and the study of legacy data. The excavations study a multiperiod bath complex in this water-free town.

Then there are two articles on more rural sites. The first discusses the research project of the Department of Classics of the University of Buffalo at the shrine of Podere Cannici (Sebastiani). The second article is the second most theoretical of all the articles in the volume: the discussion by Van Oyen et al. of the character and context of the artisanal nucleated site of Podere Marzuolo. This paper problematises the centre-stage taken by cities in economic models and looks at a larger nucleated site that seems to be simultaneously an artisanal and settlement site in the area of dispersed settlement in the Middle Ombrone Valley. Quite why it is presented separately from the remainder of the research in the Ombrone Valley is puzzling. The unsystematic structure of the volume is one of its problematic characteristics.

The most theoretical article in the volume is Vanni’s reimagination of frontier sanctuaries within their landscape in Maremma. This article re-evaluates the importance of sanctuaries in boundary creation and draws attention to the wider analysis of rural religious establishments. The volume finishes chronologically with Bianchi’s discussion of the economic resources in southern Tuscany, an area that lacked large cities in the Early Medieval period. The inclusion of this article is crucial to the agenda of the volume to create long-term discussions of settlements and their economic nature.

Even if the projects presented in this volume are at different stages, from the initial phases (Rusellae) to the final publication phase (Aiano, Vignale), the importance of this volume is clear. It brings together the latest research in coastal Tuscany from the Roman period and is a significant contribution to the study of this area. It suffers from the minor editorial shortcomings shared with many other edited volumes, but the swift publication of this collection is to be lauded.[3] This is a welcome presentation of research by mainly Italian, or Italian-born researchers working in other countries to a wider international audience. It emphasises the importance of long-term and chronologically wide-ranging study of fascinating landscapes and presents the less discussed areas of Rusellae, Vetulonia and Vada Volaterrana with regard to what is known of their natural landscape. It leaves the reader eager for the final report of the Roman Peasant Project,[4] and to await the final publications of all the projects included.


Authors and Titles

D. Manacorda, Preface

A. Sebastiani, C. Megale, Introduction

F. Cambi, The Tuscan Coast in the Classical Period: Research Prospects

E. Fentress, Nunc Villae Grandes, Oppida Parva Prius: Private Agency and Public Utility in the Tuscan Maremma

S. Campana, E. Vaccaro, Santa Marta: A Roman Nodal Point in the Middle Ombrone Valley (Southern Tuscany, Italy)

M. Cavalieri, Between Topography, Archaeology, and History: Considerations for a Diachronic Synthesis on the Villa at Aiano (San Gimignano) between the Fourth and the Seventh Centuries AD

M. G. Celuzza, M. Milletti, A. Zifferero, Rusellae and its Territory: From the Etruscan to the Roman City

C. Colombi, The Etruscan Harbours of Vetulonia and the Extent of the Prile Lagoon: First Results of a New Research Project

S. Genovesi, The Northern Etrurian Coast: The Vada Volaterrana during the Roman Period: New Data to Reconstruct the Ancient Landscape

E. Giorgi, Archaeological Excavations in Vignale (LI): A Lens for Framing the Landscape in Roman Times

C. Mascione, Etruscan-Roman Populonia: Recent Research on the Sacred Area of the Acropolis

C. Megale, The Fortress of Poggio del Molino and Piracy: A Contribution to the Definition of the Late Republican Landscape of Populonia

S. Menchelli, P. Sangriso, A. Cafaro, S. Genovesi, S. Marini, R. Marcheschi, Luna: The Area of Porta Marina between the Republican and the Imperial Periods

S. Rafanelli, New Excavations in the Etruscan-Roman City of Vetulonia: The Domus dei Dolia

I. Romeo, D. Panariti, The Università di Firenze at Cosa (2016–2018)

R. T. Scott, A. U. De Giorgi, R. Posamentir, C. Cha, Cosa Excavations: New Interpretative Frameworks

A. Sebastiani, The Late Etruscan and Republican Settlement at Podere Cannicci: (Civitella Paganico – Grosseto)

A. Van Oyen, G. W. Tol, R. G. Vennarucci, The Missing link: A Nucleated Rural Centre at Podere Marzuolo (Cinigiano — Grosseto)

E. Vanni, Beyond Religion? Placing the Gods in the Reconstruction of the Landscape and Economies of Southern Tuscany

G. Bianchi, Rural Settlements and Natural Resources in Early Medieval Southern Tuscany: Past and Future Research Prospects



[1] A. Carandini, and M. Filippi Rossella (eds.). 1985. Settefinestre: una villa schiavistica nell’Etruria romana. Modena: Panini.

[2] A. Carandini, F. Cambi, M. G. Celuzza, and E. G. Fentress (eds.). 2002. Paesaggi d’Etruria: Valle dell’Albegna, Valle d’Oro, Valle del Chiarone, Valle del Tafone: Progetto di ricerca italo-britannico seguito allo scavo di Settefinestre. Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura.

[3] Even if the language of each article is highly readable, the wording and usage differ. The Italian origins of some expressions are apparent, such as the use of the concepts of “valorisation” and “mobile finds” and the use of “stratification” instead of stratigraphy, and there are differences in, e.g., capitalising the word “Archaic”. The readability of long sections is that of an excavation report, but this is balanced by the discussion of more general themes. Nevertheless, these shortcomings are all but irrelevant when we consider the quality of the projects presented.

[4] K. Bowes (ed.). 2020. The Roman Peasant Project 2009-2014: Excavating the Roman Rural Poor. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Reviewed by Elizabeth Fentress (BMCR 2022.10.34)