BMCR 2023.11.40

Velzna II: lo scavo di Campo della Fiera di Orvieto. Materiali di epoca romana

, Velzna II: lo scavo di Campo della Fiera di Orvieto. Materiali di epoca romana. Studia archaeologica, 255. Rome: "L'Erma" di Bretschneider, 2023. Pp. 260. ISBN 9788891326911.

This book represents the second volume of the series, Velzna, dedicated to the results from the excavations at Campo della Fiera, on the west of the cliff where Orvieto, Etruscan Velzna, stands. This site has been historically associated with the Fanum Voltumnae, the federal sanctuary of the Etruscans mentioned by Livy on multiple occasions (4.23.5, 4.25.7, 4.61.2, 5.17.6, 6.2.2). Its precise location, however, remained a matter of conjecture until 2000, when systematic excavations directed by Professor Stopponi began at Campo della Fiera. In the past twenty years, archaeologists have unraveled the Fanum’s remains and the associated structures, shedding light into the long durée of this significant Etruscan religious complex. While Roman emperors, particularly Augustus, maintained the religious aura of the site, Christianity replaced the pagan sanctuary with an oratory, a cemetery (6th century CE), and a church (12th century CE).

The volume under review  is concerned with the Roman pottery from the excavation campaigns.1 It is organized into a brief introduction by the editor Simonetta Stopponi, followed by three contributions, each accompanied by an ample bibliography, a catalog of findings, graphs, and tables with drawings and (although not always) photos. The first one, by Elisa Laschi, presents the results of the analysis of the italic terra sigillata (shapes, stamps, applique decorations, graffiti) and offers a functional interpretation of the findings in the different areas of the sanctuary (13-126). Vincenzo Valenzano authors the second contribution and provides a glimpse into the circulation, various productions, and shapes of African terra sigillata and African cooking ware at Campo della Fiera (127-185).  The last chapter, by Danilo Nati, considers the distribution and typology of oil lamps (lucernae) and the presence of possible maker’s marks. Due to limited space, this review will not summarize each contribution; instead, it will highlight some of the insights and methodologies presented by contributors to the volume.

Laschi’s meticulous analysis of the presence of terra sigillata leads her to conclude that the highest percentage (71%) of the evidence comes from the area of the 4th century BCE Temple A—the only shrine that continued to be used after the Roman conquest of Volsinii—and consists of cups and plates in various shapes and sizes. The author reasonably associates this type of vessel forms to cultic use (cups and plates could be used both for feasting and as ex-votos). Moreover, relying on the stamps found on the pottery, she is able to date most of them from the Tiberian era onward (101). This dataset notably distinguishes Campo della Fiera from other sites, such as Bolsena, where terra sigillata was predominantly employed during the Augustan period. While the author suggests that the extended presence of this pottery at Campo della Fiera might be attributed to the commercial trade route (the via Cassia) that supplied the area, this may not be the sole plausible explanation. Given that some renovations at Temple A took place during the reign of Augustus, alternative explanations as to why terra sigillata is concentrated after this period would have been appreciated in her analysis.

In examining the circulation of African ware, interesting results are presented by Valenzano. The presence of African sigillata and African cooking ware, predominant in the area of Temple A and of the Sacra Via (graphs on pages 129 and 131), appears consistent during the 2nd-4th centuries CE and begins to decrease after the abandonment of the shrine. Interestingly, this decline is matched by a more considerable morphological variability of pottery shapes (44 identified forms) and attributed to the new demands of these products and the new state of the community after the end of the pagan cult (170). It would have been beneficial for Valenzano’s analysis to delve into a broader discussion regarding how the new social-political apparatus of the site influenced the distribution and use of African ware. Additionally, exploring the specific functions corresponding to the various pottery shapes recognized by the author would have been insightful to comprehend their significance within the community’s daily life. These aspects remain areas of interest for future publications on this topic.

Nati’s work on the presence of oil lamps at Campo della Fiera is a valuable contribution to understanding Etruscan sites and their religious practices. The author effectively demonstrates that the use of oil lamps at Campo della Fiera follows a similar trend observed in other Etruscan sites, emerging in the later part of the 3rd century BCE and becoming more widespread during the Imperial period. The discovery of over 900 lamp fragments (out of 1291) in the enclosure of Temple A and their concentration in the early Imperial period after significant restoration work in the sacred area convincingly links the presence of lamps to cultic performances honoring chthonic deities worshiped at the shrine. While Nati’s work successfully addresses these aspects, it leaves an intriguing research question unanswered concerning the limited presence of oil lamps in the area of the domus and the Baths. This unexplored territory poses an exciting avenue for future investigations, offering potential insights into the different religious practices and uses of oil lamps within the various areas of the site.

Overall, the volume sheds new light on the Imperial phases of the Fanum Voltumnae and is a welcome addition to our understanding of pottery production and consumption at sanctuary sites during this period. One of the few critiques is the lack of a chapter that ties together the three contributions, leaving the reader wanting more in terms of a broader interpretation and discussion of the evidence as a whole. As most artifacts are concentrated in the area of Temple A, a conclusive overview of the evolution of this cult place based on the materials discussed in the book would have been beneficial. Despite this critique, the meticulously detailed and rigorous scientific examination of the artifacts is commendable. The inclusion of detailed tables, pictures, and drawings of the inventoried artifacts enables further study and comparison with findings from other locations, making this work a valuable resource for scholars.