Etruscan Clay Rattle from Vulci

Etruscan Clay Rattle from Vulci


This very brief video is explicitly auditory. It demonstrates the sound of an Etruscan clay rattle from Vulci, Italy (end of 8th century BCE).

Sound sample played by Emiliano Li Castro.

Guide to Ancient Etruscan Art


2.7: Etruscan

A brilliant culture once controlled almost the entire peninsula we now call Italy. This was the Etruscan civilization.

c. 800 - 500 B.C.E.

The Etruscans, an introduction

Figure (PageIndex<1>): Etruscan civilization, 750-500 B.C.E., NormanEinstein &ndash based on a map from The National Geographic Magazine, vol.173 No.6 (June 1988) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Before the small village of Rome became &ldquoRome&rdquo with a capital R (to paraphrase D.H. Lawrence), a brilliant civilization once controlled almost the entire peninsula we now call Italy. This was the Etruscan civilization, a vanished culture whose achievements set the stage not only for the development of ancient Roman art and culture but for the Italian Renaissance as well.

Though you may not have heard of them, the Etruscans were the first &ldquosuperpower&rdquo of the Western Mediterranean who, alongside the Greeks, developed the earliest true cities in Europe. They were so successful, in fact, that the most important cities in modern Tuscany (Florence, Pisa, and Siena, to name a few) were first established by the Etruscans and have been continuously inhabited since then.

Yet the labels &ldquomysterious&rdquo or &ldquoenigmatic&rdquo are often attached to the Etruscans since none of their own histories or literature survives. This is particularly ironic as it was the Etruscans who were responsible for teaching the Romans the alphabet and for spreading literacy throughout the Italian peninsula.

​The influence on ancient Rome

Etruscan influence on ancient Roman culture was profound. It was from the Etruscans that the Romans inherited many of their own cultural and artistic traditions, from the spectacle of gladiatorial combat, to hydraulic engineering, temple design, and religious ritual, among many other things. In fact, hundreds of years after the Etruscans had been conquered by the Romans and absorbed into their empire, the Romans still maintained an Etruscan priesthood in Rome (which they thought necessary to consult when under attack from invading &ldquobarbarians&rdquo).

We even derive our very common word &ldquoperson&rsquo&rdquo from the Etruscan mythological figure Phersu &mdash the frightful, masked figure you see in this Early Etruscan tomb painting who would engage his victims in a dreadful &ldquogame&rdquo of blood letting in order to appease the soul of the deceased (the original gladiatorial games, according to the Romans!).

Figure (PageIndex<2>): Phersu and his victim, Tomb of the Augurs, late 6th century B.C.E., Tarquinia

Etruscan art and the afterlife

Early on the Etruscans developed a vibrant artistic and architectural culture, one that was often in dialogue with other Mediterranean civilizations. Trading of the many natural mineral resources found in Tuscany, the center of ancient Etruria, caused them to bump up against Greeks, Phoenicians and Egyptians in the Mediterranean. With these other Mediterranean cultures, they exchanged goods, ideas and, often, a shared artistic vocabulary.

Figure (PageIndex<3>): Etruscan hut urn (c. 800 B.C.E.), impasto (Vatican Museums)

Unlike with the Greeks, however, the majority of our knowledge about Etruscan art comes largely from their burials. (Since most Etruscan cities are still inhabited, they hide their Etruscan art and architecture under Roman, Medieval and Renaissance layers). Fortunately, though, the Etruscans cared very much about equipping their dead with everything necessary for the afterlife&mdashfrom lively tomb paintings to sculpture to pottery that they could use in the next world.

From their extensive cemeteries, we can look at the &ldquoworld of the dead&rdquo and begin to understand some about the &ldquoworld of the living.&rdquo During the early phases of Etruscan civilization, they conceived of the afterlife in terms of life as they knew it. When someone died, he or she would be cremated and provided with another &lsquohome&rsquo for the afterlife. ​

This type of hut urn (above left), made of an unrefined clay known as impasto, would be used to house the cremated remains of the deceased. Not coincidentally, it shows us in miniature form what a typical Etruscan house would have looked like in Iron Age Etruria (900-750 B.C.E.)&mdashoval with a timber roof and a smoke hole for an internal hearth.

More opulent tombs

Later on, houses for the dead became much more elaborate. During the Orientalizing period (750-575 B.C.E.), when the Etruscans began to trade their natural resources with other Mediterranean cultures and became staggeringly wealthy as a result, their tombs became more and more opulent.

The well-known Regolini-Galassi tomb from the city of Cerveteri shows how this new wealth transformed the modest hut to an extravagant house for the dead. Built for a woman clearly of high rank, the massive stone tomb contains a long corridor with lateral, oval rooms leading to a main chamber.

Figure (PageIndex<4>): Fibula from Regolini Galassi tomb in Cerveteri, gold, mid-seventh century B.C.E. (Vatican Museums)

A stroll through the Etruscan rooms in the Vatican museum where the tomb artifacts are now housed presents a mind-boggling view of the enormous wealth of the period. Found near the woman were objects of various precious materials intended for personal adornment in the afterlife&mdasha gold pectoral, gold bracelets, a gold brooch (or fibula) of outsized proportions, among other objects&mdashas well as silver and bronze vessels and numerous other grave goods and furniture.

A bronze bed​

Figure (PageIndex<5>): Bronze bed and carriage, Regolini-Galassi Tomb, (c. 650 B.C.E.), Cerveteri (Vatican Museums)

Of course, this important woman might also need her four-wheeled bronze-sheathed carriage in the afterlife as well as an incense burner, jewelry of amber and ivory, and, touchingly, her bronze bed around which thirty-three figurines, all in various gestures of mourning, were arranged.

Though later periods in Etruscan history are not characterized by such wealth, the Etruscans were, nevertheless, extremely powerful and influential and left a lasting imprint on the city of Rome and other parts of Italy.

Video (PageIndex<1>): Bettini Tomb in Tarquinia and virtual restoration of its frescoes using archive material

Additional resources:

Video: Etruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri and Tarquinia (from UNESCO/NHK)

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

Figure (PageIndex<6>): More Smarthistory images&hellip


Figure (PageIndex<7>): Terracotta kantharos (vase), 7th century B.C.E., Etruscan, terracotta, 18.39 cm high (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Bucchero, a distinctly black, burnished ceramic ware, is often considered the signature ceramic fabric of the Etruscans, an indigenous, pre-Roman people of the Italian peninsula. The term bucchero derives from the Spanish term búcaro (Portuguese: pucaro), meaning either a ceramic jar or a type of aromatic clay. The main period of bucchero production and use stretches from the seventh to the fifth centuries B.C.E. A tableware made mostly for elite consumption, bucchero pottery occupies a key position in our understanding of Etruscan material culture.


Bucchero&rsquos distinctive black color results from its manufacturing process. The pottery is fired in a reducing atmosphere, meaning the amount of oxygen in the kiln&rsquos firing chamber is restricted, resulting in the dark color. The oxygen-starved atmosphere of the kiln causes the iron oxide in the clay to give up its oxygen molecules, making the pottery darken in color. The fact that pottery was burnished (polished by rubbing) before firing creates the high, almost metallic, sheen. This lustrous, black finish is a hallmark of bucchero pottery. Another hallmark is the fine surface of the pottery, which results from the finely levigated (ground) clay used to make bucchero.

Figure (PageIndex<8>): Terracotta column-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water), c. 560-500 B.C.E., Etruscan, terracotta, bucchero pesante, 16 1/8 in high, 13 9/16 in diameter (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Bucchero wares may draw their inspiration from metalware vessels, particularly those crafted of silver, that would have been used as elite tablewares. The design of early bucchero ware seems to evoke the lines and crispness of metallic vessels additionally early decorative patterns that rely on incision and rouletting (roller-stamping) also evoke metalliform design tendencies.

Forerunners of Etruscan bucchero

Figure (PageIndex<9>): Terracotta kyathos (single-handled cup), 7th century B.C.E., Late Villanova, terracotta, buccheroid impasto, 4 9/16 in high without handle, 8 11/16 in with handle, 11 in diameter of mouth (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Impasto (a rough unrefined clay) ceramics produced by the Villanovan culture (the earliest Iron Age culture of central and northern Italy) were forerunners of Etruscan bucchero forms. Also called buccheroid impasto, they were the product of a kiln environment that allows for a preliminary phase of oxidation but then only a partial reduction, yielding a surface finish that ranges from dark brown to black, but with a section that remains fairly light in color. The kyathos in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (above) provides a good example the quality of potting is high overall. This impasto ware was thrown on the wheel, has a highly burnished surface, but has a less refined fabric (material) than later examples of true bucchero.

Bucchero types

Archaeologists have discovered bucchero in Etruria and Latium (modern Tuscany and northern Lazio) in central Italy it is often frequently found in funereal contexts. Bucchero was also exported, in some cases, as examples have been found in southern France, the Aegean, North Africa, and Egypt.

Figure (PageIndex<10>): Terracotta trefoil oinochoe (jug), c. 625-600 B.C.E., Etruscan, terracotta, bucchero sottile, 11 3/16 in high (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The production of bucchero is typically divided into three artistic phases. These are distinguishable on the basis of the quality and thickness of the fabric. The phases are: &ldquothin-walled bucchero&rdquo (bucchero sottile), produced c. 675 to 626 B.C.E., &ldquotransitional,&rdquo produced c. 625 to 575 B.C.E., and &ldquoheavy bucchero&rdquo (bucchero pesante), produced from c. 575 to the beginning of the fifth century B.C.E.

Figure (PageIndex<11>): Terracotta kantharos (drinking cup), c. 650-600 B.C.E., Etruscan, terracotta, bucchero sottile, 12 in high without handles, 10 1/4 in diameter (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The earliest bucchero has been discovered in tombs at Caere (just northwest of Rome). Its extremely thin-walled construction and sharp features echo metallic prototypes. Decoration on the earliest examples is usually in the form of geometric incision, including chevrons and other linear motifs (above). Roller stamp methods would later replace the incision.

Figure (PageIndex<12>): Bucchero hydria (water ware jug), c. 550-500 B.C.E., Etruscan, terracotta, 60.5 cm high © The Trustees of the British Museum

By the sixth century B.C.E., a &ldquoheavy&rdquo type of the ceramic had replaced the thin-walled bucchero. A hydria (vessel used to carry water) in the British Museum (above) is another example of the &ldquoheavy&rdquo bucchero of the sixth century B.C.E. This vessel has a series of female appliqué heads as well as other ornamentation. A tendency of the &ldquoheavy&rdquo type also included the use of mold-made techniques to create relief decoration.

Figure (PageIndex<13>): Terracotta vase in the shape of a cockerel, c. 650-600 B.C.E., Etruscan, terracotta, bucchero, 4 1/16 in high (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

A number of surviving bucchero examples carry incised inscriptions. A bucchero vessel currently in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (above) provides an example of an abecedarium (the letters of the alphabet) inscribed on a ceramic vessel. This vase, in the form of a cockerel, dates to the second half of the seventh century B.C.E. has the 26 letters of the Etruscan alphabet inscribed around its belly (below)&mdashthe vase combines practicality (it may have been used as an inkwell) with a touch of whimsy. It demonstrates the penchant of Etruscan potters for incision and the plastic modeling of ceramic forms.

Figure (PageIndex<14>): Alphabet (detail), Terracotta vase in the shape of a cockerel, c. 650-600 B.C.E., Etruscan, terracotta, bucchero, 4 1/16 in high (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)


Bucchero pottery represents a key source of information about the Etruscan civilization. Used by elites at banquets, bucchero demonstrates the tendencies of elite consumption among the Etruscans. The elite display at the banqueting table helped to reinforce social rank and to allow elites to advertise the achievements and status of themselves and their families.

Additional Resources:

Jon M. Berkin, The Orientalizing Bucchero from the Lower Building at Poggio Civitate (Murlo)(Boston: Published for the Archaeological Institute of America by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2003).

Mauro Cristofani, Le tombe da Monte Michele nel Museo archeologico di Firenze (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1969).

Richard DePuma, Corpus vasorum antiquorum. [United States of America]. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu: Etruscan Impasto and Bucchero(Corpus vasorum antiquorum., United States of America, fasc. 31: fascim. 6.) (Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996).

Richard DePuma, Etruscan Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013).

Nancy Hirschland-Ramage, &ldquoStudies in Early Etruscan Bucchero,&rdquo Papers of the British School at Rome 38 (1970), pp. 1&ndash61.

Tom Rasmussen, Bucchero Pottery from Southern Etruria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

Wim Regter, Imitation and Creation: Development of Early Bucchero Design at Cerveteri in the Seventh Century B.C. (Amsterdam: Allard Pierson Museum, 2003).

Margaret Wadsworth, &ldquoA Potter&rsquos Experience with the Method of Firing Bucchero,&rdquo Opuscula Romana 14 (1983), pp. 65-68.

Temple of Minerva and the sculpture of Apollo (Veii)

Forget what you know about Greek and Roman architectural orders&mdashEtruscans had their own unique style.

Etruscan temples have largely vanished

Among the early Etruscans, the worship of the Gods and Goddesses did not take place in or around monumental temples as it did in early Greece or in the Ancient Near East, but rather, in nature. Early Etruscans created ritual spaces in groves and enclosures open to the sky with sacred boundaries carefully marked through ritual ceremony.

Figure (PageIndex<15>): Reconstruction of an Etruscan Temple of the 6th century according to Vitruvius

Around 600 B.C.E., however, the desire to create monumental structures for the gods spread throughout Etruria, most likely as a result of Greek influence. While the desire to create temples for the gods may have been inspired by contact with Greek culture, Etruscan religious architecture was markedly different in material and design. These colorful and ornate structures typically had stone foundations but their wood, mud-brick and terracotta superstructures suffered far more from exposure to the elements. Greek temples still survive today in parts of Greece and southern Italy since they were constructed of stone and marble but Etruscan temples were built with mostly ephemeral materials and have largely vanished.

How do we know what they looked like?

Despite the comparatively short-lived nature of Etruscan religious structures, Etruscan temple design had a huge impact on Renaissance architecture and one can see echoes of Etruscan, or &lsquoTuscan,&rsquo columns (doric columns with bases) in many buildings of the Renaissance and later in Italy. But if the temples weren&rsquot around during the 15th and 16th centuries, how did Renaissance builders know what they looked like and, for that matter, how do we know what they looked like?

Fortunately, an ancient Roman architect by the name of Vitruvius wrote about Etruscan temples in his book De architectura in the late first century B.C.E. In his treatise on ancient architecture, Vitruvius described the key elements of Etruscan temples and it was his description that inspired Renaissance architects to return to the roots of Tuscan design and allows archaeologists and art historians today to recreate the appearance of these buildings.

Archaeological evidence for the Temple of Minerva

Figure (PageIndex<16>): Typical Etruscan temple plan

The archaeological evidence that does remain from many Etruscan temples largely confirms Vitruvius&rsquos description. One of the best explored and known of these is the Portonaccio Temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva (Roman=Minerva/Greek=Athena) at the city of Veii about 18 km north of Rome. The tufa-block foundations of the Portonaccio temple still remain and their nearly square footprint reflects Vitruvius&rsquos description of a floor plan with proportions that are 5:6, just a bit deeper than wide.

The temple is also roughly divided into two parts&mdasha deep front porch with widely-spaced Tuscan columns and a back portion divided into three separate rooms. Known as a triple cella, this three room configuration seems to reflect a divine triad associated with the temple, perhaps Menrva as well as Tinia (Jupiter/Zeus) and Uni (Juno/Hera).

In addition to their internal organization and materials, what also made Etruscan temples noticeably distinct from Greek ones was a high podium and frontal entrance. Approaching the Parthenon with its low rising stepped entrance and encircling forest of columns would have been a very different experience from approaching an Etruscan temple high off the ground with a single, defined entrance.


Perhaps most interesting about the Portonaccio temple is the abundant terracotta sculpture that still remains, the volume and quality of which is without parallel in Etruria. In addition to many terracotta architectural elements (masks, antefixes, decorative details), a series of over life-size terracotta sculptures have also been discovered in association with the temple. Originally placed on the ridge of temple roof, these figures seem to be Etruscan assimilations of Greek gods, set up as a tableau to enact some mythic event.

Apollo of Veii

Figure (PageIndex<17>): Aplu (Apollo of Veii), from the roof of the Portonaccio Temple, Veii, Italy, c. 510-500 B.C.E., painted terra-cotta, 5 feet 11inches high (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome)

The most famous and well-preserved of these is the Aplu (Apollo of Veii), a dynamic, striding masterpiece of large scale terracotta sculpture and likely a central figure in the rooftop narrative. His counterpart may have been the less well-preserved figure of Hercle (Hercules) with whom he struggled in an epic contest over the Golden Hind, an enormous deer sacred to Apollo&rsquos twin sister Artemis. Other figures discovered with these suggest an audience watching the action. Whatever the myth may have been, it was a completely Etruscan innovation to use sculpture in this way, placed at the peak of the temple roof&mdashcreating what must have been an impressive tableau against the backdrop of the sky.

Figure (PageIndex<18>): Detail, Aplu (Apollo of Veii), from the roof of the Portonaccio Temple, Veii, Italy, c. 510-500 B.C.E., painted terra-cotta, 5 feet 11inches high (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome)

An artist by the name of Vulca?

Since Etruscan art is almost entirely anonymous it is impossible to know who may have contributed to such innovative display strategies. We may, however, know the name of the artist associated with the workshop that produced the terracotta sculpture. Centuries after these pieces were created, the Roman writer Pliny recorded that in the late 6th century B.C.E., an Etruscan artist by the name of Vulca was summoned from Veii to Rome to decorate the most important temple there, the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. The technical knowledge required to produce terracotta sculpture at such a large scale was considerable and it may just have been the master sculptor Vulca whose skill at the Portonaccio temple earned him not only a prestigious commission in Rome but a place in the history books as well.

Additional Resources:

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

Apulu (Apollo of Veii)

Confronting Hercules in the middle of his labors, this clay statue of Apollo strides forward.

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

Sarcophagus of the Spouses (Louvre)

Figure (PageIndex<21>): Sarcophagus of the Spouses, Etruscan, c. 520-510 B.C.E., painted terracotta (Musée du Louvre), photo: © Louvre, dist. RMN/Philoppe Fuzeau

The freedom enjoyed by Etruscan women

One of the distinguishing features of Etruscan society, and one that caused much shock and horror to their Greek neighbors, was the relative freedom enjoyed by Etruscan women. Unlike women in ancient Greece or Rome, upper class Etruscan women actively participated in public life&mdashattending banquets, riding in carriages and being spectators at (and participants in) public events. Reflections of such freedoms are found throughout Etruscan art images of women engaged in these activities appear frequently in painting and in sculpture.

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses was found in Cerverteri, a town in Italy north of Rome, which is the site of a large Etruscan necropolis (or cemetery), with hundreds of tombs. The sarcophagus vividly evokes both the social visibility of Etruscan women and a type of marital intimacy rarely seen in Greek art from this period.

Figure (PageIndex<21>): Sarcophagus of the Spouses, Etruscan, c. 520-510 B.C.E., painted terracotta (Musée du Louvre)

A funerary banquet?

In the sarcophagus (and another largely identical example at the Villa Giulia in Rome), the two figures recline as equals as they participate in a banquet, possibly a funerary banquet for the dead. In contemporary Greece, the only women attending public banquets, or symposia, were courtesans, not wives! The affectionate gestures and tenderness between the Etruscan man and woman convey a strikingly different attitude about the status of women and their relative equality with their husbands.


Aside from its subject matter, the sarcophagus is also a remarkable example of Etruscan large-scale terracotta sculpture (terracotta is a type of ceramic also called earthenware). At nearly two meters long, the object demonstrates the rather accomplished feat of modeling clay figures at nearly life-size. Artists in the Etruscan cities of Cerveteri and Veii in particular preferred working with highly refined clay for large-scale sculpture as it provided a smooth surface for the application of paint and the inclusion of fine detail.

Handling such large forms, however, was not without complications evidence of this can be seen in the cut that bisects the sarcophagus. Splitting the piece in two parts would have allowed the artist to more easily manipulate the pieces before and after firing. If you look closely, you can also see a distinct line separating the figures and the lid of the sarcophagus this was another trick for creating these monumental pieces&mdashmodeling the figures separately and then placing them on top of their bed.


Figure (PageIndex<22>): Detail, Sarcophagus of the Spouses, Etruscan, c. 520-510 B.C.E., painted terracotta (Musée du Louvre)

A really lovely characteristic of this sculpture is the preservation of so much color. In addition to colored garments and pillows, red laced boots, her black tresses and his blond ones, one can easily discern the gender specific skin tones so typical in Etruscan art. The man&rsquos ochre flesh signifies his participation in a sun-drenched, external world, while the woman&rsquos pale cream skin points to a more interior, domestic one. Gendered color conventions were not exclusive to the Etruscans but have a long pedigree in ancient art. Though their skin and hair color may be different, both figures share similar facial features&mdasharchaic smiles (like the ones we see in ancient Greek archaic sculptures), almond shaped eyes, and highly arched eyebrows&mdashall typical of Etruscan art.

What were they holding?

One of the great puzzles of the sarcophagus centers on what the figures were holding. Etruscan art often featured outsized, expressive hands with suggestively curled fingers. Here the arm positions of both figures hint that each must have held small objects, but what? Since the figures are reclining on a banqueting couch, the objects could have been vessels associated with drinking, perhaps wine cups, or representations of food. Another possibility is that they may have held alabastra, small vessels containing oil used for anointing the dead. Or, perhaps, they held all of the above&mdashfood, drink and oil, each a necessity for making the journey from this life to the next.

Whatever missing elements, the conviviality of the moment and intimacy of the figures capture the life-affirming quality often seen in Etruscan art of this period, even in the face of death.

Additional resources:

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

Figure (PageIndex<23>): More Smarthistory images&hellip

Sarcophagus of the Spouses (Rome)

The intimacy of this clay sculpture is unprecedented in the ancient world. What can it tell us about Etruscan culture?

Video (PageIndex<4>): Sarcophagus of the Spouses (or Sarcophagus with Reclining Couple), from the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri, Italy, c. 520 B.C.E., painted terracotta, 3&prime 9 1/2&Prime x 6&prime 7&Prime (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome)

Figure (PageIndex<24>): Sarcophagus of the Spouses, c. 520 B.C.E., Etruscan, painted terracotta, 3 feet 9-1/2 inches x 6 feet 7 inches, found in the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia in Rome)

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses is an anthropoid (human-shaped), painted terracotta sarcophagus found in the ancient Etruscan city of Caere (now Cerveteri, Italy). The sarcophagus, which would have originally contained cremated human remains, was discovered during the course of archaeological excavations in the Banditaccia necropolis of ancient Caere during the nineteenth century and is now in Rome. The sarcophagus is quite similar to another terracotta sarcophagus from Caere depicting a man and woman that is presently housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris these two sarcophagi are contemporary to one another and are perhaps the products of the same artistic workshop.

Figure (PageIndex<24>): Upper bodies (detail), Sarcophagus of the Spouses, c. 520 B.C.E., Etruscan, painted terracotta, 3 feet 9-1/2 inches x 6 feet 7 inches, found in the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia in Rome)

An archaic couple

The sarcophagus depicts a reclining man and woman on its lid. The pair rests on highly stylized cushions, just as they would have done at an actual banquet. The body of the sarcophagus is styled so as to resemble a kline (dining couch). Both figures have highly stylized hair, in each case plaited with the stylized braids hanging rather stiffly at the sides of the neck. In the female&rsquos case the plaits are arranged so as to hang down in front of each shoulder. The female wears a soft cap atop her head she also wears shoes with pointed toes that are characteristically Etruscan. The male&rsquos braids hang neatly at the back, splayed across the upper back and shoulders. The male&rsquos beard and the hair atop his head is quite abstracted without any interior detail. Both figures have elongated proportions that are at home in the archaic period in the Mediterranean.

Figure (PageIndex<25>): Feet and shoes (detail), Sarcophagus of the Spouses, c. 520 B.C.E., Etruscan, painted terracotta, 3 feet 9-1/2 inches x 6 feet 7 inches, found in the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia in Rome)

A banquet

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses has been interpreted as belonging to a banqueting scene, with the couple reclining together on a single dining couch while eating and drinking. This situates the inspiration for the sarcophagus squarely in the convivial (social) sphere and, as we are often reminded, conviviality was central to Etruscan mortuary rituals. Etruscan funerary art&mdashincluding painted tombs&mdashoften depicts scenes of revelry, perhaps as a reminder of the funeral banquet that would send the deceased off to the afterlife or perhaps to reflect the notion of perpetual conviviality in said afterlife. Whatever the case, banquets provide a great deal of iconographic fodder for Etruscan artists.

Figure (PageIndex<26>): Banquet Plaque (detail) from Poggio Civitate, early 6th century B.C.E., Etruscan, terracotta (Antiquarium di Poggio Civitate Museo Archeologico, Murlo, Italy) (photo: sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0)

In the case of the sarcophagus it is also important to note that at Etruscan banquets, men and women reclined and ate together, a circumstance that was quite different from other Mediterranean cultures, especially the Greeks. We see multiple instances of mixed gender banquets across a wide chronological range, leading us to conclude that this was common practice in Etruria. The terracotta plaque from Poggio Civitate, Murlo (above), for instance, that is roughly contemporary to the sarcophagus of the spouses shows a close iconographic parallel for this custom. This cultural custom generated some resentment&mdasheven animus&mdashon the part of Greek and Latin authors in antiquity who saw this Etruscan practice not just as different, but took it as offensive behavior. Women enjoyed a different and more privileged status in Etruscan society than did their Greek and Roman counterparts.

Technical achievement

Figure (PageIndex<27>): Female&rsquos face (detail), Sarcophagus of the Spouses, c. 520 B.C.E., Etruscan, painted terracotta, 3 feet 9-1/2 inches x 6 feet 7 inches, found in the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia in Rome)

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses is a masterwork of terracotta sculpture. Painted terracotta sculpture played a key role in the visual culture of archaic Etruria. Terracotta artwork was the standard for decorating the superstructure of Etruscan temples and the coroplastic (terracotta) workshops producing these sculptures often displayed a high level of technical achievement. This is due, in part, to the fact that ready sources of marble were unknown in archaic Italy. Even though contemporary Greeks produced masterworks in marble during the sixth century B.C.E., terracotta statuary such as this sarcophagus itself counts as a masterwork and would have been an elite commission. Contemporary Greek colonists in Italy also produced high level terracotta statuary, as exemplified by the seated statue of Zeus from Poseidonia (later renamed Paestum) that dates c. 530 B.C.E.

Etruscan culture

Figure (PageIndex<28>): Seated statue of Zeus from Poseidonia (Paestum) c. 530 B.C.E., terracotta (photo: Dave & Margie Hill, CC BY-SA 2.0) (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Paestum)

In the case of the Caeretan sarcophagus, it is an especially challenging commission. Given its size, it would have been fired in multiple pieces. The composition of the reclining figures shows awareness of Mediterranean stylistic norms in that their physiognomy reflects an Ionian influence (Ionia was a region in present-day Turkey, that was a Greek colony)&mdashthe rounded, serene faces and the treatment of hairstyles would have fit in with contemporary Greek styles. However, the posing of the figures, the angular joints of the limbs, and their extended fingers and toes reflect local practice in Etruria. In short, the artist and his workshop are aware of global trends while also catering to a local audience. While we cannot identify the original owner of the sarcophagus, it is clear that the person(s) commissioning it would have been a member of the Caeretan elite.

Figure (PageIndex<29>): Male&rsquos face (detail), Sarcophagus of the Spouses, c. 520 B.C.E., Etruscan, painted terracotta, 3 feet 9-1/2 inches x 6 feet 7 inches, found in the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia in Rome)

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses as an object conveys a great deal of information about Etruscan culture and its customs. The convivial theme of the sarcophagus reflects the funeral customs of Etruscan society and the elite nature of the object itself provides important information about the ways in which funerary custom could reinforce the identity and standing of aristocrats among the community of the living.

Additional resources:

L. Bonfante, ed., Etruscan Life and Afterlife: a Handbook of Etruscan Studies (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986).

M. F. Briguet, Le sarcophage des époux de Cerveteri du Musée du Louvre. (Florence: Leo Olschki, 1989).

O. J. Brendel, Etruscan Art, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

S. Haynes, Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History (Los Angeles, California: Getty Publications, 2000).

E. Macnamara, Everyday life of the Etruscans (London: Batsford, 1973).

E. Macnamara, The Etruscans (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991).

A. S. Tuck, &ldquoThe Etruscan Seated Banquet: Villanovan Ritual and Etruscan Iconography,&rdquo American Journal of Archaeology 98.4 (1994): 617-628.

J. M. Turfa, ed., The Etruscan World (London: Routledge, 2013).

A. Zaccaria Ruggiu, More regio vivere: il banchetto aristocratico e la casa romana di età arcaica (Rome: Edizioni Quasar, 2003).

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

Figure (PageIndex<30>): More Smarthistory images&hellip

Tomb of the Triclinium

Figure (PageIndex<31>): Etruscan civilization, 750-500 B.C.E. (image: NormanEinstein, CC BY-SA 3.0) Based on a map from The National Geographic Magazine Vol.173 No.6 (June 1988).

Elaborate funerary rituals

Funerary contexts constitute the most abundant archaeological evidence for the Etruscan civilization. The elite members of Etruscan society participated in elaborate funerary rituals that varied and changed according to both geography and time.

The city of Tarquinia (known in antiquity as Tarquiniior Tarch(u)na), one of the most powerful and prominent Etruscan centers, is known for its painted chamber tombs. The Tomb of the Triclinium belongs to this group and its wall paintings reveal important information about not only Etruscan funeral culture but also about the society of the living.

An advanced Iron Age culture, the Etruscans amassed wealth based on Italy&rsquos natural resources (particularly metal and mineral ores) that they exchanged through medium- and long-range trade networks.

Figure (PageIndex<32>): Tomb of the Triclinium, c. 470 B.C.E. (Etruscan chamber tomb, Tarquinia, Italy)

Tomb of the Triclinium

The Tomb of the Triclinium (Italian: Tomba del Triclinio) is the name given to an Etruscan chamber tomb dating c. 470 B.C.E. and located in the Monterozzi necropolis of Tarquinia, Italy. Chamber tombs are subterranean rock-cut chambers accessed by an approach way (dromos) in many cases. The tombs are intended to contain not only the remains of the deceased but also various grave goods or offerings deposited along with the deceased. The Tomb of the Triclinium is composed of a single chamber with wall decorations painted in fresco. Discovered in 1830, the tomb takes its name from the three-couch dining room of the ancient Greco-Roman Mediterranean, known as the triclinium.

A banquet

The rear wall of the tomb carries the main scene, one of banqueters enjoying a dinner party (above). It is possible to draw stylistic comparisons between this painted scene that includes figures reclining on dining couches (klinai) and the contemporary fifth century B.C.E. Attic pottery that the Etruscans imported from Greece. The original fresco is only partially preserved although it is likely that there were originally three couches, each hosting a pair of reclining diners, one male and one female. Two attendants&mdashone male, one female&mdashattend to the needs of the diners. The diners are dressed in bright and sumptuous robes, befitting their presumed elite status. Beneath the couches we can observe a large cat, as well as a large rooster and another bird.

Music and dancing

Figure (PageIndex<33>): Barbiton player on the left wall (detail), Tomb of the Triclinium, c. 470 B.C.E., Etruscan chamber tomb, Tarquinia, Italy

Scenes of dancers occupy the flanking left and right walls. The left wall scene contains four dancers&mdashthree female and one male&mdashand a male musician playing the barbiton, an ancient stringed instrument similar to the lyre (left).

Common painterly conventions of gender typing are employed&mdashthe skin of females is light in color while male skin is tinted a darker tone of orange-brown. The dancers and musicians, together with the feasting, suggest the overall convivial tone of the Etruscan funeral. In keeping with ancient Mediterranean customs, funerals were often accompanied by games, as famously represented by the funeral games of the Trojan Anchises as described in book 5 of Vergil&rsquos epic poem, the Aeneid. In the Tomb of the Triclinium we may have an allusion to games as the walls flanking the tomb&rsquos entrance bear scenes of youths dismounting horses, variously described as being either apobates (participants in an equestrian combat sport) or the Dioscuri (mythological twins).

Figure (PageIndex<34>): Two dancers on the right wall (detail), Tomb of the Triclinium, c. 470 B.C.E., Etruscan chamber tomb, Tarquinia, Italy

The tomb&rsquos ceiling is painted in a checkered scheme of alternating colors, perhaps meant to evoke the temporary fabric tents that were erected near the tomb for the actual celebration of the funeral banquet.

The actual paintings were removed from the tomb in 1949 and are conserved in the Museo Nazionale in Tarquinia. As their state of preservation has deteriorated, watercolors made at the time of discovery have proven very important for the study of the tomb.


The convivial theme of the Tomb of the Triclinium might seem surprising in a funereal context, but it is important to note that the Etruscan funeral rites were not somber but festive, with the aim of sharing a final meal with the deceased as the latter transitioned to the afterlife. This ritual feasting served several purposes in social terms. At its most basic level the funeral banquet marked the transition of the deceased from the world of the living to that of the dead the banquet that accompanied the burial marked this transition and ritually included the spirit of the deceased, as a portion of the meal, along with the appropriate dishes and utensils for eating and drinking, would then be deposited in the tomb. Another purpose of the funeral meal, games, and other activities was to reinforce the socio-economic position of the deceased person and his/her family: a way to remind the community of the living of the importance and standing of these people and thus tangibly reinforce their position in contemporary society. This would include, where appropriate, visual reminders of socio-political status, including indications of wealth and civic achievements, notably public offices held by the deceased.

Additional resources:

L. Bonfante, ed., Etruscan Life and Afterlife: a Handbook of Etruscan Studies (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986).

O. J. Brendel, Etruscan Art, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

P. Duell, &ldquoThe tomba del Triclinio at Tarquinia.&rdquo Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, volume 6, 1927, pp. 5-68.

S. Haynes, Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History(Los Angeles, California: Getty Publications, 2000).

R. R. Holloway, &ldquoConventions of Etruscan Painting in the Tomb of Hunting and Fishing at Tarquinii, &ldquo American Journal of Archaeology, volume 69, number 4, 1965, pp. 341-7.

A. Naso, La pittura etrusca: guida breve (Rome: &ldquoL&rsquoErma&rdquo di Bretschneider, 2005).

M. Pallottino, Etruscan Painting (Geneva: Skira, 1952).

S. Steingräber, Etruscan painting: catalogue raisonné of Etruscan wall paintings(New York: Johnson, 1985).

S. Steingräber, S., Abundance of Life: Etruscan Wall Painting(Los Angeles (California: Getty Publications, 2006).

J. M. Turfa, ed. The Etruscan World (London: Routledge, 2013).

A. Zaccaria Ruggiu, More regio vivere: il banchetto aristocratico e la casa romana di età arcaica(Rome: Edizioni Quasar, 2003)

The François Tomb

The François Tomb is chock-full of elaborate frescoes with complicated messages we may never fully understand.

Figure (PageIndex<35>): The archeological site of the ancient Etruscan city of Vulci, Italy (photo: Robin Iversen Rönnlund, CC BY-SA 3.0)

When Alessandro François and Adolphe Noël des Vergers entered the so-called François Tomb (named for its discoverer) in 1857, they described a magnificent treasure trove in which ancient Etruscan warriors were sleeping on their funeral couches, surrounded by grave goods, armaments, and brilliant tableaux on painted walls. This exceptional tomb from the Ponte Rotto necropolis in Vulci served as a familial burial monument and was used for several centuries in the Hellenistic period.

Figure (PageIndex<36>): Plan of the François Tomb, Vulci

The Etruscans believed that the afterlife mirrored their own world, so they provided elaborate &ldquohomes&rdquo for their dead. The ground plan of the François Tomb is essentially a T shape, with two main chambers (called the atrium and tablinum after the rooms of typical Italo-Roman houses). The main chambers are arranged perpendicularly, with small burial chambers branching out from all sides.

The François Tomb is famous largely because of the frescoes of its main chamber, which can be dated to the fourth century B.C.E. Unlike most Etruscan tomb paintings, the François tomb frescoes seem to include battle scenes &mdash making it a rare, early example of ancient history painting.

Though scholars still have many questions surrounding the exact meanings of these paintings, they reflect important Etruscan ideas about history, and they would have helped reinforce shared narratives about ancestry and the past as family members continually visited the tomb to inter the newly deceased.

Dazzling frescoes

Frescoes fill the walls and ceiling of the tomb. (The original frescoes were removed by a collector in the 19th century, and replaced in the tomb itself by reproductions.) The ceiling is designed to look like the interior of a building with a timber-framed roof structure, while the walls include various figural representations and geometric designs.

Figure (PageIndex<37>): Frieze with Greek key pattern and hunting scene, atrium of the François Tomb, Vulci (Villa Albani, Rome)

The atrium, which was the first room a visitor would enter, has the most elaborate frescoes. At the upper margin of the wall, there is a small running frieze in two registers: a Greek key pattern on top, with a hunting scene below. Under the hunting scene are larger scenes featuring human figures depicted at nearly life size.

Figure (PageIndex<38>): Portrait of Vel Saties, atrium of the François Tomb, Vulci (Villa Albani, Rome)

Although one wall was badly damaged, most of the figures are well-preserved and labeled with text. From this text we know that these figures include a mix of mythological characters (including Sisyphus, Eteocles and Polynices killing each other, and Ajax raping Cassandra) and historical figures, including the founder of the tomb, an Etruscan aristocrat named Vel Saties. This full-length portrait of Vel Saties wearing a toga picta has garnered acclaim as the first such portrait in western art.(^<[1]>) It is likely that the lowest quarter of the wall was obscured by stone benches, although not all of these benches have been preserved.

Scenes from mythology and history

The tablinum, or rear room of the tomb, also has benches at the bottom, a fresco representing a running meander at the top, and a scene featuring human figures in between. There are a few differences in the iconography that clearly separate the atrium and tablinum. First, the tablinum does not have a hunting scene below the meander second, the ceiling patterns are different and finally, the figural fresco is made up of two narrative scenes, each with labeled characters.

Figure (PageIndex<39>): Achilles sacrificing Trojan prisoners to the shade of Patroclus, tablinum of the François Tomb, Vulci (Villa Albani, Rome)

On the left-hand side of the tomb, there is a scene of Achilles sacrificing Trojan prisoners to the shade of Patroclus.

The right-hand side of the tomb shows a battle between two groups of Etruscans. It is this battle scene that has drawn the majority of historical attention. The figures are arranged into a series of dueling pairs on the long wall. Inscriptions identify the men on both sides as Etruscan, but only the figures who appear to be losing are identified with a specific city. This discrepancy has led scholars to believe that the winners are from Vulci. Because many of the dying men are only partially clothed, this scene has been interpreted as a nocturnal ambush: surprised in their sleep, the defeated figures were apparently not able to fully dress before the fighting started.

Figure (PageIndex<40>): Battle scene, tablinum of the François Tomb, Vulci (Villa Albani, Rome)

A link between text and image

Rounding the corner of the fresco is a scene derived from Rome&rsquos legendary history. Mastarna (perhaps an alternate name for Servius Tullius, the legendary sixth king of Rome) frees Caelius Vibenna, an Etruscan aristocrat who aided Rome&rsquos founder Romulus in his wars against Titus Tatius. Although these two men are portrayed nude (in the manner of mythological figures) there is some evidence that both were considered historical figures.

Figure (PageIndex<41>): Mastarna freeing Caelius Vibenna, tablinum of the François Tomb, Vulci (Villa Albani, Rome)

These paintings represent an important potential link between ancient visual and textual sources. The Roman emperor Claudius claimed in a speech that Mastarna was the Etruscan name of Rome&rsquos sixth king, Servius Tullius, who was a friend of Caelius Vibenna (ILS 212). This is very similar to what is portrayed in the frescoes in the François tomb, and so the tomb&rsquos iconography seems to provide independent confirmation of Claudius&rsquo account.

Many scholars interpret the tomb&rsquos iconography as being pro-Etruscan and anti-Roman. Since the Roman state made substantial territorial conquests in Etruria during the fourth century B.C.E., when the tomb was founded, the deployment of the iconography of Caelius Vibenna and Mastarna could have been a symbol of cultural pride among the Etruscans.

Unanswered questions

Despite widespread agreement about the fresco of Mastarna and Caelius Vibenna, questions remain about the meaning of many of the other frescoes in the François tomb.

Figure (PageIndex<42>): Camillus slaying Gaius Tarquinius, atrium of the Francois Tomb, Vulci (Villa Albani, Rome)

The atrium fresco depicts Camillus killing a figure identified as &ldquoGaius Tarquinius of Rome.&rdquo

While both Camillus and Tarquinius are figures from early Roman history, their presence in the painting is not clearly understood. The name Tarquinius may refer to either of two male Tarquin rulers (or Tarquinii) from early Roman history however, their first names were not Gaius, but Lucius, and neither of these men was killed by Camillus. Both Tarquinii lived around the time of Mastarna in the 6th century B.C.E., whereas Roman authors believed that Camillus lived about a century later, closer in time to the date of the tomb&rsquos construction. To further complicate things, according to Roman tradition, Camillus was famous for defeating Etruscans. His presence in the tomb and his killing of Tarquinius are thus both mysterious.

Scholarly opinion is also divided on the relationship between the Camillus/Tarquinius fresco and the other historical fresco. Many scholars see them as part of the same narrative others, however, argue that the two must be kept separate. This debate is unlikely to be resolved unless new evidence is discovered.

Mysteries remain

The François Tomb is rightly celebrated for its elaborate decor. Although we cannot fully understand the choices made by the tomb&rsquos patron, it seems likely that the frescoes were created to deliver a specific message. This message may have been political (pro-Etruscan/anti-Roman), religious (since most scenes focus on bloodshed), familial (portraying the family history of the owners), or ethical (illustrating moral qualities that were important to the owners). All of these interpretations have been suggested, and it is possible that all of them are correct&mdashthat is, that the owner of the tomb had all of these aspects in mind when choosing the iconography. It is the historical fresco, however, that has captured the most interest, as it seems to preserve rare information about Etruscan historical thought.

We may never know the answers to many of these questions, but the François Tomb remains a shining example of Etruscan fresco painting that offers us a glimpse into the tumultuous history of the ancient Mediterranean world.

(^<[1]>)See Lisa C. Pieraccini, &ldquoEtruscan Wall Painting: Insights, Innovations, and Legacy&rdquo in Sinclair Bell and Alexandra A. Carpino, A Companion to the Etruscans (John Wiley & Sons, 2016), p. 256.

Additional resources:

B. Andreae, &ldquoDie Tomba François. Anspruch und historische Wirklichkeit eines etruskischen Familiengrabes.&rdquo In B. Andreae, A. Hoffman, C. Weder-Lehman (eds.), Die Etrusker: Luxus für das Jenseits. (Munich: Hirmer, 2004), pp. 176-207.

L. Bonfante Warren,&ldquoRoman Triumphs and Etruscan Kings.&rdquo The Journal of Roman Studies 60 (1970), pp. 49-66.

F. Buranelli and S. Buranelli, La Tomba François di Vulci. (Rome: Quasar, 1987).

F. Coarelli, F. &ldquoLe pitture della tomba François a Vulci : una proposta di lettura.&rdquo Dialoghi di Archeologia 3 (1983), pp. 43-69.

T. J. Cornell, The Beginnings of Rome (London: Routledge, 1995), pp. 135-141.

M. Cristofani, &ldquoRicerche sulle pitture della tomba François di Vulci. I fregi decorativi,&rdquo Dialoghi di Archeologia 1 (1967), pp. 189-219.

N. T. de Grummond, Etruscan Myth, Sacred History, and Legend. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2006), pp. 175-180, 197-199.

Jean Gagé, &ldquoDe Tarquinies à Vulci : Les guerres entre Rome et Tarquinies au IVe siècle avant J.-C. et les fresques de la « Tombe François »&rdquo Mélanges d&rsquoarchéologie et d&rsquohistoire publié par l&rsquoEcole française de Rome 74 (1962), pp. 79-122.

Peter J. Holliday, &ldquoNarrative structures in the François tomb,&rdquo in Narrative and event in ancient art, (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 175-197.

A. Hus. Vulci Étrusque et Étrusco-Romaine. (Paris: Klincksieck, 1972).

Jaclyn Neel, Early Rome: Myth and Society (Wiley, 2017).

Jaclyn Neel, &ldquoThe Vibennae: Etruscan Heroes and Roman Historiography&rdquo Etruscan Studies 20.1:1-34.

A. Sgubini Moretti (ed), Eroi Etruschi e Miti Greci. (Rome: Soprintendenza per i beni archeologici dell&rsquoEtruria meridionale, 2004).

Tomb of the Reliefs

All signs point to a party: cushions, drinking equipment, and armor hung on the wall &hellip but a party in a tomb?

Figure (PageIndex<43>): Tomb of the Reliefs, late 4th or early 3rd century B.C.E., Necropolis of Banditaccia (Cerveteri), Italy (photo, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The banquet is over, the dining equipment is stowed, and the warriors sleep on in this Etruscan dining room, yet the evocative signs of a lively scene draw the viewer into the ancient world. These evocations of an Etruscan banquet&mdashfrom the cushions to the drinking equipment to the armor hung on pegs on the walls&mdashare situated firmly in the funereal sphere, one that is replete with reminders not only of life but also of death. In tomb interiors we find some of our most important and compelling evidence for an understanding of the first millennium B.C.E. world of the Etruscans.

Figure (PageIndex<44>): Entrance (dromos), Tomb of the Reliefs, late 4th-early 3rd century B.C.E., Necropolis of Banditaccia (Cerveteri), Italy (photo, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Tomb of the Reliefs (Italian: Tomba dei Rilievi) is a late fourth or early third century B.C.E. rock-cut tomb (hypogeum) located in the Banditaccia necropolis of the ancient Etruscan city-state of Caere (now Cerveteri) in Italy (a necropolis is a large, ancient cemetery). The tomb takes its name from a series of painted stucco reliefs that cover the walls and piers of the tomb chamber itself. Unlike some of its neighbors that are covered mounds of earth (tumulus-type tombs), the Tomb of the Reliefs is of the rock-cut type and was excavated at a considerable depth in the bedrock, approached by a steep dromos (entranceway). This elite tomb once accommodated several dozen burials and is located, likely not by accident, close to an important tumulus-type tomb from the earlier Orientalizing period.

Inside the tomb

The plan of the tomb is roughly quadrangular. The entire tomb and all of its features have been carved from the bedrock (a type of volcanic mudstone known as tufa). The central block of the room, supported by two piers, is flanked by a series of niches for burials that have been styled to resemble the dining couches (klinai) of the ancient world. Decorative pilasters with volute (scroll-shaped) capitals separate the niches one from the other (see image below).

The tomb&rsquos bas relief (low relief) decoration consists of carved bedrock features that have been stuccoed and painted. The decorative schema evokes the interior of an aristocratic house that is prepared to host a banquet or drinking party. The provisions for banqueters include cups and strainers hanging from pegs. The soldiers&rsquo armor&mdashshields, helmets, greaves (protective armor for the lower leg)&mdashhas been stowed by hanging it from pegs. The pilasters are also decorated, with the items depicted including a range of tools and implements as well as the depiction of a small carnivore, perhaps a weasel.

Figure (PageIndex<45>): Detail of central niche on rear wall, Tomb of the Reliefs, late 4th or early 3rd century B.C.E., Necropolis of Banditaccia (Cerveteri), Italy (photo, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Beneath the central niche of the rear wall we find an allusion to the afterlife. There, under the side table we find, in relief, the hellhound Cerberus and an anguiped (serpents for legs) demon&mdashperhaps the Etruscan god Charun who conducted the souls of the departed to the afterlife? This central niche, equipped with footstool, may have been intended for the male and female heads of the family.

The Matunas family is identified as the owner by way of an inscribed cippus (a small pillar). The inscription reads &ldquoVel Metunas, (son) of Laris, who this tomb built.&rdquo A locked strongbox included in the relief may be meant to represent the container for storing the records of the family&rsquos deeds (res gestae).

Video (PageIndex<5>): More information about this video and a related panoramic tour can be found here.


The Tomb of the Reliefs is unusual in the corpus of Etruscan tombs, both for its richness and for its decorative scheme. The Matunas family, among the elite of Caere, make a fairly strong statement, by means of funerary display, about their familial status and accomplishments, even at a time when the cultural autonomy of the Etruscans&mdashand of Caere itself&mdashhad already begun to wane. The funeral banquet remains an important and vibrant theme for Etruscan funerary art throughout the course of the Etruscan civilization. This convivial and festive rendering demonstrates to us that the funeral banquet not only sent the deceased off to the afterlife but also reinforced ties and status reminders among the community of the living.

Etruscan tombs at Cerveteri:

Additional resources:

Etruscan Tombs from the Toledo Museum of Art

H. Blanck and G. Proietti, La Tomba dei Rilievi di Cerveteri (Rome: De Luca, 1986).

O. J. Brendel, Etruscan Art. 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995)

M. Cristofani, &ldquoLe iscrizioni della tomba dei Rilievi di Cerveteri,&rdquo Studi etruschi 2 (1966), vol. 34, 221-238.

M. Cristofani, &ldquoI leoni funerari della tomba dei rilievi di Cerveteri,&rdquo Archeologia classica 20 (1968) 321-323.

S. Haynes, Etruscan Civilization: a Cultural History(Los Angeles, California: Getty Publications, 2000).

F. Prayon, Frühetruskische Grab- und Hausarchitektur(Heidelberg : F.H. Kerle, 1975).

S. Steingräber, Abundance of Life: Etruscan Wall Painting (Los Angeles, California: Getty Publications, 2006).

J. M. Turfa, ed. The Etruscan World (London: Routledge, 2013).

Chimera of Arezzo

A vicious mythic beast, the Chimera is a terrifying mix of animals&mdashthat even attacks itself.

Figure (PageIndex<46>): Chimera from Arezzo, c. 400 B.C.E., bronze, 129 cm in length, (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence)

The Chimera of Arezzo is one of the best known pieces of Etruscan sculpture to survive from antiquity. Discovered near the Porta San Lorentino of Arezzo, Italy (ancient Arretium) in 1553, the statue was added to the collection of Cosimo I de&rsquo Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany in the sixteenth century and is currently housed in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Florence.

Figure (PageIndex<47>): Chimera from Arezzo, c. 400 B.C.E., bronze, 129 cm in length, (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence)

When the statue was discovered along with a collection of small bronzes, it was cleaned by Cosimo I and the artist Benvenuto Cellini it was then displayed as part of the duke&rsquos collection in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Giorgio Vasari (16th century artist, writer, and historian), studied the statue and declared it a bona fide antiquity.

What is a chimera?

The Chimera was a legendary, fire-breathing monster of Greek myth that hailed from Lycia (southwestern Asia Minor). The offspring of Typhon and Echidna, the Chimera ravaged the lands of Lycia until Bellerophon, a hero from Corinth, mounted on the winged horse Pegasus was able to slay it (Hesiod Theogony 319-25). Typically the Chimera is a hybrid&mdashoften shown with elements from more than one animal incorporated into the whole most often these include a lion&rsquos head, with a goat rising from its back, and a snaky tail.

Figure (PageIndex<48>): Chimera from Arezzo, c. 400 B.C.E., bronze, 129 cm in length, (photo: E.M. Rosenbery © Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana-Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Firenze)

The Chimera of Arezzo presents a complex composition that seems conceived for viewing in the round. The contortions of the fire-breathing beast, obviously wounded in combat, evoke emotion and interest from the viewer. Its writhing body parts invite contemplation of the movement, pose, and musculature of the figure. While the tail was restored post-discovery, enough of the original composition confirms this dynamism. The lean body also emphasizes the tension in the arched back, the extended claws, and the roaring mouth set amidst the bristling mane.

Figure (PageIndex<49>): Detail of back, Chimera from Arezzo, c. 400 B.C.E., bronze, 129 cm in length, (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence)

The right foreleg (below) bears a dedicatory inscription in the Etruscan language. The inscription reads, &ldquotinścvil&rdquo meaning &ldquoOffering belonging to Tinia&rdquo (TLE 663 Bonfante and Bonfante 2002, no. 26 p. 147). This indicates that the statue was a votive object, offered as a gift to the sky god Tinia.

Figure (PageIndex<50>): Detail with inscription &ldquotinścvil&rdquo, Chimera from Arezzo, c. 400 B.C.E., bronze, 129 cm in length, (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence)


The Chimera of Arezzo is a masterwork of Etruscan bronze working, demonstrating not only a high level of technical proficiency on the part of the artist (or workshop) that produced it but also clearly showing a fine-tuned awareness of the themes of Greek mythology that circulated around the Mediterranean. A. Maggiani discusses the wider Italiote context in which the statue was likely produced&mdashpointing out iconographic comparisons from sites in Magna Graecia such as Metaponto and Kaulonia (Italiote refers to pre-Roman Greek speaking peoples of southern Italy, while Magna Graecia refer to the Greek colonies established in Southern Italy from the 8th century B.C.E. onward).

Figure (PageIndex<51>): Detail with lion&rsquos head, Chimera from Arezzo, c. 400 B.C.E., bronze, 129 cm in length, (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence)

These iconographic trends, indicative of increasing Attic (derived from the area around Athens, Greece) influence, suggests that the Chimera of Arrezo was produced by Italiote craftsmen who were influenced by the spread of Attic trends in art in the last years of the fifth century continuing through to the early fourth century B.C.E. The dedication of the statue as a votive offering to Tinia further reminds us of the wealth and sophistication of Etruscan elites who, in this case, could not only afford to commission the statue but could also afford to part with it in what may have been an ostentatious fashion.

Additional resources:

G. Bonfante & L. Bonfante, The Etruscan language: an introduction, revised edition (Manchester University Press, 2002).

L. Bonfante, &ldquoEtruscan Inscriptions and Etruscan Religion.&rdquo In The Religion of the Etruscans, edited by N.T. De Grummond and E. Simon, pp. 9&ndash26 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006).

W. L. Brown, The Etruscan Lion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960).

M. Cristofani, &ldquoPer una storia del collezionismo archeologico nella Toscana granducale. I. I grandi bronzi,&rdquo Prospettiva,1979, vol. 17, pp. 4&ndash15 .

M. Cristofani, I bronzi degli Etruschi(Novara: Istituto Geografico De Agostini, 1985).

M. Cristofani, &ldquoChimereide,&rdquo Prospettiva vol. 61 (1991), pp. 2-5.

A. M. Gáldy, &ldquoThe Chimera from Arezzo and Renaissance Etruscology,&rdquo in Common Ground: Archaeology, Art, Science, and Humanities. Proceedings of the XVIth International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Boston, August 23&ndash26, 2003, edited by C.C. Mattusch, A.A. Donahue, and A. Brauer, pp. 111&ndash13. (Oxford: Oxbow, 2006).

A. M. Gáldy, Cosimo I de&rsquoMedici as Collector: Antiquities and Archaeology in Sixteenth-Century Florence (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

M. Iozzo et al., The Chimaera of Arezzo (Florence: Edizioni Polistampa, 2009).

M. Pallottino, &ldquoVasari e la Chimera,&rdquo Prospettiva, vol. 8 (1977), pp. 4&ndash6.

R. Pecchioli, &ldquoIndagini radiografiche,&rdquo in La Chimera d&rsquoArezzo, edited by F. Nicosia and M. Diana, pp. 89&ndash93 (Florence: Il Torchio, 1992).

C. M. Stibbe, &ldquoBellerophon and the Chimaira on a Lakonian Cup by the Boreads Painter,&rdquo in Greek Vases in the J. Paul Getty Museum,vol. 5, edited by M. True, pp. 5&ndash12 (Occasional Papers on Antiquities, vol. 7) (Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1991).

J. M. Turfa, &ldquoVotive Offerings in Etruscan Religion,&rdquo In The Religion of the Etruscans, edited by N.T. De Grummond and E. Simon, pp. 90&ndash115 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006).

Beth Cohen, &ldquoChimera of Arezzo,&rdquo The American Journal of Archaeology, July 2010 (114.3).

&ldquoChimera in Bronzo,&rdquo from the Ministero per i beni Culturali e Ambientali Soprintendenza Archeologica della Toscana Sezione Didattica (in Italian)

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

Figure (PageIndex<52>): More Smarthistory images&hellip

Additional resources:

G. Bonfante & L. Bonfante, The Etruscan language: an introduction, revised edition (Manchester University Press, 2002).

L. Bonfante, &ldquoEtruscan Inscriptions and Etruscan Religion.&rdquo In The Religion of the Etruscans, edited by N.T. De Grummond and E. Simon, pp. 9&ndash26 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006).

W. L. Brown, The Etruscan Lion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960).

M. Cristofani, &ldquoPer una storia del collezionismo archeologico nella Toscana granducale. I. I grandi bronzi,&rdquo Prospettiva,1979, vol. 17, pp. 4&ndash15 .

M. Cristofani, I bronzi degli Etruschi(Novara: Istituto Geografico De Agostini, 1985).

M. Cristofani, &ldquoChimereide,&rdquo Prospettiva vol. 61 (1991), pp. 2-5.

A. M. Gáldy, &ldquoThe Chimera from Arezzo and Renaissance Etruscology,&rdquo in Common Ground: Archaeology, Art, Science, and Humanities. Proceedings of the XVIth International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Boston, August 23&ndash26, 2003, edited by C.C. Mattusch, A.A. Donahue, and A. Brauer, pp. 111&ndash13. (Oxford: Oxbow, 2006).

A. M. Gáldy, Cosimo I de&rsquoMedici as Collector: Antiquities and Archaeology in Sixteenth-Century Florence (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

M. Iozzo et al., The Chimaera of Arezzo (Florence: Edizioni Polistampa, 2009).

M. Pallottino, &ldquoVasari e la Chimera,&rdquo Prospettiva, vol. 8 (1977), pp. 4&ndash6.

R. Pecchioli, &ldquoIndagini radiografiche,&rdquo in La Chimera d&rsquoArezzo, edited by F. Nicosia and M. Diana, pp. 89&ndash93 (Florence: Il Torchio, 1992).

C. M. Stibbe, &ldquoBellerophon and the Chimaira on a Lakonian Cup by the Boreads Painter,&rdquo in Greek Vases in the J. Paul Getty Museum,vol. 5, edited by M. True, pp. 5&ndash12 (Occasional Papers on Antiquities, vol. 7) (Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1991).

J. M. Turfa, &ldquoVotive Offerings in Etruscan Religion,&rdquo In The Religion of the Etruscans, edited by N.T. De Grummond and E. Simon, pp. 90&ndash115 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006).

Beth Cohen, &ldquoChimera of Arezzo,&rdquo The American Journal of Archaeology, July 2010 (114.3).

&ldquoChimera in Bronzo,&rdquo from the Ministero per i beni Culturali e Ambientali Soprintendenza Archeologica della Toscana Sezione Didattica (in Italian)

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

Figure (PageIndex<53>): More Smarthistory images&hellip

Mars of Todi

Lightning struck this statue dedicated to the Etruscan god of war, marking it as a particularly sacred object.

Figure (PageIndex<54>): Mars of Todi, late 5th or early 4th century B.C.E., hollow-cast bronze, 141 cm high (Gregorian Etruscan Museum, Vatican Museums)

The religious sanctuaries of ancient Italy were busy and multi-faceted places, playing roles not only in religion and ritual, but also in commerce and connectivity. People visited sanctuaries to participate in ritual, connect with their community, and to commune with the gods. The religions of ancient Italy relied heavily on votive practices&mdashthat is the giving of gifts or offerings to the divinities that helped to affirm a pact or agreement between the worshipper and a god or goddess. Votives could be humble objects from everyday life, or they could be purpose-made prestige objects. In all cases, votives are particularly instructive in informing us about ritual practice in the ancient world.

The statue

The so-called Mars of Todi is an inscribed Etruscan bronze statue dating to the late fifth or early fourth century B.C.E. It was discovered in 1835 on the slopes of Mount Santo near Todi, Italy (ancient Tuder). The hollow-cast bronze statue is the product of an Etruscan workshop but was likely produced for the market in Umbria (a region in central Italy).

The statue measures 141 cm in height, making it nearly life-sized. The Etruscans were adept metalworkers and Orvieto (Etruscan Velzna, Roman Volsinii) was particularly known for the production of bronze statues. The Romans reportedly removed 2,000 bronzes from Volsinii when they captured it in 265 B.C.E. (Pliny, Natural History 34.33). It is possible that the Mars of Todi was originally produced there.

Figure (PageIndex<55>): Head (detail), Mars of Todi, end of the 5th century B.C.E., hollow-cast bronze, 141 cm high (Gregorian Etruscan Museum, Vatican Museums), photo: Nick Thompson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The warrior is clearly a prestige object, a worthy votive dedication. It is likely that the object was dedicated to Laran, the Etruscan god of war. Dressed in intricately worked plate armor, the figure takes a contrapposto stance and indicates that the Etruscan artist was aware of the formal elements of the Classical style of sculpture. These classicizing elements indicates that the artists of Etruria are not only aware of Mediterranean stylistic conventions but also that they are comfortable enough with these stylistic trends that they can in turn adapt and apply them to local tastes and demand. Likely attached elements&mdashincluding a patera (a libation bowl) held in the right hand and a spear in the left&mdashhave not survived, nor has the helmet that he wore atop his head.

The inscription

Figure (PageIndex<56>): Caption (detail), Mars of Todi, end of the 5th century B.C.E., hollow-cast bronze, 141 cm high (Gregorian Etruscan Museum, Vatican Museums)

The bronze statue bears an inscription in the Umbrian language that has been written using Etruscan characters. This dedication is inscribed on the skirt that is attached to the breastplate and reads &ldquoAhal Trutitis dunum dede&rdquo (&ldquoAhal Trutitis gave [this as a] gift&rdquo). The dedicant&mdashAhal Trutitis&mdashhas a name that is Celtic in origin, which lends this dedication of an Etruscan object in an Umbrian sanctuary a particularly cosmopolitan element.


The Mars of Todi is a rare object in that many prestige votives of its stature have not survived from antiquity. The careful burial of this object&mdashperhaps after it had been struck by lightning*&mdashaccounts for its survival. The composition represents the tradition of libations made by soldiers prior to battle, an opportunity for beseeching the gods for support and success in battle. The dedication of this object is also indicative of the dynamic human landscape of ancient Italy&mdashwithin that human landscape sanctuaries often served as nodal points where diverse cultures came into contact with one another. This votive statue, then, tells us a great deal not only about ritual practice and iconography, but also about those who frequented sanctuaries in ancient Italy.

*Note on lightning as sacred
In ancient Italic religion lightning was sacred, as it was connected to the chief sky god, called Iuppiter (Jupiter) by the Romans and Tinia by the Etruscans. Thus on occasions when lightning struck the Earth, the spot which&mdashor the object which&mdashthe lightning &ldquoselected&rdquo (fulgur conditum) would become even more sacred. Roman ritual doctrine considered these consecrated spots special and thus they were often marked in some way. The Puteal Libonis (also known as Puteal Scribonianum) in the Comitium of the Forum Romanum provides such an example after a spot in the Comitium had been struck by lightning, it was marked with a puteal (a marble wellhead) (Festus 333). The Romans considered these special shrines, which often had a circular templum (a sacred, inaugurated precinct), as bidentalia (from the Latin noun bidental, bidentalis &ldquoa place struck by lightning&rdquo) and it was forbidden to tread on them. In the case of the Mars of Todi, the statue was found carefully buried in a stone-lined cist, leading to the conclusion that the statue had been struck by lightning, which caused it to fall from its podium and that it was subsequently ritually buried. The ritual burial of votive objects is a common practice in ancient Mediterranean religions, but the treatment of these bidentalia was special in its own right.

Additional resources:

G. Bonfante and L. Bonfante, The Etruscan Language: An Introduction, revised edition (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), p. 26.

G. J. Bradley, Ancient Umbria: State, Culture, and Identity in Central Italy from the Iron Age to the Augustan Era: State, Culture, and Identity in Central Italy from the Iron Age to the Augustan Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). p. 92.

O. J. Brendel, Etruscan Art, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995) p. 317.

D. Strong and J.M.C. Toynbee, Roman Art(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976, 1988), pp. 32&ndash33.

F. Roncalli, Il Marte di Todi: bronzistica etrusca ed ispirazione classica (Rome: Tip. poliglotta Vaticana, 1973).

E. Simon, &ldquoGods in Harmony: The Etruscan Pantheon,&rdquo in The Religion of the Etruscans, ed. by N. T. De Grummond and E. Simon, pp. 45-65 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006).

J. M. Turfa, Divining the Etruscan World: the Brontoscopic Calendar and Religious Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

Figure (PageIndex<57>): More Smarthistory images&hellip

Aule Metele (Arringatore)

An Etruscan in Roman clothing, this figure is a masterwork&mdashmade as Etruscan culture was slipping away.

Figure (PageIndex<58>): Aule Metele (Arringatore), from Cortona, Italy, early 1st century B.C.E., bronze, 67 inches high (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence), (image: corneliagraco, CC BY 2.0)

The image, status, and stature of the magistrate in the course of performing the duties of his office commands respect&mdashand no pose is more riveting than that of the orator.

L&rsquoArringatore(&ldquoThe Orator&rdquo) is a hollow-cast bronze statue that was recovered from Lake Trasimeno in 1566. The statue is an important example of bronze sculpture in later first millennium B.C.E. Italy and indicates the gradual Romanization of Etruscan art.

The statue

The life-size statue depicts a draped adult male, standing with his right arm outstretched. The figure adopts a frontal pose with a slight contrapposto stance (contrapposto refers to the figure shifting his weight onto his right leg). Based on the inscription on the statue, the figure is identified as Aulus Metellus (or Aule Metele in Etruscan). He is clearly a magistrate and his posture seems to be that of the orator who is in the process of addressing the crowd. He wears a tunic over which is draped a toga&mdashthe formal attire of the magistrate. The toga is wrapped around the body, leaving the right arm free. On his feet are the high boots that were commonly worn by Roman senators. His expression and slightly opened mouth make him a compelling figure. The statue was originally erected by the community in honor of Aulus Metellus.

The inscription

Figure (PageIndex<59>): Inscription (detail), Aule Metele (Arringatore), from Cortona, Italy, early 1st century B.C.E., bronze, 67 inches high (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence) (image: corneliagraco, CC BY 2.0)

The lower hem of the short toga carries an Etruscan inscription: &ldquoauleśi meteliś ve[luś] vesial clenśi / cen flereś tece sanśl tenine / tu &thetaineś &chiisvlicś&rdquo which can be interpreted as reading, &ldquoTo (or from) Auli Meteli, the son of Vel and Vesi, Tenine (?) set up this statue as a votive offering to Sans, by deliberation of the people&rdquo (TLE 651 CIE 4196).


The statue of Aulus Metellus offers us a glimpse of the changing socio-political landscape of the Italian peninsula during the latter first millennium B.C.E.&mdasha period in which sweeping change brought on by the hegemonic fortunes of Rome and its booming population, signalled profound and lasting change for other Italic peoples, including the Etruscans. As Rome&rsquos territory expanded during the fifth through first centuries B.C.E., her neighbors were gradually absorbed into the sphere of Roman cultural, economic, and political influence. Some groups, of course, resisted in one way or another, while others gladly &ldquojoined up&rdquo through political and military treaties and through adopting a Roman lifestyle. This process of acculturation&ndashor Romanization, to use a term that is considered outmoded by some scholars&mdashmeans that cultural heterogeneity becomes less visible in the archaeological record, replaced instead by a more homogeneous cultural model. These were the fortunes of the Etruscans&mdashas the autonomy of the various Etruscan states eroded, the Etruscans themselves elected to adopt the trappings of a Roman culture that was, in turn, indicative of wider, pan-Mediterranean dynamics. Etruscan art, politics, and even language gradually slipped away.

Thus L&rsquoArringatore is one of our latest surviving examples of a sculptural masterwork that still demonstrates the traits of an Etruscan workshop, all the while packaged for an increasingly Roman world. The statue clearly wears the short toga exigua (a kind of narrow toga) and senatorial boots that come from the Roman sphere. He is posed as an orator&mdashhighlighting his political career as both Etruscan and Roman aristocrats did. His haircut is in keeping with those of Roman aristocrats and his face may betray some evidence of the verism (truthfulness) popular among Roman elites of the late Republic. The statue still carries an inscription in Etruscan, though, and the working of the bronze is in keeping with the tendencies of Etruscan craftsmanship. Surely the historical Aulus Metellus witnessed a world that was changing rapidly and this statue that carries his inscribed name still bears silent witness to the patterns and dynamics of socio-cultural change in the Roman Mediterranean.

Additional resources:

L. Bonfante, Etruscan Dress (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975).

G. Bonfante and L. Bonfante, The Etruscan Language: An Introduction, revised Edition (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002). p. 183 no. 66.

O. J. Brendel, Etruscan Art, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

A. Corbeill, &ldquoThe Republican Body,&rdquo in A Companion to the Roman Republic, edited by N. Rosenstein and R. Morstein-Marx, 439-456. (Malden MA: Blackwell, 2006).

T. Dohrn, Der Arringatore: Bronzestatue im Museo archeologico von Florenz (Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1968).

S. Haynes, Etruscan Civilization: a Cultural History (Los Angeles, California: Getty Publications, 2000).

J. M. Turfa, ed., The Etruscan World (London: Routledge, 2013).

Etruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri and Tarquinia (from UNESCO/NHK)

Doors to the afterlife, Etruscan tombs were happily decorated. But as war increased, that began to change.

Video (PageIndex<6>): Video from UNESCO / Nippon Hoso Kyokai

These two large Etruscan cemeteries reflect different types of burial practices from the 9th to the 1st century BC, and bear witness to the achievements of Etruscan culture. Which over nine centuries developed the earliest urban civilization in the northern Mediterranean. Some of the tombs are monumental, cut in rock and topped by impressive tumuli (burial mounds). Many feature carvings on their walls, others have wall paintings of outstanding quality. The necropolis near Cerveteri, known as Banditaccia, contains thousands of tombs organized in a city-like plan, with streets, small squares and neighbourhoods. The site contains very different types of tombs: trenches cut in rock tumuli and some, also carved in rock, in the shape of huts or houses with a wealth of structural details. These provide the only surviving evidence of Etruscan residential architecture. The necropolis of Tarquinia, also known as Monterozzi, contains 6,000 graves cut in the rock. It is famous for its 200 painted tombs, the earliest of which date from the 7th century BC.

Ceramics, Metalwork, Sculpture.


Etruscan pottery terracotta overcoat technique was widely used in sculpture, in the production of masks and decoration of sarcophagi. The most splendid pottery recovered in the necropolis of Etruria were essentially imported from the cities of Greece and the Greece Magna, forming part of the network of exchanges and business between Etruscans and Greeks, but we find that along with these imported works were other local production that mimicked the first, about all those that were carried out in the attic and Corinthian style, which had a price more affordable and economical that the imported. The fact about these works less price did not indicate anything were of lesser quality since it is difficult to distinguish between the imported from the local.

Some ceramic Greek teachers (as Demerito di Corinto) then opened workshops specialized in the major cities of Etruria, disseminating their work systems: they taught how to debug and waterproof clay, also introduced the use of winch, introduced new forms of decoration painted with colors made on mineral bases as well of the popular Greek style ceramic realization. The geometric style is stylized, and goes from being of naturalistic character to offering inspirations based on episodes from mythology.

The most prominent Etruscan ceramic is performed in the technique of Bucchero (derived from the Spanish word Bucaro) which is a ceramic made using a much more refined clay and whose termination is much more polished since they use a rich thin grain of iron. Its texture was fragile and porous, black or dark grey becoming bright and beautiful when they were polished. This type of pottery was produced from the middle of the 7th century BC.

Baking this ceramic in a smoked atmosphere devoid of oxygen to reduced the porosity of the surface of the object to be impregnated of carbon particles. This type of technique was formerly known by other cultures before them, but the Etruscans raise it to a degree of perfection by using refined clay resulting in even more uniform black. This ceramic Bucchero in an initial archaic period of its realization was a bit loaded and tended to be profusely decorated and at the V century B.C the production of these type of ceramic stopped.

Approximately in the year 550 BC black-figure Corinthians pottery was the one that kept dominating the market preference of Etruria. It Is known that master potters from Ionia not only dominated the Etruscan market, but even went on to productions in the same Etruria. The ceramic Caeretan hydrae were extremely important and were made in Cerveteri. Master Athenian potters even export to Etruria a special production line when black-figure pottery and also the red figures began to gain in popularity and demand therefore to dominate the market.

Meanwhile the Etruscan ceramists produced pottery black figures but with great Greek influence in its forms and designs. They later also produced red-figure pottery around the V century BC, but rather doing them following the so-called attic style that was performed in the city of Vulci and Civita Castellany. Glazed Black ceramic came to also have popularity as well as that it produced with silver colors that imitated the metal very sophisticated these one that were a success in business and were of great demand during the Hellenistic period, producing them in the central region of Etruria.


The Etruscans did not used marble despite its Greek influence in their sculptural productions, however the terracotta and local stones were widely used above all for the production of bas-reliefs, funeral and religious sculptures to decorate the temples. Sculptures were also produced for the decoration of the houses of the wealthy people who could afford them.

Bronze sculptures

However when they were made in bronze these sculptures were only for the decoration of religious and funerary theme. The topics of everyday life, or profane nature according to the evidence preserved until now do not show that they have been prepared using the bronze.

– The highlight of the Etruscan sculpturein bronze was the “Capitoline wolf” made around the 5th century B.C presumably in the first half of this century and whose known image is shown in the article devoted to the history and Etruscan culture on this site.

– The chimera of Arezzo (380 – 360) BC the Greek classical models of Praxiteles and Scopas-related.

– The Marte of Tody. This sculpture shows already elements of Greek classical models of schools of Phidias and Policleto.

Sculptures in terracotta (Coroplastia)

The terracotta was used for elements of architectural production such as

  • Plates
  • Antefixa (an ornamental edging on the eaves of an ancient building with a tiled roof that hides the joints of the roof tiles)
  • Acroterion (an architectural ornament placed on a flat base called the acroter or plinth). Stand out the productions in the city of Caere. The most important example is the sarcophagus of the spouses made in the period around 530-520 BC.

Sculptures of religious and mythological subjects were produced in the city of Veii. As an important example of those productions is The Apollo sculpture around the VI century B.C and is a representation of God’s natural size. Other Etruscan sculptures discovered at the same place of worship in Veii are made with the technique of modeling and archaic representation elements from the influence of Greece and were intended to decorate the top of the temple. Stands out the name of Vulca (Etruscan sculptor from this region of Veii) to who is attributed the statue of Jupiter and Hercules.

The reliefs found mainly associated with funerary art (Since have not been reached enough samples of decorative reliefs made with different purpose to evaluate them), are composed of funeral steles, cippi and sarcophagi as well as crematories urns and reliefs on the walls. They tell about the life of the deceased and thank to this information we have been able to obtain valuable data related to the Etruscan culture.

Jewelry and metal work of the Etruscan Art.

Stand out in the preparation of refined and original gold and silver artifacts such as pins, bracelets, rings, necklaces, jewelry for personal adornment, house goods decoration, daggers, shields, swords and pectoral amongst other many items thanks to the metallurgical development reached by several Etruscan cities.

In a first period the archaistic influence from the techniques of master Jewelers of Greece with strong Orientalizante influence stands out in the 7th and 6th BC.

The Etruscan developed wonderful pieces using metal with techniques such as the grain, watermark and embossment. By evidence found in the city of Vetulonia of small unfinished blocks in ivory it is known that there was a local production. Over time the local craftsmen progressively adapted their work to the specific characteristics and taste of the Etruscan Art. A little more freedom in forms were placed but making sure nevertheless that the beauty and perfection of the art pieces remains.

They worked silver and other metals producing various with strong Oriental influence. Some objects as for example metal vessels made in order to contain wine were reproduced in bronze, as well as other various objects including hand mirrors depicting a few of them mythological scenes as well as scenes of the everyday life. They had in many cases inscriptions with short messages, by this one it can be deducted that the main Etruscan women clients of these mirrors could read, at least the aristocratic woman’s who could afforded.

Etruscan objects for decorative use.

Beautiful objects made of ivory and amber were primarily made for jewelry and other body ornaments like Combs. Some small vessels to contain perfumes and ointments were found. Semiprecious stones cut in required forms to complement the decoration of rings, necklaces and earrings were made with expertise and attention to detail. It still amazes the ability of these master craftsmen who with tools today for us rudimentary, managed objects of so much beauty.

It is true Yes, that the Etruscans had a strong Greek influence in their works of art that they imitated them because they appreciate the perfection of their work and skills which is perfectly related with the tastes and characteristics of their own culture, but from there to say as others have said that they were mere imitators without intentions of creating their own style It really is an injustice to affirm a testimony like that without even have all the elements because many have been lost.

Deny that the Etruscan artwould have its own identity by the mere fact they used Greek skills and techniques It is going too far in the waters of ignorance and give too little credit to a culture that it is now that it is beginning to know its history and legacy a little better. The Greek techniques by the way were more than tested to work perfectly fine related to the taste of that period in history and also had great demand thanks to the perfection and beauty with which they were created so why the Etruscan should not imitated them is they fix perfectly for their purpose? Is not easy to take some other culture techniques and style to make them your own but they overcome the challenge nevertheless with success.

Etruscan Writing and Language

Around 700 BCE, borrowing Greek letters, the Etruscans wrote down their own language. We are left with many myths because Etruscan literature didn’t survive through Roman conquest and medieval upheavals. What we have is the limited vocabulary of inscriptions inside tombs and on art objects. They provide evidence of an advanced culture that included all aspects of civic, religious, economic and social life. And because the writings of Greeks and Romans tell us very little about Etruscan history, we must shift for clues in the vast remains of Etruscan art.


Etruria was enclosed by the rivers Arno and Tiber and by the lower slopes of the Apennines, but differed considerably in the north and south. In the north were fertile alluvial valleys, plains and rolling hills of limestone and sandstone, where such cities as Clusium, Cortona, Perusia and Faesulae grew up and lived on through to modern times thanks to the attractiveness of their sites. Southern Etruria, on the other hand, where the earliest Etruscan cities developed, was a volcanic zone, whose tufa rock had weathered into peaks and plateaux, separated by deep valleys and gullies, while much of the wild landscape was covered by forest and macchia here cities such as Tarquinii, Vulci, Caere and Veii are found on hills which rise where rivers or streams meet to offer protective arms. Though the Villanovans had begun to penetrate into this formidable barrier, emergent Etruscan engineering skills and the organization of labour promoted further land-reclamation, drainage, forestry and road-building. But even so, groups of settlers found themselves cut off from each other by physical barriers which hindered communications. So, like the early Greek city-states, they found intercommunication and therefore political co-operation difficult. Ancient writers might speak of an Etruscan nation, but in fact it was an aggregation of largely independent city-states. The basis of life was naturally agriculture, supplemented by hunting and fishing, but the copper and iron of the country were quickly exploited. Mineral wealth also provided building stone for cities as well as raw materials for export in exchange for foreign goods at the same time the land was sufficiently fertile to support a large population. Only technical and administrative skills were needed to produce a rich civilization.

The Etruscans laid out their cities in accordance with religious practices prescribed in ritual books each city must be enclosed within a sacred boundary (pomerium) in order to ward off unseen dangers from outside. Temples had to be correctly planned and orientated, and this may have led to some symmetry in the layout of other public buildings, but the rough and hilly nature of many sites must have precluded the exact use of a careful grid system such as the Etruscans used later when founding cities on more level ground, as at Marzabotto near Bologna c. 500 BC (p. 32). This desire for symmetry may have influenced the later grid system, based on the axial crossing of two main streets (the cardo and decumanus) which the Romans used in their camps and colonies, although the Etruscan practice was rather closer to the system of alternating wider and narrower divisions which many Greek cities in the west used from c. 500 BC. For long years most of the Etruscan cities relied on the strength of their natural position, but when from c. 400BC the power of Rome on their southern horizon began to seem threatening, they built walls of dressed stones. An Etruscan temple, squarer than Greek ones, had a wide frontage the front half had a colonnaded portico, while the back comprised either three shrines (cellae) for three deities or one cella with two flanking wings. The main framework, which rested on stone foundations, was made of wood covered with gay multi-coloured terracotta ornamentation. Small private houses were usually rectangular, of mud-brick, laced with timber, and built on stone or pebble foundations larger houses had upper storeys, with flat or gabled roofs. The mansions (domus) of the rich aristocracy were in internal appearance like some of the elegantly decorated stone chamber-tombs and were the predecessors of the atrium (central courtyard) type of house which the Romans later used. 29 These large tombs were laid out in rows, with streets running between them, forming &lsquocities of the dead&rsquo (necropoleis) there are examples at Caere and Orvieto. A few cities, however, in northern and inland Etruria retained the practice of cremation. The contents of the larger tombs, themselves often shaped like houses, reveal the luxury and artistic tastes of the Etruscan nobles. Some of the pottery in these tombs was nativebucchero ware (a black polished clay, sometimes brilliant and elegant), but they also contained vast quantities of imported Greek vases, of every type from &lsquogeometric&rsquo to Attic, together with local copies: one tomb alone in Caere contained 150 excellent early Greek vases, and large numbers found at Vulci from the early nineteenth century onwards have enriched the museums of Europe. The metal work of bronze and gold was mostly of native workmanship, but of high quality. Bronze toilet-cases and mirrors with incised decorations show strong Greek influence, but the exquisite gold filigree work was less dependent on foreign models. This jewellery and metal-work was widely exported, even to Celtic lands. Two larger bronze masterpieces survive in the Capitoline wolf in Rome and the Chimera of Arezzo. Sculpture in stone was limited by the quality of the local stone (the marble quarries of Luni were not exploited until Roman times), but the Etruscans excelled in sculptured terracotta, which was brightly painted and widely used to decorate the wooden superstructure of temples and even for life-size statues, of which the Apollo of Veii survives as the work of a master. The gaily coloured wall-paintings in the tombs, especially those at Tarquinii, show great joie de vivre, but also some grim figures of demons in the underworld. Scenes of banqueting, dancing and music, horse-racing, athletics, wrestling, hunting and fishing, all throw a vivid light on Etruscan life, as well as reflecting Greek painting of the archaic school, of which nothing survives in Greece itself. However, here, as in the rest of Etruscan art, the main inspiration is Greek and oriental, but infused with an individual character all its own. 30

Of the Etruscans Livy wrote: &lsquono people was ever more devoted to religious observances&rsquo. They believed that their religion had been revealed to them in early days by seers. This teaching, the Etrusca disciplina, was enshrined in a number of books of ritual, and it prescribed in minute detail how the will of the gods was to be ascertained and followed: life was dominated by fate, and the Etruscans had only ten saecula of existence granted to them. Libri fulgurales interpreted the significance of thunder and lightning, while libri haruspicini instructed professional haruspices in the art of divination based on the inspection of the livers of sacrificed animals (hepatoscopy): a model bronze liver survives which is divided into forty-four areas, marked with the names of gods and orientated to the Etruscan heaven, showing the place occupied by each deity. The Romans later often appealed to Etruscan haruspices to interpret omens which they themselves failed to understand. Other books dealt with the founding of cities, consecrating temples, matters concerning war and peace, and most aspects of public and private life. The names, though not always the precise functions, of many Etruscan deities are known, and they were soon assimilated to Greek deities: thus Tin (Zeus/Jupiter), Uni (Hera/Juno), Menvra (Athene/Minerva), Fufluns (Dionysus/Bacchus), Sethlans (Hephaestus). Etruscan religion, at least in its later phases, became gloomy and cruel, unlike most Greek and Italic cults: tomb-paintings depict the torments of the departed inflicted by demons in the underworld. To appease these demons the Etruscans appear to have offered human sacrifices. The Romans were much influenced by many aspects of Etruscan religion their gladiatorial contests probably derived from the Etruscan practice of dispatching their victims by making them kill each other in duels. 31

The Etruscan language, which was non-Indo-European, bequeathed a few words to Latin, but in the main had remarkably little influence on it. However, both Etruscans and Romans took their alphabets from the Phoenicians via the Greeks, and if the Romans did not derive their version direct from Cumae, then the Etruscans must have acted as intermediaries. Etruscan survives in a large number of inscriptions, over 10,000 altogether, but nearly all are very short and usually late (third century BC or after). Most are epitaphs, giving the names of the deceased and of his father and mother, together with his age and any magistracy he held. Three longer inscriptions dealing with religious or legal matters survive, and two religious dedications, with a third in Punic, have recently been found at Pyrgi, the port of Caere. The language still defies complete and detailed decipherment, but the general meaning of most inscriptions can be ascertained, not least by the so-called bilingual method, which for instance, finds parallels in the religious and legal formulae of the Etruscans and those of the Latins and Umbrians which can be read with accuracy. 32

The Etruscans had a considerable body of religious literature, but the extent of their secular literature is uncertain since whatever existed has all perished. However, even as late as the early Roman Empire much material about the Etruscans still survived, some at least almost certainly in Etruscan, sufficient in fact to enable the emperor Claudius to write twenty books of Etruscan history, Tyrrhenika some of this material presumably came direct from Etruscan historical sources. Varro actually refers to Tuscae Historiae.Further, painted scenes in a tomb at Vulci depict historical episodes showing Etruscan warriors from different cities in combat with Roman warriors, among them Mastarna, who according to Etruscan sources was a king at Rome (p. 48) these scenes presuppose a historical tradition, since the painting was done c. 340&ndash310 BC, some two hundred years after the episodes depicted. A lively interest in local history is also shown by a number of elogia, written in Latin and set up in Tarquinii: one celebrates Velthur Spurinna, who was praetor twice during one magistracy he kept his army at home, in the other he led it across the sea to Sicily. These inscriptions were put up in the first century of the Roman Empire, which indicates the long survival of family traditions either in written histories, national or local, or less probably in oral or epigraphic sources. Thus quite a considerable body of Etruscan history seems to have existed, but unfortunately we can only speculate about its detailed nature and the ways in which the Etruscans wrote history. One other aspect, however, is important: a common literature provides a powerful element in the formation of any nation (the possession of the Homeric poems created a strong sentimental link between the scattered communities of early Greeks). Since it is generally agreed that Etruscan culture was not the product of a single racially pure ethnic unit, the possession of a religious and historical literature must have been a potent factor in creating an Etruscan &lsquonation&rsquo. 33

In early days each Etruscan city was ruled by a king (lucumo), who was surrounded with great pomp. He wore a robe of purple and a golden crown, sat on an ivory seat, and was escorted by servants who carried an axe in a bundle of rods (fasces), symbols of his power to execute or scourge. Many of these trappings of office were later adopted by Roman Republican magistrates after Etruscan kings had occupied the throne at Rome. During the sixth and fifth centuries nobles began to challenge the power of the kings, some of whom tried to bolster up their waning authority by reorganizing the city&rsquos political institutions in order to give the middle class more military and political influence to counterbalance the nobility, as occurred in Rome (see p. 50). However, gradually the kings were overthrown, and although thereafter some military adventurers may have gone on the warpath in an attempt to gain personal ascendancy, they were soon reduced to the level of their fellow nobles, and from then on the cities were administered by local aristocracies, who held such magistracies as those of zilath, maru or purthne, offices which appear normally to have been annual but whose detailed functions escape us. 34

The chief of these autonomous city-states formed a League of Twelve Cities and annually sent representatives to celebrate common cult and games at a federal sanctuary, Fanum Voltumnae near Volsinii, Voltumna being the chief god. The strength of these federal ties varied: the cities clearly developed some feelings for national unity and did on occasion act as a League, but local loyalties often proved stronger. Thus the Etruscans failed to establish an integrated political structure, inspired by unity of purpose, and this failure was later to prove fatal to them when they came into conflict with Rome, which in contrast had built up a strong confederacy. 35

The Greek and Roman sources, which are seldom favourable to the Etruscans and are often hostile and slanderous, give a general impression that Etruscan society was sharply divided between a powerful and rich aristocracy and an immense body of clients, serfs and slaves, but such a gap may have been lessened in the sixth century when the Etruscans adopted the Greek military formation of a closely-knit battle-line of heavily armed infantry (hoplites). The citizen body was formed by a gentilitian system into clans or families, with strong feeling for the family and the place of the mother, although older views of Etruscan society as matriarchal have been abandoned. Little unfortunately is known in detail about the status or conditions of the serfs and slaves who worked the land for their overlords. 36


It’s the more public face of Etruscan women that seems to have shocked Greek writers like Theopompus of Chios the most. In fact, it seems that Greek and Roman women led much more private lives. They tended to be confined to the home and to women’s work. Even elite women did not have particularly public roles. In Greece and Rome, flaunting female beauty in public was not readily acceptable.

Theompompus of Chios was scandalized by what he described as the depraved behavior of Etruscan women, but I wonder if it wasn’t so much that they took care of their bodies that was so remarkable, but that they were confident and very visible in public roles. Based on the copious amounts of jewelry and cosmetics containers discovered in the tombs of high-ranking Etruscan women, we can also assume that Etruscan women took pride in adorning themselves.

From Etruscan inscriptions, we learn that Etruscan women could inherit property and even retained their own surnames. This is different from Greece and Rome, where women took their husband’s name or adopted a feminized form of their husband’s name.

Etruscan women may also have been literate, if we believe that they could have read the vast numbers of objects with inscriptions that were used in a feminine context, like bronze mirrors, jars for perfume and oils, and containers for accessories and cosmetics. Perhaps they also wrote on the ceramic tablets that were buried along with them.

Perfume jar or balsamarium late 3 early 2 c BCE Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Etruscan Art (c.700-90 BCE): Summary

Chimera of Arezzo (c.400 BCE)
Etruscan bronze statue,
Archaeological Museum, Florence.
A beautiful piece of precious
metalwork from the late Etruscan era.

The Etruscans were a people who lived in Etruria in Italy during the Bronze and Iron Ages. Etruscan civilization and culture reached its peak during the sixth century BCE when their city-states controlled central Italy. Etruscan arts were strongly influenced by their trading relationship with Greece, although (like the Egyptians but unlike the Greeks) they believed in an after-life. This led to the employment of many Etruscan painters and sculptors by the nobility who commissioned tomb paintings (eg. "Tomb of the Leopards" c.480 BCE) and sometimes an ornate sarcophagus (eg. "Sarcophagus dei Sposi" c.550 BCE) to celebrate their passage into the after-life.

For definitions, meanings and
explanations of different arts,
see Types of Art.

For the chronology of Prehistoric art
including dates and events, please
see: Prehistoric Art Timeline.
For a guide to later works, please
see: History of Art Timeline.

Etruscans were also noted for their figurative sculpture made from stone, terracotta, such as the "Apollo of Velo" (c.500 BCE), as well as bronze sculpture like the "Capitoline Wolf" (c.500 BCE), "Chariot" (c.550-525 BCE) and the "Chimera of Arezzo" (c.450 BCE).

For rich Etruscans, art became a feature of every day life. Reconstruction of a seventh century Etruscan villa, in Murlo, revealed large painted terracotta panels adorning the entrances, as well as a number of fresco wall-paintings. Etruscan paintings and murals often convey a clear sense of joi de vivre, in the form of dancing couples or other human figures looking strong and healthy and full of life. In this sense, Etruscan art captured human emotion much better than the more stylized Greek art.

Etruria was also known for its goldsmiths: their artistry in gold being highly prized in Italy and Greece during the first millennium BCE. Examples include the significant cache of gold jewellery in the Regolini Galassi tomb, Cerveteri, which was unearthed in the nineteenth-century.

Etruscan civilization was a strong influence on other cultural developments throughout Antiquity, notably on early Celtic culture, such as the Hallstatt style and La Tene Style of Celtic art.

Sadly, from 396 BCE onwards, the Etruscan city states were overcome by Rome and absorbed into the Roman Empire. In the process, many Etruscan paintings and sculptures were destroyed and valuable bronzes melted down to make bronze coins, a common occurrence in the history of art of the time. And local art was subsumed into Roman art. As a result, the Etruscan artistic legacy is comparatively small. Collections can be seen at the National Etruscan Museum and the National Archaeological Museum of Florence, as well as the Getty Museum Los Angeles, founded by the art collector J Paul Getty (1892-1976).

Historical Guide to Etruscan Culture

The Etruscans inhabited the region of Italy bounded to the north by the valley of the Arno, to the east and south by the Tiber, and on the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea. In Antiquity it was called Etruria and contained great forests and rich potential for agriculture and mining. The ethnic and linguistic affinities of the Etruscans are not clear. According to a tradition well known in Antiquity they migrated from western Asia Minor around the 12th century BCE. To date no firm archaeological evidence supports this story but Etruscan is similar to a dialect once spoken on the Aegean island of Lemnos. Both languages may be survivals of an ancient Mediterranean tongue, or the Etruscans may have brought their language to Italy at an early date.

Villanovan Culture: Forerunner of Etruscan Civilization

Archaeologists call the Iron Age culture of ancient Etruria "Villanovan", reserving the name "Etruscan" for the period after c.700 BCE. This nomenclature stresses a theory, still upheld by some scholars, that the Etruscans only arrived in Italy at this time. But a strong continuity links the 8th and 7th centuries in the region and the Villanovan culture is now generally regarded as the true precursor of Etruscan civilization, though a profound change did occur in Etruria during this time.

Phoenician and Greek merchants and colonists became active in the western Mediterranean in the Geometric period and had made contact with Villanovan villagers by c.800 BCE. Thereafter the Villanovans and their successors, the Etruscans, were gradually drawn into the mainstream of Mediterranean culture. The Greeks founded their first colony in Italy on the island of Ischia before 750 BCE, and by 600 BCE a chain of Greek colonies ran along the shore of southern Italy from Naples to Taranto and round the eastern coasts of Sicily. The Phoenicians held the western tip of the island, opposite Carthage in Africa, and had colonies on Sardinia.

Greek and Roman authors mention some early events in central Italy but the Etruscans only emerge into history during the 6th century BCE. By then, the political system of city-states, with a social and religious structure familiar in later centuries, had crystallized. Etruscan kings ruled Rome the Etruscans had established colonies in Campania, the lower Po Valley, and Corsica. It was the period of their greatest power, but during the late 6th and early 5th centuries they were expelled from Rome and defeated at sea and on land by their Greek neighbours.

During the 5th and 4th centuries BCE Greek fleets occasionally plundered Etruscan coastal sites. To the south of Etruria the young Roman Republic was growing in strength, while to the north the Gauls had settled in the Po Valley and periodically raided south of the Apennines. Surrounded by these dangers, the Etruscan city-states failed to unite effectively. Veii and other cities fought intermittent but fierce wars with Rome and by 280 BCE they were probably all vassal-allies of the Roman Republic.

Afterwards, the Etruscans continued to enjoy some local self-government but gradually they were assimilated into the Roman world. In 89 BCE they were granted Roman citizenship. By the end of the 1st century BCE their language was obsolete and their culture had merged with that of Imperial Rome.

Traditionally 12 in number, the Etruscan city-states were autonomous. They formed a loose confederation, united by their common language and religion (always a profound influence in Etruria) but often following their own interests. In early times the cities were ruled by kings but by the 5th century BCE power had passed to the wealthy and exclusive class of nobles. This political and social structure had a deep effect upon the development of art in Etruria and upon the type of surviving evidence. The individuality of the city-states generated a fascinating divergence of local art forms. The nobles were gifted patrons of the arts and custom dictated that men and women of great families should be placed in fine tombs, surrounded by prized possessions, some of which have come down to us.

Role of the Tomb and the Afterlife in Etruscan Art

One of the most important characteristics of this civilisation was the leading part played by religious doubt and the concern with the after-life: Their gods were of a mysterious and cryptic nature, and men had a profound dread of the fate awaiting them after death. It would seem that the idea of death was ever present to the Etruscan mind. In this context it is understandable that their art was primarily an art of the tomb. A kind of magic survival had to be secured for the dead in their final resting-place and then, according to later belief, in the shadowy world of Hades. This funerary cult was observed with the minutest attention to detail, and Etruscan art itself seems to have had no other end in view. (See also: Aegean Art (2600-1100 BCE) notably Minoan and Mycenean Art and their tomb culture.)

The portrait immortalised the dead man's features and so wrested him from the powers of darkness. Here we have the reason for the creation and continuing popularity of the Tuscan portrait out of which, in its turn, the Roman portrait was to emerge. On a burial urn from Chiusi we can see that in the earlier period a faithful copy of the dead man's face, in the form of a bronze mask, was affixed to the vessel. Later, the head was carved and took the place of the urn's lid. Eventually this heterogenous creation gave way to a real statue. Similarly, the frescoes which covered the damp walls of the Tuscan hypogea (subterranean burial chambers) are important as religious symbols. They depict the funeral feasts they also portray the occupations and pleasures of his earthly life, and most of all they give concrete shape to his life in the next world. This clears up the apparent contradiction of a sepulchral art infused with an ardent and vigorous feeling. of life. To the mystic souls of the Etruscans the life of this world merely foreshadowed the more significant and infinitely more permanent destiny awaiting them after death. Consequently they paid less attention to the adornment of their towns than to their tombs which were built of solid stone or hollowed out of the same material - dwelling places intended to defy the onslaught of time. In the necropolises at Tarquinia and Cerveteri, virtual cities of the dead, the setting and very rhythm of Etruscan life is made real for us in an astonishing way.

The Villanovans were capable craftsmen, decorating their pottery and bronzes with geometric designs and occasionally with primitive representational scenes. During the 8th century BCE they began to copy goods obtained from Phoenician and Greek merchants, but traditional Italic forms remained dominant until c.700 BCE.

In the next 100 years the Etruscans achieved a new prosperity, based upon the export of metal ore. Since Greek art was under the influence of the high cultures of the eastern Mediterranean, Greek goods in the Orientalizing style reached Etruria together with exotic objects from Asia Minor, the Phoenician cities, Cyprus, and Egypt. These imports were imitated in Etruria, the craftsmen excelling in the production of decorative objects in the Orientalizing style (c.700-600 BCE) for their princely patrons.

Greek inspiration prevailed in Etruria during the period of the Archaic style (c.600-475 BCE) Corinthian, Ionian, and Attic styles in turn dominated the taste of the Etruscan city-states, where local artistic styles were now very individual. Town-planning was introduced, monumental architecture and large-scale sculpture and painting became firmly established as major art forms. The exuberance of the Archaic style reflects the self-confidence felt by the Etruscans, now at the height of their power.

As the Greeks emerged victorious from the Persian War, the Classical style appeared in Greece. By this time, Etruscan civilization had already begun to decline there was a recession of trade with Greece and the Etruscans were slow to accept the Classical style (c.475-300 BCE). Archaic forms survived and Etruscan artists were reserved in adopting the severe, idealizing style of Greek early Classical art. The Etruscans responded more fully to the less austere manner of the late Classical style and there was a sporadic revival in Etruria during the 4th century BCE.

After the death of Alexander (323 BCE) the Greek world expanded around the eastern Mediterranean and developed the elegant Hellenistic style (c300-1st century BCE), which strove to express emotion and emphasized dramatic moment. Rome became the capital of the Mediterranean world and increasingly contributed to Hellenistic culture. The Etruscans, no longer politically independent, adopted the style but maintained some regional characteristics.

Throughout the seven centuries of their individual artistic expression the Etruscans were dependent upon foreign inspiration, principally that of the Greeks. Thus the major styles of Etruria are called by the same names as those of Greece. But whereas the Greek styles grew organically, reflecting their historical, social, and intellectual background, the Etruscans accepted outward forms without always assimilating inner content. It is hard to find a parallel in the history of art for the consistent Etruscan borrowing of Greek styles, yet they were not shallow imitators. They were sensitive to the beauty of Greek visual arts and proved themselves most able craftsmen. They used Greek art forms, styles, themes, and even details, but were always selective, adapting them to Etruscan conventions to express Etruscan taste, often in the idiom of a single city-state.

Etruscan Architecture

The Etruscans adopted the grid street-plan used at Greek colonial sites in Italy, but ideal town-planning was difficult to impose on the older cities of Etruria, which had grown from Villanovan villages. An example of an ideal plan is the colonial site of Marzabotto, near Bologna, founded towards the end of the 6th century BCE. A main street ran due north and south and was crossed at right angles by three streets of similar width, all flanked by drains. A grid of smaller streets divided the rest of the town. Buildings for religious observance crowned the nearby hilltop and cemeteries lay outside the habitation area, an Etruscan custom.

Throughout their history the Etruscans were deeply concerned with the afterlife. Many of their cemeteries were veritable cities of the dead. The tombs differ from place to place and from century to century, much depending on whether inhumation or cremation prevailed as the local funerary rite. Some tombs are rock-cut chambers, approached by steps from ground level or entered by a doorway with an architectural facade carved in the cliff face. Others were constructed of stone blocks, either standing above ground or partially buried, like the great tumuli whose molded drums were cut from the rock and had masonry additions. Masonry was used in early times for false vaults, false arches, and false domes, while true barrel vaults were built in the Hellenistic period.

Earlier masonry city walls had squared blocks which were set in regular courses later walls were constructed in the polygonal manner. Hellenistic reliefs show city walls with turrets, castellations, and arched gateways. Such gateways, which are occasionally decorated with human heads carved in relief, and stretches of great city walls are very often the most imposing monuments at Etruscan sites.

Little is known about the external elevations of houses, though tomb facades and representations, especially on cinerary chests, presumably reflect their appearances. Examples show facades each with a porch and columns, and indicate an upper storey. A cinerary chest in the Museo Archeologico, Florence, represents a stone house with fine masonry and arched doorways, flanked by pilasters.

More is known of the ground plans of Etruscan houses. The Villanovans had lived in huts, often oval in layout. At Marzabotto houses were arranged on a rectilinear pattern but had no uniform plan, though several had rooms grouped around a central courtyard with a passage leading in from the street. Contemporary 6th-century tombs echo a more complex house plan with an entrance corridor flanked by a chamber on either side, and a central hall which opened into three back rooms. Later tombs sometimes have rooms on either side of the hall, an arrangement similar to houses at Pompeii. There is also evidence that the hall or atrium on occasion had an opening to the sky, a development known in the Hellenistic period and associated with the Etruscans in Antiquity.

Many internal domestic features are represented in the tombs, which are often painted in gay colours. Beams are supported by columns with capitals in Doric or sometimes Aeolic style, and some ceilings are coffered. Doorways have heavy lintels and inclining jambs, some doors have strong frames with metal studs and handles, and windows are rectangular or arched.

Etruscan temple architecture was allied to Greek forms, which the Etruscans modified, principally in their use of materials and the ground plan, to suit their own religious needs. (See also: Roman Architecture.) The Etruscans characteristically only used stone for the base or podium of a temple. The walls were of unfired brick, covered with plaster, and the columns and beams of timber - plentiful in Etruria. The exposed wooden elements of the superstructure were protected by terracotta plaques. Together with the stone substructure, the temple terracottas often survive as our best evidence for the original appearance of Etruscan buildings.

Unlike Greek forms the podium of an ideal Etruscan temple was almost square and approached by a flight of steps from the front alone. The front half of the temple was a deep porch with two lines of four columns. At the back, there were three rooms or cellae, their doors opening onto the spaces between the columns. An alternative arrangement had one cella between two wings, open at the front. The columns were traditionally made of wood, without flutes the capitals had round cushions and square abaci, resembling the Doric order. The great wooden beams and overhanging eaves gave Tuscan temples a top-heavy appearance. This was emphasized by their brightly painted terracotta decorations. The horizontal beams were covered in terracotta slabs, often with repeating patterns in bas-relief, while the ends of the ridge-pole and roof beams were capped by plaques, sometimes decorated in high relief. Rooves were tiled. Statues or acroteria might be set upon the gable or along the ridge-pole but unlike the Greeks the Etruscans left the pediment open, not filling it with sculpture until Hellenistic times.

The Etruscans also built temples with one cella and two columns models and tomb facades demonstrate that fluted columns and Ionic capitals were used. Little is yet known of other public buildings in Etruria, though there are extant examples of stone platforms with fine moldings, probably for taking the auspices, and models of arcades and freestanding towers. Early bridges were constructed of wood, set upon stone foundations, while arched stone bridges were built in Hellenistic times.

Etruscan Sculpture: Reliefs, Statues

The Villanovans made models of familiar objects and primitive statuettes from clay and bronze. Their human figures have large heads with ill-defined features and thin, straddling limbs, while their lively animals sometimes recall Greek Geometric types.

During the Orientalizing period objects of glazed ceramic ware, ivory, precious metals, bronze, and pottery from the eastern Mediterranean and Greece reached Etruria. Some of these imports were carved or modelled in the round, others were decorated in bas-relief. Etruscan craftsmen enthusiastically imitated them, making lavishly embellished objects for personal and household use. They portrayed monsters, strange men, and draped female figures, usually presented in compact volume and often with carefully noted details. Foreign repertoires were mingled and Italic themes occasionally added to produce an eclectic Etruscan Orientalizing style.

At Chiusi, a contemporary sculptural form probably had local inspiration. The ashes of the dead were often placed in vessels with lids fashioned as schematic human heads, though some examples seek to convey individuality.

Towards the end of the period, large-scale terracotta sculpture appears. See, for instance, the Sarcophagus of the Spouses (late 6th century BCE, National Etruscan Museum, Villa Giulia, Rome), with its seated figures from Cerveteri, delicately modelled in terracotta, are some 20 inches in height. Stone statues crudely carved in the round, reach life-size. Stone funerary stelae have figures in bas-relief or incised, one accompanied by an inscription in Greek letters, adapted for the Etruscan language.

It is important to note the conventional Etruscan choice of materials for sculpture. In contrast to Greek tradition, they usually reserved stone for funerary monuments, mainly using the local stone. Bronze was appreciated and employed for offerings dedicated to the gods, for household goods and personal possessions, which often attain a high artistic standard. Terracotta served for architectural decorations, for sarcophagi, cinerary urns, and votive offerings.

New sculptural forms reached Etruria during the Archaic period and the ability of sculptors developed rapidly. They followed Hellenic styles but local idioms occur. At Tarquinia stone slabs were carved in bas-relief, sometimes illustrating narrative themes. At other centres, stone statues of monsters, animals, and humans were set up outside tombs as guardians. A fine example represents a centaur (Villa Giulia, Rome). The nude male form, derived from the early Archaic style of Greece, has a large head, staring eyes and sturdy limbs, held in motionless frontal pose.

At first Archaic bronze figures were somewhat rigid, with stress on vertical lines but they soon acquired new characterization and vitality. Cast statuettes of recognizable gods appear, and to decorate the increasing number of household bronzes warriors, athletes, dancers, and other types are often shown in vigorous action. The emphasis on expressive detail, such as the head or hands, is characteristic of the Etruscans, while the flowing lines, long heads, and plump bodies indicate Ionian taste.

Sheet bronze was worked in repousse to decorate furniture and wooden objects, for example the magnificent chariot found at Monteleone. Large works were fired in terracotta - outstanding examples are the sarcophagi from Cerveteri, shaped like couches with smiling married couples reclining upon the lids.

Simple temple decorations in terracotta occur about the middle of the Archaic period. Subsequently antefixes of various designs were made in molds some have heads surrounded by a shell motif, others depict complete figures. The bas-relief friezes repeat groups of gods or men and some lively horsemen. Most celebrated, however, are the compositions in high relief and statues, modelled in the round, which were set upon the roof. The sculptors, inspired by the achievements of the Greek late Archaic style, created naturalistic figures capable of expressing both movement and emotion. Energy is implicit in fighting warriors, their details picked out in colour, from Civitii Castellana, and there is latent menace in the striding Apollo from Veii. The sculpture of Veii was famous in Antiquity and the Romans recalled that Vulca of Veii, the only Etruscan artist known by name, decorated a temple in Rome towards the end of the 6th century BCE.

Works in the Archaic manner were produced at some Etruscan centres well into the 5th century BCE. This is apparent in bas-reliefs on sarcophagi, cinerary chests, and other monuments from the region of Chiusi, or from the stelae of Bologna (Museo Archeologico, Chiusi Museo Archeologico, Bologna). Their style is lively, their design simple, and they often depict aspects of ordinary life.

The severe style of early Greek Classical sculpture was not so fully assimilated by the Etruscans, though they became more interested in representing human anatomy and accepted a trend towards idealization. A head, which forms the lid of a cinerary urn, demonstrates such impersonal presentation, an example of the association of Greek style with a local art form (Museo Archeologico, Florence). The development of the Classical style in Etruria is shown in a series of votive statuettes in terracotta and bronze. The men are either nude or when clothed they sometimes wear an Etruscan cloak or military equipment, while the dignified women are finely dressed. The Mars of Todi, one of the few surviving large-scale bronze statues, illustrates the later Classical style of Etruria. It is a graceful study of a pensive young soldier, standing in a well-balanced pose with the weight upon one leg (Vatican Museums, Rome). Many contemporary household bronzes are of outstanding quality with their cast components, for example the handles or feet, formed of well-composed groups of figures.

In Hellenistic times there was a revival of temple decoration. The most important feature now was the sculpture filling the pediment. Moments of high tension were illustrated and supple figures shown dramatically posed. The bronzes include strange, elongated statuettes, often of priests, muscular males, and elegant women. Some wear fashionable clothes and jewellery but others are nude, their small heads with elaborately dressed hair set upon slender bodies.

Stone sarcophagi were still carved in the region around Tarquinia the production of cinerary chests was maintained at Chiusi and at Volterra the local alabaster was used for fine cinerary chests. On many are reliefs showing episodes, often violent, from Greek mythology, or scenes of farewell - the dead setting out on their journey to the underworld. Figures reclining upon lids were sometimes shown with exaggerated features, in the spirit of caricature. Frequently, however, they are genuine portraits, with inscriptions recording the name, family, age, and offices held by Etruscan nobles.

Almost all large-scale Greek paintings have perished but we can trace the development of their drawing, from painted pottery styles. Greek graphic art had a profound influence upon Etruscan polychrome wall-paintings, which form the most numerous group of murals to survive from the pre-Roman Classical world. The Etruscan wall-paintings have come down to us because underground tombs at some Etruscan centres were decorated in fresco. This art form probably had a religious purpose: to perpetuate the efficacy of funerary rites and to recreate the familiar surroundings of life in the dwellings of the dead.

The oldest known painted tomb in Etruria is the Tomb of the Ducks at Veii. On the walls are plain red and yellow zones, divided by horizontal bands of red, yellow, and black, upon which struts a row of birds. The colours and drawing recall 7th-century pottery in the Sub-geometric style. Painted scenes flank an inner doorway of the Campana Tomb, also at Veii here natural colours and proportions are disregarded and every available space filled with animal or floral motifs.

There were early painted tombs at Cerveteri and painted terracotta plaques have been found in both the necropolis and the living area, demonstrating that buildings, like tombs, had wall-paintings. Two series are outstanding, both painted in black, white, brown, and red/purple on a light background.

Of mid-6th-century date, the five Boccanera slabs show the influence of Corinthian vase-painting. They depict seated sphinxes and figures, standing stiffly, linked only by their gestures (British Museum, London). The more flowing lines of the Campana plaques (Louvre, Paris) suggest Ionian taste. Movement is introduced and figures carefully interrelated. Whether the figures represent gods or men, details of dress and symbolism are Etruscan.

From mid-Archaic to Hellenistic times Tarquinia was the greatest centre of tomb-painting. The fresco technique was generally used - walls of rock-cut tombs were thinly covered in plaster, the outlines of the picture sketched or incised, and the painting filled in while the plaster remained damp. Some of the paintings can be seen in the tombs others are in the Museo Nazionale, Tarquinia.

The Archaic paintings have a two-dimensional plane, their designs based upon the relationship of figures and colours employed. Heads are drawn in profile, shoulders are frequently full-view, and legs are again in profile. Artists filled in these outlines with a uniform wash, adding some internal details. Blue and green were added to the palette and differing shades of colour were used.

The Etruscans' paintings abound with exuberant life, fully reflecting their confidence at this time. Funerary themes, such as banquets and athletic games, are repeated but other aspects of life appear. Only the back wall of the Tomb of the Bulls, dated 540-530 BCE, is fully decorated. Its principal scene illustrates a Greek epic story but erotic subjects are also shown. On all four walls of the Tomb of the Augurs are themes of funerary ritual and sports, some figures recalling the contemporary style of black-figure vase painting. The Tomb of Hunting and Fishing has carefree outdoor scenes whilst the main person in the Tomb of the Jugglers watches a display in his honour. The Tomb of the Baron illustrates a tranquil moment of worship or greeting.

Some late Archaic and early Classical tombs have banqueting scenes on the end wall, while on the sidewalls accompanying musicians and dancers are shown, representing the performing arts for which the Etruscans were famous in Antiquity. In the Tomb of the Leopards, two figures recline on each of the three couches and naked boys serve wine. The sidewalls of the beautiful Tomb of the Triclinium, c.470 BCE, have fine compositions with a lyre-player, flautist, and energetic dancers, their draperies emphasizing movement. The drawing displays a new competence, familiar from Attic red-figure pottery at the beginning of the Classical period.

At this time the custom of tomb-painting had spread inland to Chiusi and other centres. At Tarquinia there are fewer tombs painted in the Classical period but, by the 4th century BCE, decisive developments had taken place in the graphic arts. The drawing style of the painted pottery and engraved bronzes evokes three-dimensional space, in which overlapping figures are presented in integral groups, their heads and bodies sometimes shown in three-quarter poses and with foreshortening. These techniques were also used in large-scale paintings in polychrome, in which shading and highlights were added to express volume: the artists were also concerned to contrast light and dark areas. The scene of a Greek fighting Amazons, on a sarcophagus from Tarquinia (Museo Archeologico, Florence), illustrates late Classical handling of linear perspective and colour tones. It may have been painted by a Greek artist working in Etruria.

As in other Etruscan art forms, a mood of despondency and a preoccupation with death are shown in Hellenistic tomb-paintings. Dreadful demons appear, often escorting the dead to the underworld and an idea of judgment is evident. Strong family feeling prevails, however, in paintings like those in the Tomb of the Shields at Tarquinia, in which successive generations are shown banqueting. The artist has attempted to express individuality and names are written beside the portraits. Occasionally civic pride appears, as in the illustration of the rescue of some famous Etruscan prisoners and the murder of their captors, or a full-length portrait of a nobleman in ceremonial robes from the Francois Tomb at Vulci (Museo Torlonia, Rome). Such scenes remind us of the Etruscans' own recollections of their glorious past and of their contribution to Roman ritual.

In the absence of fine objects of wood, leather, textiles, or other perishable materials, the minor arts of the Etruscans must be judged mainly from their pottery and metalwork. Since both personal possessions and household objects were placed in tombs, they survive in some quantity and provide an eloquent commentary on the major arts.

Traditional Villanovan pottery had forms characteristic of the Italic Iron Age-fired, brown/black, with incised decoration. During the 8th century BCE they also began to copy the shapes, light-coloured fabric, and designs painted in red/brown, of Greek Geometric imports. By 700 BCE, local potters were imitating yellow/buff Corinthian ware, decorating it in dark paint, sometimes depicting monsters, animals, or men from the Orientalizing repertoire.

The principal form of ancient pottery developed by the Etruscans is a black, glossy ware called bucchero, which appears before the middle of the 7th century BCE. Sometimes Villanovan forms with incised decoration were followed, but Greek pottery shapes became increasingly copied. Modeled embellishments were added, especially on vases imitating metalwork or carved ivory, and repeating patterns were impressed with a roller stamp. In the Archaic period, bucchero became heavy and over-decorated and, during the 5th century BCE, production ceased. See also: Pottery Timeline.

Until about 550 BCE, Corinthian black-figure imports continued to dominate the Etruscan markets. Subsequently Ionian influence is evident and Ionian craftsmen even worked in Etruria. Their most outstanding products are the Caeretan hydriae, a series of water-jars made at Cerveteri. Athenian potters manufactured special exports for Etruria and, as their superb black-figure and red-figure pottery increased in popularity, they monopolized the trade. Meanwhile Etruscan potters produced black-figure vases with Greek forms. The painting is seldom elegant, but is usually bold, with lively figures.

The Etruscans were slow to adopt the true red-figure technique. At first they painted figures in red over a black ground, though they were aware of the development in drawing technique in the early Classical period. By the end of the 5th century BCE fine· red-figure vases, closely following Attic style, were being made, mainly at Vulci and at Civita Castellana. The south Italian schools also influenced Etruscan pottery of the 4th century BCE, when northern cities, including Volterra, were producing red-figure ware. Black-glaze pottery became popular and, during the Hellenistic period sophisticated vase forms, silvered to imitate metal, were manufactured in central Etruria.

Etruscan Metalworking

The Greeks praised Etruscan metalwork, particularly their goldsmithing and bronzes. Bronze was used for a very wide variety of goods, from jewellery to armour, from horse-gear to household furniture. Bronze was hammered, worked in repousse, cast and engraved, the craftsmen following contemporary technical developments and artistic styles.

Pottery forms, especially those used for serving wine, were reproduced in bronze. Ladles, strainers, candelabra, incense-burners, braziers with their equipment, and other types of household goods were made of bronze and often finely decorated. Personal possessions include men's helmets, shields, armor, and beautiful toilet articles for women. Among these are caskets, in which combs, carved powder boxes, delicate perfume bottles, and the accompanying perfume pins and oil flasks were kept, and the wonderful series of hand mirrors with mythological and genre scenes engraved upon the backs.

Etruscan Decorative Artifacts

Among luxury goods, amber and ivory were carved, the former used mainly for jewellery and the latter for chalices, combs, and boxes. Multicoloured glass served for beads, brooches, and perfume-bottles. Semi-precious stones were cut and employed in rings and other jewelry. Gold and silver were used for cups and jugs and, above all, for jewellery. Etruscan jewelry is celebrated for its craftsmanship, particularly for goldwork using the technique of granulation. In the 7th century BCE Italic forms and Orientalizing designs were mingled in Etruscan jewellery but later Hellenic taste was followed. Brooches, pins, finger-rings, bracelets, earrings, hair-bands, buckles, and other pieces were exquisitely worked in the contemporary artistic style, a reminder of both the good taste and the ostentation of Etruscan nobles in the centuries of their prosperity.

The Legacy of Etruscan Art

Modern art historians have reached different conclusions about the achievements of the Etruscans in the visual arts. Some have considered them mere plagiarists, adopting Greek forms with little originality and indifferent ability. Indeed, for many years the question of Etruscan art's proper position among all the other Mediterranean arts has given rise to heated discussion. In 1879, J. Martha wrote: "The one great misfortune of Etruscan art was that it never had time to take shape." Modern critics have reached the conclusion that this art shows a complete lack of originality and represents nothing more than a totally provincial output, a mere reflection of Greek art on which it modelled itself. But see also: Classical Revival in modern art (1900-30).

Another equally extremist point of view maintains, just as confidently, the complete independence of the art of ancient Tuscany. Both attitudes go too far, and so in many ways are quite mistaken. If we are to get at the truth we must take a less extreme and dogmatic view. It is quite true that Etruscan art was continually and beneficially influenced by artists from Greece and Magna Graecia. Unless the profound effect of the Greek workshops is taken into account, Etruscan art cannot begin to be understood. But the work of the Etruscans was not merely a slavish imitation without a genuine identity of its own. It was the outcome of the abilities, taste and spirit which were the individual characteristics of this people who, from the 7th century down to the beginning of the Christian era, were able to develop an original civilisation in Tuscany.

Some truth lies at both extremes. Without a substantial Italic tradition in the visual arts, the Etruscans were inspired by Hellenic styles in all seven centuries of their independent artistic development. Yet lacking the historic and intellectual background of Greek art, Etruscan artists sometimes failed to respond to Greek ideals and were capable of producing poor-quality work unacceptable in the Greek world. Etruscan art cannot claim to rank with that of Greece but its merit distinguishes it from contemporary Italic cultures and requires that it be judged by Greek standards. The Etruscans were always selective in their choice of Greek artistic precedents but, when their artists carefully followed them, they came close to the Hellenic models. When they took Greek forms and styles but adapted them to Etruscan conventions and taste, they subtly transformed them into their own, and even contributed new art forms.

The Etruscans must also take their place in the history of the visual arts as vital intermediaries between the Greeks and Romans. Profiting from the rich resources of their homeland, the Etruscans welcomed the civilization of their Greek contemporaries. During Rome's early development the neighbouring Etruscans were an acknowledged source of culture (especially for Celtic artists of the Hallstatt and La Tene styles), and introduced many Hellenic forms to Rome. A natural talent for draughtsmanship shines out of Etruscan achievements in the minor arts and especially in engraving on precious metals and bronze. It was probably in the field of plate and jewellery that the Etruscans exploited their technical skill and decorative taste to the utmost. Treasures from the tombs of the 'Orientalised' period have a characteristic richness and elaboration, and some Etruscan jewellery of the 7th and 6th centuries truly represents a high-water mark of art.

We gratefully acknowledge the use of material from "A History of Art": General Editor Sir Lawrence Gowling (1995), an outstanding work of reference which we highly recommend to all art lovers.

Etruscan Civil constructions

Virtually all rest with only few exceptions of civil structures belonging to the Etruscan culture has been lost but studying the funerary constructions has been known that they used the baked brick and the rammed earth. Of course they also used wood for doors, frames and covers. The Etruscans did not used marble they used more like a stone that did not have much quality to strengthen the structures of the bases and also the angles of these constructions.

Etruscan cities

The Etruscan cities were square and divided into grid. It is known that these cities were surrounded by thick walls and accessed the city through a large main entrance doors and arriving for them at the two main streets that were crossed. The doors were guarded by figures of protective genies and were of simple construction virtually no decoration but strong and reinforced by placing them under an arch at half point between two towers.

In the most ancient period of this culture houses of the inhabitants of the cities of humble extraction were very simple, with a circular form and were manufactured with rammed earth and were covered with light wood and branches. The houses of wealthy people were built with more quality materials but were equally circular. Approximately in the 7th century began to be built those houses following squares plants.

There was always a clear difference between the constructions that were made for humble people of those for the wealthy class but even more marked in this period of the 7th century when best materials and new constructive techniques only affordable for the wealthy ones were made. Houses began to be built larger and taking advantage of the possibilities that the quadrangular plant allows design the rooms around a central courtyard.

The Etruscan Patio

– With impluviumin the Centre and cover with four slopes towards the inside.

– With the despluviowith the cover with four slopes towards the outside.

These houses had a single door of entry or access there were no doors to the outside, the rear or by the sides of the housing. Shingles that covered the roofs were flat and the columns were made with poor materials such as wood.

With the help of awesome constructive models inherited from Greece which were adapted to their needs and taste, from the 6th century BC the Etruscans, had already created the first quality buildings and the early works of engineering in the Italian peninsula. With the fusion of their inherited architectural models and their own characteristic the Etruscan left an important legacy to the Romans based on which they created the cities.

The most important contributions of the Etruscan architecture :

– The use of the arch and the dome which comes from Eastern influences.

– As in the Greek art also in the Etruscan architecture predominate adinteladas structures. The buildings do not have almost sculptural decoration except some sculptures of terra cotta in the pediments of temples.

– They created a new order, the Toscana, derived from the Greek Doric order simple base, smooth shaft and similar to the Doric capital.

– The structure of the Etruscan temples which lacked columns at the rear as in the Greek plants was taken by the Romans later as a construction model for their religious buildings.

– The doors of the fortifications with semi-circular arches between two towers.

– Construction of tombs placing in the likeness of the houses in the cities with a quadrangular structure and forming blocks with their corresponding signal. This was the structure that Rome inherited and extended for the rest of the world up to our days.

Late Etruscan Votive Heads from Tessennano. Production, Distribution, Sociohistorical Context. Studia Archaeologica, 118

Late Republican votive deposits are among the most frequently encountered yet patchily documented sets of evidence for Late Etruscan cult and society and for the sources of Roman votive cult. Fortunately, the finds from the rural sanctuary of Tessennano in the territory of Vulci (actually situated closer to Canino, as S. points out), mainly terracottas of the 3rd-2nd centuries from a 1956 excavation by the Soprintendenza alle Antichità dell’Etruria Meridionale, are being thoroughly published and analyzed. The objects were divided between the new Museo Nazionale in Tuscania, the Villa Giulia, and the Medelhavsmuseet, Stockholm some were previously displayed at the Museo Nazionale at Vulci. The Italian collection has been studied by S. Costantini, Il deposito votivo del santuario campestre di Tessennano [ Archaeologica 112] (Rome 1995). 1 The terracotta votives illustrate the wide range of heads, statues, swaddled infants, and anatomical models that are common to the larger urban sanctuaries, although most pieces show traits unique to this site, and must have come from a local workshop, in operation at Tuscania, as S. amply demonstrates. 2

In contrast to the formal corpora of votive deposits, such as Costantini’s study and Annamaria Commella’s Il santuario di Punta della Vipera. I, I materiali votivi (Rome, 2001 — see BMCR 2004.06.44), Söderlind’s study takes a very different approach. While cataloguing and describing only a portion of the finds (votive heads) from the Tessennano deposit, he goes on to engage in an analysis of the technology and historical economics behind the production, distribution and dedication of the votives themselves. The category of terracotta votives, so distinctive yet uniform (“the inherent anonymity of mouldmade terracottas,” 391), was widespread in central Italy from the end of the 4th through the 2nd century BC. By sheer numbers of finds and types depicted (including statues, heads, swaddled infants, internal organs, eyes, ears, hands and feet), terracota votives ought to furnish the raw data for explanations of the beliefs and knowledge of Late Republican worshippers, yet the problems of dating (most deposits are dumps, scatters or otherwise not accurately datable) and the artistic peculiarities (viscera seldom admit of much stylistic freedom) have seldom been sufficient to support any definitive chronological or historical conclusions. Thanks to S.’s meticulous attention to the nuances of clay and technique in the manufacture of these pieces, it is now possible to discern trends in production, distribution, and — most importantly — the demography of votive religion during the 3rd to 1st centuries BC.

S. offers detailed comparisons of the styles and typologies of the moldmade sculptures with dated monuments such as inscribed sarcophagi and tombs, bronzes like the Oratore, and famous votives such as the Manganello head chapter 3 (207-239) includes a critical survey of past theories on the dating of heads and statues of the Late Etruscan period (3rd through 1st centuries BC). He also offers appendices (393-433) with ceramic, petrographic and mineralogical data, including color photos of thin-sections of the terracotta fabrics representative of this site and also of Vulci, Tarquinia and Tuscania. This clearly supports his thesis that nearly all the Tessennano votives were made in workshops in Tuscania the intensive effort will pay off fully only when many more deposits are similarly sampled and published.

Statistics are still problematic for the so-called healing sanctuaries: the only thing we can be sure of is that we do not have 100% of any given deposit/set of offerings of Late Etruscan/Latin cult. (Note that S. himself has omitted the hand-modeled heads from this study, as they cannot be adequately dated or compared with molded types — 39 note 11 he suggests that they may have been made near the sanctuary.) Since he later draws some assumptions about the numbers of terracotta offerings paralleling the rise and fall in the size of the local population, the incomplete collection of artifacts (not his fault: this was an old salvage excavation, 37 note 6) and the possibility that certain types were concentrated in different deposits or dumps as yet undiscovered leave the demographic questions imperfectly resolved.

The scheme of comparing mold types does not separate half-heads from full S. indicates at least one example where the half-head appears to have been cut from a face drawn from a whole-head mold. The painstaking measuring and profiling of all molded heads and comparisons of the hand-finishing of their backs and bases have enabled S. to prove that a small number of the heads dedicated at Tessennano were made in (or from molds made in) the workshops of Tarquinia, Vulci, Pitigliano and Saturnia. The main source was Tuscania, as illustrated by mechanical parallels between these votives and the lid-statues made for the terracotta sarcophagi of Tuscanian family tombs of the 3rd-2nd centuries.

S. divides the material catalogued into production periods, matching the stylistic dating of face types to the techniques of molding and finishing found on them: c. 330, 250-200, 200-150 and 150 to after 100 BC. He maintains that nearly all the terracotta votives may be dated after the Roman conquest of the territory of Vulci, ca. 280 BC. His analysis of surveys of the region suggests that the patrons of the Tessennano cult were the farmers resident in or around a fairly large pagus settlement on the site of modern Canino, in the eastern Ager Vulcentis. He sees the quantities of the simple votives peaking in tandem with the population census of this area, around the end of the 2nd century.

Pp. 241-273 offer a concise description of clays and the techniques of manufacture for Etruscan votive terracottas usually the only information available on such details is slanted toward figurines or architectural terracottas. It appears that at least one coroplast was involved in the early years of the production of votives, the later 3rd and early 2nd century, when a number of fresh archetypes were used to make molds, and all the heads were the first generation in their mold series. At the middle of the 2nd century, though, a greatly increased demand was met with “rationalization” of the process — new molds being drawn from first generation votives for the rapid production of rather blurred (and smaller) heads that were not even retouched. This is a process that can be done by less skilled technicians, and it is evident that the sarcophagus factories of Tuscania at this time were also fashioning rather poor heads for their lids, but these at least were touched up in paint (107 fig. 59a). In contrast, at the more urbane sanctuaries like Tarquinia Ara della Regina or Punta della Vipera, the creation of new types continued and remolding was less in evidence. With material of this sort, it is all too easy to make hasty value judgments, but in this case, S.’s verdict of provincial conservatism for the Tuscania-Tessennano models is clearly justified. He appraises all the possible scenarios for production and dissemination of types, justifiably dismissing some (traveling workshops) and noting the low incidence of other evidence (a few molds circulated, a few more actual pieces were traded or traveled). Remolding by less skilled workers predominates during the later phase, and similar phenomena seem to have occurred at the sanctuaries of Saturnia, Marsiliana d’Albegna and Vulci Porta Nord.

One very interesting result of the study is S.’s finding that the hand-made — not molded — velum that surrounds many of the heads is a deliberate adaptation of original, Etruscan types that invariably had uncovered heads. It appears that this heightened production, from rather dull molds taken from pre-existing votive heads (thus “second generation” in terms of terracotta technology), was stimulated around the middle of the 2nd century, just as many sites in the vicinity saw an influx of Latin colonists or settlers. Other votaries, who left heads of capite aperto format, are identified as the remaining, free farmers of Etruscan ethnicity. (See 369-375, note 109 for the increasingly compelling evidence on the covered head as a deliberate reference to Roman ritual.) A side-note to this type is the relatively rare type of the “infant togati” (actually small boys) found here (busts: 187-191, 373, 381, type CII, dated c. 200 BC statue, Costantini 1995: pl. 22,d) and in one other example at the Roman colony of Lucera. 3

The peaceful, rather profitable, coexistence of Roman settlers and Etruscan farmers at Canino/Tessennano is mirrored in the votives of many contemporary sanctuaries, such as Tarquinia Ara della Regina (where a model knee was dedicated by a freedman, Vel Tiples/Diphilos), Veii Portonaccio and Campetti, Graviscae and elsewhere. 4 I would point out that the terracottas, while some were placed by liberti, were probably never so cheap that they were slaves’ or poor people’s offerings — the cost of fuel and labor precluded that. S. contends that the extant votives offer no evidence of any continuing patronage by the Etruscan aristocracy, although the poor aesthetic quality of the heads is not sufficient to demonstrate the demise or relocation of the Etruscan gentry.

I would be cautious in a few cases of exact terminology, particularly, “worn molds” (in Italian, matrice stanca): while numerous cases are known of cracks appearing in old molds, the fabric of clay molds is usually much harder and stronger than that of their products, and less likely to become “worn.” I would suggest that in many cases, the molds themselves were dull or imperfect impressions hastily taken from extant votives rather than from specially modeled archetypes the products of such molds appear still more blurred — the end result is the same indication of hurried or inexpert manufacture. One example of a mold that was perceived by the craftsman as dull, with blurred or poorly articulated features, may be identified in its product, the male head AVIIa1 (140, fig. 90) the craftsman incised round eyeballs into the mold (“intaglio”), resulting in button-like protruding pupils.

As a tool for comparison with other evidence, the book has numerous excellent photos, profile sketches, etc., although it appears that some heads were shot at an angle and lit from below — they are well highlighted, but it is hard to properly compare their profiles. The lack of an index is heartbreaking, because it is very difficult, after a first reading of this dense text, to retrieve many useful and critical references to material from other sites, particularly appraisals of the dating of deposits, and references to work in progress by other scholars. Use of “Vulcan, Chiusan, Volterranean” for the English adjectives Vulcian, Chiusine, Volterran may be confusing, but other misspellings are not so irksome. Mansuelli 1988, cited throughout chapter 7, is not in the bibliography: it is presumably G.A. Mansuelli, L’ultima Etruria: Aspetti della romanizzazione del paese etrusco: gli aspetti culturali e sacrali (Bologna 1988).

This volume is a welcome step on the way to a better understanding of Late Etruscan society and its Romanization and of Late Republican popular cults. While new finds may refine many of the conclusions and suggestions offered here, this attempt to integrate Etruscan and Roman history with archaeological evidence is an exercise of great interest to Classicists and historians as well as archaeologists. It will only be by similar, meticulous technical studies and scrupulous evaluation of the criteria for chronology at all sites that anything definitive can be said about the character and society of those who placed these offerings of such a personal nature.

1. I am most grateful to Martin Söderlind for my copy of this volume, and for his generosity in sharing with me additional information on the Tessennano votives, including material for my entry on this deposit in the ThesCRA, “I 2d. Offrandes romaines: Anatomical votives,” Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum, in press. The entry by Annamaria Comella in the same volume, on votive heads and statues, will also be of interest to those studying the Tessennano and related types. I am grateful to Suzanne Unge Sörling and Karin Slej of the Medelhavsmuseet, Stockholm, and to Cecilia Beer for the opportunity to examine the Swedish collection, which includes several unusual types. The small display in the museum evokes the spirit of ancient rituals, as finds are shown hung on tree branches, set on shelves or placed reverently on sacred ground, as they must have been in antiquity. These are illustrated by S. Unge Sörling, “A Collection of Votive Terracottas from Tessennano (Vulci),” Medelhavsmuseet Bulletin 29 (1994) 47-54.

2. The most striking are models of uteri, polyvisceral plaques (some with the trachea made to look like a snake), and models of lower bodies, male and female, from the waist down, the legs covered from or just below the crotch with drapery that reminds one of a surgical drape. The non-heads in Stockholm are not yet fully published see S. p. 38 fig. 4, and Costantini (note 1) 33, 42-46. Other polyvisceral models are three-dimensional, and look like the entrails of sacrificial victims, neatly piled up, although each model must have been intended to stand for evidence of a human healed (Costantini pl. 46,a-b). the remainder of the finds in Stockholm will be published by Martin Söderlind and Ingrid Edlund-Berry, whose The Gods and the Place (Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Institutet i Rom 43, Stockholm 1987) remains essential for the study of votive religion in central Italy. See also her ” Mens Sana in Corpore Sano : Healing Cults as a Political Factor in Etruscan Religion,” in Gifts to the Gods (Symposium, Uppsala 1985 = Boreas 15, Uppsala 1987) 51-56.

3. M.C. D’Ercole, La stipe votiva del Belvedere a Lucera (Rome 1990) 108-109 type C3I, pls. 34,b and 35,a is actually a finely executed older boy wearing both tunic and Manteltoga, dated end of the 4th to last quarter of the 3rd century BC, thus somewhat different from the Tessennano examples.

4. The Ara della Regina dedication is incised: alce:vel:tiples:“Vel Tiples dedicated” ( CIE 10012, H. Rix et alii (ed.), Etruskische Texte. Editio minor, II: Texte (Tübingen 1991) Ta 3.5 G. Colonna, Studi Etruschi 34 (1966) 321-322, pl. 51. For late votives, presumably deposited while the shrines were patronized by Roman settlers/colonists, see, for instance, A. Comella, Il deposito votivo presso l’Ara della Regina (Rome 1982) and Il materiale votivo tardo di Gravisca (Rome 1978) A. Comella and G. Stefani, Materiali votivi del Santuario di Campetti a Veio: scavi 1947 e 1969 (Rome 1990) L. Vagnetti, Il deposito votivo di Campetti a Veio [ StMat 11] (Florence 1971) see also G. Colonna, ed., Santuari d’Etruria (Catalogue of Mostra, Arezzo, 1985 Milan 1985) passim for many sanctuaries.

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