venerdì 25 marzo 2016


The Liver of Piacenza is an Etruscan artifact found in a field on September 26, 1877, near Gossolengo, in the province of Piacenza, Italy, now kept in the Municipal Museum of Piacenza, in the Palazzo Farnese.

It is a life-sized bronze model of a sheep's liver covered in Etruscan inscriptions (TLE 719), measuring 126 mm by 76 mm by 60 mm and dated to the late 2nd century BC, i.e. a time when the Piacenza region would already have been Latin-dominated (Piacenza was founded in 218 BC as a Roman garrison town in Cisalpine Gaul).

The liver is subdivided into sections for the purposes of performing haruspicy (hepatoscopy); the sections are inscribed with names of individual Etruscan deities. The Piacenza liver is a striking conceptual parallel to clay models of sheep's livers known from the Ancient Near East, reinforcing the evidence of a connection (be it by migration or mere cultural contact) between the Etruscans and the Anatolian cultural sphere. A Babylonian clay model of a sheep's liver dated to the Middle Bronze Age is preserved in the British Museum (ME 92668). The Piacenza liver parallels the Babylonian artefact by representing the major anatomical features the gall bladder, caudate lobe and posterior vena cava, of the liver as sculpted protrusions.

The outer rim of the Piacenza liver is divided into 16 sections; since according to the testimony of Pliny and Cicero, the Etruscan divided the heavens into 16 astrological houses, it has been suggested that the liver is supposed to represent a model of the cosmos, and its parts should be identified as constellations or astrological signs. Each of the 16 houses was the "dwelling place" of an individual deity. Seers would e.g. draw conclusions from the direction in which lightning was seen. Lightning in the east was auspicious, lightning in the west inauspicious (Pliny 2.143f.). Stevens (2009) surmises that Tin, the main god of lightning, had his dwelling due north, as lightning in the north-east was most lucky, lightning in the north-west most unlucky, while lightning in the southern half of the compass was not as strong an omen (Servius ad. Aen. 2.693).

The theonyms are abbreviated and in many cases, the reading even of the abbreviation is disputed. As a result, there is a consensus for the interpretation of individual names only in a small number of cases. The reading given below is that of Morandi (1991) unless otherwise indicated:


1. tin[ia] /cil/en
2. tin[ia]/θvf[vlθas]
3. tins/θneθ
4. uni/mae uni/ea (Juno?)
5. tec/vm (Terra)
6. lvsl
7. neθ[uns] (Neptunus)
8. caθ[a] (Luna?[3])
9. fuflu/ns (Bacchus)
10. selva (Silvanus)
11. leθns
12. tluscv
13. celsc
14. cvl alp
15. vetisl (Veiovis?)
16. cilensl

17. tur[an] (Venus)
18. leθn (as no. 11)
19. la/sl (Lares?)
20. tins/θvf[vlθas] (as no. 2)
21. θufl/θas
22. tins/neθ (as no. 3?)
23. caθa (as no. 8)
24. fuf/lus (as no. 9)
25. θvnθ(?)
26. marisl/latr
27. leta (Leda)
28. neθ (as no. 7)
29. herc[le] (Hercules)
30. mar[is] (Mars)
31. selva (as no. 10)
32. leθa[m]
33. tlusc (as no. 12)
34. lvsl/velch
35. satr/es (Saturnus)
36. cilen (as no. 16)
37. leθam (as no. 32)
38. meθlvmθ
39. mar[is] (as no. 30)
40. tlusc (as no. 12)
Two words are on the bottom side of the artefact:

1. tivs (or tivr "Moon"?[1])

2. usils

venerdì 22 maggio 2015


An example of terracotta sculpture from Caere.

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses was found in 1845 by the Marquis Campana in the Banditaccia necropolis in Caere (modern Cerveteri). Purchased in 1861 by Napoleon III, this monument has often been regarded as a sarcophagus because of its exceptional dimensions. However, its function remains uncertain because burial and cremation were both practiced by the Etruscans. It may actually have been a large urn designed to contain the ashes of the deceased. Only one example similar to this work is known (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome), which also demonstrates the high level of skill attained by the sculptors of Caere in clay sculpture during the late 6th century BC.
During the Archaic period, terracotta was one of the preferred materials in the workshops of Caere for funeral monuments and architectural decoration. The ductility of clay offered artisans numerous possibilities, compensating for the lack of stone suitable for sculpture in southern Etruria.

Funerary banquet and ritual.

This urn takes the form of a bed, upon which the deceased are resting in the position of banqueters. This theme was not an Etruscan invention, but originated in Asia Minor: the Etruscans, like the Greeks before them, had adopted the eastern custom of feasting in a reclining position, and the conventional method of representing it. Unlike in the Greek world, where banquets were reserved for men, the Etruscan woman, who held an important place in society, is represented by her husband's side, in the same proportions and in a similar pose. The couple are reclining on cushions in the form of wineskins, a reference to the sharing of wine, a ceremony that was part of funerary ritual. Tenderly clasped by her husband, the deceased woman is pouring a few drops of perfume into his hand, probably from an alabastron, as can be seen on a small urn displayed nearby (cinerary urn with the spouses on the lid, Louvre, CP 5193); in so doing, she is making the gesture of offering perfume, another essential component of funerary ritual. In her left hand she is holding a small, round object, possibly a pomegranate, a symbol of immortality.

The influence of eastern Greece

The style of this monument shows the influence exerted by artists from eastern Greece on Etruscan art-particularly the Ionians, who emigrated in large numbers during the late 6th century BC. The casket and the lid are decorated with bright paintwork, now partially disappeared, which adds to the elegance of the woman's finery, and to the details of the fabrics and the hair. The smiling faces and full forms of the bodies are also inspired by Ionian sculpture. However, some of the features are typical of Etruscan art, such as a certain lack of formal coherence, the way the legs in particular have received less plastic volume, and the emphasis on the gestures of the deceased.

giovedì 29 gennaio 2015


In Etruscan mythology, Charun (also spelled Charu, or Karun) acted as one of the psychopompoi of the underworld (not to be confused with the lord of the underworld, known to the Etruscans as Aita). He is often portrayed with Vanth, a winged goddess also associated with the underworld.

His name was imported from Greek Charon, although it is uncertain whether Etruscans had a native name for a god of the underworld before this. As suggested by alternations in the Etruscan language such as θu "one" changing to θunśna "first", lev "lion" (from Greekleōn) and Apulu (from Greek Apóllōn), words ending in -n after u were disappearing from the language which is why we see his name spelled Хarun and later Хaru.
The Etruscan Charun was fundamentally different from his Greek counterpart. Guarding the entry to the underworld he is depicted with ahammer (his religious symbol) and is shown with pointed ears, snakes around his arms, and a blueish coloration symbolizing the decay of death. In some images he has enormous wings. He is also depicted as a large creature with snake-like hair, a vulture's hooked-nose, large tusks like a boar, heavy brow ridges large lips, fiery eyes, pointed ears a black beard, enormous wings, discolored (pale cream, bluish or grey skin, and snakes around his arm.

Larissa Bonfante and Judith Swaddling have this to say about Charun: "Many scenes feature the two purely Etruscan underworld demons, Vanth and Charu, whose job is not to punish the dead but rather to escort them to their final destination."However, there are at least two examples, on the sarcophagus of Laris Pulenas as well as a red figure stamnos from Orbetello, that do illustrate Charun in a menacing fashion. Each depicts Charun threatening a male figure with his hammer.
The grotesque nature of the depiction of Charun appears to have been at least partly apotropaic in nature. Apotropaic art was the practice of the neighboring Greeks at this time, as represented by the exaggerated eyes painted on drinking vessels in the 6th century BC to ward away spirits while drinking or the monstrous depiction of Medusa whose image was said to turn men to stone. Through these images of the grotesque, violence and blood-letting, the Etruscans may have believed that they helped to fend off evil spirits from the tomb as well as sanctify the tomb perhaps in place of the actual ritual sacrifice of an animal usually performed in funerary rites.
Nancy de Grummond offers a different view. The relief on the sarcophagus of Laris Pulenas at Tarquinia, shows two Charuns swinging their hammers at a person's head, though the head (probably that of Pulenas, the nobleman whose sarcophagus it is) no longer survives in the relief due to an accident of preservation. Years later, in the Colosseum, a Charun-like figure called Dispater would hit the loser with a hammer to make sure he was dead, perhaps in reflection of Charun. The hammer might also be used to protect the dead; it is sometimes swung at serpents attacking the deceased (as shown on the Orvieto amphora). Most often it is simply held, or the handle planted on the ground and the mallet head leaned upon (above). De Grummond notes that the ferry of Charon appears only once in surviving Etruscan art, and that some Etruscan demons are equipped with oars, but they typically use them as weapons rather than in their maritime function.

Modern views.
Many authors tend to take a more sensationalist view of Charun, speaking of him as a "death-demon". Such authors may be inspired by Christian views of Hell and moral punishment. For the Etruscans, as with the Greeks, Hades was merely a morally neutral place of the dead. Neither the "good" nor the "bad" could escape the clutches of death and both were assembled there together.
Ron Terpening, a professor of Italian literature at the University of Arizona, cites Franz de Ruyt, who claims Charun is similar to Chaldean demons or the Hindu divinities Shivaand Kali. He is presumed to be the servant of Mantus and Mania, and, like Charon, is comparable to the Greeks' Thanatos, the Erinyes, and the Keres. The author, like de Grummond, feels that some later Renaissance paintings of Greek Charon may show the continuity of pre-Christian Etruscan beliefs. Later on when the deity had evolved into the Greek Charon, or Caronte in Italian, Terpening notes that Charun's hammer or mallet is sometimes replaced with an oar, although it does not fit with his duties.
According to Jeff Rovin, Charun guided souls on horseback to the underworld and "brings horses to the newly-dead", but this is idle speculation. He also claims that Charun appears to love violence and participates in warfare adding that Charun enjoys natural disasters as well. An Etruscan krater from François Tomb (above) depicts Charun withAjax or Achilles (left, cropped out) slaughtering Trojan prisoners. This urn is currently held in Cabinet des Médailles 920, Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris. Rovin says that some accounts depict him with a sword, and that he "slices" souls with it. At least one image shows him guiding a soul on horseback, equipped with both a hammer and a sword, though he is simply carrying it on his person.
The Charon of Vergil in the Aeneid is particularly cruel; according to W.F. Jackson Knight, "Vergil's Charon is not only the Greek ferryman of Aristophanes [in The Frogs], but more than half his Etruscan self, Charun, the Etruscan torturing death-devil, no ferryman at all."

Charun is believed to have worked with many assistants in the Underworld, although they could be independent deities in their own right. Most of their names are lost to us, but at least one, Tuchulcha, is identified in the Tomb of Orcus II, and has hair and wings like a Gorgon. Tuchulcha, whose gender is debated among scholars, appears in a depiction of the story of Theseus (known to the Etruscans as "These") visiting the underworld. These and his friend Peirithous are playing a board game, attended by Tuchulcha.
There are four Charuns shown in a fresco in the Tomb of the Charuns, and each appear to have sub-names. These are Charun Chunchules, the heavily blistered Charun Huths, Charun Lufe, and the fourth has crumbled away to illegibility. On Laris Pulena's sarcophagus, there are also two Charuns and two Vanths on either side of the figure in the center who is presumably Laris Pulena himself. De Grummond does not cite these figures as assistants, but believes Charun may be a type of creature rather than a singular god.

Many of Charun's other presumed assistants appear in the Tomb of the Blue Demons, which is also the home of the only Etruscan rendering of the aforementioned ferry of Charon.

venerdì 14 novembre 2014


In the Quinto Alto locality are still to be found two of the most important Etruscan architectural monuments: the great tholos tombs (with false cupola) of Montagnola and Mula. They owe their fame to the splendid state of conservation of the structures, which bear witness, for the orientalizing age (7th century B.C.), to the utilisation of an architectural technique similar to that of the monumental tombs at Mycenae, among them the so-called Treasure of Atreus.

As compared to other false-cupola tombs – those of Populonia, for instance – these tombs differ not only in the circular layout of the main chambers, but above all in their remarkable size: a diameter of 5 metres for the Montagnola Tomb, over 8 for that of Mula, dimensions involving notable technical difficulties as regards construction and stability.

The Montagnola Tomb appears as a tumulus with diameter of nearly 70 meters, originally bounded by blocks of clay-rich limestone and waterproofed by a layer of clay. It is entered through an open dromos (corridor) leading to an inner corridor with pseudo-vault, on either side of which are two small rectangular cells. A narrow ogive door opens into the main chamber, which is covered by rows of progressively projecting slabs of stone resting on a vertical socle 3 meters high. The summit is closed by a square slab supported by a pilaster, which, however, does not seem to have a true static function.

Entirely without a central support is the great tholos of the Mula Tomb, which was incapsulated in the sixteenth-century Villa Garbi Pecchioli to be used as a wine-cellar. With part of its dromos demolished on that occasion, it differs from the Montagnola Tomb in that it has no socle in the chamber. Perhaps constructed by the same workers as the other tomb, it boasts the largest cupola known as of now in pre-Roman Italic architecture.

The Montagnola Tomb

The Mula Tomb

giovedì 13 novembre 2014


The Liber Linteus Zagrabiensis (Latin for "Linen Book of Zagreb", also rarely known as Liber Agramensis, is the longest Etruscan text and the only extant linen book, dated to the 3rd century BC. It remains mostly untranslated because of the lack of knowledge about the Etruscan language, though the few words which can be understood indicate that the text is most likely a ritual calendar.
The fabric of the book was preserved when it was used for mummy wrappings in Ptolemaic Egypt. The mummy was bought in Alexandria in 1848 and since 1867 both the mummy and the manuscript have been kept in Zagreb,  now in a refrigerated room at the Archaeological Museum.

History of discovery
In 1848, Mihajlo Barić (1791–1859), a low ranking Croatian official in the Hungarian Royal Chancellery, resigned his post and embarked upon a tour of several countries, including Egypt. While in Alexandria, he purchased a sarcophagus containing a female mummy, as a souvenir of his travels. Barić displayed the mummy at his home in Vienna, standing it upright in the corner of his sitting room. At some point he removed the linen wrappings and put them on display in a separate glass case, though it seems he had never noticed the inscriptions or their importance.
The mummy remained on display at his home until his death in 1859, when it passed into possession of his brother Ilija, a priest in Slavonia. As he took no interest in the mummy, he donated it in 1867 to the State Institute of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia in zagreb .
In 1891, the wrappings were transported to Vienna, where they were thoroughly examined by Jacob Krall, an expert on the Coptic language, who expected the writing to be either Coptic, Libyan or Carian. Krall was the first to identify the language as Etruscan and reassemble the strips. It was his work that established that the linen wrappings constituted a manuscript written in Etruscan.
At first, the provenance and identity of the mummy were unknown, due to the irregular nature of its excavation and sale. This led to speculation that the mummy may have had some connection to either the Liber Linteus or the Etruscans. But a papyrus buried with her proves that she was Egyptian and gives her identity as Nesi-hensu, the wife of Paher-hensu, a tailor from Thebes.

Date and origin
On paleographic grounds, the manuscript is dated to approximately 250 BC. Certain local gods mentioned within the text allow the Liber Linteus's place of production to be narrowed to a small area in the southeast of  Tuscany near Lake Trasimeno, where four major Etruscan cities were located: modern day Arezzo, Perugia, Chiusi and cCortona.

The book is laid out in twelve columns from right to left, each one representing a "page". Much of the first three columns are missing, and it is not known where the book begins. Closer to the end of the book the text is almost complete (there is a strip missing that runs the entire length of the book). By the end of the last page the cloth is blank and the selvage is intact, showing the definite end of the book.
There are 230 lines of text, with 1200 legible words. Black ink has been used for the main text, and red ink for lines and diacritics.
In use it would have been folded so that one page sat atop another like a codex, rather than being wound along like a scroll. Julius Caesar is said to have folded scrolls in similar accordion fashion while on campaigns.

Though the Etruscan language is not fully understood, certain words can be picked out of the text to give us an indication of the subject matter. Both dates and the names of gods are found throughout the text, giving the impression that the book is a religious calendar. Such calendars are known from the Roman world, giving not only the dates of ceremonies and processions, but also the rituals and liturgies involved, the lost Etrusca disciplina referred to by several Roman antiquarians.

The theory that this is a religious text is strengthened by recurring words and phrases that are surmised to have liturgical or dedicatory meanings. Some notable formulae on the Liber Linteus include a hymn-like repetition of ceia hia in column 7, and variations on the phrase śacnicstreś cilθś śpureśtreśc enaś, which is translated by van der Meer as "by the sacred fraternity/priesthood of cilθ, and by the civitas of enaś".

mercoledì 16 ottobre 2013

The Monteleone Chariot

The Monteleone chariot is an Etruscan chariot  dated to c. 530 BC. It was originally uncovered at Monteleone di Spoleto and is currently part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Though about 300 ancient chariots are known to still exist, only six are reasonably complete, and the Monteleone chariot is the best-preserved and most complete  of all known surviving examples. Carlos Picón, curator of the museum's Greek and Roman department, has called it "the grandest piece of sixth-century Etruscan bronze anywhere in the world."

The Monteleone chariot was part of a burial, containing the remains of two human corpses, along with two drinking cups. Measuring 131 cm in height and designed to be drawn by two horses, the chariot itself is constructed of wood covered with hammered bronze plates and carved ivory decoration. The bronze plates are decorated with Homeric iconography; the main panel depicts Achilles being handed his armor by his mother, Thetis. The chariot's frame and plating is additionally adorned with animals and mythological creatures, rendered in detail. The chariot's decorations would also have included inlaid amber and other exotic materials, but only the bronze and ivory decorations have survived. The chariot's wheels have nine spokes (rather than the classical Greek four, the Egyptian six, or the Assyrian and Persian eight; excavated chariots from Celtic burials have up to twelve spokes).

Contemporary curators at the Museum had long suspected that the chariot's original 1903 reconstruction was not historically accurate. In 1989, under the direction of Italian archaeologist Adriana Emiliozzi, the Metropolitan Museum began a five-year reexamination and restoration of the chariot. During the restoration, it was discovered that the chariot had in fact been originally assembled incorrectly; additionally, evidence was uncovered indicating that the chariot, previously thought to have seen little actual use, had in fact been involved in a serious accident at some point during its life. The newly restored chariot's reinstallation was scheduled as part of the major renovations of the Metropolitan Museum's Greek and Roman galleries, opening to the public on April 20, 2007.

It was found in 1902 in Monteleone di Spoleto near Spoleto in the province of Perugia of Umbria, by a farmer named Isidoro Vannozzi who inadvertently unearthed it while digging a wine cellar. According to some accounts, Vannozzi hid the chariot in his barn, concerned that the authorities might confiscate it, and later sold it to two Frenchmen in exchange for two cows. Another account, related by Vannozzi's son Giuseppe, holds that the chariot was immediately sold as scrap metal, and the proceeds from the sale used to buy roof tiles. Changing hands several times after its initial sale, the chariot was eventually purchased in Paris by J. P. Morgan, who sent it to the Metropolitan Museum in 1903, where its first restoration took place.

Because the museum's acquisition of the chariot in 1903 predates by six years Italy's first laws restricting export of items that carry "cultural and artistic values," the chariot's sale was legal at the time of purchase, though debated by the contemporary press. In January 2005, the comune of Monteleone began a campaign aimed at recuperating the chariot from the Met; their efforts, however, did not receive the backing of the Italian government. The Metropolitan Museum has responded that the chariot was "purchased in good faith".A full-size copy was made in the mid-20th century, which is on display in Monteleone.

mercoledì 18 settembre 2013

Fortified Settlement of Ghiaccioforte - 3 - Votive Offering

The discovery of votive offerings on the western hill of Ghiaccioforte testifies to the existence of a place of worship. In fact, it was an ancient custom to leave votive offerings near a sanctuary, which steadily accumulated.

The objects retrieved in the cache of votive offerings of Ghiaccioforte, preserved in the museum of Scansano, are mostly reproductions of parts of human anatomies, placed there to ask the divinity for the healing of an illness, or as thanks for a past healing.

The presence of two bronze statuettes, representing youths grasping a billhook, offers some indication of the kind of worship practiced in this place: it was probably connected to the agricultural activities of the area, as the iconography of the two statuettes would lead us to believe; they probably represent Selvans, typical Etruscan rural gods.