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Topografia generale e storia del santuario: Analisi dei contesti e delle stratigrafie

Topografia generale e storia del santuario: Analisi dei contesti e delle stratigrafie

By Lucio Fiorini. With an essay, "I Metalli," by Enrico Franceschi and Giorgio Luciano. Pp. 484, figs. 279, pls. 28. Edipuglia, Bari 2005. €100. ISBN 88-7228-440-6 (paper).


Gravisca is a key site for the study of Mediterranean trade and interaction between the sixth and third centuries B.C.E. It is usually described as a major trading station (emporion) on the Etruscan coast during the Archaic period, serving the nearby city of Tarquinia for most of its history as, for example, Pyrgi served Caere. The importance of the excavations directed here from 1969 to 1979 by Mario Torelli and Francesca Boitani has long been recognized thanks to preliminary reports and numerous studies of the abundant finds (notably ceramics and inscriptions). This volume initiates the projected set of 16 definitive monographs dedicated to the sanctuary zone, some of which have already appeared. It provides a detailed account of the archaeological contexts (the excavated buildings, features, and stratigraphic relationships) and is therefore essential for informed interpretation and assessment.

The publication of a complicated excavation directed by others many years ago cannot have been a simple task. Fiorini must be congratulated for having worked through a mass of data and presented us with meticulous descriptions and an extensive body of good-quality photographs, line drawings, and reconstructions (axonometric projections). He also provides a stimulating synthesis, which has evidently benefited greatly from his own intimate knowledge of the site.

The book is well organized and easy to consult. It is divided into three unequal parts: the first outlines literary references to Gravisca and the more recent history of archaeological work (19–28); the second describes excavation methods, the topographical context, building techniques, each of the major shrines, and a street plan (31–178); the third conveniently summarizes the development of the site with reference to six phases of building (from ca. 580 to 280 B.C.E.), preceding the foundation in 181 of a Roman colonia on the same, by now probably abandoned, terrain (179–201). The rest of the book consists of a concordance of finds, listed by context (205–461), and an appendix of scientific analyses attesting metalworking on-site (499–506).

The excavators will doubtless be gratified, and others reassured, that the original chronological sequence is upheld in this study and supported by recent soundings in the area. The synthesis in part 3 not only charts the main changes to buildings and layouts in chronological order but also considers the economic, social, and political implications of the finds, placing Gravisca in a much wider context. This owes much to Torelli’s historical perspective and influential views (amply cited in the footnotes and bibliography), which provide a compelling account of the changing fortunes and character of the site over time. Of particular interest is the suggestion that it was originally founded ca. 580 B.C.E. by Phokaian Greeks as an emporion, in which metalworking was allied to the ideological protection and sponsorship of Aphrodite’s shrine. It was aggrandized architecturally ca. 480 under Etruscan auspices and also accommodated Etrusco-Italic divinities and devotees, while the street plan and buildings were further developed in the fifth–fourth centuries. After partial destruction and declining activity, which coincide with Roman expansion in the third century, the site was abandoned and refounded as a Roman colonia in the second century, although a memory of earlier cults evidently persisted until the first century C.E.; this is implied by a sigillata sherd inscribed to Adon (there had been an earlier Adonion near the shrine of Aphrodite).

Fiorini has made effective use of the archaeological evidence in historical reconstruction and generalization. A graph of the rise and fall of Attic imports at Gravisca (190), which shows a marked, albeit uneven, decline in the fifth century B.C.E., exemplifies the potential for quantitative analysis that a well-excavated site provides. On certain points, there is still room for debate and clarification, for example, concerning the broader topography of the site and the relationship of the sanctuary zone to other features. At present, we know little about noncult buildings or any quayside facilities that one might expect to find in such a context. The presence of an internal harbor, like a Phoenician kothon, is disputed and perhaps merits further work on the ground. The peripheral location of the sanctuary is said to reflect, or be due to, the social marginalization and lowly social class of the various groups, especially foreign mariners, using it in the Archaic period (183). Yet the evidence for metalworking might suggest practical reasons for this setting.

In general, the “Greekness” of the sanctuary and its visitors, at least in the Archaic period, is stressed (as does the series title: santuario greco). Nevertheless, this might merit further debate once all the finds have been studied. While Greek inscriptions on votives are a useful indicator of the identity or provenience of dedicants, not all the ceramic material speaks so eloquently. It also remains paradoxical that the period of maximum architectural expansion of the sanctuary, in the fifth century B.C.E., is thought to coincide with a time of economic stagnation and a shift in commercial activities to the nearby metropolis of Tarquinia (26, 191). This can perhaps be rationalized in terms of widespread sociopolitical changes, but there is a risk of underestimating the importance of local or westward-oriented trade by taking the quantity of imported Greek ceramics as the measure of economic health.

One might mention in addition that there is some earlier evidence of coastal settlement and industrial activity in the area of Gravisca during the Villanovan Iron Age (M. Pacciarelli, Dal villaggio alla cittá. La svolta protourbana del 1000 a.C. nell’Italia tirrenica [Florence 2000] 171–76). In terms of construction techniques (timber, mudbrick, and rather uneven stones), the sixth-century phase is not particularly striking. Rather than marking the foundation of Tarquinia as a city-state, one might say that Gravisca signals its coming of age.

However one views such questions, this volume represents a considerable achievement and an excellent anchorage in Etruscan archaeology.

Robert Leighton
Department of Archaeology
School of History, Classics and Archaeology
University of Edinburgh
12 Infirmary Street
Edinburgh EH1 1LT
United Kingdom

Book Review of Topografia generale e storia del santuario: Analisi dei contesti e delle stratigrafie, by Lucio Fiorini

Reviewed by Robert Leighton

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 112, No. 1 (January 2008)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1121.Leighton

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