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Arezzo nell’antichità

July 2012 (116.3)

Book Review

Arezzo nell’antichità

Edited by Giovannangelo Camporeale and Giulio Firpo. Pp. viii + 293, figs. 169, pls. 28. Giorgio Bretschneider, Rome 2009. €80. ISBN 978-88-7689-244-8 (cloth).

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The Chimaera, the Minerva, the Ploughman, red-gloss (Arretine) ceramics, and perhaps the “Patera cospiana” (a fine Etruscan mirror)—these are famed objects from ancient Arezzo that come to mind when one considers the profile of this great Etruscan and Roman city. Our perception of the city is also influenced by Livy’s (28.45.16–17) description of the provisions donated to the fleet of Scipio by seven Etruscan populi (202 B.C.E.), according to which Arezzo made the greatest contribution: 3,000 shields, 3,000 helmets, 50,000 hand weapons, tools for 40 warships, and 120,000 pecks of wheat. Located on a north–south trade route that would become the Via Flaminia Minor (187 B.C.E.) linked with the Via Cassia (171 B.C.E.) and thus connecting Rome with Bologna, Arezzo enjoyed a thriving economy for many centuries. The period of the Early Roman empire saw a surge of regard for the city not only because of its superb ceramics industry but also because it was the birthplace of Augustus’ influential minister Maecenas.

It is thus surprising and regrettable that, apart from its pottery, ancient Arezzo has received relatively little scholarly attention from archaeologists outside Italy. The present volume fills a great need, since it brings together studies on a wide variety of topics that have to do with the city, its geography, history, topography, art, and economy. Geology and prehistoric landscape are included as well. The editors, Camporeale and Firpo, have assembled a stellar cast of some of the best scholars working on ancient Etruria and Rome today, 28 in all, counting themselves. The volume, sponsored by the Accademia Petrarca di Lettere, Arti e Scienze di Arezzo, is particularly handsome, with a trim size of 24 x 29 cm, supporting high-quality images in color and black-and-white.

The book begins with three articles that provide a detailed and useful review of the history of archaeological discovery and research at Arezzo, a topic that has not been neglected in the past, since the noted Renaissance writer and artist, Giorgio Vasari, a native of Arezzo, and other humanists were ever eager and curious in the study and discussion of the Chimaera and other antiquities that came forth from the soil there. Following this is a section of studies of particular areas or problems, of uniformly high quality, going generally in chronological order all the way from the Jurassic to late antiquity and Christianity. Each section has its own “essential bibliography”; notes are incorporated into the text, a point that is sometimes distracting, given the detailed nature of the documentation. For the Etruscans, the essay on the history of Arezzo by Camporeale is central, and the reader would do well to read it first, since it gives an overview of material that is treated in more detail in other articles. Nocentini critiques the various attempts to determine the origin of the Roman name Arretium (the Etruscan name of the city is unknown), but cautiously refrains from formulating a new argument. Among other historical articles, the contribution of Sordi, touching in that it may have been “l’ultimo prodotto della Sua intense attività di ricerche” before her death in 2009 (viii), probes the period of crisis in Etruria and Arezzo in the first century B.C.E., while Porena narrows the focus to look at the evidence for the career and personality of the remarkable Caius Cilnius Maecenas, descended from Etruscan kings.

Many of the articles in the work are so thorough and authoritative that they will no doubt be the basic starting place for studying these topics. It is not possible in this review to give proper treatment to all, but a few may be noted here. Agostiniani gives a most interesting review of the 125 Etruscan inscriptions attributed to Arezzo and its territory (relatively few, when compared with 1,400 from Perugia, but many when compared with about 40 from Fiesole), covering the changes in orthography and pronunciation tied to chronology (archaic vs. “recent” Etruscan) and location in northern Etruria and the contexts of the inscriptions (mainly funerary). Articles on black-gloss pottery by Morel and on Arretine red-gloss by Porten Palange are highly specialized but also can be characterized as excellent introductions to the study of these ceramics. Vanni gives a concise account of Etruscan cast bronze coins with the “wheel” device, long believed to have been made at Arezzo, adding her support for this hypothesis about the coin series, which she has studied in great detail in her earlier publications. Cherici, a native of Arretine Bibbiena, reviews the evidence for the topography of the Etruscan and Roman city and the urbanistic development, drawing on his intimate knowledge and citing his numerous past publications. In an article on the Chimaera, Maggiani addresses controversy more than in his several popular accounts; regarding the vexing question of the authorship of the Chimaera, he argues for a workshop in Etruria with a mixed team of sculptors from Etruria and Magna Graecia, working for a wealthy Arretine noble, perhaps even someone from the family of the Cilnii.

A third section of the volume presents some of the more recent results of excavations in and outside the city (e.g., at Castiglion Fiorentino [Scarpellini]) and information on the development of museums, especially the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Gaio Cilnio Mecenate (Vilucchi).

The book may be understood as part of a resurgence of interest in the archaeological past on the part of the Comune di Arezzo. An encouraging development is the recent creation of an archaeological park at Castelsecco, about 3 km from the city, where a highly important Late Etruscan sanctuary was discovered in the 19th century (cf. 76–9, 159–60) but has remained relatively unknown. At the same time, one hopes for more Anglophone interest in Arezzo. The recent conference and exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu (2009) on the Chimaera of Arezzo was the occasion for a fresh acquaintance with the newly cleaned bronze, and it stimulated controversy and debate by American scholars (cf. P.G. Warden, “The Chimaera of Arezzo: Made in Etruria?” AJA 115 [2011] The proceedings of the conference, of which the majority will be in English, are scheduled for publication by the Bollettino di Archeologia Online of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali of Italy, further extending interest in Arezzo on the Internet.

Nancy T. de Grummond
Department of Classics
Florida State University
Tallahassee, Florida 32306

Book Review of Arezzo nellantichità, edited by Giovannangelo Camporeale and Giulio Firpo

Reviewed by Nancy T. de Grummond

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 116, No. 3 (July 2012)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1163.deGrummond

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