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The Etruscan World

The Etruscan World

Edited by Jean Macintosh Turfa (The Routledge Worlds). Pp. xlvii + 1,167, figs. 736. Routledge, New York 2013. $280. ISBN 978-0-415-67308-2 (cloth).

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This volume, a new addition to the Routledge Worlds series, draws together the work of more than 60 contributors, with essays on an exceptionally broad range of topics related to Etruscan culture. Contributors to the volume represent both long-established figures in the field as well as an encouraging number of younger scholars. As editor, Turfa introduces the extensive volume with a mission statement, declaring that the book is “not intended to replace the major works in English on Etruscan culture, but rather to supplement and augment them with in-depth studies of special fields, and to present the very latest discoveries and analysis” (3). In this, The Etruscan World indisputably succeeds. At more than 1,200 pages, the volume is divided into eight thematic sections consisting of a varying number of topically discrete essays. Each chapter is efficiently illustrated with black-and-white images, although some images relevant to different essays are curiously redundant.

Part 1 (“Environment, Background and the Study of Etruscan Culture”) includes contributions by Wiman on the environment, Bagnasco Gianni on the historical perspective of Pallottino’s thoughts on Etruscan origins, Briquel on perspectives concerning Etruscan origins from ancient authors, and Kron on demography. The four essays of this section consider the physical environment of central Italy along with a pair of historiographical essays, both examining the ancient literary tradition concerning Etruscan origins as well as an in-depth consideration of Pallottino’s foundational work on the question. The final essay of the section is thematically distinct from the preceding three, providing a review of dietary, genetic, and skeletal evidence related to Tuscany’s ancient population from a number of recent related studies.

Contributions by Bartoloni on Villanovan culture, Sannibale on the Etruscan Orientalizing period, Leighton on aspects of Etruscan urbanization, Jolivet on Etruria during the centuries of Rome’s northern advance, and Nielsen on family tombs of northern Etruria make up part 2 (“The Historical Development of Etruria”). The five essays of this section consider the social and urban development of the region from a chronological perspective. Bartoloni’s essay on the material culture and social forms of the Etruscan Iron Age serves as an ideal preface for Sannibale and Leighton’s contributions, both of which offer detailed summation of the dynamism and complexity of the region during the years from the late eighth to early sixth centuries B.C.E. The final two essays consider Etruria’s “decline,” as these urban centers negotiated with the new political, economic, and social realities of Rome’s emergence.

Part 3 (“Etruscans and Their Neighbors”) includes essays by Lo Schiavo on the western Mediterranean of the Late Bronze Age, Lo Schiavo and Milletti on Etruscan contacts with Nuragic Sardinia, D’Oriano and Sanciu on relations with Punic populations, Milletti on Etruscan interactions with Corsica, De Lucia Brolli and Tabolli on Etruscan contact with the Faliscans, Sassatelli and Govi on contact with the populations of the Adriatic and Po River valley, Cuozzo on the Etruscans in Campania, and Gran-Aymerich on commercial and social contacts with Carthage, Iberia, Massalia, and Gaul.

The seven contributions of part 3 present valuable perspectives on Etruria’s social and economic relationships with non-Etruscan populations throughout the western Mediterranean and Po River valley. Each essay valuably summarizes large bodies of research, much of which is scattered across a dizzying array of publication venues often difficult for English speakers to access. Collectively, this chorus of contributions serves as an excellent demonstration of Etruria’s faceted, complex, and potent economic role throughout the first half of the first millennium B.C.E.

Part 4 (“Etruscan Society and Economy”) includes contributions by Becker on political and legal systems, Gran-Aymerich and Turfa on commerce beyond Etruria proper, Bonfante on mothers and children, Benelli on slavery and manumission, Agostiniani on language, and Maras on numbers and reckoning. Each of these six essays is individually quite compelling, but the group as a whole lacks some of the coherence of the volume’s previous sections. Agostiniani’s essay on the Etruscan language provides a strong summary of current thinking on the nature and structure of this puzzling language. It also demonstrates a problem with attempts to comprehensively describe aspects of Etruscan culture for which extensive textual evidence simply does not survive. Limited data is often forced to support the weight of considerable inference. While nothing presented within these essays is impossible or even unlikely, often much about many complex social institutions must be inferred from modest available information.

The fifth section (“Religion in Etruria”) includes essays by Simon on the Etruscan cooption of Greek myth, Krauskopf on gods and demons of the Etruscan pantheon, de Grummond on haruspicy and augury,  Edlund-Berry on place specificity in Etruscan religion , Rafanelli on archaeological evidence of ritual behaviors, Bagnasco Gianni on the sacred areas of Tarquinia and its surroundings, Baglione on Pyrgi, Stopponi on the Campo della Fiera sanctuary at Orvieto, Steingräber on worship within the space of Etruscan necropoleis, and Rasmussen on the ritual importance of specific types of imported and local objects in tombs. This group of 10 essays represents a useful contribution to the growing number of collected and individual works on aspects of Etruscan religion, summarizing a wide range of material into manageable categories. Several essays focus on specific sites and condense a considerable amount of recent excavation data into a highly accessible form. Others deal with various facets of religious beliefs from the perspective of iconography and funerary behaviors. In all, the collection provides an effective introduction to aspects of Etruscan religious life that permeated social, political, and economic dimensions of daily life.

The sixth thematic section (“Special Aspects of Etruscan Culture”) features chapters by Cherici on science, Edlund-Berry on the architectural heritage of Etruria, Bizzarri on town planning, Giardino on metallurgy, George on weapons and warfare, Cowan on armor, Bruni on seafaring and ship building, Emiliozzi on chariots and carts, Gleba on textiles, Pieraccini on food and drinking, Rathje on banqueting, Thuillier on theater and sport, Tobin on musical instruments, and Turfa and Becker on health and medicine. While this section is also rather lacking in thematic cohesion, each individual essay represents an effective specialized study that will be of use to scholars interested in very specific aspects of Etruscan material culture. The essential contributions of metallurgy and seafaring to the Etruscan economy are well represented, while other solid essays consider the evidence for military roles and material that competed for and defended those resources. Some often underexplored dimensions of daily life are revealed in excellent essays on textiles, food preparation and consumption, as well as the material evidence for musical instruments.

Part 7 (“Etruscan Specialties in Art”) includes essays by Camporeale on foreign artists in Etruria, Winter on architectural terracottas, Gaultier on jewelry, Hansson on engraved gems, Ambrosini on Etruscan painted pottery, De Puma on bucchero, Nagy on coroplastic figurines, Carpino on portraiture, Nagy again on landscape and illusion in wall painting, Scarpellini on bronze votive objects, De Puma again on mirrors, Recke on anatomical votives, and Harrison on animals in the household and environment. Etruria’s artistic traditions and production are explored in the 13 essays of this section. The longstanding question of foreign artisans and their influence on native material output is well represented in several contributions. Indigenous manufacturing and the subsequent behaviors associated with various classes of objects are given equal treatment in a number of essays as well. As with part 6, these essays consider in great detail particular forms of manufacturing and the influences on them and will likely be of interest to people curious about specific classes of materials.

Contributions by Rowland on Annius of Viterbo, De Angelis on the later reception of Etruscan culture, and Haack on modern approaches to Etruscan culture make up the final section, part 8 (“Post-Antique Reception of Etruscan Culture”). This concluding section considers the various ways an appreciation of the Etruscans has informed the experience of Tuscany’s past from the 15th century onward. While the Etruscans clearly do not vibrate through the modern consciousness of the ancient world in the same manner as their Greek counterparts or Roman successors, these three brief essays effectively demonstrate many of the ways in which a concern for central Italy’s ancient population has and continues to inform our experience of this remarkable region of the Mediterranean.

This generally well-edited, thoughtfully conceived volume is a mosaic of excellent summations of recent research. However, some of this research—for example, contributions touching on recent genetic data associated with both ancient and modern Tuscan populations—is not yet settled within the interpretive firmament of the discipline. As a result, some essays stand as good summaries of current thinking on topics that will likely prove to be exceptionally fluid and evolving areas of inquiry.

In the range of contributors, the extent of assembled expertise, and thematic breadth of this volume, there is little here in which to find fault. However, with this handbook as well as with a number of similar texts on Etruscan culture in various stages of production with other presses, one wonders—who is this volume for? Clearly, the study of the Etruscans benefits from this assortment of well-considered summaries of research. But at a price point of $280, it is difficult to imagine this volume as accessible to the average undergraduate. Moreover, as distribution of research increasingly migrates toward digital formats, the general availability of expensive physical volumes like this one will likely be initially limited to scholars with access to research libraries.

Certainly, anyone actively engaged in scholarship on the Etruscans will find this book to be a useful and detailed resource, providing exceptional analysis and cogent summaries of topics both within and tangential to any specialist’s given area of interest. Institutional libraries will certainly benefit from such a well-considered and comprehensive guide to the Etruscans, but the cost of the volume and extremely high level of discussion that typifies each contribution will probably limit the audience for what is a well-constructed and comprehensive addition to the field of Etruscan Studies.

Anthony Tuck
Classics Department
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Amherst, Massachusetts 01003

Book Review of The Etruscan World, edited by Jean Macintosh Turfa

Reviewed by Anthony Tuck

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 4 (October 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1184.Tuck

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