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A Companion to the Etruscans

July 2018 (122.3)

Book Review

A Companion to the Etruscans

Edited by Sinclair Bell and Alexandra A. Carpino (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World). Pp. xxviii + 494. Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, N.J. 2016. $195. ISBN 978-1-118-35274-8 (cloth).

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It is auspicious testimony to a wider interest in the Etruscans among an anglophone audience that this volume is one of four relatively recently published guides, handbooks, or compendia to Etruscan culture. For those who regularly teach courses on the Etruscans and work in the field, it is, indeed, a good moment. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is some content found across these guides that is similar to other articles by the same authors on similar topics (Gleba, on textiles in this volume, in J.M. Turfa, ed., The Etruscan World [London and New York 2013], and in A. Naso, ed., Etruscology [Berlin 2015]; Rowland, on Annius of Viterbo in this volume, and in Turfa [2013]). Despite this, the audience for the volume under review here, part of the Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World Series, may not entirely coincide with audiences for the other volumes. With 30 chapters (versus 63 in The Etruscan World and 90 in Etruscology), the Companion is a more concisely circumscribed introduction to the Etruscans, covering topics foundational to the discipline while presenting new approaches and valuable timely research in the field of Etruscology. It is also of no small significance that many authors present perspectives that highlight agency and reception in the formation of Etruscan material cultures, a mission the editors state is a key idea informing the collection. While many of the authors are well-established scholars with significant expertise in their fields, a few are emerging scholars who bring fresh perspectives to their topics.

The volume comprises an introduction, 30 chapters organized in five thematic sections, and an appendix. The introduction includes the editors’ survey of recent projects, exhibitions, and publications in North America that have presented the Etruscans to a growing audience. Many of the chapters are broad overviews, while some are more focused in scope, treating discrete topics in substantive detail. The appendix provides a brief survey of Etruscan art in North American museums as well as the curatorial decisions behind the presentation of these materials (de Puma). Such bookending—one assumes intentional—is a great framing device for the diverse topics within, particularly for a North American audience, whether scholars, undergraduates, or a more general interested readership.

Part 1 (“History”) presents three chapters covering the beginnings of Etruscan culture during the Protovillanovan and Villanovan eras (Stoddart); identity formation during the Orientalizing, Archaic, and Classical periods (Neil); and the romanization of Etruria (Ceccarelli). Though the framework of Neil’s essay is an interesting one, the content does overlap with much in succeeding chapters.

Part 2 (“Geography, Urbanization, and Space”) begins with an overview of environment and geography, followed by an excellent survey of settlement patterns and types (both Stoddart), a summary of Etruscan interactions and trade within the larger Mediterranean (Camporeale), and an essay on the foundation of Etruscan cities, with a well-documented overview of relevant historiography (Riva). Following is a useful synthesis of the discovery and excavations of Poggio Civitate (Tuck), another type of community whose monumental remains and evidence are of paramount significance for understanding the diversity of settlement types. Equally helpful is a chapter on important sites and ongoing excavations in southern and inner Etruria (Bizzarri). Another chapter in this section is devoted to technological innovations in Etruscan architecture and water management (Bizzarri and Soren), in which the authors use multiple source materials and sites to outline the Etruscan legacy of hydraulic engineering in Roman technology. A succinct and informative overview of rock-cut tombs and necropoleis (Steingräber) and a well-framed examination of the intersections between ritual praxis and sacred spaces (Warden) complete this section of the volume.

Part 3 (“Evidence in Context”) contains the largest number of chapters on a diverse array of topics. Though the thematic unity here is less consistent than in other sections, the essays are no less interesting or instructive. The role of skeletal remains and recent debates surrounding DNA analysis and Etruscan origins are expertly outlined (M. Becker), while issues concerning the Etruscan language, its linguistic affiliations and contextual usage, are covered comprehensively in the following chapter (Wallace). The next five offerings focus on specific categories of art or artifacts and include chapters on Etruscan innovations in bucchero technology (Perkins), textiles and their roles in Etruscan society (Gleba), a thematic examination of Etruscan wall painting (Pieraccini), Etruscan jewelry (Castor), and votive objects in ritual contexts (Nagy). While the role of faunal and floral materials in Etruscan ritual is mentioned in passing in this last chapter and in Warden’s on sacred spaces, one wishes for more discussion of the essential role these played in cultic practice. Completing this section are three contributions whose topics reconsider etic perspectives on Etruscan culture and seek to provide correctives to biased Greek and Roman accounts. Notions of Etruscan wealth and decadence (H. Becker), the status of women in Etruscan society vis à vis the most famous of Etruscan women, Tanaquil (Meyers), and the trope of the obesus etruscus (Turfa) are all cogently reframed through multidisciplinary approaches.

Part 4 (“Art, Society, and Culture”) includes articles that, to a large extent, consider the relationship between Etruscan visual and material culture and the wider Mediterranean world. The first explores the mechanisms behind internal social dynamics and the acquisition of foreign objects and motifs during the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. (Gunter). An essay on Etruscan artists tangles with complex questions surrounding “art” and “artists” in a premodern context, issues surrounding ethnicity and the production of material culture, and, finally, Etruscan innovation in technique, style, and theme (Small). A thought-provoking essay on ponderation, or contrapposto, explores the reception of this compositional device and outlines its selective use in Etruscan art (de Angelis). Similarly, a chronological overview of Greek mythological themes in Etruscan art elucidates why certain Greek myths appealed to an Etruscan audience as well as the development of native Etruscan narratives (Krauskopf). The final essay in this section questions the penchant for violent imagery in Etruscan visual culture and persuasively argues for the contextual and deliberate selection of graphic images, as opposed to such imagery reflecting general aesthetic taste (Carpino).

Part 5 (“The Etruscan Legacy and Contemporary Issues”) presents three chapters covering the later reception of the Etruscans, forgeries, and looting. The first, on Annius da Viterbo (Rowland), covers familiar yet critical territory for understanding the role of the Etruscans in Renaissance Tuscany and Tuscan scholarship. A brief but fascinating chapter on forgeries considers the history of this practice from the Renaissance on, with particular attention to enhanced pastiches—authentic works with “restored” features (de Puma). A most welcome offering is the final contribution, an essay on looting and the antiquities trade (Lobay), in which the author problematizes historical and current issues related to looting by, among other methods, quantifying market activity. Though sobering, this chapter provides an interesting overview of national and international strategies to curb looting and the positive effects these and more social awareness have had in recent decades.

With handbooks such as this, one can always point to perceived lacunae in the comprehensiveness of topics. This Companion, however, is thoughtfully constructed in its thematic range, engages sophisticated and advanced questions central to the field of Etruscan studies, and presents useful apparatus for further research and related content. Each essay is followed by a lengthy list of references as well as a “Guide to Further Reading” that provides a narrative-based overview of the relevant bibliography. As with other volumes in the Blackwell Companion series, one drawback is the quantity and quality of illustrations. Images are small and produced in black and white with a small number of color plates. This is particularly unfortunate in the case of tomb painting, which is represented by only a couple of color plates reproducing very limited views of painted tomb interiors. More detailed maps would also have been useful to readers unfamiliar with many of the sites mentioned in the text.

As a whole, A Companion to the Etruscans presents a well-assembled and well-edited collection of essays on the current state of research in Etruscan studies. Undergraduates, graduate students, and specialists alike will find it to be an important resource. Though the cost of the print edition may be an impediment to individual purchases (the e-book is more affordable), institutional libraries will want this indispensable English-language guide on the shelves.

Laurel Taylor
Departments of Art History and Classics
University of North Carolina, Asheville

Book Review of A Companion to the Etruscans, edited by Sinclair Bell and Alexandra A. Carpino

Reviewed by Laurel Taylor

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 122, No. 3 (July 2018)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1223.taylor

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