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January 2020 (124.1)
Edited by Jacopo Tabolli, with Orlando Cerasuolo (Cities and Communities of the Etruscans). Pp. xviii + 238. University of Texas Press, Austin 2019. $55. ISBN 978-1-4773-1725-9 (cloth).
“Of all the cities of Etruria, none takes so prominent a place in history as Veii” (xiii). So writes Tabolli at the beginning of this volume, borrowing the words of George Dennis in his landmark study of Etruscan topography The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria (Cambridge 1848 ). The use of this quotation serves as a neat justification for the current publication by positioning Veii as one of the most (if not the most) historically preeminent cities of Etruria. More importantly, however, it underscores the archaeological significance of the city, both as the focus of continuous excavation and as a rich source of Etruscan material culture. This volume aims to present a comprehensive, interdisciplinary, and up-to-date account of the history of the city, and it does so primarily by drawing on the results of recent archaeological investigations and reanalyses of prior studies. Such a work is long overdue, and it makes a fitting, if slightly uneven, second entry in the Cities and Communities of the Etruscans series.
The book has a decidedly archaeological focus, placing special emphasis on material culture in reconstructing the ancient city. This approach is evident at the outset. The first section, “Archaeology of the City,” reimagines conventional introductory sequences to such volumes by replacing a detailed history of antiquarian and archaeological activity at the site with three chapters that discuss the most methodologically significant projects undertaken from the mid 20th century onward (focusing on stratigraphic excavation, field survey, and noninvasive techniques). Read individually, these chapters are informative case studies, as they provide new insights into the transformation of the city and point to the direction of future research. Taken together, however, they make for an awkward introduction to the site and the volume. For example, chapter 1 discusses the stratigraphy of Piazza d’Armi, presenting a reconstruction of the site and a new chronological framework for its development. These discoveries have implications for our understanding of the rest of the city, but it is difficult to fully appreciate them without having a better sense of Veii as a whole. Chapter 2, “City and Landscape: The Survey,” is more successful, since it contextualizes the data from the influential South Etruria Survey with more recent survey results to shed light on the historical development of Veii and its environs.
The rest of the book is mostly devoted to presenting an archaeologically reconstructed account of the history and culture of Veii. The second part, “History of the City,” offers a largely chronological overview of the development of the city from the Bronze Age to the Classical period, emphasizing the city’s place in a Mediterranean-wide network of cross-cultural interaction. Many of the chapters in this section are focused on bridging various thematic, geographic and historical gaps: protohistory and history; urban and rural; settlement and cemetery; and locals and neighbors.Others focus on prominent architectural features (e.g., sanctuaries, defensive circuits) and various aspects of intellectual life (e.g., epigraphy). The third section, “Material Culture of the City,” covers the more significant categories of material culture at Veii (e.g., pottery, painting, metalwork, stone sculpture), highlighting the city’s position as a leader in art, manufacture, and trade. Most of the chapters successfully integrate typological summaries of the main art forms within a broader commentary of changing behaviors, practices, and ideologies. The result is a nuanced picture of life in the city, with a special focus on its developing social, political, economic, and cultural institutions.
The final section, “Legacy of the City,” takes us back to the beginning and invites us to consider the significance of Veii in the historical tradition of Rome. This is the shortest section of the book, containing a single chapter that turns a critical eye toward the ancient accounts concerning the Roman conquest of Veii. More specifically, it examines the role of the legendary figure Camillus in creating an ideological link between the siege of Veii in 396 BCE and the Gallic sack of Rome a few years later. Given that the literary sources go largely unquestioned elsewhere in the volume, this is a welcome contribution. Additionally, the chapter positions Veii as an alternate Rome, a comparison that is largely (and rightly) avoided in this book in an attempt to view the Etruscans on their own terms but that here serves to underscore the relationship between the two cities, if only in later times. Readers will not find anything here about Veii after 396 BCE nor about its legacy in more recent times (despite the introduction to the section, which suggests otherwise (217) even though this is clearly beyond the scope of the book).
One editorial problem is worth pointing out: the misprinted map 4. This map is supposed to indicate the major sites and remains in Veii but instead duplicates figure 14.1, “Cult Evidence from Urban Sanctuaries” (128), showing the location of the city’s sanctuaries. This mistake is especially unfortunate given that every chapter refers in some way to map 4; happily, one can determine an approximate location for most sites by consulting maps 1–3 and 5.
[Editor's note: After publication of this review, the University of Texas Press has written to acknowledge the printing error with map 4. An erratum sheet has been inserted into remaining copies of the volume].
This volume will be especially useful to advanced students and scholars of Etruscan history and archaeology and of Italian urbanism. The information is comprehensive, the bibliographies current, and the methodology consistent with the current direction of Etruscan studies (i.e., emphasizing cultural change as a product of internal development as opposed to external influence). It will likely be a first point of reference for those studying the Etruscan city. Less experienced students will find the book of more limited use since technical terms are unevenly defined, some cultural phenomena are unexplained, and the information is highly specialized. For those readers, it will help to consult this text alongside the many other recent English-language publications on the Etruscans.
J. Marilyn Evans
Book Review of Veii, edited by Jacopo Tabolli with Orlando Cerasuolo
Reviewed by J. Marilyn Evans
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 124, No. 1 (January 2020)
Published online at www.ajaonline.org/book-review/4018