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The Etruscans Outside Etruria

The Etruscans Outside Etruria

By Giovannangelo Camporeale. Pp. 314, b&w figs. 15, color figs. 255, maps 17. Getty Publications, Los Angeles 2004. $49.95. ISBN 0-89236-767-9 (cloth).

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The publication of L’Etruschi fouri l’Etruria in 2001, reissued in this English-language edition, made an important contribution to the archaeology of pre-Roman Italy by shifting the focus from Etruria-proper to the entire Italian peninsula, moving into pan-Italic territory originally charted art historically by Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli in 1973 (Etruschi e Italici prima del dominio di Roma [Milan 1973]) and in a broader way by Massimo Pallottino in 1984 (Storia della prima Italia [Milan 1984]). Camporeale, however, is interested in looking at pre-Roman Italy through the lens of Etruscan cultural expansion, and his purpose is unabashedly and intentionally Etruscocentric: to “provide a survey of the movement of Etruscan culture into the various regions of ancient Italy, the Mediterranean, and continental Europe: to follow—as its title states—the Etruscans outside Etruria” (8).

Camporeale indeed seems to have given his distinguished list of contributors a great deal of leeway, and although the contributions vary in quality, they are as a whole impressive. More than a third of the book is made up of three excellent and readable essays by Camporeale himself, who provides a broad framework of Etruscan culture and more specialized surveys of the Etruscans in the Mediterranean and Europe. Other essays are shorter and more specialized. The list of 14 contributors includes some of the foremost Italic specialists who tackle both the expected—the Etruscans in the Veneto, the Po plain, Umbria, Latium, and Campania—and the more recondite aspects of the Etruscan presence in Rhaetia, Picenum, Lucania, Apulia, Calabria, Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily. Even with Camporeale’s broad introductory essays, this book is more concerned with the relationship of the Etruscans to the rest of Italy than to the rest of Europe and the Mediterranean. That is just fine, for all the essays are informative, and the copious color illustrations are of high quality, often spectacular, and illustrate material not easily found elsewhere.

There will be revelations here even for specialists, and it is a shame that the bibliography is so brief and that there is no scholarly apparatus or an index. The book seems to be aimed at a general audience, and while Camporeale’s essays succeed on this level, the more specialized chapters will prove to be heavy-going for a general reader. Particularly informative is the contribution of Sassatelli on the Etruscans in the Po plain, based as it is on that scholar’s excellent work on the epigraphy and archaeology of the Bolognese. Other standouts are the essays by Capuis (Veneto), Maggiani (Liguria), Naso (Latium), and Donati (Corsica). A few of the contributions are little more than discussions of Etruscan exports, for instance De Juliis on Apulia and Landolfi on Picenum, but this problem may result more from the state of our knowledge than any lack of effort by the authors. Overall, even if geared to a general audience, this excellent book might have been improved by theoretical discussion of questions of cultural identity, since issues of ethnicity and cultural interaction, as determined by material culture, are a recurrent theme.

The approaches of the individual contributors vary widely. Scholars like Camporeale and Sassatelli clearly have high regard for evidence, which they assess and marshal to create a comprehensive reconstruction of cultural process. D’Agostino, in his summary of the Etruscans in Campania, takes a broader and far more sweeping approach. He begins with a methodological leap of faith by assuming, a priori, that all good things must come from Greece. As a result we are told, for instance, that princely tombs result from the inspiration of Greek concepts of heroism (243). More surprisingly, D’Agostino lowers the date of Murlo’s first building phase, which has been shown by the excavators to be mid seventh century B.C.E, to the early sixth century (248). This chronological restructuring allows D’Agostino to suggest that Etruscan terracotta decorative systems are entirely dependent on Greek models, something that is not altogether clear from the present state of the evidence and that would, in any case, demand a more scrupulous acknowledgement of the chronological issues. Other tendentious suggestions in this vein include “architectural terracottas known as Etruscan-Campanian ... would be better defined as Greek-Campanian” (248), and “It is also probable that Poseidonia stimulated the creation of the great Etruscan clay statues of the Archaic period” (250).

We should be grateful to Getty Publications for making this material available to Anglophone readers were it not for a problematic translation that on occasion turns the original Italian text into an incomprehensible muddle. The quality of translation varies widely from essay to essay, but writers whose style is more complex and whose meanings are more nuanced suffer the most. But it is not just the nuances of the Italian language that are lost; the bigger problem is one of clarity and precision. This reviewer often had to consult the Italian edition to understand the English text (e.g., “Le tombe a cassone, originalmente interrate” became “cube tombs ... originally filled with earth” [184]). Or we are subjected to simplistic statements: “the Camuni decorated giant rock surfaces with many incised figures, a true mirror of their society and customs. This activity, evidently inseparable from their customs, was practiced until the Roman period” (156). Sometimes terms and ideas are introduced with no apparent reason and no adequate explanation: “In the climate of general withdrawal that characterized central Italy in general and southern Etruria in particular during the fifth century B.C., what has been called the ‘port facies’ was an exception. This horizon featured remarkable imports of Attic pottery, which reached the main seaports of the Tyrrhenian, from Populonia to Pisa, and from Genoa to Aleria in Corsica” (166).

Far too much gets lost in translation. One instance of this is in basic archaeological terminology. Black-glaze or black-gloss pottery is repeatedly referred to as black painted. We hear of “stone-slabs boxes,” or of the Umbrian “race” (for the more poetic and hence more anthropologically nuanced “genti di stirpe umbre”). A “ripostiglio” of bronzes becomes a storeroom. A “stips votiva” becomes a votive cabinet. A “black figured” cup in an illustration (301) is clearly black glaze. There are even geographical gaffes: the Gulf of Lyon (“Golfo di Leone”) becomes the Gulf of Lion. The translation often reads as if it had been churned out by a computer program, but the greatest fault must certainly lie with the editors, whose names are proudly listed on the back of the title page but who seem not to have bothered to read the English text. At least I hope that they have not read it, for otherwise I would wonder if anyone at Getty Publications understands even the rudiments of archaeology. The whole affair has a slap-dash feel to it: the English edition was produced in Italy by the original publishers and printers, with identical cover art, cloth cover, and layout (which is good, for the Italian edition was handsomely produced), but the general impression is that an unedited English text was hurriedly inserted into an existing layout. This is a shame, for the hard work and thoughtful contributions of the distinguished group of authors deserve far better treatment. The book should be read widely and belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in early Italy. But anyone who has a basic understanding of Italian will be far better off with the Italian edition.

Greg Warden
Meadows School of the Arts
P.O. Box 750356
Southern Methodist University
Dallas, Texas 75275

Book Review of The Etruscans Outside Etruria, by Giovannangelo Camporeale

Reviewed by Greg Warden

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 110, No. 4 (October 2006)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1104.Warden

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