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Votives, Places and Rituals in Etruscan Religion: Studies in Honor of Jean MacIntosh Turfa

Votives, Places and Rituals in Etruscan Religion: Studies in Honor of Jean MacIntosh Turfa

Edited by Margarita Gleba and Hilary Becker (Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 166). Pp. xliii + 291, figs. 50, tables 2, plans 3, map 1. Brill, Leiden 2009. $154. ISBN 978-90-04-17045-2 (cloth).

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Fourteen contributions are united here in Votives, Places and Rituals in Etruscan Religion: Studies in Honor of Jean MacIntosh Turfa. For a festschrift, these relatively narrow thematic limits make sense because Etruscan religion, as the bibliography shows (xxvii–xxxii), has become, particularly in the past decade, one of the most important research fields for the scholar honored. This limitation makes it possible to see this volume not merely as a collection of articles but as a joint project on Etruscan religion; its division into parts (votives, places, rituals) and chapters takes this into account. The editors remark that some contributions fit into more than one of the parts (5) and—because the choice of subjects within the framework was obviously left to individual authors—the result is no “complete” survey over the field named in the title but rather a stimulating reader on the subject.

Some contributors may have preferred a broader readership for whom they could provide an overview of a particular aspect. Becker, for example, informs us in “The Economic Agency of the Etruscan Temple” about votives in general, dedicants, and sacrifice—in short, about everything that contributed to a sanctuary’s revenues, for which sources on Roman and Greek cultic practices repeatedly have to be cited. Edlund-Berry, too, in “The Historical and Religious Context of Vows Fulfilled in Etruscan Temple Foundations,” has to draw on Roman ritual practice for comparisons but can nonetheless delineate some differences: Etruscan temples were often built on the sites of older cult places (adhering to the continuity of cults, even if historical circumstances can be presumed for some temple foundations), not by the vota of individuals in critical situations. Steingraeber presents, based on his studies of Etruscan monumental cippi and the southern Etruscan rock tombs, an unusual tomb: the Cima tumulus at San Giuliano. Various aspects of tomb-related cults can be particularly vividly illustrated by this example. Bonfante has compiled what little can be said about Etruscan ritual dress. Whoever wants to study this subject in the future will first have to look here. Glinister’s contribution, “Veiled and Unveiled: Uncovering Roman Influence in Hellenistic Italy,” demonstrates that while votive heads (capite velato) are often interpreted as signs of the Romanization of Italic and Etruscan religions, the situation is more complex.

Glinister’s investigation belongs to a group of contributions written for specialists but which are also readable by non-Etruscologists and offer a good understanding of current research questions and hypotheses. The “Etruscans out of Etruria” is one of those topics: Gran-Aymerich presents Etruscan finds in the western Mediterranean and western Europe, which could be votives (possibly belonging to Etruscans or to locals who were given them by Etruscans). This, however, can be ascertained only in exceptional cases. The Portonaccio sanctuary had a large sphere of influence, as Briquel shows by discussing personal names on archaic bucchero votives found at the site. Besides well-known families from Veio such as the Tulumnes/Tolumnii/Tolonii, visitors from Caere, Tarquinia, Vulci, Orvieto, and northern Etruria also made dedications there, and they sometimes let their votives be inscribed in the sanctuary, as certain graphic characteristics indicate. Gleba then investigates textile tools in her paper “Textile Tools in Ancient Votive Contexts.” The number of loomweights suggests that, not only on the Athenian Acropolis but also in some Italian sanctuaries, facilities existed where ornate textiles were woven as gifts for the divinity (cf. U. Kron’s different interpretation of the numerous loomweights from Bitalemi in Gela [“Frauenfeste in Demeterheiligtümern: Das Thesmophorion von Bitalemi,” AA (1992) 611–50; see esp. 630]). Even Herakles belonged to the recipients of textile tools; this is explained by his “connection with transhumance and pastoral activities, and hence wool production” (70 n. 6). When he is represented with spindle and distaff, however, this has nothing to do with shepherds and wool production but rather alludes to the myth of Herakles and Omphale.

The tomb also counts among the “places” referred to in the title of the book because dealing with death is an essential aspect of every religion. Van Kampen comes to the conclusion in his paper “Stone Sculpture in the Context of Etruscan Tombs: A Note on Its Position” that sculptures in front of the tomb’s entrance are much more common than sculptures inside the tomb and that only the latter come into question as ancestor figures. The contribution of painstaking excavations to our knowledge of rituals is impressively shown by Warden’s study on the sanctuary of Poggio Colla and Bartoloni’s paper “Earliest Phases of Populonia.” Becker’s analysis of bones and ashes from cremations is particularly informative because Etruscologists are usually laypeople in this field. It may not be generally known that even burned bones did not necessarily fit into the (often quite small) urn and had to be expressly broken up. This comminution, at least in the early phase, was by no means limited to lower-class cremations. De Grummond investigates another grave-gift ritual in “On Mutilated Mirrors.” Reuse is excluded by the inscription “ŚUΘINA” on numerous grave offerings in the tomb (ET 1:161). A genuine mutilation would, in my opinion, only be the second method by which the mirror is folded. This is not done for other objects with śuthina inscriptions and has to do, as de Grummond presumes, with the function of a mirror as a doorway into other spheres. (On such conceptions in Greece, see L. Balensiefen, Die Bedeutung des Spiegelbildes als ikonographisches Motiv in der antiken Kunst [Tübingen 1990] 167–209). Mutilated mirrors, then, can no longer be used as a passage into the world of the living.

From the liber linteus at Agram and from other Etruscan texts, van der Meer deduces the significance of the root lur and the god of the same name, who is to be counted among the netherworld deities.

In all, this is a series of interesting contributions on Etruscan religion, some with new ideas, some being summaries. Fortunately, all are prudently formulated so that necessary hypotheses—they are numerous—remain identifiable as such and are not proclaimed as well-founded statements.

Ingrid Krauskopf
Institute for Classical Archaeology
University of Heidelberg
Marstallhof 4
69117 Heidelberg

Book Review of Votives, Places and Rituals in Etruscan Religion: Studies in Honor of Jean MacIntosh Turfa, edited by Margarita Gleba and Hilary Becker

Reviewed by Ingrid Krauskopf

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 114, No. 2 (April 2010)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1142.Krauskopf

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