7. The Art of Worship: Votive Religion and Temple Architecture in Central Italy
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7 The Art of Worship Votive Religion and Temple Architecture in Central Italy The Etruscans were respected by other cultures for their piety and religious learning; the Roman state on occasion sought the advice of Etruscan priests in matters of civic rituals and divination. It appears, also, that the earliest non-Greek cult buildings and monumental temples to be erected in Italy were those at the famous Etruscan sanctuaries. Votive offerings and their dedication by inscription also were stimulated by Etruscan practices. Objects illustrating Etruscan religion include parts of the decoration of actual temples or sanctuaries , mainly in the form of their terracotta roof revetments (sets of examples from Orvieto, Cerveteri, and Tarquinia), and votive offerings, such as bronze figurines and terracotta anatomical models. Objects of daily use such as hand-mirrors, seals, and painted vases might also be decorated with scenes of religious rituals or myths.1 In addition to Vulci, other cities are linked with this evidence. From Praeneste in the Latin territory, comes a fragmentary mold for a large ketos, the snarling head of a sea monster that once decorated a temple. Praeneste is situated on a major thoroughfare connecting Etruria with southern Italy, and since the Orientalizing period it partook of Etruscan material culture, especially developments in the terracotta and bronze industries. Praeneste was famous for its oracle at the sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, which still dominates the city today; it suffered during the 1st Fig. 31. Selection of anatomical votives on display. century BC in the Civil War, but by then had become fully Romanized.2 Painted vases with scenes of worship or myth were made in the Faliscan city of Falerii (modern Civita Castellana). Known as Falerii veteres (“the Old Falerii”) after its population was forcibly moved by their Roman conquerors in 241 BC, the city’s culture, like that of other Faliscan settlements, had been visibly Etruscan except for their Latin-like language, written in an Etruscan alphabet. The flourishing of the Faliscan economy during the 4th and early 3rd century BC has furnished several kinds of fine painted vases, as well as temple terracottas.3 Perugia, for which little is known of the earliest periods, is well represented by the artistic products of its 4th century and Hellenistic industries of bronzes and stone sculpture. A fine mirror acquired at Perugia (250) is a rare illustration of a Greek myth. An angular bronze figurine in a nostalgic Geometric style (260) must have come from a votive deposit at some as yet undiscovered sanctuary, a later expression of a tradition of metal offerings of human forms in an abstracted style. Many scholarly approaches to such votives are possible: the aesthetic and technological, defining workshops, principles of design and circulation of goods, as well as an anthropological interpretation of the meaning and behavior defined in specific deposits and their location. This is not possible, however, with isolated museum pieces.4 Because of its strategic, interior location above the middle Tiber valley in the ethnic region of Umbria, Perugia was important in the later history of Etruscan culture. Involved in the intriguing of other cities, Perugia too would fall to Rome, but during the 4th–1st centuries BC, its wealth was seen in the now famous Hellenistic tombs (such as the Tomb of the Volumnii) and many Etruscan inscriptions (including one of the longest, the Perugia cippus).5 Religious Beliefs: Divination There were many ways to consult the gods or read the messages of the cosmos, including inspection of the entrails of a sacrificial animal, especially a sheep’s liver. For such practices, models were made with the names of relevant gods inscribed, and some funeral effigies show the deceased proudly holding their models. A famous mirror, now in the Vatican, shows a winged demigod, Chalkas, “reading” a victim’s excised entrails as he stands on rocky ground.6 Other images show specially costumed diviners with livers or observing natural phenomena. Non-violent means of interpreting the gods’ will included augury, observation of the sky and the flight of birds, or the casting of lots such as leafshaped metal sortes. Etruscan dice, the prototype of the Museum’s own game pieces, were generally found in tombs and no doubt used in everyday games of chance; in funerary contexts they probably also carried a divinatory connotation.7 To Etruscans who saw the message of gods in clouds, birds, and entrails, nothing was really the result of chance.8 The Ritual of Worship Processions, music, chanting, and incantations...


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Subject Headings

  • Faliscans (Italic people).
  • University of Pennsylvania. Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology -- Catalogs.
  • Art, Etruscan -- Catalogs.
  • Italy -- Antiquities -- Catalogs.
  • Etruscans.
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