8. Etruria’s Final Days: Life and Death during the Late Period of Etruscan History
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8 Etruria’s Final Days Life and Death during the Late Period of Etruscan History The 4th century in Etruria already showed the tendencies of economic and political downturn that would gain momentum through the “Late” period, defined as the 4th–1st centuries BC. This chronological period is more difficult to define. Each city fell at a different date under the sway or outright military conquest of the Roman state, but a new spirit was evident in religion, art, and society by the mid-4th century. It corresponds to the developments of the Greek Hellenistic period. During the last quarter of the 20th century, scholars began to scrutinize the chronology of this period, offering more precise dates for the thousands of painted and BlackGloss vases, relief-carved urns and sarcophagi, and other art works that now fill museums. The evidence of inscriptions shows, too, that the Romanization of Etruria proceeded at a different pace in each city and town, as Latin gradually supplanted Etruscan as the written word.1 In the mid-3rd century revolt at Volsinii when freed slaves took control of the city, the old values were still important, even to the rebels. According to the Roman historians, the upstart rulers emphasized the significance of military command and the civic banquet, as well as claiming for themselves the new right to marry a member of a different class.2 Although these institutions had their origins in princely Iron Age Etruria, the family system and civic organization of the Etruscan cities seem to have preserved or reassigned some aristocratic traditions even into the period of Romanization. As other evidence of social change late in the 4th century and through the 3rd, the character of grave goods tends to be showy. Tombs contain painted vases and relief-decorated sarcophagi and urns, but there is nothing comparable to the “princely” burials of the 7th–6th centuries BC. Instead of offering quantities of gold jewelry, arms, furniture, and chariots, Etruscans during the 4th–1st centuries seem to have concentrated their wealth (and display), in their lifetime, in civic, religious, and household life. In the tombs, there are more token offerings of specially painted vases with scenes of fantasy, cult, or the afterlife, and sets of BlackGloss tableware, perhaps bought just for the funeral. Urns and sarcophagi express more expensive tastes, but the representations featured on them are part of a stock repertoire—whether of dramatic scenes from myth and legend, ornaments like rampant monsters, or a rather standardized “portraiture.” After the 4th century, there was a sharp decline in truly unique commissions by eccentric families, such as the mid-4th century Tetnie family’s “Boston sarcophagi.”3 The objects in the Museum from the last centuries are from a slightly different set of cities than those that furnished illustrations of early Etruscan and Faliscan culture. The region of Tarquinia was prosperous during the Villanovan through Archaic periods; it seems to come again into prominence in the Hellenistic period, to judge from the finds of wellappointed tombs and sanctuaries. The populace seems to be scattered in affluent, small towns like Musarna and Montebello, as well as in the metropolis itself.4 An additional problem in appreciating the art and values of later Etruscan society lies in the materials used. Too often, organic materials have disappeared from the archaeological record. The more permanent stone and terracotta have weathered or lost their coats of plaster and paint, and now appear coarser than when made. Brightly painted funerary vases tend to lose their pigments, and bronze mirrors are corroded, making it difficult to read their engraved designs. On rare occa- sions, however, colored glass survives, and even pseudomorphs (impressions or mineralized replacements of straw or cloth) can supply hints of the richness and general affluence of late Etruria. The terracotta sarcophagus fragment (294) is said to have been found at Corneto, thus in the necropolis of ancient Tarquinia. By its political accommodation of Rome during the 3rd century BC, when Rome was actively acquiring other domains by military means, this city was able to maintain a certain level of affluence. The medieval and modern city visible today is much smaller than the ancient original. A series of fine sarcophagi in stone and terracotta, and a number of tombs and sanctuary sites attest the continued importance of Tarquinia as a center of artistic production during the last centuries BC.5 Outlying cities in the social and artistic orbit of Tarquinia were Tuscania and Musarna, represented here by...


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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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