Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Marie-Laurence Haack (ed.), Écritures, cultures, sociétés dans les nécropoles d'Italie ancienne: table ronde des 14-15 décembre 2007, mouvements et trajectoires dans les nécropoles d'Italie d'époque pré-républicaine et républicaine, ENS Paris. Ausonius Éditions. Études, 23. Pessac: Ausonius, 2009. Pp. 250. ISBN 9782356130099. €35.00.
Reviewed by Ingrid Edlund-Berry , The University of Texas at Austin

This volume contains papers presented at a conference held in Paris in December 2007 on the topic of "Mouvements et trajectoires dans les nécropoles d'Italie d'époque pré-républicaine et républicaine." Following an introduction by Haack, the papers are divided into two sections, on 'transfers' of populations and cultures, and 'strategies' of society, followed by indices on sources, places, and names (for a list of authors and titles, see below).

In many cultures of ancient Italy, burials supply vast amounts of information, and especially for the study of the Etruscans, tomb paintings, gifts, and architecture are used to reconstruct the society of the living. In her introduction, Haack points out that the presence of funerary inscriptions is often undervalued and that the quantity of inscriptions varies considerably in different areas and time periods within the Italian peninsula. The purpose of the collections of papers is to illustrate how inscriptions can be used to identify cultural phenomena while acknowledging the regional and chronological differences that definitely exist. The topics center on areas in northern and central Italy, ranging from Spina, Adria and Bologna in the north to Etruscan sites such as Chiusi, Volterra, Orvieto, Tarquinia, and Veii. The paper by Van Heems focuses on the archaic funerary inscriptions from the Crocifisso del Tufo cemetery at Orvieto (ancient Volsinii). The choice of this site is not arbitrary, but rather caused by the fact that it represents the cemetery where archaic inscriptions are more common than in any other Etruscan city. A study of the layout of the tombs, their size, and the location and contents of the inscriptions (mi followed by a name ) indicates that the cemetery was planned as a unit. Although each tomb allowed for two burials, only one name is listed in the accompanying inscription, and Van Heems suggests that it may simply indicate the owner of the burial chamber, regardless of who was buried there. As can be expected, variations occur within the inscriptions, including four which pertain to women. These are found on tombs identical to those of the men, and may indicate that women, like men, could have been the owners of the tomb structure.

Van Heems concludes that this almost formulaic connection between the layout of the cemetery, the identical plan of the tombs, and the numerous inscriptions indicate a conscious gesture of the city to award its citizens equal burial rights in the Archaic period, thereby mirroring the society of the living, at least in the city of Volsinii.

Haack's paper takes us to the Etruscan cities of Spina and Adria on the Adriatic coast. Because of the richness of Greek pottery and other finds from these sites and the fact that they, like Gravisca on the Tyrrhenian coast, are port cities, there is evidence of a mixture of people and of cultures. Although, as Haack points out, it is too simplistic to equate the presence of a Greek (or Etruscan) object with a Greek (or Etruscan) individual, a careful analysis of the inscriptions and the finds of pottery from habitation and funerary contexts indicates an interesting social structure. Her conclusions suggest that at Spina the Greeks and the Etruscans were part of a multi-ethnic society, whereas at Adria the Greeks lived apart from the Etruscans. At both places, however, the Etruscans absorbed the use of Greek goods, especially for use in burials, while maintaining the own traditions of using banquet pottery as funerary gifts (unlike the Greeks) in both male and female burials.

In the next paper, Cousin introduces the interesting contrast between the well-known Etruscan tomb paintings and the much lesser known inscriptions that occur on some of these paintings. While art historians and archaeologists tend to focus on the actual paintings and the tombs, linguists and epigraphers look primarily at the inscriptions, often without the context. The tombs discussed here come from Tarquinia (6th-2nd c. B.C.) and Volsinii (Orvieto) (4th c. B.C.), and the inscriptions represent the type that serves as a 'caption' or 'didascalia' (It.), usually consisting of a word or phrase to explain the scene depicted. While the practice of tomb paintings seems to have been an Etruscan invention, Greek equivalents are found as painted plaques, often with burial scenes where the figures are identified with one-word captions. The same pattern is also found on Greek vases, and Cousin draws attention to an Etruscan kantharos with a prothesis scene and a similar scene, although fragmentary, in the Tomba del Morto at Tarquinia.

An examination of the tombs with 'captions' shows that these were placed close to the figure to which they belonged, usually above the head, and that the tradition of captions, begun in the 6th c. B.C., continued until the 4th c. B.C., when longer inscriptions begin to appear and gradually occupy more space than the figures.

The paper by Dupraz presents funerary poems, written in Oscan (5) and Latin (17), representing two different cultural traditions. Of these, four of the Oscan texts, composed in a syllabic meter, are interpreted as aristocratic, and the deceased is congratulated for his or her achievements in life, without any reference to the mourning of the descendants. According to Dupraz, the format and contents reflect an earlier (6th-5th c. B.C.) tradition documented in a Picene inscription, whereas one Oscan text is closer to the Latin tradition in terms of form (iambic meter) and contents. Whereas the earlier Latin funerary texts were written in Saturnian verse, beginning in the 2nd c. B.C. the iambic verse is used in funerary texts referring to slaves and freedmen, and by the 1st c. B.C. these Latin inscriptions blend with the ones from Regions IV and V, including the Oscan text no. 5, included in the paper. By incorporating traditions of status, the role of the viewer of the inscription, meter, and language, each family, whether Roman or not, was able to express its place in society, even at a time when the Romans nominally were in control.

The second section of the book begins with Benelli's analysis of the aristocracy at Chiusi after the Hannibalic wars at the end of the third c. B.C.. Although funerary customs in the form of urns and funerary inscriptions have been known for a long time, recent research and publications have provided much new evidence. Benelli presents sets of tomb groups, some newly reconstructed, from different cemeteries around Chiusi and its territory. The tombs include urns and sarcophagi, usually inscribed with the names of the deceased. Some tombs provide continuity of burials from the Archaic period, and a study of the nomenclature makes it possible to suggest family relationships. Based on a study of twenty-six tomb complexes, Benelli notes that about forty family names reoccur in tombs that share certain characteristics such as sarcophagi, travertine urns with decorated lids, and references to titles of magistrates, and concludes that those families represent an aristocracy that appeared independently of earlier predecessors and flourished for about a century before it blended in with other groups in Chiusine society.

In the next paper, Joncheray introduces the Greek inscriptions on twenty-nine Attic vases found in the cemeteries at Felsina (Bologna). These include kylikes, kraters, and amphorae and other shapes connected with banquets, and the motifs range from mythological scenes to scenes of daily life. There is no indication of the painters' names, and the majority of the inscriptions consist of the word kalos. As for the context, the number of inscribed vases is very small in relation to the tombs that contained Attic vases (60% of the known tombs), and they are not associated with any particular type of tomb. Four inscriptions consist of a sequence of letters forming a decorative design, and Joncheray suggests that these vases were particularly attractive to the Etruscan customers. Likewise, the frequency of the work kalos may indicate a preference among the Etruscans to absorb Greek culture.

The topic of epitaphs, touched on briefly by Dupraz, is discussed by Berrendonner in her paper on epitaphs in Rome. In comparison with other sites in Etruria and central Italy, the scarcity of funerary inscriptions from Rome is noteworthy, for reasons that may include the continuity of habitation, the early excavation practices, or the fact that fewer Romans needed to read and write in their daily life as citizens. In her analysis of the extant epitaphs, Berrendonner notes that there are only five epitaphs dating from before the second Punic war, all of which pertain to Roman aristocratic families. The use of an epitaph may be connected with the lex Ovinia to strengthen the concept of nobilitas and to enhance the status of the dominant families in Rome, especially the Scipios, and may also illustrate the competition among these families for recognition in life as well as in death.

Of the fifteen funerary inscriptions from 200-90 B.C., five (late 2nd-early 1st c. B.C.) belong to non-aristocratic families, including three liberti. Unlike the earlier ones, these were placed outside the tomb for everyone to see, and they also contained a phrase indicating the extent of the tomb property. The concept of linking the ownership to a burial among the non-aristocratic families can perhaps be traced to the practice of inscribed tomb gifts, in line with Etruscan traditions, and thus the funerary inscriptions in Rome are clear reflections of status and practice.

The cemeteries at Veii and its territory are well known, and have produced an abundance of grave goods, but, as pointed out by Hadas-Lebel, only around thirty inscriptions. Of these only one appears on the wall of a tomb, whereas the rest are found on pottery or spools. Their date ranges from the late 8th c. B.C. to the late 6th c. B.C., and the early ones consist only of individual letters, perhaps linked to the introduction of writing in Etruria.

Other objects contain longer inscriptions or whole alphabets, including one reference to a Latin Titus and pair of words that may be read as a Sabine first and last name. According to Hadas-Lebel, historically Veii did not develop the monumental cemeteries that we know from other Etruscan cities, and we should therefore use a different terminology to indicate the places of burial (It. sepolcreto).

The final paper, by Maggiani, focuses on the interpretation of the word sacniςa in connection with a group of funerary urns from the Consertini collection at Volerra. Two of the urns contain the family name Petru, of which the second, dated to the late 2nd or early 1st c. B.C., with a depiction of Pelops and Hippodameia, also includes the word sacniςa as part of a longer inscription. This word is probably formed from an adjective, sacni, which occurs with a variety of suffixes. With the ending -ςa, the word occurs primarily in funerary contexts from a number of Etruscan sites, either following a name or in other combinations of nouns and verbs. Although it is impossible to give a direct translation of the word, Maggiani concludes that in all likelihood it is connected with something sacred rather than with the translations proposed by other scholars.


Gilles Van Heems, La naissance des traditions épigraphiques funéraires dans l'Étrurie archïque: le cas de Crocifisso del Tufo

Marie-Laurence Haack, Grécité réelle et grécité fantasmée à Spina et à Adria

Catherine Cousin, Origine et place des didascalies dans l'imagerie funéraire étrusque

Emmanuel Dupraz, La poésie épigraphique funéraire en Italie centro-méridionale: du modèle sud-picénien au modèle latin

Enrico Benelli, Alla ricerca delle aristocrazie chiusine

Claire Joncheray, Pouvoir territorial et stratégies familiales à Bologne

Clara Berrendonner, L'invention des épitaphes dans la Rome médio-républicaine

Jean Hadas-Lebel, Considérations sur l'épigraphie funéraire de Véies

Adriano Maggiani, Une nouvelle attestation du mot sacniςa. Urne inédite de la Collection Consortini a Volterra

This is a very useful and interesting book on topics that add greatly to our understanding of both the archaeological and the epigraphic evidence. The individual articles complement each other well in that they use different methodologies but similar approaches to the overall subject of ancient culture and society. Although some of the articles are highly specialized, the reader benefits from having a full documentation of the evidence contained in the text. Bibliographies accompany each article, and many of the items discussed are illustrated (unfortunately, the quality of reproduction of some of the line drawings is uneven).

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