Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Paolo Bruschetti, La necropoli di Crocifisso del Tufo a Orvieto: contesti tombali. Monumenti etruschi, 10. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2012. Pp. 324. ISBN 9788862273992. €965.00.

Reviewed by W. V. Harris, Columbia University (

Version at BMCR home site

Orvieto has had a very mixed archaeological history. Already studied in the sixteenth century by Tuscan érudits who are now generally neglected, it was seriously pillaged after Unification. Paolo Bruschetti, the present director of the town's Museo Archeologico Nazionale, catalogues the depredations of Riccardo Mancini and others at the famous and fascinating Etruscan cemetery of Crocifisso del Tufo, on the northern slope of the great rock, between the 1870s and the 1890s. Not that there is any point in applying anachronistic standards retrospectively, and sometimes at least Mancini made careful records. (The wider story, which is not among Bruschetti's concerns, is the desperate struggle of the new Italian state to impose a minimum of order on the booming field of archaeology more generally). After the 1890s there was very little archaeological activity at this cemetery for more than half a century, until the arrival of an exceptionally energetic and talented young scholar, Mario Bizzarri. Meanwhile imperfectly informed writers, from George Dennis to Raymond Bloch, had often denied Orvieto its proper recognition as Etruscan Volsinii, or rather Velzna (this matter was finally settled, I think, in Papers of the British School at Rome 33 [1965], 113-14). Bizzarri re-started exploration of the Crocifisso del Tufo site and published two lengthy reports, but he died an early death in 1969. Between 1985 and 2000 Anna Eugenia Feruglio was able to bring some order to the excavated area itself, but the material found there over the years is scattered through a number of museums and storage-places, and it has had to wait until now for a systematic publication. And much of it disappeared long ago into private hands. In these conditions Bruschetti and his helpers evidently had an arduous time putting together the present publication.

What has always given the Crocifisso del Tufo cemetery its special interest has been its organization on an orthogonal plan, with almost rectilinear streets lined by homogeneously designed tombs, many with names inscribed on the architraves. This orthogonal planning had its best-known forerunner (but probably not its only one) in the Banditaccia cemetery at Cerveteri, which seems to have been planned several decades prior to Crocifisso del Tufo; the latter is dated by Colonna to the decade 580-570.1 It was presumably constructed under some public authority, perhaps a royal one, that was intent on limiting family rivalry, though it should be noted that in spite of their homogeneity the tombs vary considerably in size and in the value of their contents. It continued in frequent use until well into the fifth century BC; Bruschetti seems strangely reluctant to admit that it lasted so long, but some of the Attic vases described here make that quite plain.2

The present volume, the structure of which is nowhere explained, is a catalogue of the portable finds from this cemetery, tomb by tomb. This is preceded by a typology of the bucchero pottery, based on the work of Pietro Tamburini. The catalogue excludes finds that can no longer be associated with specific tombs, and what are called rather cryptically 'assemblages that have already been published in recent times'; at least a list of these publications should have been included. And it turns out that even the material described by Bizzarri in reports as long ago as 1962 and 1966 has been omitted.

There were burials on the site prior to the big reorganization of the 570s, and the contents of three of them can be described ('La fase orientalizzante'). But the bulk of the catalogue deals in three chapters with the various areas of the orthogonal cemetery. I have had no opportunity to check the accuracy of this catalogue beyond what anyone can see in the photographs, but it gives the impression of very painstaking care. Drawings and photographs are profuse, and we are offered ample comparanda.

Who was buried in the 26 tombs of the main phase of Crocifisso del Tufo that are described here? The well-to-do of course, as Bruschetti observes, but the number of objects in the tombs he describes is more impressive than their quality. There is only a handful of Greek vases. For the most part, if this material is a fair sample, the Volsinian elite sent its dead into the next world accompanied by modest bucchero ware of local manufacture. But it is not a fair sample, because Bizzarri was probably the first archaeologist to excavate tombs at Crocifisso del Tufo that had not previously been disturbed, and consequently his finds were richer. He estimated that a tomb of 'average wealth' normally had one Greek vase in it.3

Bruschetti associates the cemetery's uniform and unspectacular character with social uniformity, and also repeats the communis opinio that its end coincided with the 'growth of new social classes' (plural!). Given the sporadic quality of our knowledge of later Orvietan burials, this is pure conjecture. If, and it is a large 'if', the well-to-do families ceased to respect the sixth-century norms about burials, that may reflect social change of some kind, and the late sixth century was notoriously an unstable time in central Italy, but 'new social classes' are nowhere in evidence.

This whole volume is naturally redolent of an older archaeology pre-dating all the technological possibilities now available, but it confirms once again that a large proportion of the currently most pressing work consists in excavating in museums, and more generally in publishing what was taken out of the ground long ago. The non- publishers are legion, and they obstruct knowledge as much as Riccardo Mancini did.

Another heir of Mancini, in the line of treasure-hunters, is the publisher Fabrizio Serra Editore, which has priced this book outside the range of all but the richest libraries, largely American (an e-book version is available, but it costs the same). The book is handsome and robust. But archaeology students in Italy and elsewhere would have been better served by a more economical publication in which much could have been reserved for an accompanying CD (of course a 2012 CD may be unreadable in ten or fifty years' time, so some printed copies are necessary). I see no sign that the senior scholars on whose cooperation Serra depends have given this form of price-gouging any thought at all.

But it would be wrong to end negatively. This book is a valuable research tool and it should make it easier to deal with a whole range of problems. Just to name one, what was the role of various metals in the Volsinian economy in the sixth and fifth centuries? The topic is not new but it cries out for a comprehensive treatment.


1.   G. Colonna, ,Annali della Fondazione per il Museo "Claudio Faina" 10 (2003), 521.
2.   See further the material referred to by Bizzarri in Studi Etruschi 34 (1966), 16-17.
3.   Ibid. 23.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.