Sunday, March 10, 2013


Michael L. Thomas, Gretchen E. Meyers, Ingrid E. M. Edlund-Berry (ed.), Monumentality in Etruscan and Early Roman Architecture: Ideology and Innovation. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012. Pp. xiii, 184. ISBN 9780292738881. $60.00.

Reviewed by John D. Muccigrosso, Drew University (

Version at BMCR home site


This volume comprises a series of essays first presented as papers at a session of the 2009 AIA Annual Meeting offered in honor of Ingrid Edlund-Berry. Although the chapters are centered around the theme of monumentality in Etruscan and early Roman architecture, they are not always closely related to each other. Such is the genre, and the reader will find that there is still much offered in the individual contributions, authored by scholars with close professional ties to the honorand (and in most cases her long-time professional home of the University of Texas, Austin).

Following a short introduction by the editor Michael L. Thomas, Gretchen E. Myers presents a consideration of the organizing concept of monumentality. After a look at some Etruscan examples of "monumental" architecture, she moves to defining the term, noting its relatively recent origins and absence from the texts of ancient Latin authors. Quite correctly she avoids jumping to the Whorfian conclusion and instead treats examples of Roman monumenta in authors like Livy, Vitruvius and Cicero. She then briefly considers post-Enlightenment "monumentality", which concept she connects to the remaining chapters of the volume, in this way creating a thematic introduction to the work.

The second essay is by Elizabeth Colantoni who provides an often lacking, and very welcome, comparative ethnographic context for the transition from huts to rectangular stone buildings at several central Italian sites. Among more detailed suggestions, Colantoni points to a consideration of clusters of huts as the unit of study and these clusters as the direct predecessors to later monumental buildings. Her argumentation is convincing and helps clarify a transition from Iron Age to archaic settlement that is often difficult to conceptualize.

Anthony Tuck's contribution attempts to connect the well known monumental burial practices of the Etruscans, in particular those of Tarquinia and Caere, with the performance of burial rituals. Appropriately titled "The Performance of Death", this essay, in keeping with that of the previous chapter, applies concepts from a viewpoint that is more anthropological than is often found in works on classical-world archaeology. Tuck is careful to consider the relationship between burial practices in the Iron Age preceding the use of monumental necropoleis in southern Etruria, especially the so-called "princely" burials of the 8th and 7th centuries.

The fourth essay by Nancy A. Winter, "Monumentalization of the Etruscan round moulding in sixth-century BCE central Italy," falls into a more traditional genre, and one in which Edlund-Berry has herself published significant work, including studies on the Etruscan round. With tables of measurements (which make the reviewer wish for an on-line database of such things) and careful drawings, Winter considers the roof decorations from a series of temples from Etruria and Rome, justifying the geographic and not ethnic grouping in her title, and laying out exactly how particular architectural elements were put to use in the creation of monumentality.

As its title suggests, P. Gregory Warden's contribution, "Monumental embodiment: Somatic symbolism and the Tuscan temple" presents a theoretical look at the Etruscan temple, using as a starting point his own excavations at Poggio Colla. Warden, who was the discussant at the conference session, considers the ways in which ancient authors like Vitruvius, ancient practice, and now modern theory sometimes use the body as a metaphor for the temple. The connection of body to the sacred, as in the famous Piacenza liver, the primacy of the priest's activity during temple ritual, and even the temple images of the gods are brought to bear. At the end of the provocative essay, which perhaps raises more questions than it answers, Warden considers the concomitant rise of the monumental building in Etruria with the monumentalization of the human form, whether in stone sculpture or terra-cotta (as at Poggio Civitate).

John M. Hopkins returns us to Rome with his essay "The Capitoline temple and the effects of monumentality on Roman temple design" in which he argues strongly for the impressive size and tripartite form of the great Roman temple with its lateral colonnades, as revealed by recent research on its extant remains (now impressively on display in the expanded Musei Capitolini). Hopkins brings in comparative data from other Italian and Greek temples, suggesting the influence of the contemporary Ionic preference for extremely large temples. Hopkins is persuasive in this and likewise in his argument for the enduring impact of the archaic temple on later building in Rome and elsewhere in central Italy. Persons teaching ancient Roman and Italian architecture would do well to consult this essay.

The final essay by Penelope J. E. Davies considers the introduction of stone entablatures in Republican temples in Rome. As it deals primarily with buildings of the late 4th century and the 3rd, the discussion pushes the chronological limits of the book down into the full Republican period. Davies here argues that the shift to more narrow intercolumniation resulted from the introduction of the stone entablature as a new building element in place of wood. Davies continues by exploring the highly competitive political environment of this period in the middle Republic. This has become somewhat well explored territory (including by the present reviewer) and Davies' introduction of this architectural innovation may provide more context for understanding the various moves undertaken by Rome's political elite.

The book is completed by a short, summative afterward by Edlund-Berry, which appropriately enough starts with a consideration of the (now changed) cityscape of Austin, TX, with its monumental pairing of the state capitol and the University tower.

The quality of the editing is high, and illustrations are offered where needed. I would bemoan only the lack of a unified bibliography in place of the individual ones offered at the end of each chapter, in contrast to the short, but unified, index at book's end. The chapters also have their own endnotes. On the positive side, this and the bibliographies enhance the usability of the work as a collection of more or less individual essays.

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