Thursday, July 10, 2014


Jean MacIntosh Turfa (ed.), The Etruscan World. Routledge worlds. London; New York: Routledge, 2013. Pp. xlviii, 1167. ISBN 9780203526965. $280.00.

Reviewed by Maria Cristina Biella, The British School at Rome - University of Southampton (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This volume, edited by Jean MacIntosh Turfa, can be considered part of a wide and interesting phenomenon: the appearance of a number of handbooks (even if in this specific case the term "handbook" is a little inappropriate, for reasons we will see in detail later in this review) on Etruscan culture, announced in recent years and now in press or recently published. I am referring in the first instance to the handbook Etruscology, published by De Gruyter and edited by Alessandro Naso1 and to The Etruscans: A Very Short Introduction, from OUP, by Christopher Smith.2 It is evident that these books address different publics: Naso's collection, like the text under review here, is addressed to scholars and graduate students while Smith's is aimed at A-Level and undergraduate students. Nonetheless, I think that all three books are hints of the growing interest in Etruscan culture and in ancient pre-Roman Italy more generally,3 recently attested, additionally, by the introduction at Oxford University of the Sybille Haynes Lectureship, specifically dedicated to Etruscan Studies.

This renewed interest is surely motivated by the great enlargement of our knowledge on Etruscan culture, as a consequence of – to paraphrase Jean MacIntosh Turfa's assessment in the 'Introduction' of the book - new scientific areas of research (archaeological biochemistry, DNA analysis and materials science), growing interest in Etruscan interaction in the Mediterranean and beyond, as well as fresh scholarship that has led to the publication of several corpora on Etruscan art and epigraphy. Despite these developments, what particularly strikes the editor of the book here reviewed is that "still there are historians, Classicists and art historians who have yet to enter the world of the Etruscans", who tend to be considered "merely as poor imitators of Greece or thoughtless enemies of Rome" (p. 1). Ultimately, this can be considered the central motivation for the appearance of the volume, which – and it is necessary to bear this in mind in reading this review – must be considered an interesting attempt to combine a handbook and an effort to collect "in-depth studies of special fields, and to present the very latest discoveries and analyses" (p. 2). Both the strength and the weakness of the volume lie in this approach.

The impressive number of contributors (almost 70 over 63 essays), chosen from among the most experienced Etruscologists worldwide, is the first aspect that must be underlined. This selection has a twofold advantage. On the one hand, it undoubtedly guarantees the quality of the essays, which are extremely well-informed and up-to-date, while on the other hand it offers to the Etruscologists' specialized readers an interesting picture of the different approaches followed by the diverse academic traditions of studies in the field. Furthermore, the choice to involve the scholars who directed the excavations in which arguably the most relevant recent discoveries took place can be considered an additional strength of the volume. This is certainly the case, for instance, in those chapters dedicated to the sacred areas of Tarquinia, written by Giovanna Bagnasco Gianni (pp. 594-612), the sanctuary of Pyrgi, by Maria Paola Baglione (pp. 613-631) and the new excavations at Orvieto – Campo della Fiera, written by Simonetta Stopponi (pp. 632-654). These chapters, which are obviously works-in-progress, already need to be updated, but this was clearly a calculated risk on the part of the editor.4 All of them fall in the section of the book dedicated to the religion of the Etruscans (Part IV). Personally, I would have included at least one essay on a recent comprehensive project on the structure of an Etruscan city, such as, for instance, the Veio Project.5 This intervention would have demonstrated the forma urbis of the Etruscan cities, about which, to be sure, we are not yet well informed, but in the knowledge of which great progress has been made in recent years. Indeed, the Etruscan cities are to some extent under-represented in the book. They can be clearly perceived in the background: I refer, for instance, to the essay by Robert Leighton on the urbanization of Etruria (pp. 134-150), or to the very precise chapter by Elisabetta Govi on Marzabotto (pp. 291-294), or to the interesting work by Claudio Bizzarri on Etruscan town planning (pp. 708-720). But the scholar who approaches the volume expecting to find data concerning the urban organization of ancient Etruria will be rather disappointed.6

Bearing in mind the positive aspects outlined up to this point, I will now turn to some of the text's shortcomings. The first (and perhaps the most evident) of these is the way in which the structure of the book is developed in each section. It is self- evident that attempting to summarize in a single volume the scholarship on the Etruscans and their culture is extremely challenging. The structure adopted, dividing the text into eight sections, was probably intended to guide the reader from a general overview (Part I: Environment, Background and the Study of Etruscan culture; Part II: The Historical Development of Etruria; Part III: Etruscans and their Neighbors; Part IV: Etruscan Society and Economy; Part V: Religion in Etruria) to a more detailed picture of specific aspects (Part VI: Special Aspects of Etruscan Culture; Part VII: Etruscan Specialities in Art; Part VIII: Post-Antique Reception of Etruscan Culture). From a general point of view, the structure fulfils the purpose intended. However, at a more detailed level, each section is divided into several essays, whose organization is not always fully clear or immediately understandable. As it is impossible to deal with each individual section in this short review, I will choose a specific case that in my opinion gives perhaps the clearest example. I will therefore concentrate on Part III of the book, the one in which the relations between the Etruscans and their neighbours are considered. After an introductory essay on "The Western Mediterranean before the Etruscans" (10), three chapters (11, 12, 13) are dedicated to the most relevant contacts and relations among Etruscans, Sardinia and Corsica. The section then moves to analyse the relations of the Etruscans in the Italian peninsula and the reader might expect some essays on the connections between the Etruscans and other neighbouring Italic people. But – with the sole exception of the chapter on the Faliscans and the Etruscans (14) – the subject is completely neglected and instead the reader finds two well-organized and extremely well-informed chapters (the authors are certainly experts in the field) about the Etruscans in the Po Valley and in Campania. Moreover, strictly speaking these two essays do not deal with the Etruscans and their neighbours, because the Etruscans of the Po Valley and those settled in Campania are all Etruscans themselves. It would have been very interesting to find instead essays on the relations existing between, for instance, the Etruscans and the Sabines, or the Etruscans and the Latins, or the Etruscans and the Umbrians, even if limited to the "nearer" neighbours in the Italian peninsula. A chapter on the relations between the Etruscans and the mosaic of peoples settled in the Apennine regions would have also been desirable, interesting and above all possible today, thanks to the recent publication of contextual research in the area.7 This approach would have restored to view a picture of the complexity of ancient pre-Roman Italy, a mosaic in which the Etruscans definitely played a major role on many levels: cultural in primis and to some extent political in a specific chronological period, both on a Mediterranean and Italian scale. Furthermore, while the Mediterranean scale of the phenomenon can be definitely perceived when reading some of the essays in Part III (10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17) and Part IV (19) of the book, the Italian aspect of it, particularly in connection with the extremely relevant relations with Rome between the end of the 7th and the 5th century BC, is somehow lacking. Also in Part II, in which the historical development of Etruria is tackled, there is a kind of gap between the chapter on the urbanization of Etruria, by Robert Leighton (7) and the one on the "Romanization" of Etruria, by Vincent Jolivet (8). In the end, I think that to give a picture of the Etruscans in their Italian setting would have been a considerable challenge, but one that would have drawn the attention of a wider public, in accordance with the above-mentioned desiderata of the editor.

Another aspect that needs to be underlined, once more connected to the extremely fragmented organization of the book, is the difficulty of gaining a comprehensive picture. If a student were to encounter this book, I am afraid that he/she would not in the end have a clear picture of the Etruscans. In other words, the structure of the book seems to be designed for a public already acquainted with Etruscan culture and its development, a public that can easily move from one subject to another, already having knowledge base to understand the in-depth and accurate analyses proposed. Perhaps reading this book as a set of collected essays (or, even better, following the diverse parts into which it is organized), rather than as a handbook would be the best approach. In this case, it would be extremely useful for a wider academic public. In this respect, it would perhaps be interesting for the publisher to sell the different parts of the volume separately. This opportunity would prevent the reader feeling uncomfortable with the many repetitions of concepts and images, which are inevitable as a result of the structure of the book and the overlap between many of its subjects. I limit myself to two cases among many possible examples. The first is that of chapter 17 (Etruria Marittima, Carthage and Iberia, Massalia and Gaul, pp. 319-348) in Part III and chapter 19 (Economy and commerce through material evidence: Etruscan goods in Mediterranean world and beyond, pp. 373-425) in Part IV; the second is that of chapter 47 (Health and medicine in Etruria, pp. 855-881) in Part VI and chapter 59 (Science as art: Etruscan anatomical votives, pp. 1068-1085) in Part VII. The presence of very similar images in the book gives the impression that this is a collected series of essays rather than a handbook. I refer here, for instance, to the cases of the so-called Liver of Piacenza (fig. 23.5 p. 485 and fig. 26.4 p. 542), of the model of the division of the sky according to the Etrusca disciplina (fig. 23.6 p. 485, fig. 23.5 p. 515, fig. 34.1 p. 689), of the cippus of Perugia (fig. 8.12 p. 161, fig. 22.5 p. 462), of the tabula Cortonensis (fig. 8.12 p. 161, fig. 22.4 p. 462) and of the bronze statue of the Arringatore (fig. 8.23 p. 168 and fig. 55.9 p. 1014).

In conclusion, Jean MacIntosh Turfa has produced an extremely well-informed book which definitely demonstrates the complexity of the Etruscan world and in this respect it hits the mark; both scholars and students will find great advantages in reading it.


1.   Naso, Alessandro, Etruscology, De Gruyter Preview behind a subscription wall.
2.   Smith, Christopher, The Etruscans: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press Preview.
3.   A similar growing interest in pre-Roman non-Etruscan Italy is confirmed, for instance, by the volume Ancient Italy: Regions without Boundaries, edited in 2007 by Guy Bradley, Elena Isayev and Corinna Riva (Press Preview), by the forthcoming volume Handbook of Ancient Italic Peoples, edited by Guy Bradley and Gary Farney and by the set of three conferences, E pluribus unum? Italy from the pre-Roman Fragmentation to the Augustan Unity (Département des Sciences de L'Antiquité, E pluribus unum?).
4.   In particular, for the excavation of Campo della Fiera, see the essay by Simonetta Stopponi in Annali Faina 21 (in press).
5.   Veio
6.   To address this gap, the reader interested in this aspect could, for instance, turn to the handbook by Giovannangelo Camporeale, Gli Etruschi: storia e civiltà, 3rd ed., Torino: UTET, 2011, pp. 221-446.
7.   Vincenzo d'Ercole and Enrico Benelli, La Necropoli di Fossa, I Corredi Orientalizzanti e Arcaici, Pescara 2004; La Necropoli di Campovalano, Tombe Orientalizzanti e Arcaiche, I-II, Oxford, 2003-2010; the essays in Les Mélanges de l'École française de Rome - Antiquité 115.2003, pp. 1-205; and Valeria Acconcia, 'Il bucchero in area adriatica', Officina Etruscologia 7, 2012, pp. 99-140. ​

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