Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Marie-Laurence Haack (ed.), Les Étrusques au temps du fascisme et du nazisme. Scripta Receptoria, 7​. Bordeaux: Ausonius Éditions​, 2016. Pp. 337. ISBN 9782356131560. €25.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Ingrid Edlund-Berry, The University of Texas at Austin (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

For today's students of the Etruscans, the words of D. H. Lawrence in Etruscan Places about how Rome with a very big R behaved towards its neighbors may seem to be a biased and unexpected statement, far from politically correct. But considering the date of publication (1932), the not-so-subtle distinction between the oppressive Romans and the creative and fun-loving Etruscans fits well into the early history of Etruscology and the events of 20th-century European history.

In a previous volume, La construction de l'étruscologie au début du XXe siècle (Bordeaux, Ausonius Éditions, 2015), Haack and Miller presented the early history of Etruscology with examples from archaeology and linguistics.1 Common to both volumes is that they contain the published papers from conferences held in Amiens in 2013 and 2014, respectively, where eminent scholars presented on topics ranging from biographical studies of individual Etruscologists to historical overviews of broader issues, extensively documented by archival material as well as published sources.

In the Introduction to the volume discussed here, Haack comments on the peculiar but perhaps not unexpected fact that the dark cloud created by the Fascist and Nazi era has affected the accounts of the achievements of Etruscology in the 1930s and during the Second World War. As an example she cites an article by Massimo Pallottino published in connection with the Second International Etruscan Congress in Florence, in 1985, where he omits the many major publications produced in the pre-war and war periods. Now that more time has passed, and the present generation of scholars ideally has less of a personal involvement in the political aspects of Etruscology, it is important to view both individual contributions and general research trends of the pre-war and war periods in their historical contexts, regardless of the sometimes painful memories that may arise.

The articles in Section 1 address the Nazi/Fascist-era view of the Etruscans in four different areas. Da Vela provides a thorough documentation of how the German and Italian educational system presented Etruscan culture in material published between 1928 and 1945. Topics such as the origin of the Etruscans (i.e. whether they were indigenous or immigrants) and the relation between Rome and Etruria were illustrated through selections from ancient authors, but for reasons of political propaganda, the discussion carefully focused on the supremacy of Rome rather than on the plurality of cultures in ancient Italy.

The following three articles highlight individuals who in different ways contributed to political life in Nazi Germany, but who are usually not mentioned in connection with the Etruscans. Thuillier incorporates the life of one individual, Carl Diem, into the history of Etruscan sports. Diem, who is primarily known as the organizer of the 1936 Olympic Games,2 wrote an article in 1941 on Etruscan sports, investigating whether the Etruscans had created an original athletic tradition, or whether they simply imitated the Greeks. Thuillier remarks on the scholarly quality of the article, and the fact that Diem, in spite of the political climate in which he lived and worked, was able to appreciate the artistic representations of Etruscan sports in tomb paintings and other media, and to recognize their creativity.

Miller discusses Alfred Rosenberg, an even more influential individual in Nazi Germany. In contrast to the Romans, Rosenberg saw the Etruscans as the epitome of decadence and evil, and although Rosenberg's work The Myth of the Twentieth Century did not seem to impress scholars, over a million copies were printed and distributed, and presumably read and admired.

Related to the study of Etruscan origins and characteristics are the attempts by the German physician Eugen Fischer at defining an Etruscan race. Haack analyzes his method of comparing artistic representations of Etruscans with living individuals in Tuscany as part of an overall goal of identifying and preserving the purity of races in Nazi Germany.3

Section 2 also contains articles about prominent individuals, but here the focus is on the political engagement of recognized scholars. While to most of us Alexander Langsdorff is best known as the co-author, together with Paul Jacobsthal, of a seminal study of so-called Schnabelkannen, published in 1929, Legendre presents his career as a high-ranking German officer who participated in the invasion of Norway, but was also in charge of removing art works from Italy to Germany. While Langsdorff was a field archaeologist with experience in both Egypt and Iran, Franz Altheim was primarily an ancient historian and philologist. As presented by Krämer, through his academic interests, Altheim was invited to participate in the Nazi project known as SS-Ahnenerbe, founded by Heinrich Himmler in 1935, and his role was to contribute to research on the origin and history of the Aryan race. Altheim's interpretations of rock carvings at Val Camonica in northern Italy and of features such as the so-called Tuscan temple, which were seen as evidence for the supremacy of the Nordic Germanic peoples in comparison with the peoples of ancient Italy, seem to have gained approval, but are today regarded as evidence for his willingness to adapt his scholarship to the politics of the time.

As an example of Italian archaeologists whose scholarship reflects the political climate of the Nazi and Fascist era, Harari introduces the Nestor of Etruscan archaeology, Massimo Pallottino. Although best known for his research on Etruscan language and culture, he played a role in defining the Italian presence in North Africa in articles published in Rassegna Sociale dell'Africa Italiana between 1938 and 1943. By using the Roman colonization in antiquity as a model of success thanks to the supremacy of the colonizers over the local populations, Pallottino highlights the history and traditions of both cultures at the same time as he is perfecting his interpretation of the origin of Etruscan culture in Italy.

Vittore Spinazzola is best known for his work at Pompeii in the early 1920s, but Delpino makes a case for including him in the discussion of Italian archaeologists and Fascism because of the fact that he was demoted from his position there for not supporting Mussolini and the Fascist ideology.

Section 3 focuses on issues of Etruscan studies, including linguistics, sculpture, and religion. Belfiore provides an overview of Etruscan linguistics in Austria and Germany from1928 to 1942, highlighting the importance of Eva Fiesel, a highly esteemed scholar, whose international influence continued when she moved to the United States and taught at Bryn Mawr College until her premature death in 1937. Like Fiesel, other scholars had to leave their home countries, disrupting the continuity of scholarship in those places.

Benelli shows that Etruscan linguistics in Italy suffered much less from political pressure.. Although prominent scholars such as Pericle Ducati and Luigi Pareti were active in the Fascist regime, it was academic rivalries that created animosity rather than politics. In one case, however, a scholar's political profile was allowed to intrude into the world of scholarship. Francesco Pironti, classicist and linguist in Naples, and a loyal Fascist, proposed in the party newspaper, Il lavoro Fascista, that the Etruscan language was a dialect of Greek, and his brave (and erroneous) interpretation was heavily criticized, in spite of his political affiliation. After his premature death in 1935, his name and his work faded into the history of Etruscan linguistics (although some recent notices can be found on the internet).

As a means to connect Etruscan art with Fascist politics, Pucci uses the 'Novecento Italiano' exhibit in Milan, in 1926. Mussolini attended the inauguration and, perhaps surprisingly, the statue portrayed on the exhibit poster was the Etruscan masterpiece, the Apollo from Veii, excavated in 1916. For artists of the 1920s, this statue represented the vivaciousness and creativity of Etruscan art. Over time, however, proponents of racist ideology found it difficult to incorporate the studies of Etruscan origins with the emphasis on the purity of Romanitas, and appreciation of Etruscan art and culture weakened. According to Pucci, it was not until after the Second World War that Etruscan studies gained in maturity and lost an ideological bias, at the price of also losing the fascination with Etruscan culture, as expressed by Marino Marini's statement Sono etrusco and authors such as D. H. Lawrence or A. Huxley.

Bellelli highlights the significance of the creation of chairs in Etruscology and the Soprintendenze for channeling research in Italy, while at the same time many non-Italian scholars made important contributions. Although the political climate obviously influenced ways of thinking and acting, Bellelli suggests that even scholars who openly supported the Fascist regime, as for example G. Q. Giglioli and P. Ducati, did not allow their political preferences to dominate their scholarship. The political views of Massimo Pallottino, whose name occurs throughout this book, remain controversial and a conclusive study of his life and work is still lacking.

The article by Rey on the Etruscology of France describes the relative lack of Etruscan scholarship among French archaeologists and historians, who tended to devote themselves to Roman history and culture. Two exceptions are J. Heurgon and R. Bloch, who made important contributions to the field of Etruscology.

In the Conclusion Haack highlights the complexity of Etruscan studies during the Nazi and Fascist era where scholarship and personalities were at times in conflict with the political regimes, at other times not. As can be expected, heavy-handed Nazi politics in Germany caused more damage because of the anti-semitism that forced many scholars to leave Germany, whereas Italian Fascism definitely affected scholarly circles, but not as extensively.

This volume should be of great interest to advanced students and scholars specializing in the relation between the study of the past and the events of today. A stumbling block for less advanced readers is the lack of a historical synthesis and the potential language barrier (the papers are in French, German and Italian; abstracts in English are lacking), and one can hope that the editors at some point will use all this valuable source material to write a comprehensive study of the relation between archaeology and history, here exemplified by the study of the Etruscans during a defined time period. In the meantime, complementary information about the topics in this book, especially the biographical essays, can be found through web searches on individual names. Illustrations and plans supplement the text, and the extensive bibliography and index will assist the reader in locating relevant information. The format and modest price should make it an attractive purchase for research libraries.

Table of Contents

M.-L. Haack, Introduction: l'étruscologie de la période du fascisme et du nazisme
1. Les Étrusques dans l'imaginaire des peuples
R. Da Vela, L'immagine degli Etruschi nell'educazione scolastica in Italia e in Germania (1928-1945)
J.-P. Thuillier, Carl Diem et le sport étrusque
M. Miller, Alfred Rosenberg, die Etrusker und die Romfrage
M.-L. Haack, Eugen Fischer et la "race" des Étrusques
2. L'engagement politique des savants
J.-P. Legendre, Alexander Langsdorff (1898-1946): de l'étude des œnochoés étrusques aux plus hautes sphères du Troisième Reich
R. P. Krämer, Von Ritzzeichnungen, Runen und Rom. Franz Altheim und seine Studien zu Italikern während des Nationalsozialismus
M. Harari, Pallottino africanista
F. Delpino, Ascesa e caduta del soprintendente Spinazzola (1911-1924)
3. Une crise de la science étruscologique
V. Belfiore, La linguistique étrusque en Autriche et en Allemagne: 1928-1942
E. Benelli, La linguistica etrusca in Italia: 1928-1942
G. Pucci, La sculpture étrusque dans les années vingt et trente: entre esthétique et idéologie
V. Bellelli, Le ricerche sulla religiione etrusca fra la prima e la seconda guerra mondiale, con particolare riferimento alla situazione italiana
S. Rey, Les étruscologues français à l'heure des régimes authoritaires
M.-L. Haack, Conclusion: la crise de l'étruscologie de l'époque du fascisme et du nazisme


1.   See the review by I. Edlund-Berry in Etruscan Studies 2016, in press
2.   See Wikipedia: Carl Diem; accessed 28 November 2016.
3.   For an analysis of the significance of both Rosenberg and Fischer, see M-L Haack, 'The Invention of the Etruscan "Race". E. Fischer, Nazi Geneticist and the Etruscans', Quaderni di storia 80, luglio-dicembre 2014, 251-282.

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