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Etruscan Homes: A New Discovery

Etruscan Homes: A New Discovery

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For the first time, Italian archaeologists have uncovered an intact Etruscan house complete with sources of material culture. Researchers hope this find sheds light on other potential excavation sites and the mysteries of Etruscan daily life. | Reported by Rossella Lorenzi.

Roman site uncovered in Scarborough hailed as first of its kind in UK

When developers broke ground on the outskirts of Scarborough, they were hoping to build a housing estate ideal for first-time buyers, families and professionals, with en suites, off-street parking and integrated kitchens galore. But before shovels had even hit earth, they found someone else had got there first: the Romans.

The remains of a Roman settlement believed to be the first of its kind discovered in Britain – and possibly the whole Roman empire – has been uncovered near the North Yorkshire seaside town.

The find might have caused a headache for the developer Keepmoat Homes but has sparked excitement among experts, with Historic England describing it as “easily the most important Roman discovery of the last decade”.

The large complex of buildings – approximately the size of two tennis courts – includes a cylindrical tower structure with a number of rooms leading from it and a bathhouse. As excavations and analysis continue, historians believe the site may have been the estate of a wealthy landowner, which could have later become a religious sanctuary or even a high-end “stately home-cum-gentleman’s club”.

An image showing the extent of the remains uncovered. Photograph: Historic England/PA

Keith Emerick, an inspector of ancient monuments at Historic England, said the site gave a fascinating new perspective on the Roman north.

“It’s not like a jigsaw, where each new discovery adds to the picture, each new discovery actually gives a twist to the kaleidoscope and changes the picture entirely,” he said.

“This is a really exciting discovery and definitely of national importance […] I would say this is one of the most important Roman discoveries in the past decade, actually. Easily.”

Archaeologists were employed by Keepmoat before building work started, as historians knew the site at Eastfield could contain prehistoric, iron age or Roman remains, but the uncovered site is “far more than we ever dreamed of discovering”, said Emerick.

North Yorkshire archaeologists have already established the buildings were “designed by the highest-quality architects in northern Europe in the era and constructed by the finest craftsmen”, said Karl Battersby from North Yorkshire county council.

Further work on the finds and environmental samples would help to establish exactly what function the site had and why it was created so far from other Roman centres, he said, adding: “This is a remarkable discovery which adds to the story of Roman settlement in North Yorkshire.”

While Keepmoat had to tweak its development plans to conserve the site, Dan Crew, the company’s regional managing director, said there was no sinking feeling when it was uncovered, as a discovery had been factored into planning. Rather prosaically, the site was not uncovered by a labourer, but identified before digging started by a geophysical survey.

“It’s a positive factor for the site, and it’s a positive for the area,” he said. “It probably sets this site apart from other new builds in the area. It’s quite a nice feature to know it has that historic element to it as well.”

Keepmoat had originally planned to build houses on the site, but a planned public green area has instead been relocated. The remains are to be recovered but a representation of the site will be “expressed at ground level”, for example with planting, an arrangement of stone, or interpretation panels, said Emerick.

“We have huge amounts of digital information that can be made available to the public, so people can get kind of a great deal more out of it, perhaps, than just kind of seeing a pile of stones that get overgrown.”

David Walker, the planning services manager at Scarborough borough council, said the council was happy to grant a change to Keepmoat’s original planning application. “In creating new homes for future generations, it is only right that we keep alive the fascinating history of those that have gone before us and how they lived,” he said.

Historic England will recommend the remains be protected as a nationally important scheduled monument.

New Perspectives on Etruria and Early Rome: In Honor of Richard Daniel De Puma

This collection of essays honours the personality and work of Richard Daniel de Puma, of the University of Iowa, whose many essays and volumes on Etruscan ceramics, jewellery and mirrors, and more recently on Etruscan fakes and forgers, have always been models of careful and intelligent scholarship.

The essays cover a broad and diverse range. Togninelli gives an account of the region around Crustumerium, where de Puma has excavated. This area is fascinating because it demonstrates chronological transitions from the Iron Age into the archaic period, and also shows the fluidity of ethnic identities in an area between Latium and the Sabina. The chapter may be profitably read alongside Cupito’s explanation of the work by La Sapienza University in the region, and there is more to come from this interesting site. 1

Peter Holliday’s examination of the never completed terracotta sculptural group at Civitalba (Picenum), with a pediment representing Dionysus’ discovery of the abandoned Ariadne, and a frieze of Gauls pillaging a temple but being interrupted by the gods, shows their debt to Pergamene art. As others have done, Holliday interprets the group in the context of the foundation of colonies at Pisaurum and Potentia by the censors M. Fulvius Nobilior and Q. Fulvius Flaccus, who had celebrated victories over Aetolians and Celtiberians, and the victories of Cn. Manlius Vulso over the Galatians. Holliday concludes (38) that the sculptural groups point to Roman victories over the Gauls (and this one is therefore doubly appropriate given the importance of the Roman victory over a coalition of Gauls and Etruscans at Sentinum in 295 BC), but also ‘the desired unification of local peoples with Rome.’

Soren and Nell describe, with interesting virtual reconstructions, the complex at Chianciano Terme, hypothesising a connection with the fonts Clusini. There seems to have been some sort of bath building here already in the second century BC, although the heyday of the site is second century AD.

Green discusses the tutelary deities of the Circus Maximus, with an emphasis on the deities of boundaries who are associated with the area. The importance of the Circus Maximus in some reconstructions of the rape of the Sabine Women is discussed. Another aspect to be added to this is Wiseman’s emphasis on plebeian deities in this area. 2

Steingräber declares that the collection of Etruscan objects in Tenri University Sankokan Museum, in Tenri City Japan, contains a large number of evident fakes, though it remains unclear where they came from they were collected on the art market. Turfa’s essay on the combination of genuine, replica and fake jewellery in the University of Pennsylvania Museum is intriguing, and demonstrates the muddle in the late 19th century. Some of the replica material is attributed to the Castellani workshop. This group of essays concludes with an interesting account by de Gennaro, again based on Crustumerium, of the importance of loan exchanges for the avoidance of looting. This account concludes with support for the exchange of entire funerary deposits, thus avoiding the dissociation of finds from their archaeological context.

Essays on art and iconography follow. Clarke discusses how Pompeian wall painters used a combination of mechanisms, including figure books, outline books and sample books, but not perhaps one-to-one tracing as he has found for mosaics, to replicate images. Small shows the limitations of linear perspective, and thereby that the Romans may have actively decided against it as a predominant method. Bonfante shows the way that the Baubo or anasyrma gesture was used in Etruscan and Roman art, with a strong emphasis on apotropaic symbolism, and traces the complex relationship between nudity as shameful and as a sign of powerful beauty, culminating in an interesting account of a Roman bronze figurine of Victoria. Nielsen discusses a female figure from a sarcophagus originally showing both husband and wife, and attributes it to Perugia which now seems to have a number of such sarcophagi from the second or first century BCE. Carpino discusses a number of mirrors with duelling figures, including an interesting Tydeus and Melanippos depiction from the mid-fifth century at Blera. Carpino uses this to challenge the view that all mirrors were destined for female patrons, but they can certainly be seen in the same broader context which Menichetti demonstrated for Praenestine ciste. 3

Warden’s essay interestingly tackles the funerary sacrifices and anthropophagy evident in a variety of Etruscan art. This takes Warden to some very interesting suggestions of links between transformation through animals towards immortality. This is a challenging and provocative chapter, with reference to a number of important examples, including the Amazon sarcophagus of Ramtha Huzcnai, with its Actaeon scene, depictions of funerary sacrifice, the Murlo terracottas and Etruscan tomb painting. Similarly interesting is Camporeale’s attempt to identify evidence for the deification of the deceased, especially of ancestors of family descent groups. Both chapters have to depend heavily on guesses and assumptions in the absence of secure textual evidence, but show the potential of the evidence. Tuck’s comparison of Vanth and the Celtic Badb is also speculative since the representations of the latter are much later. Vanth appears in the fourth century, so there are perhaps references taken from the Celtic world, but it is also true that we struggle to understand fully the role of Vanth.

The last three essays are quite disparate. Mattusch discusses the row between Winckelmann and the Reale Accademia Ercolanese di Archeologia over his premature and inaccurate publication of a bust from the series at the Villa dei Papiri. Rowland writes a brilliant account of a lost work by Athanasius Kircher entitled Iter Hetruscum, which we know largely through the Jesuit censors’ rejection of it. Rowland suggests that Kircher may have been engaged in highly complex games in his presentation of the Etruscans. The chapter reminds us of the difficulties of Etruscan scholarship in its earliest phases. The volume concludes with Edlund-Berry’s account of some fictional representations of Etruria, and the way our increasing knowledge of Etruscan material culture feeds a fascination with this society.

The volume is well presented and contains much of interest. Coherence is a little wayward, but de Puma’s own broad scholarship is well-reflected and celebrated here.

1. Paolo Togninelli, Between Crustumerium and Eretum: Observations on the First Iron Age Phases and the Finds from the Archaic Period

2. Peter J. Holliday, Civitalba and Roman Programs of Commemoration and Unification

3. David Soren and Erin Nell, Etruscan Cults in Roman Times: The Strange Ruins of Chianciano Terme

4. Carin Green, The Gods in the Circus

5. Stephan Steingräber, Far from Etruria: Etruscan Fakes in Japan

6. Jean MacIntosh Turfa, “Etruscan” Gold from Cerverteri (and Elsewhere) in the University of Pennsylvania Museum

7. Francesco di Gennaro, From Crustumerium: A Proposal against Looting. Loans in Exchange for Resources for Preservation

8. John R. Clarke, How Did Painters Create Near-Exact Copies? Notes on Four Center Paintings from Pompeii

9. Jocelyn Penny Small, Is Linear Perspective Necessary?

10. Larissa Bonfante, Some Thoughts on the Baubo Gesture in Classical Art

11. Marjatta Nielsen, One More Etruscan Couple at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

12. Alexandra A. Carpino, Dueling Warriors on Two Etruscan Bronze Mirrors from the Fifth Century B.C.E.

13. P. Gregory Warden, The Blood of Animals: Predation and Transformation in Etruscan Funerary Representation

14. Giovannangelo Camporeale, The Deified Deceased in Etruscan Culture

15. Anthony Tuck, On the Origin of the Vanth: Death Harbingers and Banshees in the Etruscan and Celtic Worlds

16. Carol C. Mattusch, Guests, Hosts, and Politics at Herculaneum

17. Ingrid Rowland, The Lost Iter Hetruscum of Athanasius Kircher (1665-78)

18. Ingrid Edlund-Berry, Larthi, Turms, and Vel: Real Etruscans in Modern Fiction

1. C. Cupito, Il territorio tra la via Salaria, l’Aniene, il Tevere e la via “Salaria Vetus” : Municipio II Rome, 2007.

2. T. P. Wiseman, The Myths of Rome. Exeter, 2004: 63-96.

3. M. Menichetti, Quoius forma virtutei parisuma fuit… Ciste prenestine e cultura di Roma medio-repubblicana, Rome, 1996.

Researchers discover ancient depiction of childbirth at Etruscan site in Tuscany

An archaeological excavation at Poggio Colla, the site of a 2,700-year-old Etruscan settlement in Italy's Mugello Valley, has turned up a surprising and unique find: two images of a woman giving birth to a child. Researchers at the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project, which oversees the Poggio Colla excavation site some 20 miles northeast of Florence, discovered the images on a small fragment from a ceramic vessel that is more than 2,600 years old. Credit: Phil Perkins

An archaeological excavation at Poggio Colla, the site of a 2,700-year-old Etruscan settlement in Italy's Mugello Valley, has turned up a surprising and unique find: two images of a woman giving birth to a child.

Researchers from the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project, which oversees the Poggio Colla excavation site some 20 miles northeast of Florence, discovered the images on a small fragment from a ceramic vessel that is more than 2,600 years old.

The images show the head and shoulders of a baby emerging from a mother represented with her knees raised and her face shown in profile, one arm raised, and a long ponytail running down her back.

The excavation is a project of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Tex., Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, in collaboration with The Open University in Milton Keynes, England.

The identification of the scene was made by Dr. Phil Perkins, an authority on Etruscan bucchero and professor of archaeology at The Open University. "We were astounded to see this intimate scene it must be the earliest representation of childbirth in western art," said Dr. Perkins. "Etruscan women are usually represented feasting or participating in rituals, or they are goddesses. Now we have to solve the mystery of who she is and who her child is."

"The birth scene is extraordinary, but what is also fascinating is what this image might mean on elite pottery at a sanctuary," said Dr. Greg Warden, professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the Meadows School of the Arts at SMU and a director of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project. "Might it have some connection to the cult, to the kind of worship that went on at the hilltop sanctuary of Poggio Colla?"

The fragment was excavated by William Nutt, who is a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Texas at Arlington and who is legally blind. Nutt was participating in the Poggio Colla Field School, which has operated for six weeks every summer since 1995. Under the supervision of faculty from U.S. institutions and graduate students in classical archaeology and anthropology, the field school has trained approximately 20 students each year, from more than 70 American and European universities, in the theory and practice of archaeological research. Through excavation and scholarship, these students have played an integral role in understanding the Etruscan occupation of the Mugello Valley.

"I was very grateful to be accepted to the summer program at Poggio Colla – it was my first archaeological dig," said Nutt, who is attending UTA under a National Science Foundation fellowship. "I found the artifact at the beginning of my second week there. It was quite dirty, and we weren't sure what it was until it was cleaned at the onsite lab and identified by Dr. Perkins. It was thrilling to find out that it was so significant. To make a discovery like that, which provides important new information about a culture we know so little about, is exactly what makes archaeology and anthropology so appealing."

The ceramic fragment is less than 1-3/4 x 1-1/4 inches (4 x 3 cm), from a vessel made of bucchero. Bucchero is a fine, black ceramic material, embellished with stamped and incised decorations, used to make eating and drinking vessels for Etruscan elites. Typically, stamped designs range from abstract geometric motifs to exotic and mythical animals. There are no known Greek or Roman representations of the moment of birth shown as clearly as the Poggio Colla example until more than 500 years later. The fragment dates to about 600 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era).

Because the site at Poggio Colla has produced numerous votive deposits, scholars are certain that for some part of its history it was a sacred spot to a divinity or divinities. The abundance of weaving tools and a stunning deposit of gold jewelry discovered earlier have already suggested to some scholars that the patron divinity may have been female the discovery of the childbirth scene, because of its uniqueness, adds another piece of evidence to the theory.

"This is a most exciting discovery," said Dr. Larissa Bonfante, professor emerita of classics at New York University and a world-renowned expert on the ancient Etruscans. "It shows an image of a type so far unknown in Etruscan context, and gives us plenty to think about as we try to understand its religious significance."

A paper about the find will be presented at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Philadelphia in January. The paper, titled "Defining Northern Etruria: Evidence from Poggio Colla (Vicchio di Mugello)," will be presented by Dr. Ann Steiner, provost, dean of the faculty and Shirley Watkins Steinman Professor of Classics at Franklin and Marshall College.

Although the Etruscan site now called Poggio Colla has been known since the 19th century, it was first excavated from 1968 to 1972 by Dr. Francesco Nicosia, the former Superintendent of Archaeology in Tuscany. With Dr. Nicosia's permission and encouragement, SMU professor Greg Warden, a Mugello Valley native, reopened the site in 1995, established the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project and launched the summer Poggio Colla Field School. Today the project continues to proceed with the permission and supervision of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici per la Toscana and Dr. Luca Fedeli, Inspector.

Directors of the project include Dr. Warden Dr. Steiner Michael L. Thomas, senior research associate at the University of Texas at Austin and Gretchen Meyers, assistant professor of classics at Franklin & Marshall College. They oversee a team of archaeologists, scientists, architects and conservators who are conducting a systematic and multi-disciplined study of Poggio Colla, including stratigraphic excavation, scientific analysis, geophysical mapping and land surveys.

The Etruscans were the first settlers of Italy, long before the Roman Empire. They built the first cities, were a conduit for the introduction of Greek culture to the Romans, and were known for their art, agriculture, fine metalworking and commerce. They occupied Italy for the first millennium B.C., but were conquered by the Romans and eventually became absorbed into their empire.

Poggio Colla is a highly significant and rare site. One reason is that it spans most of Etruscan history. Archaeological evidence suggests that the site was occupied from around 700 B.C.E. until 187 B.C.E., when it was destroyed by the Romans. Another reason is that it was not buried under later construction. The Etruscans picked beautiful, easily defended hilltops for their settlements. As a result, generation after generation built new cities on top of their sites. That means many have 2000 years of other civilizations on top of Etruscan settlements and cemeteries. Poggio Colla, however, remained in its original condition. Third, Poggio Colla represents an entire settlement, including tombs, a temple, a pottery factory and an artisan community. Excavations of workshops and living quarters are yielding new details about Etruscan life to scholars.

The site centers on the acropolis, a roughly rectangular plateau of one and a half acres at the summit of Poggio Colla. Excavations have found strong evidence that the acropolis was home to a sanctuary and have identified a temple building and an altar at the center of a large courtyard. Numerous offerings have been found buried around the altar, gifts left behind as part of a sacred ritual to a still unidentified deity. These votive donations range from a massive deposit of nearly 500 varied bronze objects, to a spectacular gift of women's gold jewelry and semi-precious stones.

Another votive deposit contains a collection of ritual objects that were laid to rest in a room at the northwest corner of the sanctuary courtyard, possibly by a priest. Excavators discovered a large circular pit, at the center of which was placed a sandstone cylinder, possibly the top of a votive column. Carefully situated near the cylinder were two sandstone statue bases, the larger of which includes the inscribed name of the aristocratic donor, "Nakai(-)ke Velus." Buried alongside these objects were a strand of gold wire, a purposely broken bronze implement, and two bronze bowls that had been used to pour ritual libations, as well as the bones of a piglet, presumably sacrificed as part of a purification ritual. This unique religious context has allowed researchers to reconstruct, for the first time, the actual rituals and actions of the priest/magistrate who presided over the ceremonies.

First secret from ancient stone tablet revealed

An ancient tablet recently unearthed in Tuscany has revealed its first secret: the engraved name of a goddess linked to fertility.

The 500-pound (227 kilograms) stone slab, or stele, was unearthed earlier this year at Poggio Colla, a sixth century B.C. site built by the Etruscans. The stele bears a long inscription in a language that has not been used for 2,500 years, project archaeologist Gregory Warden, a professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told Live Science in April.

Now, translation is underway and archaeologists have discovered that the tablet references the goddess Uni. [Photos: The Tomb of an Etruscan Prince]

&ldquoWe can at this point affirm that this discovery is one of the most important Etruscan discoveries of the last few decades,&rdquo Warden said in a statement. &ldquoIt&rsquos a discovery that will provide not only valuable information about the nature of sacred practices at Poggio Colla, but also fundamental data for understanding the concepts and rituals of the Etruscans, as well as their writing and perhaps their language.&rdquo

The 500-pound stele, partly cleaned, bears the name of the Etruscan fertility goddess Uni and the head of the Etruscan pantheon, Tina. Mugello Valley Project

Mother goddess?

Uni was an important goddess linked to fertility. Previously, the most famous find at Poggio Colla was a piece of ceramic depicting a woman squatting to give birth, perhaps suggesting that a fertility cult worshiped at the site, according to Warden.

The Etruscans were a heavily religious society that started around 700 B.C. in modern-day northern and eastern Italy. They flourished until they were absorbed by Rome, a gradual process that took place between 500 B.C. and 100 B.C.

Trending News

There are at least 120 characters on the Poggio Colla stele, making it the longest Etruscan inscription ever found on stone and among the longest three sacred texts ever discovered, researchers will report in a yet-unpublished article in the journal Etruscan Studies. The inscription might express the laws of the sanctuary, Warden said, perhaps outlining the ceremonies that took place there. Archaeologists have deciphered another word on the tablet, &ldquoTina,&rdquo which refers to the head god of the Etruscan Pantheon (much like Zeus for the Greeks).

Striking find

Archaeologists have been digging at Poggio Colla for 21 years, and found the slab at the very end of the most recent field season at the site. It&rsquos about 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide and made of sandstone. Because the stone is scuffed and chipped, researchers are painstakingly cleaning it in order to translate the words. Etruscans left behind few texts because they mostly wrote on linen or erasable wax tablets. Understanding Etruscan religious belief and ritual is important because as the civilization was engulfed by Rome, it influenced Roman culture and belief.

Most previously discovered texts are short inscriptions on graves, according to Warden. One linen book written in the Etruscan language was found on an Egyptian mummy &mdash recycled as wrappings. Otherwise, researchers know little about Etruscan religious rituals, other than that they were polytheistic.

Though the stele is still being cleaned and studied, a hologram projection of it will be displayed in Florence on Aug. 27 as researchers announce the translations they&rsquove made so far.

Etruscan Bronze Carafe

I found this in a dried up Etruscan water tunnel below the foundation of a Roman villa. It was one item in a heap of Etruscan rubbish thrown into the tunnel by the Romans during the building of their villa, the hole being plugged by a large amphora. It struck me that the Romans had no interest or respect for historical artifacts. The site was high on an isolated hilltop commanding a beautiful panorama of the hills north of Rome. Clearly the Etruscans and the Romans had the same feelings for landscape as modern Italians, who were building a new villa on the site. Making this discovery was the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me! I stopped breathing!

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Archaeologists come across the ‘best’ conserved large Etruscan villa in Italy

The site of Vetulonia (Vatluna or simply Vatl in Etruscan) is often perceived in historical circles as the ‘last’ of the Etruscan cities in Etruria proper. In fact, both ancient authors and archaeological pieces of evidence suggest how the settlement played its role in inspiring the adoption of the magisterial insignia (comprising the fasces lictoriae) by the Romans. And now, researchers have come across what they have termed as the best conserved large Etruscan villa in the history of Italian archaeology. It is given the moniker of domus dei dolia because of the first discovery pertaining to a room full of oil jars.

The big residential unit boasting over 4,300 sq ft in area, had an arrangement of ten rooms along with secondary service areas. From the civil engineering perspective, the Etruscan villa was supported by a hulled structure comprising a clay-based ceiling – with attached beams, dry walls, and flooring composed of opus signinum (a unique mixture of broken tiles and mortar). The archaeologists also witnessed the impressive terracotta tiles and the intricate decorative features, including early Pompeian-style frescoes that embellished a secluded living room, along with exceptional bronze statuettes found in a hole under the floor.

Suffice it to say, judging by these architectural features, this well preserved Etruscan villa belonged to a local nobleman of the city. And the locational aspect of the building rather alludes to the affluent occupant, with its address being in the middle of the Via dei Ciclopi, one of the main arteries that connected the Etruscan and Roman districts of Vetulonia. Regarding this seemingly unusual arrangement of nearby neighborhoods of ‘rivals’ Romans and Etruscans, archaeologist Simona Rafanelli, who has been excavating the site since 2015, had this to say –

From the third-century BC Vetulonia experienced a period of peaceful coexistence with Rome. The Etruscan city enjoyed a period of remarkable growth and economic prosperity, witnessed by the redecoration of sacred buildings, the construction of new domus and, more generally, by the demographic-urban expansion.

Interestingly enough, after 3rd century BC, in spite of the eclipse of the Etruscan realm, Vetulonia was even granted the permission to mint their own coins by Rome – and many of such specimens were found during the excavation. The most striking of these coins relate to a particular bronze sestertius, decorated with the intricate motif of a trident between two dolphins on the reverse.

Unfortunately, the relation between the Etruscans and Romans soured during what is known as Sulla’s first civil war, fought between the forces of namesake Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Gaius Marius. The citizens of Vetulonia, along with the populace of other Etruscan towns, took the side of Marius – who ultimately had to flee from Rome (to Africa) after Sulla unprecedentedly marched into the eternal city with his six loyal legions. In other words, many of these northern settlements had to face the wrath of Sulla (including Vetulonia itself which was probably set on fire), with his punitive actions destabilizing the economic ties of the Etruscans with rest of the Roman Republic.

And lastly, and quite intriguingly, another fascinating coin specimen was found in the form of a silver denarius (pictured above) minted by one Lucius Thorius Balbus, who was a Triumvir Monetalis (a Roman official appointed to oversee the minting of coins) and a native of Lanuvio. Rafanelli concluded –

Of Balbo’s life, we know some key facts. He was, for instance, a committed supporter of Sulla and he died in Spain at the hands of a supporter of Marius. The coin, therefore, arrived in Vetulonia in the pockets of a soldier of Sulla who, presumably, lost it in the commotion generated by the fires and devastation brought to the city as a form of revenge for its loyalty to Marius. Sulla’s retaliation against the Etruscan cities, perpetrated after 80 BC, are reported in all ancient sources and I think I can say that here we have irrefutable evidence of it.

Iron suspension ring, recovered in the triclinium (dining room) of the Etruscan villa.

The History of Chianti

The Chianti hills have been inhabited for millennia, making the history of Chianti rich and varied. The mild and healthy climate, the forest abounding in game and the fertile soil have attracted the human species since at least 2000 BC. The first Chiantigiani to leave an impression on the Chianti landscape were the Etruscans . The Etruscans make their appearance in the history of Chianti during the transition from nomadic herdsman to sedentary farmer, and they introduced the cultivation of grapes and wine production into Chianti. A number of place names bear witness to the presence of the Etruscans in Chianti. In particular, the suffixes –na and –ne are evidence of an Etruscan origin, as in Adine, Avene or Avane, Rietine, Nusenna and in addition the names of Starda, Galenda and Vercenni have Etruscan roots.

The Piazza of Greve in Chianti in the 19 C.

The origin of the name “Chianti” is rather uncertain. The Etruscan name for the area is documented neither in Etruscan inscriptions nor Roman history sources, but, based on certain topographical names, it is inferred to have been “Clante”. For example, “Clanis” seems to have been the Etruscan name of a stream, originating near Montegrossi in Gaiole, the present name of which is the “Massellone”. The name Clante seems always to be associated with water. Clante was also the name of important Etruscan family from the area that appears in numerous inscriptions. Whether the family took its name from the territory or vice versa cannot be determined at present, but it is fairly certain that the name “Chianti” is derived from “Clante”.

The oldest documentary record so far known of the name “Chianti” is a 12 C copy of a deed of donation dated 790. This deed states that the brothers Atroald, Adonald and Adopald, sons of Atripert, who were obviously of Longobard (Lombard) descent, gave various pieces of land to the monastery of San Bartolomeo ‘a Recavata’, later known as San Batolomeo a Ripoli and possibly the oldest nunnery on Florentine territory. The monastery was founded by their grandfather.

The Etruscans were absorbed by the Romans, who further developed agriculture in Chianti, introducing, among other things, the cultivation of olives on a large scale, not only as a food source but also because olive oil was used in lamps. With the fall of the Roman Empire and the onset of the barbarian invasions, Chianti experienced centuries of decline, leaving little trace in the form of archeological finds. With the advent of the Longobards and the Franks, Christianity gradually became predominant, replacing the ancient pagan religion, and substituting churches for temples, sometimes on the same foundations, but settlements were sparse, and dwellings and parish churches were fortified.

In the mediaeval period, Siena, loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor ( Ghibelline ), and Florence, ally of the Pope ( Guelph ), clashed repeatedly as they strove to expand their possessions in the Chianti area that lay between them. The hostilities between these two city states experienced a temporary lull at the beginning of the 13 C, and, with the treaty of 1203, the Lodo di Poggibonsi, a definitive boundary line between their territories was established. This treaty ratified Florentine control of Chianti.

The piazza of Greve in Chianti before the installation of the statue of Verrazzano

As soon as Florence had taken possession of the border territories towards Siena, a process of reorganisation of all of her possessions into leghe, leagues, was initiated, and around the middle of the 13 C the Lega del Chianti was founded although is it documented for the first time only in 1306. The Chianti League was a military-political organisation with the purpose of governing an extensive territory, and was consequently divided into the terzieri corresponding to the three current municipalities of Castellina in Chianti , Radda in Chianti and Gaiole in Chianti . It was based on a treaty signed with Florence at the Castle of Mugnana in 1198. Castellina was initially chosen as the administrative centre of the Lega but later the leader of the Lega, the Podestà (Lord Mayor), resided at Radda. Although the three villages with their surrounding territory were to all intents and purposes independent, they were subordinate to the authority of the Podestà, and they were obliged to aid and assist one another other, supplying funds and soldiers, when required. The three municipalities became part of the regional territory of Siena at the beginning of the 19 C, during the period of French domination in Tuscany, and were confirmed as belonging to the province of Siena when Italy was unified in the 1860’s and 1870’s.

The majority of Chianti architecture that we visit today belongs to the mediaeval period. Before the emergence of towns in Chianti, the most common form of inhabited nucleus was the rural hamlet, often referred to as a “borgo“. These Chianti hamlets were often located on hilltops and consisted of modest dwellings huddled together around a parish church or a castle keep. Houses were built and enlarged in a haphazard manner, according to the need of the moment, a characteristic feature of mediaeval urban and village vernacular architecture that is still much in evidence in many Chianti villages.

The piazza of Impruneta during the 19 C

There are numerous examples of these borghi throughout Chianti.
In Castellina: Ricavo, Tregole and Sommavilla.
In Radda: Selvole, Collepetroso and Capaccia.
In Gaiole: Ama, Adine, San Marcellino and Vertine .

At the end of the Dark Age in Italy (9 C -10 C) and again at the height of the clashes between Siena and Florence during the High Middle Ages (12 C and 13 C), the unprotected villages of Chianti were fortified and many castles were constructed. At the centre of these fortified settlements, surrounded by heavy walls and guard towers, stood the fortified tower, the residence of the feudal lord. Apart from the noble family, this fortified settlement housed farmhands, servants and a few artisans. Mediaeval agriculture was based on bare self-sufficiency, since little more than what was strictly necessary could be produced. No “profit” as such was generated. With the rise of the cities and a class of rich merchants and bankers, of whom the early Medici were examples, men outside of the aristocracy began to buy land to generate a profit, and a new form of agriculture developed. This was the mezzadria, a type of sharecropping, based on the podere or farm, which, apart from the casa del lavoratore, where the peasant and his family lived and worked, consisted of an expanse of arable land and of woodland, which was able to keep the whole extended family gainfully employed. Often the landowner would construct a casa del signore on the land of the podere, not just to enjoy a life of leisure in the country, but also the keep an eye on the activities of his workers, especially at harvest time.

The sharecropper compact specified that the owner of the land provided seed, implements and housing but left the cultivation of the land to the colono (peasant) or mezzadro (crofter), with the production and earnings being divided equally between them. This system started to spread in Chianti around the year 1000, but the transformation from feudalism to mezzadria was only completed in the 16 C. This sharecropping system gave rise to a more productive use of agricultural resources and permitted a development from simple self-sufficiency to the production of surplus – profit, in other words.

Contadini chiantigiani – a Chianti sharecropper family

The rivalry between Florence and Siena gradually became more severe, and Chianti, the territory that lies between them, was the principal scene of the resulting military confrontations which continued throughout the Middle Ages. The armies which passed through Chianti were by no means only those of Florence and Siena. Chianti was also periodically invaded by more or less “foreign” gangs of soldiers, mercenaries and “masterless men”. First, during the war between the Visconti of Milan and Florence at the end of the 14 C, and then later during the Aragonese invasions, originating from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the second half of the 15 C. These onslaughts left Chianti destroyed and desolate.

The 16 C remained turbulent for the population of the Chianti. The plague struck and, in 1527, the imperial troops as well as the forces of Charles V, heading for Florence to restore the Medici in 1529, passed over Chianti like a swarm of locusts. Peace came to Chianti only after Montalcino was finally taken by Florence in 1555 and Siena utterly defeated. Chianti now became worth investment by the Florentines. The agricultural system based on poderi (farms) became popular and had a lasting influence on the rural landscape and economic structure of Chianti. More small farmhouses were built and castles abandoned. Steep and uneven stretches of land were rendered tillable by construction of the terraced fields supported by dry-stone walls so characteristic of Chianti even today. The agricoltura promiscua (mixed cultivation), became the predominant mode of agriculture almost everywhere in Chianti: rows of vines and olive trees at fixed intervals with wheat grown in between.

Around the middle of the 16 C, Vasari painted a black rooster on a golden background, a symbol of Chianti, on the ceiling of the salone del Cinquecento in the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence. Chianti wine became so famous that the poet Francesco Redi mentioned it in his Bacco in Toscana, and describes it as a “magnificent” and “grand” wine. Chianti wine was soon known and appreciated beyond local and regional boundaries, and even achieved official recognition. In 1716, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III , defined the production areas of the most important wines produced on Florentine territory, in order to regulate the wine trade. In this decree, he specified the boundaries of the region where Chianti wine was to be produced: “from Spedaluzzo until Greve , and from there to Panzano , comprising all of the potesteria of Radda, Gajole and Castellina and stretching right up to the border of the state of Siena”. These boundaries thus included the initial part of the valley of Greve (as seen from Siena), apart from the historical territory of the Lega del Chianti.

An important contributor to the Italian Risorgimento (the unification of Italy) and great benefactor of Chianti was the “Iron Baron”, Bettino Ricasoli . He was not only a politician but also a progressive agronomist who, at his estate, the Castello di Brolio , undertook enological experiments, which led him to propose a specific combination of grapes that made him the originator of Chianti wine of today. His formula to obtain a longer-lasting and more flavourful wine was followed for many years and has contributed in no small measure to the fame and appreciation of Chianti wine. In 1878 the wine was presented with great success at the World Exhibition of Paris, and its reputation grew steadily, only to be interrupted by the devastation caused by the wine parasite, phylloxera, and the two World Wars.

As a result of the growing demand for Chianti wine, the areas of production were continuously enlarged. As early as 1924, an unsuccessful attempt was made to establish the boundaries of the area of production with the setting up of the Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico . However, a symbol was successfully chosen: the “Gallo Nero”, a black rooster on a golden background, the old symbol of the Lega del Chianti.

New Zealand M10 tank buster in San Casciano, July 1944

Following the end of World War II and the industrialisation of the cities of the north, the depopulation of the countryside began in many parts of Italy, not least in Chianti. The mezzadria system, which had for centuries defined everyday life in Chianti, was satisfactory neither to the increasingly impoverished or absent landowners nor to the increasingly educated rural population. The quality of life under the mezzadria was poor even when the landowners were enlightened, with bad roads, and little motorised transport, electricity or even acceptable drinking water being available. The majority of farmhouses were in dire need of restoration due to the war and the years of neglect before that and no funds were available for this purpose even had there been interest in it. The crisis quickly deepened and within few years the Chianti was depopulated and in a state of decay.

The depopulation of Chianti that began in the 1950s came to an almost complete stop during the 1970s, thanks to the revitalisation of Chianti wine production. During the 1950s, many agriculturalists had lost hope in wine production in Chianti, with some going so far as to advocate tearing up the vines and growing grass. The mezzadria system having disappeared, agricultural reorganisation encouraged the planting of vineyards designed for mechanical maintenance. The imagination of a few revolutionary winemakers, inspired by the first of them, Piero Antinori, led to the introduction of grape varietals additional to the indigenous grape varieties of Chianti , to the super Tuscan wine phenomenon and ultimately to a much-needed revision of the stipulated grape types used to make Chianti Classico . Wine quality improved dramatically right at the moment when post-war demand for wine worldwide began to recover.

The disappearance of agricoltura promiscua and the planting of modern Chianti vineyards left its mark on the landscape, with tidy rows of vines no longer being mixed with olive trees and other crops, and the olive groves themselves more orderly in appearance. The rediscovery of Chianti by the English and later by the Germans as a place to live also contributed to the restoration of innumerable villas and case coloniche with a consequent improvement in the appearance of the countryside and input into the Chianti economy. The rejuvenation of wine production and the influx of foreign residents coincided with the discovery of Chianti as a quality tourist destination. Visitors from all over the world were attracted by the traditions, the landscape, the climate, the gastronomy and the wine of Chianti. The tradition of restoring old houses has been taken up with enthusiasm and skill by local residents over the past 25 years, making available the highly popular rural tourist accommodation phenomenon loosely referred to as agriturism . For now, the outlook for Chianti is positive, especially as the Chiantigiani and their political representatives have realised that development must not compromise the traditions and look that make Chianti so pleasing not only to its residents but to the thousands of happy tourists that contribute so much to local prosperity.

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Etruscan Homes: A New Discovery - History

Ancient History Sourcebook: Reports of the Etruscans, c. 430 BCE - 10 CE

The Histories, c. 430 BCE, I.94

The Lydians have very nearly the same customs as the Hellenes, with the exception that these last do not bring up their girls the same way. So far as we have any knowledge, the Lydians were the first to introduce the use of gold and silver coin, and the first who sold good retail. They claim also the invention of all the games which are common to them with the Hellenes. These they declare that they invented about the time when they colonized Tyrrhenia [i.e., Etruria], an event of which they give the following account. In the days of Atys the son of Manes, there was great scarcity through the whole land of Lydia. For some time the Lydians bore the affliction patiently, but finding that it did not pass away, they set to work to devise remedies for the evil. Various expedients were discovered by various persons: dice, knuckle-bones, and ball, and all such games were invented, except checkers, the invention of which they do not claim as theirs. The plan adopted against the famine was to engage in games one day so entirely as not to feel any craving for food, and the next day to eat and abstain from games. In this way they passed eighteen years.

Still the affliction continued, and even became worse. So the king determined to divide the nation in half, and to make the two portions draw lots, the one to stay, the other to leave the land. He would continue to reign over those whose lot it should be to remain behind the emigrants should have his son Tyrrhenus for their leader. The lot was cast, and they who had to emigrate went down to Smyrna, and built themselves ships, in which, after they had put on board all needful stores, they sailed away in search of new homes and better sustenance. After sailing past many countries, they came to Umbria, where they built cities for themselves, and fixed their residence. Their former name of Lydians they laid aside, and called themselves after the name of the king=s son, who led the colony, Tyrrhenians.

History of Rome, c. 10 CE

Book 5.1: The Veientines, on the other hand, tired of the annual canvassing for office, elected a king. This gave great offence to the Etruscan cantons, owing to their hatred of monarchy and their personal aversion to the one who was elected. He was already obnoxious to the nation through his pride of wealth and overbearing temper, for he had put a violent stop to the festival of the Games, the interruption of which is an act of impiety. The Etruscans as a nation were distinguished above all others by their devotion to religious observances, because they excelled in the knowledge and conduct of them.

Book 7.2. But the violence of the epidemic was not alleviated by any aid from either men or gods, and it is asserted that as men's minds were completely overcome by superstitious terrors they introduced, amongst other attempts to placate the wrath of heaven, scenic representations, a novelty to a nation of warriors who had hitherto only had the games of the Circus. They began, however, in a small way, as nearly everything does, and small as they were, they were borrowed from abroad. The players were sent for from Etruria there were no words, no mimetic action they danced to the measures of the flute and practiced graceful movements in Etruscan fashion. Afterwards the young men began to imitate them, exercising their wit on each other in burlesque verses, and suiting their action to their words. This became an established diversion, and was kept up by frequent practice. The Etruscan word for an actor is istrio, and so the native performers were called histriones. These did not, as in former times, throw out rough extempore effusions like the Fescennine verse, but they chanted satyrical verses quite metrically arranged and adapted to the notes of the flute, and these they accompanied with appropriate movements.

Several years later Livius for the first time abandoned the loose satyrical verses and ventured to compose a play with a coherent plot. Like all his contemporaries, he acted in his own plays, and it is said that when he had worn out his voice by repeated recalls he begged leave to place a second player in front of the flutist to sing the monologue while he did the acting, with all the more energy because his voice no longer embarrassed him. Then the practice commenced of the chanter following the movements of the actors, the dialogue alone being left to their voices. When, by adopting this method in the presentation of pieces, the old farce and loose jesting was given up and the play became a work of art, the young people left the regular acting to the professional players and began to improvise comic verses. These were subsequently known as exodia [after-pieces], and were mostly worked up into the Atellane Plays. These farces were of Oscan origin, and were kept by the young men in their own hands they would not allow them to be polluted by the regular actors.

Athenaeus of Naucratis, The Deipnosophists, or, Banquet of the Learned of Athenaeus, (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1908)

Livy, The History of Rome, by Titus Livius, 4 vols., D. Spillan and Cyrus Edmonds, trans., (New York: G. Bell & Sons, 1892).

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg has modernized the text.

This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, August 1998
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