Today was our first day-trip. Today we visited Etruscan tombs at the Monterozzi necropolis in ancient Tarquinia and the Banditaccia necropolis in Cerveteri (Caere).

Monterozzi necropolis in ancient Tarquinia

  • Herodotus on the mythological origins of the Etruscans: founder = Tarchon, Lydian prince. Story associated with ancient Tarquinia.
    • Etruscans are from Lydia. Came as a result of a famine. Herodotus portrays them as a lascivious people.
  • The location of ancient Tarquinia was an advantageous land (I mean, just look at it!)
    • Fertile
    • Rich in minerals, raw ores
    • Hills for defense
  • Not much architecture remaining
    • Public/private architecture not built to last: wooden columns, mud-brick walls.
    • But they were more concerned where they would spend the afterlife.
  • Necropolis: sometimes there are more than one clustered together.
    • Necropoleis often mimic the cities of the living.
    • Therefore, they can serve as a good source for what Etruscan houses may have looked like.
  • Monterozzi Necropolis
    • Tombs of the wealthy
  • How many people in tombs?
    • Seem to be family tombs: probably husband/wife, perhaps more extended family members.
    • Perhaps multiple generations.
  • Tombs with more rooms, larger entry corridor: show status.
  • Early on tomb imagery seems to represents the pleasures of life.
    • Drinking, banqueting, sports, sex, etc.
    • Recall things of a positive life, hope for similar things in the afterlife.
  • Scenes of sex: apotropeic.
    • Ward off (turn aside, turn away) evil.
    • Sex is a symbol of life. Even with this being the case, the scenes are not warding off death but evil, a “bad afterlife.”
      • Blue demons with hammers and axes: bad afterlife? Bringers of punishment in the afterlife?
  • Appearance of blue demons in tomb paintings in the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC.
    • Theory: pessimistic life outlook reflects in their tomb art.
    • The unhappy afterlife imagery corresponds with the unhappy physical lives of the Etruscans as they were all conquered by the Romans around this time period.
  • False door
    • Ensures that the dead won’t stay around: they have an obvious place to go.
    • Romans perhaps inherited some of their superstition from the Etruscans.
  • Fresco
    • Pigments applied to damp plaster, adheres, becomes part of material.
    • All natural: grinding up plants and minerals.
    • Red is more common, since it is derived from iron ore.
    • Blue and green come from other minerals that are harder to find = more expensive. Status symbol again.
  • Were the Monterozzi Tarquinia tombs covered after the families were buried?
    • Probably not. There would likely be an external door.
    • At least here, not dirt or stones heaped on top.
  • Bartoccini tomb
    • Reused in medieval times by the Templar order. But for what?
    • There were accusations against Templars: sexual deviance, pagan behavior, and so on. It is interesting to consider these accusations in light of their apparent association with this tomb.

Modern Tarquinia and its museum


  • Formerly known as Corneto. Not really in the ancient location of Tarquinia, but its name was changed to that of the former for propagandistic purposes under Mussolini.
    • Medieval walls: nothing to do with ancient Etruscan Tarquinia.
  • Museum building: museums in Italy commonly start out as palaces, houses of important people, etc., until the property is acquired by the state. Usually this came about because wealthy entities that could formerly hold the property without paying taxes and such could no longer afford to keep it, since, despite their great wealth and status, the new unified Italian state was now making them pay.
  • Palazzo Vitelleschi (= the Tarquinia National Museum)
    • Built at the beginning of the 1400s (around the beginning of the Italian Renaissance).
    • Even given this date and context – which might lead us to expect the architecture to be of the Renaissance style – the Palazzo is in the Gothic style. Why? Likely because Corneto was a smaller, provincial town, which was slower than places like Rome and Florence to pick up on the latest and greatest architectural trends.
  • There is a lookout place on the third story of the Palazzo that gives a breathtaking view of the Corneto countryside. One of my favorite pictures thus far is from this location. A flock of birds took off right as I opened the shutter, and the result is pretty stunning (at least in my opinion):

The winged horses relief

  • Large-scale terra cotta.
  • Was a decoration for a temple pediment.
  • From classical style (cf. Greece).
    • Classical style is most distinguished by its human figures, but we can tell that this piece is not archaic because there are no repetitive patterns or rigidity in form. (Although the latter would be mostly applicable to sculptures containing humans).
  • Bulla (plural: -ae): apotropeic symbols.
    • Oval pendents tied around the horses’ necks, ward away evil.
    • Also worn by Roman boys.
    • Connection between Etruscan and Roman superstition.
  • Nails inserted into holes precast into the clay before it was fired. These nails would hold the relief on the pediment.
  • From a temple at the city of ancient Tarquinia.
    • Most all that was left was the foundation and architectural terra cotta.



The Tarquinia National Museum had quite a few different Etruscan burial sarcophagi (this is only a picture of the sarcophagi in one corner of one room in the Museum).

One tufa sarcophagus in particular caught my eye:


Etruscan writing, particularly of any length, is quite a rarity. It is one of the things that makes studying the Etruscans frustrating: unlike other cultures, for which we have textual sources to supplement the material record, for the Etruscans, we are stuck with mostly the latter. The fact that this sarcophagus (Italian: Sacofago del magistrato), has this amount of writing therefore makes it noteworthy.

Banditaccia necropolis in Cerveteri (Caere)


  • Mounds above ground, not tombs hidden below ground. More than many other places, this necropolis really does appear to be a city, a city of the dead.
    • There are some similar mounds dating to a similar period around the area of ancient Troy (Asia Minor). This could be evidence for the Etruscan migration-from-Eastern-Mediterranean hypothesis, but it could just as easily be explained by simultaneous, independent development.
  • Not plastered/painted like Tarquinia tombs (at least most of the tomb styles at this location were not – see below).
  • Build tombs, make them look like domestic locations by carving rather than by painting.
  • 30–40 miles away from Tarquinia, but entirely different burial practices. Shows that diversity in the Etruscans that we have mentioned before – definitely not a single monolithic society.
  • Abandoned after 2nd century BC.
  • Explored in 19th century.
  • Occasionally a new tomb is discovered.

Tomb styles

There is a mnemonic for remembering the centuries: 9764.

9th century

  • Pozzo (“hole”).
  • Earliest type of burial: simple type of burial with tomb goods, not much elaboration of tomb space.

7th century

  • Tumulus (“rounded mound”).
  • Mound building: the most famous tomb style at this location.
  • Often multiple tombs in a tumulus. For example, here is an entrance on the upper part of a mound, rather than one coming off of the street system running throughout the necropolis:
  • Well-articulated spaces, thought to be based on Etruscan houses.
  • Romans thought to have inherited their house layout from the Etruscans.

6th century

  • Dado (“die”) – as in what you roll to play a dice game.
  • Same basic elements as tumuli, but more simple.
  • As to why there was a transition from the tumuli to a simpler, more spartan form, one hypothesis is that there were laws put into effect in cities to limit the extravagance of tombs.
    • They might want to do this to avoid wealth being poured into tombs and subsequently lost.

4th century

  • Completely give up on above-ground tombs.
    • Carve tombs into ground instead. Also start to do more painting.
    • More similar to the tombs in Tarquinia, but details in the wall have been modeled in relief then painted, rather than just being painted as in Tarquinia. Below is a picture of such a tomb, the so-called Tomb of Relief.


While the size of the tombs vary by the wealth of the people buried therein, some of them are positively enormous. It’s hard to give a proper sense of scale when not in-person, but if you have a look at the staircases on the side of this mound, you should be able to appreciate the magnitude.


Construction details for the mounds

  • The tombs within the mounds were entirely made out of “living stone” = solid rock, not quarried and put together. Considering the size of some of these tombs, this is quite impressive.
    • You can see the original ground level at the time of a given tomb’s construction by observing where the continuous stone ends.
    • quarried rocks on the mound = above the ground level at the time of a given tomb’s construction.
    • Roads between tombs were thus carved even lower.
  • Corbeling: stepping rocks until they can be joined at the top.
    • A primitive form of arch.
    • Probably where the Romans learned about the idea of arch architecture.
  • Narrow hallway with entrance
    • Symmetric rooms off of hallway
    • Then large gathering space, with rooms coming off of said space
    • Roman homes (as uncovered at Pompeii, for example) follow a very similar structure, leading to speculation that the Romans got their basic home layout from the Etruscans, who happened to emulate their actual home layout (in their perishable building materials) in their carved tombs.
  • Benches = sleeping couches for the Etruscan home. Resting place for ashes.
    • Triangular termination = male
    • Curving/round termination = female
  • Herringbone pattern on ceiling: thought to represent some sort of organic material used in their real houses.