R. LEIGHTON, Tarquinia: An Etruscan City. London: Duckworth, 2004. Pp. xii + 218. ISBN 0-7156-3162-4. STG 16.99 (Pb).

Review by Edward Herring

University College
Galway

Robert Leighton, a pre-historian with an established reputation for his work on Sicily, steps out of his usual oeuvre with the present volume - a synthesis of the archaeological interventions at Tarquinia from the earliest antiquarian work to the latest scientific discoveries.

Etruscan archaeology has long suffered from an over-reliance on funerary evidence, compounding the myth of the ?mysterious Etruscans?. In the last half century the balance has been, to some extent, redressed by field survey, small scale digs in urban locations, and research excavations targeted at sites that have not been subsequently built upon. While the spectacular tombs from Monterozzi and the other cemeteries inevitably loom large in this account, the volume also devotes much attention to the increasingly complex picture of domestic activity that has emerged in recent times.

The book has five chapters. The first is devoted to the history of excavation at the site, from early chance discoveries, systematic plundering and antiquarian interventions, through to the advent of modern archaeology and the ongoing problem of looting.

The second chapter gives an account of the geographical setting, concentrating especially on ancient land use and agriculture. It charts that rise of the Villanovan settlement: perhaps inevitably, principally documented through funerary evidence. A strong argument is made in favour of seeing Villanovan antecedents in Etruscan funerary ritual.

Chapter 3 takes on urbanisation and state formation: two of the liveliest topics of research on pre-Roman Italy. The chapter presents an intelligent summary of the best of current thinking, making a powerful case for a significant indigenous role in cultural development without denying the importance of contact and competition with the Greek and Phoenician worlds.

The fourth chapter deals with Tarquinia at the height of its political and cultural prowess (6th and 5th centuries BC). This was the era of the most spectacular painted tombs. It would be tempting for an author to linger on these vivid images. Leighton, however, also offers a good survey of contemporary developments on the domestic front and discusses trade and the role of Gravisca. The material on politics and social structures is heavily dependent on Greek and Roman authors of a later date. At times, the reading of these sources could be more critical.

The final chapter treats Tarquinia?s gradual incorporation into the Roman world. The Roman site, which was evidently less important than its Etruscan predecessor, has attracted comparatively little interest. A persuasive case is made for more attention to be addressed to this neglected phase in the site?s history. Leighton raises some thought-provoking ideas on continuity and conscious nostalgia for the Etruscan past as well as for the re-invention of traditions in the Roman period. The volume concludes with a brief survey of the final decline of old Tarquinia and emergence of Corneto as new centre of human activity in the locality. Again this is a topic that merits further study.

The volume is well served by line drawings and greyscale plates. For the lavish colour illustrations that often characterise books on the Etruscans readers will have to look elsewhere.

This is a valuable book that deserves more praise than criticism. It does have its faults. Some of the internal cross-referencing is inaccurate, though usually by only a page or so. Similarly, the reference to fig. 64B on p. 5 should be to fig. 66A. Sloppy use of English on p. 176 results in the impression that Antoninus Pius was still alive in AD180-183.

A more serious error results from the act of synthesising previous scholarship. Page 68 repeats an error from F.-H. Massa-Pairault?s essay ?The Social Structure and the Serf Question? (in M. Torelli (ed.), The Etruscans (2000), pp. 255-271) by giving a reference to a passage in Dionysius of Halicarnassus Ant. Rom. as 2.44.7 instead of 9.5.4. Furthermore, Leighton claims that the passage compares a less disadvantaged social class, who enjoyed greater rights and freedoms, with the Thessalian penestai. Dionysius does no such thing. He merely refers to some Etruscan dependents as penestai. This implies a similarity of status, but offers no specific information on the rights and privileges of the Etruscan dependents. Leighton may be thinking of a passage (Ant. Rom. 2.9) referring to the status of client classes at early Rome. Here there is a specific comparison with the Thessalian penestai though Dionysius regards the Romulean arrangement as superior for its greater sensitivity.

A couple of more basic points of organisation can also be questioned. There is no glossary, which seems misguided in a volume aimed at non-specialists. Equally placing the Chronological Table after the Notes is unfortunate. It could easily be missed.

It would, however, be churlish to conclude on a critical note. Although aimed at general readership, this book is neither afraid to present complex arguments nor to address topics of ongoing debate. Naturally much of the primary research and interpretive scholarship on Tarquinia, and the Etruscans generally, is in Italian. Therefore this volume will be particularly useful for students and other Anglophone readers wishing to gain a greater acquaintance with the latest thinking. For this reason it will certainly be appearing on this reviewer?s Reading Lists.

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