The present paper discusses the phenomenon of Etruscan civilization. The course of analysis is based on archaeological approach. The discussion is conducted within such core domains of the Etruscan civilization as religion and architectural patterns, as well as cultural dimension.
Etruscan World: Archaeological Insights
The world of Etruscan culture is a multidimensional and diverse. Etruscan civilization is a contemporary notion that denotes the ancient part of modern Italy. The inhabitants of Etruria were a unique and authentic historical ethnic group that subsequently assimilated into the powerful and overwhelming Roman Empire. The present study aims at research, analysis and discussion of such key factors of Etruscan civilization as religion, architectural patterns and cultural dimension.
Discussion and Analysis
The Etruscan civilization presents a unity of sophistication and controversy. Actually, the roots of the culture are obscured by prehistoric period and practically lost for the contemporary investigators. There is a considerable lack of original texts in such crucial dimensions as philosophy, culture, religion or literature to rely on in the course of exploration, analysis and study. Therefore, archaeology appears to be the most efficient medium to acquire basic information, as well as particular artifacts and relics, which belong to current civilization. The archaeologically relevant items may be found in tombs, graves, as well as on ancient sites with architectural patterns or at least their remnants, which are available nowadays.
The scope of architecture is a very informative in terms of the ancient civilizations study, since it may provide constructive information about cultural domain, religious beliefs, as well as rites and rituals, traditions and general outlook of the studied phenomenon. For example, Riva bases his work on the evidential outcomes of the survey that has been conducted on the burial and settlement sites of the territory of Etruria at times of the late Iron Age. The study concentrates on analysis and interpretation of the findings, which symbolize the rituals of the currently discussed civilization, the model of the society and the scheme of inhabited territories.
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The study of archaeological sites is especially significant, since Etruscan world has had an exceptional urbanization structure. It is relevant to highlight the significant technological level the Etruscan civilization is known for. For instance, Izzet highlights such essential aspects as durability and technological advantage of the buildings within the Etruscan settlements. For instance, there was an alteration in the shape of buildings: “the move from curvilinear to rectilinear residences has been seen as a result of technical advantage: a rectilinear structure could support a far larger (and heavier) roof than a curvilinear structure, and so larger houses are possible” (20). Nonetheless, the architectural scope, as well as the funerary constructions of Etruscan civilization has also been fundamentally influenced by foreign tendencies. The archaeological research of ancient urban areas features the tendency of circular arrangement of blocks as a traditional enclosure of the rooms (Izzet). The origins of such tendency have developed in the East, whereas the tendency of arched doors that has been widely spread in the seventh century is also richly presented in edifices of Etruscan period of time.
Thomas and Meyers also highlight the significance and high level of the construction technologies advancement. The investigators highlight the aspect of monumentality as a crucial one in the given context. Moreover, Thomas and Meyers support the assumption that the architectural heritage of the Etruscan era incarnates the earliest monumental experience in the ancient Italy. Actually, the research provided by the aforementioned authors distinguishes between two major types of construction elements on the territory of Etruria. They are namely, “the monumental tumulus tombs dating to the Orientalizing period in Cerveteri” and the so-called “monumental complexes, sometimes referred to as palazzo, also originating in Orientalizing period and in use during the Archaic period” (2). The architectural scope of the Etruscan heritage is diverse and abundant. Though, there are several seminal buildings, which predetermine the main aspects of Etruscan construction scope and dominate in terms of style. They are the edifice from the monumental area from Zone F that is located at Aquarossa and the Archaic Building that is situated at Poggio Civitate (Thomas & Meyers). The majority of the structures, which belong to the Etruscan historical period, demonstrate prevalence of the traits represented in the aforementioned buildings. First of all, it is a position of the courtyard that is primarily a central one. Moreover, the analogous construction elements are used in the Etruscan architecture of the urban type. In addition, they are characterized by more spacious scale of the building endeavor in comparison to the preliminary samples of structure on the same historic territory. Furthermore, the architectural terracottas are decorated with plenty of elements in an elaborate and sophisticated manner. Actually, such archaeologically relevant details reveal not only key aspects of the Etruscan architectural domain, but also its social structure, level of technological development, religious beliefs and rituals, focal values and concerns. Therefore, archaeological exploration and study of the historical sites are crucial for understanding the essence of ancient culture, religions and civilizations.
The archaeologists, who work with different sites on the territory of ancient Etruria, underline that Etruscan architecture combines the aspects, which are considered to be irrelevant and even contradicting each other. For instance, the palazzo as the seminal representatives of the Archaic period of Etruscan development unite airy spaciousness with substantial stone foundations of all the four wings, which surround the ample courtyard and heavy terracotta roofs.
The counter-part of palazzo, Aquarossa’s monumental area that locates in Zone F, is also a significant example for construction analysis. It highlights not only spaciousness, but also complex and elaborate structure. The scholars in the field of concern also conclude from archaeological explorations and expert evaluation of their results that the monumentality has not only architectural, but also an ideological implication that denotes commemoration. Such notion primarily has the meaning of increased power and as a result – wealth – that was a norm for that period. Moreover, the archaeologists may also conclude from the sites and found items the level of life, as well as the approximate percentage of the rich in relation to the poor. Moreover, the priorities in exterior design may also indicate on the way of life and the material alongside with the social statuses of its owner. According to Thomas and Meyers, “In some cases the palazzi have been interpreted as elite residences; in others they are considered seats of political authority or assembly” (6). Hence, the archaeological research does not provide the scholars with relatively unambiguous data or items, such as ancient scripts, paintings or material objects, but permit to project the potential alternatives of the ancient life in case there is a deficit of written and visual records.
Actually, the apparent lack of scripts has already been highlighted. Nevertheless, such aspect of the issue in question is a serious challenge for the contemporary historians. The reason is connected with significant gaps not only in the historical record of the Etruscan civilization, but also in terms of translation of the available written documents. The course of interpretation of the Etruscan texts has two major disadvantages, which make the whole process complicated and challenging. The uniqueness and significance of innumerous written records makes the results of interpretation of the available scripts and records crucially predetermining and literally history making for the Etruscan civilization.
- The first challenge and dilemma is connected with a so-called best current knowledge that should be applied to Etruscan texts while interpreting. Current issue is important as far as the domain of Etruscan grammar is controversial at particular aspects and undiscovered at some others. Therefore, the interpretation is threatened to lack precision, accurateness, relevance and, as a result, historical significance. Actually, the potential mistakes in translation of the documents of the Etruscan civilization impact the actual exegesis of an ancient enigmatic phenomenon of Etruria. The level to which the Etruscan language is studied on the contemporary stage of development is considerably low. Facchetti presents the following picture describing current aspect: “we have wide information about the flexion of nouns and demonstrative pronouns. As to vocabulary, despite the sparse remains, it has been possible to reconstruct a more or less precise meaning for a respectable number of terms; but much remains unknown or unconfirmed” (359). To be more precise, it is a decent starting point for exegesis practice that endangers the texts to the unintended obscurity and misinterpretation. The grammar aspects form an important element of the proper and constructive comprehension of the texts’ meaning available for the analysis and interpretation at present time.
- The second challenge of the translation and interpretation process of the Etruscan texts is connected with the appropriate choice of the way to value the diverse interpretations of particular Etruscan written records provided by different authors. Since there are crucial gaps in the dimensions of translation from Etruscan language, the choice may be often more intuitive than grounded.
Moreover, it is appropriate to highlight that the hermeneutics of the texts, which belonged to the citizens of ancient Etruria, has such three major stages as: “a first phase of (pre)scientific approaches, a second phase of ‘printing’ and a third phase of refinement” (Facchetti 359). The sequence of stages is constructive and is considered to be the most effective in the given context.
The field of linguistic exploration of the civilization of Etruscan people is a multidimensional and complicated process. It requires not only brilliant knowledge and skills, as well as significant experiential basis of the professional linguists, but also a consistent synergy of efforts of specialists from different fields. Faccetti also highlights that there is a tendency according to which the layers of the language phenomenon, namely, analysis of the texts in general and the scope of vocabulary in particular, may succeed due to the contribution of scholars of non-linguistic fields of activity, namely, archaeologists. Their knowledge and especially their professional experience are useful for identification of the meanings of the words. Since archaeologists observe the sites and discover new aspect of the Etruscan civilization, they are more competent in it compared to the linguists who usually acquire their knowledge from books, i.e., from theoretical sources but not empirical ones.
The linguistic scope of archaeological research is closely connected to the course of investigation of culture and religion. The area of architecture is easy to explore, study and interpret without scripts, whereas the aforementioned scopes of concern require written records, as well as architectural and cultural heritage in order to draw relevant and efficient conclusions. Nonetheless, the major outcomes are available due to the architectural patterns analysis and findings of items with obvious or implicated spiritual implication. For example, the tomb and grave analysis results in significant comprehension of the funeral specific nature, as well as in understanding of death and life after it by Etruscan people. One of the most challenging and at the same time controversial aspect of the funeral ceremony as it has been understood and conducted in the Etruscan civilization is the sacrifice of the people (Bonfante). In its argumentation Bonfante relies on the finding that is apparently meaningful, namely, an Etruscan funerary urn. Anyway, such argument-based analysis is regarded by many other scholars as ungrounded and questionable.
One more significant aspect that has been already addressed previously is an essential impact on the formation and subsequent functioning of the Etruscan religious and cultural patterns of the foreign ones. A vivid example is a crucial influence of the Greek mythology upon the Etruscan outlook, values and beliefs. The representatives of the Etruscan civilization simply copied some of them and transformed into own myths.
According to Copeland, The most dominant theme of Etruscan mirrors is the story of Helen of Troy (Homer’s Iliad) and what happened to the heroes in and after the Trojan War. The storyline often diverges from that of the Greco-Roman version… Their point of view no doubt relates to the tradition recorded by Herodotus (1).
Such approach to the mirroring of myths reveals the exceptional potential for authentic development that Etruscan people have possessed. Moreover, such experience demonstrates exceptional aptitude of the Etruscans to synthesize and transform that is crucial for understanding their culture and overall outlook.
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Finally, it is relevant to discuss some practices and aspects related to the religious scope of Etruscan identity. Turfa provides an in-depth insight into the religious practice connected with the famous brontoscopic calendar. Such type of calendar has been read and interpreted properly. To be more precise, the brontoscopic calendar is the only source that is available in the current course of time that may be regarded as a comprehensive calendar. Nonetheless, the work also has certain controversies and complications. For instance, the calendar has a significant length and, therefore, it is difficult to capture all the data properly and efficiently. Though, it is also a tremendous advantage, since no other source of such nature is available for the study and analysis.
Moreover, it is considered to be controversial as far as it has been impacted by two cultures. The brontoscopic calendar originates from the Etruscan culture as archaeological and linguistic explorations confirm, but consequently it has been affected and transformed to certain extent by the Roman culture. Turfa emphasizes that the brontoscopic calendar performed, first of all, the controlling function in the scope of religion and, to certain extent, in the field of culture. To be more precise, the Etruscan people have introduced the phenomenon of writing to the territories of Europe (Lorenzi). It means that the Etruscan people not only have been influenced by alien cultures, but also significantly impacted them. Hence, the meaning of the brontoscopic calendar and an excellent possibility to comprehend it is a huge achievement of the specialists in the specific field.
Thus, the present study provides constructive analysis of such domains of the Etruscan civilization as religion, architectural patterns and cultural dimension. Etruria has been a country with exceptional level of development, technological advancement and cultural, as well as religious significant presentation. Moreover, it has provided a crucial impact on Europe, by presenting authenticity and monumentality in every area of the development. The Etruscan civilization is characterized by monumental spacious edifices built with the purpose to commemorate wealth and power, myths mirrored from the Greek mythology and advanced technological development.