Bucchero wares are a shiny dark grey to black pottery produced by the Etruscans of central Italy from the 7th to 4th century BCE. Used for everyday purposes and as funerary and votive objects, bucchero incorporates many forms from simple jugs to highly decorative pieces of sculpture.


In the 8th century BCE, the Etruscans were already producing a rather crude pottery known as impasto which was made of clay containing impurities of mica or stone. Although potters managed to improve the quality of impasto through long practice, it was replaced as the daily pottery of choice by an intermediary type known as buccheroid impasto and then bucchero proper sometime in the early 7th century BCE. Turned on the wheel, this new type had a more even firing and, using a process of reducing oxygen in the kiln, gave a consistent and distinctive glossy dark grey to black finish (the clay's red ferric oxide being turned into black ferrous oxide).

The earliest known examples come from Cerveteri (aka Cisra or Caera) and date to c. 675 BCE. Bucchero was produced in many Etruscan centres (notably Cerveteri, Tarquinia, Veii, and Vulci) and has become a hallmark of Etruscan presence at archaeological sites in central and northern Italy. The Etruscans were Mediterranean-wide traders, too, and bucchero was thus exported beyond Italy to places afar afield as Iberia and the Levant.

Curiously, bucchero wares display the reverse trend of refinement seen in many other pottery type evolutions. The early period wares are finer with much thinner walls and more carefully made; these are known as sottile (fine). There is then an intermediary stage known as transizionale (transitional) before a final phase when wares are described as pesante (heavy). Finer wares are generally associated with the southern Etruscans cities and the heavier type in the northern. Chiusi became a particularly noted centre for pesante wares, most of them being funerary objects. The dates for each style are usually cited as follows:

  • Fine bucchero: 675-626 BCE
  • Transitional bucchero: 625-575 BCE
  • Heavy bucchero: 575-480 BCE

Eventually, by the early 5th century BCE, bucchero was replaced by finer Etruscan pottery such as black and red-glazed wares, and by imported Greek vessels which were specifically made in Greece to suit Etruscan tastes or made by local and immigrant potters in imitation of popular Greek styles.


Etruscan potters were not without ambition and besides making vessels for ordinary daily use such as bowls, single and two-handled cups, chalices, and jugs, they also made more elaborate pieces with the addition of three-dimensional figures of both humans (especially female heads) and animals. Greek influence is seen in such choices as the ubiquitous amphora and two-handle cup or kantharos. Other forms include votive offerings and wares placed in tombs to accompany the dead into the next life. A common example of the latter are the plain service trays (known as focolare) complete with bowls, plates, cups, and utensils. Another form of votive offerings was figurines. These are closer to sculpture than pure pottery, as are the anthropomorphic vessels such as the cockerel from Viterbo which has a small lid and, if its inscription of the Etruscan alphabet is anything to go by, functioned as an ink pot.

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The forms of bucchero were also influenced by contemporary metalwork, especially bronze goods, and the pottery was probably esteemed for its shiny finish so like burnished metal. Indeed, this imitation sometimes went so far as to manifest itself in some bucchero vases being covered in gold or silver leaf, sometimes also a thin layer of tin. Decorations of ridges and applied sculpted pieces can complete the illusion of embossed metalwork.


Many bucchero wares were left plain, but decoration, when it occurs, can take the form of simple lines, spirals, and dotted fans incised onto the surface. Red ochre was sometimes painted in these incisions, but very few examples survive with their paint intact. Another decoration is the application of geometric shapes arranged symmetrically around the vessel, giving the illusion the vessel has been pressed from the inside. Many decorative motifs and scenes were influenced, as with other branches of Etruscan art, by Ionian and Near Eastern art. Greek decorated pottery from Attica and Corinth was especially popular in Etruria and incised scenes from Greek mythology are a popular choice for bucchero artists. Patterns and scenes could be applied to the pot before firing using a stamp, either fixed or a roller.


Bucchero [ˈbukkero] (Italiaans, oorspronklik afgelei van die Portugese term pucaro "welriekende kleiaarde" [1] ) is 'n soort swart of donkergrys keramiek met 'n kenmerkende glinsterende oppervlak wat vanaf die middel van die 7de eeu v.C. tot die begin van die 5de eeu v.C. deur Etruskiese pottebakkers vervaardig is - hoofsaaklik as breekware vir die Etruskiese elites. Die belangrikste vervaardigingsentra was Chiusi en Volterra. [2]

Etruscan Bucchero in the British Museum. Research Publication no. 165

There are three kinds of people in the world: those who detest bucchero those who adore bucchero and, the largest group, those who have never heard of it. This most characteristic type of Etruscan pottery was produced continuously from perhaps as early as ca. 675 B.C. until the Etruscans were finally absorbed by the Romans in the early 1st century B.C. Enormous quantities of bucchero, ranging from the exquisite to the laughable, appear at every Etruscan site and in many trading centers spread over a large range of the Mediterranean Basin and Europe. Many museums, especially the Villa Giulia, the Vatican and the Museo Archeologico in Florence, the Louvre and the Hermitage, contain excellent collections of bucchero. It is not as well represented in North America, although there are good collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago (unfortunately, not on display) and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. A surprising number of American museums have some bucchero, but most of it is rarely, if ever, exhibited or studied.

In recent decades, at least in that select group of people who adore bucchero, there has been a steady, concerted effort to demonstrate the importance of bucchero as a significant indicator of Etruscan cultural influence, trade, technical skill and taste. Numerous collections, especially in Europe, have been carefully studied or reassessed, a great deal of technical data has been collected and interpreted, and it is fair to say that we are in a much better position to appreciate the relevance of bucchero in the greater context of Etruscan civilization.

Philip Perkins has produced a much-needed catalogue of the excellent bucchero collection in the British Museum. More than 75 years ago, F. N. Pryce published 207 pieces of bucchero in a CVA. 1 Although many still assume that this catalogue is comprehensive, it actually represents only about two-thirds of the museum’s collection in 1932. Thus, P’s book brings together all 314 pieces of bucchero in the museum and, more importantly, takes account of the vast progress made in our understanding of this kind of pottery over the intervening years.

The first chapter, “The Formation of the Collection,” demonstrates that bucchero was among the earliest items acquired by the museum. The first nine pieces, all from the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, came in 1756, only three years after the museum’s foundation. One of these, the upper part of a caryatid figure (No. 67), is especially interesting because it demonstrates that even at this early date bucchero was being manipulated to create odd but appealing pastiches. As Perkins points out (24 see also No. 55), this casts some doubt on the authenticity of more complete examples of the caryatid type, all from the Durand Collection and acquired in 1836 (Nos. 56-66). At some point in the early 19th century these figures were added to two different (authentic) bucchero chalices (Nos. 75-76), no doubt to enhance their value by transforming a common shape into something unusual and far more decorative.

Other important additions of bucchero came from well-known collections such as that of Charles Townley (28 pieces in 1814), Samuel Butler (two pieces in 1840), James Millingen (six pieces in 1847), and John Ruskin (No. 16, illustrated on the cover). But the largest number, 83 pieces representing more than a quarter of the present holdings, was purchased from Domenico Campanari in 1838-39. He had mounted the first exhibition of Etruscan antiquities in England in 1837. This early blockbuster attracted huge crowds and inspired many people, including Lady Hamilton Gray, 2 to travel to Italy in search of the Etruscans. Additions to the museum’s bucchero collection in the 20th century were made sporadically by purchase or donation, often as part of a larger group of antiquities. Perkins provides an excellent set of concordances (77-82) that allow easy reference to sources and cross-references to Pryce’s CVA and the earlier Walters catalogue. 3 There are also lists of possible production sites, findspots, and graffiti.

The second chapter, “The Study of Bucchero and the British Museum Collection,” summarizes progress made in the ongoing analysis of bucchero, really a vibrant sub-field of Etruscan studies. A major concern is the development of typologies, something that can be traced back to the 19th century but that was more systematically expanded in the late 1970s by Rasmussen 4 and Gran-Aymerich. 5 More recently, scientific analyses of bucchero fabrics from a wide variety of sites have effectively demonstrated that there were many local production centers. 6 Perkins offers an expert summary of the complicated issue of influences on bucchero design and technique. In fact, this short chapter provides a useful, concise review of our current understanding of bucchero with ample bibliographic citations for those who wish to pursue any aspect of the topic.

The Catalogue (11-75) forms the core of this publication. Entries are arranged alphabetically by shape (i.e., alabastra, amphoras, aryballoi, etc.) and chronologically within each shape. One feature that sets these entries apart from the norm is the precision with which condition and production techniques are described. Perkins is attentive to fabric and provides a careful, systematic description of inclusions. The clay color is always noted, although there is an important caveat (10) explaining that many vases were “enhanced” with applied black paint or polish, probably in the 19th century. Perkins also takes care to cite the most relevant parallels for each example. All items (except 8 sherds) are either illustrated with photos or profile drawings, sometimes both. The drawings, skillfully executed by Kate Morton, are especially helpful in showing the impressed friezes on some pieces (e.g., Nos. 70, 90-94, 284).

Among the interesting insights: The British Museum collection has a large proportion of Campanian bucchero (more than 40 examples), due to the early archaeological exploitation of Campania by Sir William Hamilton. Oinochoai are the most common shape represented in the collection. In fact, some examples are unusual enough to merit three additions to the standard oinochoe typology proposed by earlier scholars. Perkins designates these Types BM1 (Nos. 258-61), BM2 (Nos. 262-66) and BM3 (Nos. 267-71). All are undecorated. Three vases have dedicatory inscriptions (Nos. 74, 179, 225) and 21 have graffiti. Many examples are decorated with impressed fan motifs and some with figural friezes. Unusual combinations of rouletted and stamped ornament appear on Nos. 74 and 78, the latter associated with parallels from the Calabresi Tomb. There are also a number of bucchero pesante vases with typically ornate relief decoration. Kantharoi, the most common bucchero shape, receive special attention and a scatter plot (46) showing the correlation between rim diameter and height. This enables Perkins to demonstrate that there are two basic types of Rasmussen’s Type 3e kantharoi: smaller and larger ones. The sample size is relatively small (41 examples) suggesting that more examples might make this difference more pronounced.

It is always good to have a major collection published. This book will remain useful for many years not only as a comprehensive treatment of the British Museum’s bucchero collection, but also for anyone who wishes to learn more about bucchero in general and to appreciate better its ramifications for our understanding of Etruscan culture.

1. F. N. Pryce, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum Great Britain 10, British Museum, fasc. 7 (London, 1932).

2. E. C. J. Hamilton Gray, Tour to the Sepulchres of Etruria, in 1839 (2nd ed., London, 1841).

3. H. B. Walters, Cypriote, Italian and Etruscan Pottery. Catalogue of the Greek and Etruscan Vases in the British Museum, vol. I, part II (London, 1912).

4. T. Rasmussen, Bucchero Pottery from Southern Etruria (Cambridge, 1979 and 2006).

5. J. Gran-Aymerich, “Le bucchero étrusque: aspects de methodologie et de practique archéologique” in Le Bucchero nero étrusque et sa diffusion en Gaule Méridionale, Actes de la Table-ronde d’Aix-en-Provence, 21-23 mai 1975 organisée par le Centre national de la recherché scientifique et L’Institut d’archéologie méditerranéenne (= Collection Latomus 160) (Brussels, 1979).

6. K. Burkhardt, Petrographische und geochemisch Untersuchungen an etruskischen Bucchero-Keramik von Fundorten Chiusi, Orvieto,Vulci… (= Münchner Geologische Hefte 5) (Munich, 1991) A. Naso (ed.), Appunti sul bucchero. Atti delle giornate di studio (Blera, 2004).

Styles [ editar | editar código ]

The Orientalizing manner is most apparent in the earliest phase of bucchero production which also is distinguished by the remarkable thinness of the walls of the vessels. Known as bucchero sottile, or delicate bucchero, this ware represents a technical achievement elevating the potters who turned them to the ranks of the very finest ceramicists. So thin-walled are some of bucchero sottile vessels (in some cases, less than 2mm in thickness), such as the products of the Cornacchiola Tomb Potter of Caere, that it is probable that they were turned specifically for funereal purposes rather than for general household use. On the other hand, the broad distribution of bucchero sherds at ancient Caere, Veii, and Tarquinia and at other area sites points to less extreme examples of bucchero sottile as having had a more practical function in the daily life of the Etruscans.

High-legged bucchero chalice with relief decoration, early 6th century BC (Louvre)

During the Archaic period, the ever-increasing impact of the Greek aesthetic on Etruscan culture can be noted in the influence of Greek vase shapes on the design choices of the bucchero potters. Etruscan potters, however, made their own contributions to the Hellenic ceramic vocabulary by adding the form of the two-handled drinking cup, the kantharos, and that of the related single-handled cup, the kyathos, to the list of Greek vase types. The Nikosthenic amphora with its wide, flat handles was yet another example of Greek potters looking to Etruscan prototypes. The bucchero wares of Etruria even offered some export competition to Greek pottery.

In the production of bucchero sottile, the shape of the pot held pride of place, with surface decoration playing a supporting role. When decoration was used, it was usually limited to enhancing the profile of a chalice, a kantharos, or a kyathos with a row of crisply defined hook notches at the point of carination. The bowl of an oinochoe (pitcher) might be emphasized by closely spaced vertical lines incised into the soft clay before firing. Further decoration could be added before the green ware was loaded into the kiln by using a toothed wheel or a comb-like instrument to create rows of dots arranged in fan patterns. On later examples a roller with recessed reliefs was used to transfer figures of deities or even narratives to the surface of the vessel.

Bucchero: The shiny black pottery of the Etruscans

Etruscan pottery was very common in Italy between the 7th and the 5th century BC when the Etruscan civilization was a major Mediterranean trading power. It was made in various shapes and forms and was separated in two kinds. The first type was very similar to the red-and-black Greek wares from the same period, and the other kind was the Etruscan black pottery known as Bucchero.

Bucchero items were made black, sometimes gray, and decorated with geometrical patterns or simple figures. The color of the ware was made black by being put in an atmosphere charged with carbon monoxide instead of oxygen. This technique is known as ‘reducing firing, ‘ and it converts the typical red-orange clay color into the bucchero color.

The term comes from the Spanish word bucáro which means a vase or a jar. It is not known precisely when the wares were first made, but the production of the finest items and the most expensive dates sometime between the 7th and the 6th centuries BC. They were created in many Etruscan cities including Veii, Tarquinia, and Vulci.

The stylized figures painted on the objects were often made in white, red, and black colors. The motifs are mainly Oriental and can be seen on various bucchero items such as oenochoes, chalices, plates, vases, and cups.

A serving tray found in an Etruscan tomb from the 6th century BCE on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. Author: Mary Harrsch. CC BY-SA 2.0

There are some pieces that were crafted with three-dimensional shapes of animals and humans and can be seen on more important bucchero items such as chalices. It is believed that at first, these black objects were made for funerary purposes and later the Etruscans started to produce and use them as casual tableware.

A Greek kantharos in bucchero.

The forerunners of the technique are the Villanovan people who made the first rough bucchero ceramics called Impasto. These ceramics were the basis for the potters of the Etruscan culture who later turned the rough pots into the finest bucchero items. Many of these items were found in settlements and tombs in Etruria in modern-day Tuscany in central Italy. They were exported to many other countries such as France, Africa, Egypt, and Spain.

Oinochoe wine jug in bucchero. Author: I, Sailko. CC BY-SA 2.5

The production of bucchero is divided into three phases which are the bucchero Sottile, also known as the thin-walled bucchero the transitional objects and bucchero pesante or heavy bucchero. The heavier wares are associated with northern Etruscan areas and the finer with the southern. In the middle of the 5th century, bucchero pottery was replaced with more elegant Etruscan pottery decorated with shapes in red and black colors.

Bucchero plate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Author: katie chao and ben muessig-23.160.10. CC BY-SA 2.0

Also, there were many imported vessels from Greece that had been made to suit the taste of the Etruscan people. The Etruscans made a lot of imitations of this pottery from Greece in modern Greek designs which became very popular after a few decades. On these items, the most common scenes were from Greek mythology and applied to the surface with a roller stamp.

An item decorated with animal and human figures.

The wares of bucchero may draw their inspiration from the elite metal wares of the period, crafted of silver which could be seen as tableware in the homes of wealthier people. Black bucchero items were some imitation of metal because of their shiny surface.

A bucchero chalice with three-dimensional decorations.

Some of the vases that were made with this replica technique are decorated with layers of tin or shiny leaves made from gold and silver. Probably at the end of the 5th century, the bucchero was replaced with the more elegant Greek pottery and was not exported again. Many of these items can be seen in museums all around the world and are considered to be the signature ceramic style of the Etruscan people.


The Etruscans emerged from the Villanovan culture. Due to the proximity and/or commercial contact to Etruria, other ancient cultures influenced Etruscan art during the Orientalizing period, such as Greece, Phoenicia, Egypt, Assyria and the Middle East. The Romans would later come to absorb the Etruscan culture into theirs but would also be greatly influenced by them and their art.

Periods Edit

Etruscan art is usually divided into a number of periods:

  • 900 to 700 BC – Villanovan period. Already the emphasis on funerary art is evident. Impasto pottery with geometric decoration, or shaped as hut urns. Bronze objects, mostly small except for vessels, were decorated by moulding or by incised lines. Small statuettes were mostly handles or other fittings for vessels. [4]
  • 700–575 BC – Orientalising period. Foreign trade with established Mediterranean civilizations interested in the metal ores of Etruria and other products from further north led to imports of foreign art, especially that of Ancient Greece, and some Greek artists immigrated. Decoration adopted a Greek, and Near Eastern vocabulary with palmettes and other motifs, and the foreign lion was a popular animal to depict. The Etruscan upper class grew wealthy and began to fill their large tombs with grave goods. A native Bucchero pottery, now using the potter's wheel, went alongside the start of a Greek-influenced tradition of painted vases, which until 600 drew more from Corinth than Athens. [5] The facial features (the profile, almond-shaped eyes, large nose) in the frescoes and sculptures, and the depiction of reddish-brown men and light-skinned women, influenced by archaic Greek art, follow the artistic traditions from the Eastern Mediterranean. These images have, therefore, a very limited value for a realistic representation of the Etruscan population. [6] It was only from the end of the 4th century B.C. that evidence of physiognomic portraits began to be found in Etruscan art and Etruscan portraiture became more realistic. [7]
  • 575–480 BC – Archaic period. Prosperity continued to grow, and Greek influence grew to the exclusion of other Mediterranean cultures, despite the two cultures coming into conflict as their respective zones of expansion met each other. The period saw the emergence of the Etruscan temple, with its elaborate and brightly painted terracotta decorations, and other larger buildings. Figurative art, including human figures and narrative scenes, grew more prominent. The Etruscans adopted stories from Greek mythology enthusiastically. Paintings in fresco begin to be found in tombs (which the Greeks had stopped making centuries before), and were perhaps made for some other buildings. The Persian conquest of Ionia in 546 saw a significant influx of Greek artist refugees, especially in Southern Etruria. Other earlier developments continued, and the period produced much of the finest and most distinctive Etruscan art. [8]
  • 480–300 BC – Classical period. The Etruscans had now peaked in economic and political terms, and the volume of art produced reduced somewhat in the 5th century, with prosperity shifting from the coastal cities to the interior, especially the Po valley. In the 4th century volumes revived somewhat, and previous trends continued to develop without major innovations in the repertoire, except for the arrival of red-figure vase painting, and more sculpture such as sarcophagi in stone rather than terracotta. Bronzes from Vulci were exported widely within Etruria and beyond. The Romans were now picking off the Etruscan cities one by one, with Veii being conquered around 396. [9]
  • 300–50 BC – Hellenistic or late phase. Over this period the remaining Etruscan cities were all gradually absorbed into Roman culture, and, especially around the I century BC, the extent to which art and architecture should be described as Etruscan or Roman is often difficult to judge. Distinctive Etruscan types of object gradually ceased to be made, with the last painted vases appearing early in the period, and large painted tombs ending in the 2nd century. Styles continued to follow broad Greek trends, with increasing sophistication and classical realism often accompanied by a loss of energy and character. Bronze statues, now increasingly large, were sometimes replicas of Greek models. The large Greek templepediment groups of sculptures were introduced, but in terracotta. [10]

The Etruscans were very accomplished sculptors, with many surviving examples in terracotta, both small-scale and monumental, bronze, and alabaster. However, there is very little in stone, in contrast to the Greeks and Romans. Terracotta sculptures from temples have nearly all had to be reconstructed from a mass of fragments, but sculptures from tombs, including the distinctive form of sarcophagus tops with near life-size reclining figures, have usually survived in good condition, although the painting on them has usually suffered. Small bronze pieces, often including sculptural decoration, became an important industry in later periods, exported to the Romans and others. See the "Metalwork" section below for these, and "Funerary art" for tomb art.

Though the famous bronze "Capitoline Wolf" in the Capitoline Museum, Rome, was long regarded as Etruscan, it is now thought to be medieval, probably made in the 13th century AD. Other famous examples include (in rough chronological order):

  • The Etruscan Head, 600 BC, Archaeological Museum in Milan.
  • The Centaur of Vulci, 590–580 BC, National Etruscan Museum, from the Villa Giulia
  • the painted terracotta Apollo of Veii, 510–500 BC, from the temple at Portanaccio attributed to Vulca at the National Etruscan Museum
  • the painted terracotta Sarcophagus of the Spouses, late 6th century BC, from Cerveteri at the National Etruscan Museum there is a similar one in the Louvre
  • the bronze Chimera of Arezzo, dated 400 BC, at the National Archaeological Museum (Florence)
  • The Mars of Todi, a bronze sculpture from 400 BC in the Museo Etrusco Gregoriano of the Vatican
  • The Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa, 150–140 BC, a masterpiece of Etruscan art in terracotta, now at the British Museum , or Aule Metele ("L'Arringatore" in Italian), bronze found in Umbria now at the National Archaeological Museum (Florence))

The Apollo of Veii is a good example of the mastery with which Etruscan artists produced these large art pieces. It was made, along with others, to adorn the temple at Portanaccio’s roof line. Although its style is reminiscent of the Greek Kroisos Kouros, having statues on the top of the roof was an original Etruscan idea. [11]

Etruscan pear wood head. 7th century BC

Naked youth, votive statuette. Bronze. Chiusi, 550–530 BC

Terracotta figure of a young woman, late 4th–early 3rd century BC

The Orator, Romano-Etruscan bronze statue, c. 100 BC

Bronze perfume container in the form of a deity with winged helmet

The Etruscan paintings that have survived are almost all wall frescoes from tombs, mainly located in Tarquinia, and dating from roughly 670 BC to 200 BC, with the peak of production between about 520 and 440 BC. The Greeks very rarely painted their tombs in the equivalent period, with rare exceptions such as the Tomb of the Diver in Paestum and southern Italy, and the Macedonian royal tombs at Vergina. The whole tradition of Greek painting on walls and panels, arguably the form of art that Greek contemporaries considered their greatest, is almost entirely lost, giving the Etruscan tradition, which undoubtedly drew much from Greek examples, an added importance, even if it does not approach the quality and sophistication of the best Greek masters. It is clear from literary sources that temples, houses and other buildings also had wall-paintings, but these have all been lost, like their Greek equivalents. [12]

The Etruscan tombs, which housed the remains of whole lineages, were apparently sites for recurrent family rituals, and the subjects of paintings probably have a more religious character than might at first appear. A few detachable painted terracotta panels have been found in tombs, up to about a metre tall, and fragments in city centres. [13]

The frescoes are created by applying paint on top of fresh plaster, so that when the plaster dries the painting becomes part of the plaster, and consequently an integral part of the wall. Colors were created from ground up minerals of different colors and were then mixed to the paint. Fine brushes were made of animal hair.

From the mid 4th century BC chiaroscuro modelling began to be used to portray depth and volume. [14] Sometimes scenes of everyday life are portrayed, but more often traditional mythological scenes, usually recognisable from Greek mythology, which the Etruscans seem largely to have adopted. Symposium scenes are common, and sport and hunting scenes are found. The depiction of human anatomy never approaches Greek levels. The concept of proportion does not appear in any surviving frescoes and we frequently find portrayals of animals or men out of proportion. Various types of ornament cover much of the surface between figurative scenes.

Fresco in the François Tomb: Liberation of Celio Vibenna, from left to right: Caile Vibenna, Mastarna, Larth Ultes, Laris Papathnas Velznach, Pesna Aremsnas Sveamach, Rasce, Venthikau and Aule Vibenna, right: Marce Camitlnas et Cnaeve Tarchunies Rumach


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Professor Phil Perkins

My interest in the Classical world was sparked by an inspiring Latin master and a muddy excavation at Catterick Bridge in North Yorkshire. This led me to the Institute of Archaeology, now part of University College London, where I became involved with archaeological research in Italy. Following graduation, I lived in Italy for the next five years working on research projects, some with the British School at Rome, and teaching at Saint Mary’s College in Rome.

I developed a specialism in Etruscan archaeology researching in the Albegna Valley near the ancient city of Cosa in southern Tuscany. This collaborative work involved extensive multi-period field survey, excavation and artefact analysis. In 1985-6 I co-directed the first ever excavation of an Etruscan farm site at Podere Tartuchino. The excavation revealed two phases of building and uncovered the earliest wine-press yet found in Italy. The farm remains the only Etruscan farm to be both excavated and fully published.

In 1991 I was appointed to the Computers in Teaching Initiative Centre for History with Archaeology and Art History in the University of Glasgow promoting the, at that time, new-fangled use of computers in teaching. This led to a part-time post at the Department of History of Art, Birkbeck College, University of London, teaching on an innovative MA in computing for art historians. At the same time I finished my Ph.D. thesis for the University of London on the Etruscan archaeology of the Albegna Valley.

Meanwhile, in 1992 I co-directed a pioneering post-mediaeval excavation of the Villa Pigneto Sacchetti, a 17 th century AD baroque villa in Rome designed by the painter and architect Pietro da Cortona.

I joined the Open University in 1995 and used my experience of educational software, multimedia and image processing in archaeology and art history in developing CD-ROMS for various modules including A103 Introduction to the Humanities and A295 Homer: Poetry and Society. I have contributed to many other modules including A151 Making sense of things: an introduction to material culture, A219 Exploring the classical world. One of the most exciting and challenging teaching projects was writing an online distance learning module, A251 World Archaeology, that covered the whole globe from the last Ice Age to the 19 th century CE, taking me a long way in time and space from the Etruscans and Italy. More recently, I authored parts of the MA in Classical Studies, teaching the archaeology of the Colosseum Valley in Rome and bioarchaeological aspects of the ancient body and also various topics on Roman Italy, the Roman economy and Constantine for A340 The Roman empire. At the moment I'm preparing teaching materials on the Roman Republic, focussing on the archaeology and history of the city of Rome, for A229 Exploring the classical world, a new module due to start in 2018.

Etruscan archaeology remains a focus of my research. During much of 2002 I was seconded to the British Museum and studied some of their Etruscan collection. This led in 2007 to the publication of a definitive study of the Etruscan bucchero ceramics in the British Museum. In the summer of 2007 I joined the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project excavations at the site of Poggio Colla to the north east of Florence in Tuscany. I am studying the bucchero from the excavations and have excavated on the lower slopes of the hill, discovering pottery kilns, textile manufacturing and a stone quarry, related to the temple built on the hilltop. In 2014 I explored the earliest phase of the settlement, excavating an oval timber building. This work is now entering a phase of publication as I research the context of the finds and settlement, extending my research to northern Etruria and the Apennine mountains. I have been awarded the Hugh Last Fellowship at the British School at Rome 2016-17 to continue this research in Italian museums and libraries.

Alongside this teaching and research I have also been Head of the Department of Classical Studies, Sub-Dean for Research and Associate Dean for Curriculum Development in the Faculty of Arts.

Research interests

Etruscan archaeology

Poggio Colla excavations and artefact studies

I am currently Hugh Last Fellow at the British School at Rome 2016-17, pursuing research into Etruscan archaeology in northern Etruria in the first half of the first Millennium BCE. Specifically, I am challenging the current consensus that the Apennine mountains form a barrier at the northern frontier of Etruria. This consensus has been undermined by recent fieldwork in the under-explored area between Florence and Bologna. Now it is possible to reassess the cultural, social, economic and historical development of northern Etruria and its relationship to the Po Valley, north of the Apennines. This project developed from my involvement in excavations at Poggio Colla, to the north west of Florence, in collaboration Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, The University of Texas at Austin and Franklin and Marshall College as a part of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project.

Within the broader project exploring the hilltop sactuary and settlement at Poggio Colla I am focusing on the north west hill slope where deposits dating to the Orientalizing Period (about 675-575 BCE) have been investigated. Here we have found rare evidence for economic activity in this early part of the Etruscan period, relating to textile spinning and pottery manufacture. In 2009 we excavated three ‘fire-pits’, probably pottery kilns, and part of a stone quarry, possibly used for the construction of the first temple on the hill top in the mid sixth century. In 2010 we explored these industrial installations further. Details are available online: Poggio Colla 2008 North West Slope project and Final Report. In 2012 a small area was investigated to resolve outstanding stratigraphic questions revealing two further partly-quarried sandstone blocks chiselled from the solid bedrock and roughly shaped, leaving abundant tool marks. A note worthy find was a single sherd of finger-nail impressed Neolithic ceramic of a type known from elsewhere in the lower valley of the Sieve, but this is the first find of Neolithic ceramic from Poggio Colla.

Stamped bucchero bowl and quarried stone.

The aim of the 2013 season was to explore some outcrops of rock, identified in 2012 that showed signs of being worked and to establish the limits of the Etruscan occupation on the hill slope by trial trenching and geophysical survey (magnetometry and ground penetrating radar).Ten trenches were excavated across an area of hill slope c.150 x 50m to assess and sample the archaeological remains.One trench revealed a large rectangular cut in the bedrock with two sequences of steps in the North West corner running down from the present ground level. Tool marks on the cut bedrock were compared with those found in the large Early Modern stone quarry on the South Western side of Poggio Colla and found to be similar, leading to the conclusion that this quarrying activity dates to the 19 th century. Nevertheless, undisturbed layers to the West of the cut into the bedrock did preserve an Etruscan occupation layer that yielded late Orientalizing to Early Archaic material similar to that founding earlier seasons. Further test trenches to the west revealed the remains of two dry stone walls and Orientalising and mid-Bronze Age ceramics.

In 2014 excavations on the hilltop exploreed rock-cut features interpreted as post holes, forming part of a wooden structure, perhaps an elliptical hut with a large central post hole and further smaller holes forming an arc – probably the wall of a hut. These is the earliest evidence for structures on the hill top and suggests that a settlement of timber buildings preceded the later temple. In 2015 a final season of excvation revovered one of the longest known Etruscan inscriptions on stone that derives from this first phase of timber structures. Specialist study of the inscription is underway, and it appears to mention the two most important Etruscan deities Tinia and Uni, the equivalents of Roman Jupiter and Juno. Finds from the excavation and a hologram of the inscription went on display in Florence for the Autumn of 2016.

View of the exhibition in the Pinacoteca Regionale Palazzo Panciatichi, Florence.

Hologram of the Etruscan inscription.

Etruscan DNA

In February 2007 there was a flurry of media reports that DNA had been used to prove that the Etruscans originated in Anatolia in modern Turkey. This went against the current archaeological consensus that claims them as an indigenous people in Italy. I decided to investigate…

After an extensive search in new interdisciplinary territory I concluded that the media reports were not quite right and that, as usual, the truth was far more complicated and interesting. You can find out my conclusions at Classics Confidential or YouTube (part 1 and part 2). Part of this research has been published in a paper written in honour of Sybille Haynes.

Perkins, P. (2009) ‘DNA and Etruscan identity’ in Perkins, P. and Swaddling, J. (eds.) Etruscan by Definition, British Museum Press, pp.95-111, ISBN-13: 978-0-86159-173-2.


In 2007 I published the results of five years of research into Etruscan Bucchero ceramics in the British Museum. The book provides a history of the study of bucchero and the formation of the Museum's collection. The largest part contains detailed discussion of over 300 ceramic objects, that are contextualized within the past 75 years of scholarship and study of bucchero. All the objects are illustrated. Some of this research was supported Arts and Humanities Research Board, and the book presents a complete catalogue of this distinctive type of pottery in the Greek and Roman Department of the British Museum.

Perkins, P. (2007) Etruscan Bucchero in the British Museum The British Museum Press, London136pp, ISBN 978 0 86159 165 7

You can download it from the British Museum's website.

Whilst working at the British Museum I co-organized with Dr. J. Swaddling the Etruscans Now Conference, a major international conference held at the British Museum in December 2002, and attended by 143 scholars from 13 countries. The conference was supported by The British Academy and the British Museum Friends. Abstracts and draft papers from the international conference are still available on the conference website Etruscans Now. Selected papers have been published in volumes 9 and 10 of Etruscan Studies. A summary of the conference has been published in the periodical Minerva. (Perkins, P. (2003) ‘The inner life of the Etruscans’, Minerva, Vol.14 No.5, 42-3).

Etruscan bucchero amphora

Field Survey, Excavation and Artefact studies in the Albegna Valley - Ager Cosanus, Tuscany, Italy

Since the early 1980’s I have been involved in archaeological field work in the Albegna Valley in southern Tuscany. This collaborative work with colleagues from Pisa, Siena and elsewhere in the UK and Italy has involved extensive multi-period field survey, excavation and artefact analysis. I have been working with the data relating to the Etruscan period, particularly the ceramic finds and the settlement pattern. Publication of field survey data collected during the 1980’s has involved analysis of Etruscan sites, settlement and burial patterns using GIS to study settlement location and state organization of territory reconstruction of population change in the region through the first Millennium BC analysis of Etruscan artefact distributions and reconstruction of the Etruscan economy.

Predictive modelling of the Etruscan settlement pattern in the Albegna Valley

Part of this involves modelling the archaeology of Etruscan communities by analysis of field survey and topographic data with Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

In 1986-6 I direction the first ever excavation of an Etruscan farm site at Podere Tartuchino. The site was discovered by survey as a surface scatter and excavated in order to investigate the sub-surface remains, provide evidence for the economy of small rural sites and to recover stratified ceramic assemblages to date surface scatters. The excavation revealed two phases of building and uncovered the earliest wine-press yet found in Italy. The project was funded by The British School at Rome, the British Academy and other Italian public sources. The award of an Ellaina Macnamara Memorial Scholarship for Etruscan Archaeology enabled the publication of the excavation. The farm remains the only Etruscan farm to be both excavated and fully published.

Podere Tartuchino phase 1

Excavation and publication of the Villa Pigneto Sacchetti, Rome

In 1992 I co-directed a pioneering post-medieval excavation of the Villa Pigneto Sacchetti, a 17th century AD baroque villa in Rome in a project with Canterbury School of Architecture and the University of Rome, funded by the British School at Rome and the Carnegie Trust. The Villa Pigneto Sacchetti, built by the painter and architect Pietro da Cortona, was believed lost, but field survey re-located the building and excavation recovered a partial ground plan, enabling a comparison of the physical remains with the surviving eighteenth century architectural drawings and seventeenth century documents. Results were published in the Papers of The British School at Rome.

Subsequently, we revisited the interpretation of the development of the villa in the light of new art historical research on the its decoration, proposing a more complex, phased, building history than previously, once again in the Papers of The British School at Rome.

Nymphaeum, Villa Pigneto Sacchetti

Quantitative studies of African Red Slip Ware

I have a long term interest in research into Roman economic and settlement histories through the analysis of the chronological and spatial distribution of African Red Slip ware (1st - 7th century AD). In collaboration with colleagues, quantification of a data set of 20,000+ sherds of African Red Slip Ware from field surveys and other representative finds, charts the frequency of imports of the ware into individual areas across the Mediterranean. Deviations from the average frequency reflect the economic history of the area surveyed, and provide a control for using presence of the ware as a dating tool for survey sites. If you have data on red slip ware finds (especially, but not exclusively African) that you are prepared to share please let me know so that the data set can grow even more.


There are two main hypotheses as to the origins of the Etruscan civilization in the Early Iron Age: either by autochthonous development in situ out of the Villanovan culture of Etruria in central Italy, or via oriental (Anatolian) colonization of Italy. Helmut Rix's classification of the Etruscan language in a proposed Tyrsenian language family reflects this ambiguity. He finds Etruscan on one hand genetically related to the Rhaetic language spoken in the Alps north of Etruria, suggesting autochthonous connections, but on the other hand the Lemnian language found on the "Lemnos stele" is closely related to Etruscan, entailing either Etruscan presence in "Tyrsenian" Lemnos, or "Tyrsenian" expansion westward to Etruria. [1] The Etruscan language was of a different family from that of neighbouring Italic and Celtic peoples, who spoke Indo-European languages. [2]

Modern archaeologists have come to suggest that the history of the Etruscans can be traced relatively accurately, based on the examination of burial sites, artifacts, and writing. A separate Etruscan culture distinguishable from that of the possibly ancestral Villanovan people emerged in the beginning of the 8th century BC, evidenced by the inscriptions in a script similar to that used for Euboean Greek. The burial tombs, some of which had been fabulously decorated, promotes the idea of an aristocratic city-state, with centralized power structures maintaining order and constructing public works, such as irrigation networks, roads, and town defenses.

Etruscan expansion was focused both to the north beyond the Apennines and south into Campania. Some small towns disappeared during the 6th century BC, ostensibly consumed by greater, more powerful neighbors. However, there is no doubt that the political structure of the Etruscan culture was similar, albeit more aristocratic, to Magna Graecia in the south.

The mining and commerce of metal, especially copper and iron, led to an enrichment of the Etruscans and to the expansion of their influence in the Italian peninsula and the western Mediterranean sea. Here, their interests collided with those of the Greeks, especially in the 6th century BC, when Phoceans of Italy founded colonies along the coast of France, Catalonia and Corsica. This led the Etruscans to ally themselves with the Carthaginians, whose interests also collided with the Greeks.

Military history Edit

Around 540 BC, the Battle of Alalia led to a new distribution of power in the western Mediterranean Sea. Though the battle had no clear winner, Carthage managed to expand its sphere of influence at the expense of both the Etruscans and the Greeks. Etruria saw itself relegated to the northern Tyrrhenian Sea.

From the first half of the 5th century BC, Campanian Etruria lost its Etruscan character, and the new international political situation meant the beginning of the Etruscan decline. In 480 BC, Etruria's ally Carthage was defeated by a coalition of Magna Graecia cities led by Syracuse. A few years later, in 474, Syracuse's tyrant Hiero defeated the Etruscans at the Battle of Cumae. Etruria's influence over the cities of Latium and Campania weakened, and it was taken over by Romans and Samnites.

In the 4th century BC, Padanian Etruria saw a Gallic invasion end its influence over the Po valley and the Adriatic coast.

Roman–Etruscan Wars Edit

In the 4th century BC, Rome began annexing Etruscan cities. By the beginning of the 1st century BC, Rome had annexed all the remaining Etruscan territory.

The institution of kingship was general. Many names of individual Etruscan kings are recorded, most of them in a historical vacuum, but with enough chronological evidence to show that kingship persisted in Etruscan city-culture long after it had been overthrown by the Greeks and at Rome, [3] where Etruscan kings were long remembered with suspicion and scorn. When the last king was appointed, at Veii, the other Etruscan cities were alienated, permitting the Romans to destroy Veii. [4] It is presumed that Etruscan kings were military and religious leaders. The paraphernalia of Etruscan kingship is familiar because it was inherited by Rome they adopted the symbols of the republican authority wielded by the consuls: the purple robe, the staff or scepter topped with an eagle, the folding cross-framed "curule seat", the sella curulis, and most prominent of all, the fasces carried by a magistrate, which preceded the king in public appearances. [5]

The Etruscan cities would come together under a single leader at a traditional annual council held at the sacred grove of the Fanum Voltumnae. The precise site of this meeting is unknown, but the search has exercised scholars since the Renaissance. In times of no emergency, the position of praetor Etruriae, as Roman inscriptions express it, was no doubt largely ceremonial and concerned with cultus.


Etruscan tombs in the necropolis of Cerveteri, northern Lazio, in the province of Rome.

The Etruscans -predecessors of the modern Tuscans- did not belong to any of the old known Italian races, but it is certain that came to the Italian peninsula by sea through the Tyrrhenian Sea (part of the Mediterranean Sea off the western coast of Italy) in the ninth century BCE. After traveling many places they settled in the coast of modern Tuscany to which later, through conquests, added Umbria. Subsequently, they spread southward across much of Lazio occupying the entire western of this part of Italy from the Arno to the Tiber. Around 550 BCE they reached Campania and then founded colonies by the Northeast and East from Milan to Bologna. Then, at this point, was when its incipient empire began to crumble. Thus in the early fourth century BCE the Etruscans were only occupying the region they first conquered, but this territory would also fall into the hands of Romans during the course of the next two centuries: one by one the great Etruscan cities (Caere, Tarquinia, Vulci) were conquered by Rome. Finally, during the last century of the Republic (year 82 BCE), Rome dominated the Etruscan people who quickly adopted Roman government and customs.

Etruria was always a maritime civilization intensely devoted to sea trade, especially with the East, which explains the cultural link with Greece during the entire course of its history. The Etruscan civilization was always influenced by the Ionian Greek culture. This was manifested in its typical way of burial with sarcophagi, though in its early stages they also used funerary urns.

Floor plan of the Volunni tomb in Perugia.

The Etruscan tombs were of various types although those carved into the rock were the dominant type. Other tombs were shaped as mounds on a high circular base. This was a type of tomb that will perpetuate till roman times. The Etruscan tombs were arranged as a burial chamber sometimes radially distributed in several chambers, which could be accessed through a hall or gallery, and were externally covered by a conical mound. Internally, their appearance was that of a house whose roof retained the typical structure of the wooden Etruscan houses. These hypogean tombs allowed elucidating quite clearly how the Etruscan houses should be. Thus, the layout of some of these Etruscan tombs allowed to conclude that in the typical Etruscan house there was an element that will remain much later as an essential part of the Roman house: the atrium or central space as a patio which in these hypogea was indicated as a rectangular excavation centrally located and bounded by four or more pillars, and that in the opposite side to the access of the tomb had a kind of chamber or bedroom that came to represent an element of the Roman house later known by the name of tablinum*. Sometimes this tablinum was rather complex in these tombs. Other tombs had a circular plan with a single pillar in its center, superimposed on the wall around the entire chamber they had some urns thus coinciding with other type of Roman mausoleum typical of the early years of the Empire. Towards the end of the history of the Etruscan civilization there was also a variant of a funerary monument that conformed to the same formula seen in the Roman grave called columbarium*.

The Etruscan sarcophagi were placed alone or in groups inside the tomb’s chambers. These sarcophagi are one of the most brilliant examples of the Etruscan sculptural production. In both large and small sarcophagi, the most striking feature was their cover: a sculpture of the deceased either lying or, more often, in recumbent position (lying on an elbow and with upright torso).

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses, ca. late 6th century BCE. (National Etruscan Museum, Rome). Stele from Travignoli, also known as Fiesole stele, ca. 5th century BCE. (Fiesole, Municipal Archaeological Museum, Tuscany, Italy).

At first these sarcophagi were made of terracotta, later they were more frequently sculpted in stone. Two of these terracotta sarcophagi from circa 530 BCE found in the necropolis of Cerveteri are of particular importance. One is preserved in the Museum of Villa Giulia in Rome and the other is in the Louvre Museum. Both are shaped as a sofa or couch in pure Ionic style and topped with sculptures of married couples. In both examples husband and wife are recumbent as if they were resting in their own home, the wife is in the foreground and behind her is the husband who places his right arm on the shoulder of his wife in a tender marital gesture. These smiling couples seem to be talking while attending the funeral banquet in their honor (if they aren’t already participating in the blessings of the afterlife). The husbands are tall and slender in both sarcophagi. They have a pointed beard which reinforces the sharpness of their chins. These human figures modeled in clay represent a high degree of skill in funerary sculpture. From the seventh century BCE and even from earlier dates there were more rudimentary human figures carved on steles with reliefs representing armed warriors with loose hair (see the famous Fiesole stele).

The Sarcophagus of Larthia Seianti, 2nd century BCE. (Florence Archaeological Museum). Etruscan funerary urn (British Museum).

Other funerary representations found in sarcophagi from after the Vth century BCE showed a very different human type from the one we mentioned before: obese men crowned with thick headbands and showing their bare chests and round bellies with large necklaces of sempervivum (houseleeks) usually hanging over these parts of their bodies. These fat Etruscans often hold in their left hand a small plate containing Charon’s obol*. Some of these were also accompanied by a female figure of serious expression representing either his wife or an underground divinity. Continue reading “ETRUSCAN ART” &rarr

Watch the video: Se avrò l elisir vi buchero