Chiusi Villanoviana

Maria Chiara Bettini, Chiusi Villanoviana, Monumenti Etruschi 14 (Rome: Giorgio Bretschneider, 2021). 9788876893285.

Reviewed by Jacopo Tabolli, University for Foreigners of Siena (UNISTRASI),

Almost one hundred years after Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli’s Clusium, which appeared within the series Monumenti Antichi dei Lincei in 1925, Chiusi Villanoviana [Villanovan Chiusi] by Maria Chiara Bettini represents a seminal work of Italian protohistory and Etruscology and places the earliest remains at Chiusi within the larger context of the social and political transformations that occurred in Etruria between the end of the Late (Final) Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age (traditionally called “Villanovan” period). Until now, very little was known of the earlier phases of Chiusi, though more or less complete publications exist on the settlements, necropoleis, and in particular the material culture and funerary ideology of most of the other Etruscan proto-urban centers of the first millennium BCE. If we consider for instance Anna Rastrelli’s Chiusi Etrusca, published in 2000, a mere 22 pages by Alessandro Zanini and by Bettini dealt with the first three centuries of life in the town. This new volume of over 390 pages will open a new chapter on the research and preservation of the archaeology of Chiusi.

Bettini certainly has the indisputable merit of presenting in her monograph, in a detailed and consistent manner, a synthesis of over thirty years of research on the “birth” of Chiusi, combining data from the old excavations in the different nuclei of the necropolis (especially in Poggio Renzo) with data from excavations and surveys mainly conducted under the direction of the local Archaeological Superintendency starting from the mid-1980s, which in the field were carried out directly by her and her colleagues (Giulio Paolucci—among others—should be mentioned here for his fundamental contribution to the background of this volume, both for the surveys and for his unparalleled knowledge on the history of discoveries in Chiusi). The catalogue of artifacts carefully compiled by Bettini (29–161; 166–184; 205–272; 291–322) is outstanding and the narrative is accompanied by long bibliographical footnotes and references. Additionally, more than 900 individual drawings of ceramic, metal, and ivory finds from excavations in different areas of the settlement, the surveys, and the tomb groups are presented in 86 plates; eight plates synthesize the typological assessment of material presented in the catalogue; four plates provide a selection of the excavation’s general plans and a stratigraphic matrix for the area of Montevenere; and finally, 47 plates with individual photos of excavation sites and material finds complete what is certainly the largest catalogue of Late (Final) Bronze Age and Early Iron Age material ever published on Chiusi (and certainly one of the largest in general for Etruscan proto-urban sites). The fluent narrative by Bettini presents the history of research and discoveries (1–12), the topography of Chiusi (13–20) and data primarily from the settlement (21–289) and the necropolis (291–330), before finally offering a synthesis on the role of Chiusi within the larger picture of the interconnections between the early city-states in Etruria (323–46). A useful appendix listing the individual tomb groups (347–72) is followed by a rich bibliography (373–93).

To anyone (myself among the others) who has been struggling with the complex puzzle of the different scientific contributions on the archaeology of Chiusi—which in over 80% of the cases reveal a characteristic antiquarian taste—figure 2 of the volume provides a fundamental tool for navigating this difficult picture. For the first time, toponyms of all sites dating to the Late (Final) Bronze Age and Early Iron Age are located on a map, allowing the comprehension of the spatial development of the different proto-urban areas. Throughout the volume, Bettini maintains a clear presentation of the topography of each context, even when the sparse information does not allow one to specifically locate a single context. This is particularly important, and data are generously offered to the readers.

In addition, the major contribution of Bettini’s work is certainly the chrono-typological study of finds. The vivacity of material culture (see especially 331–43) presented and discussed in this volume reveals the fundamental role of Chiusi at the crossroads between the major itineraries of Etruria (and outside Etruria). The most important route testified by the material interconnections of Chiusi appears now clearly to link Bologna and Tarquinia through Chiusi. At the same time, Chiusan economic control of the Clanis–Paglia–Tiber waterways is evident from an examination of the comparanda provided by Bettini for individual finds, which in these areas are more prevalent than the impasto productions from other proto-urban centers. Finally, early Chiusi played a leading role in the “horizontal” links of Etruria with central Adriatic Italy (on the other side of the Apennines). Despite this vibrant system of interconnections, Bettini clearly and convincingly argues for cultural and ideological conservatism. Similar to what Alessandra Minetti had already emphasized for Orientalizing Chiusi, the persistent and almost exclusive cremation rite, for the most part of the 8th century BCE, stems from the ideological strength of the community of Chiusi.[1] It is important to mention that alongside combining data from excavations of the settlement and the necropolis and from surveys, Bettini provides preliminary data on faunal remains (162–63) as well as an absolute chronology (especially for samples collected at the site of Montevenere, 273–77). Although analyses conducted on the samples are not recent, this data, dating to between the 11th and the 9th centuries BCE, offers a new set of evidence at a time in which interest in absolute chronology in pre-Roman Italy, following the momentum around the 2003 conference Oriente e Occidente: Metodi e discipline a confronto, has somewhat decreased.[2] A more traditional approach is displayed in the useful chrono-typological sequence of the layers for Montevenere (290).

Although this volume constitutes a fundamental step toward the knowledge of Chiusi between the Late (Final) Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age by bringing to light highly important but previously unpublished data, it is striking to observe how the emergence of the proto-urban center of Chiusi as a single entity with its own territory is almost denied by Bettini. In a volume on Chiusi Villanoviana one would have expected a consistent reading of the Early Iron Age evidence within Chiusi and around Chiusi. I am referring, for example, to the scant reconsideration of published data from the excavations at Petriolo (shortly discussed at 325–26; see Gastaldi 2009) and at the same time the analysis of the funerary data from the necropolis in the immediate proximity to the proto-urban center, which is almost absent.[3] Bettini herself, as well as Paolucci, have recently published on the necropolis of Poggio Cavaliere (to the south of Chiusi, located close to the River Clanis), which falls on the border between Tuscany and Umbria.[4] These publications are not mentioned (probably because the volume derived from a continuous update of her 1995 doctoral dissertation) and other volumes/research has come to light after the publication/production of the monograph under review; as a result the volume lacks a comprehensive analysis of Early Iron Age Chiusi. For instance, the necropolis of Poggio Cavaliere, when viewed in parallel to Cetona/Cancelli, Sarteano/Solaia, Sferracavalli and Macchia Piana, Chianciano Terme/Tolle, and Sinalunga/Poggi Gialli, demonstrates the consistent strategy promoted by Early Iron Age Chiusi of marking burial groups with the most important passages in the surrounding landscape, often in connection to earlier Bronze Age sites.[5] In addition, while Chiusi’s link with Mt. Cetona is stressed by Bettini on many occasions in the volume, the comparanda and discussion are focused primarily on the Tuscan side of the territory of Chiusi—almost completely passing over the Umbrian half—with the fundamental necropolis of Panicarola in the reconstruction of the dynamics of occupation of the area between the Late (Final) Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age.[6] From this perspective, a theme that is almost absent from Bettini’s reconstruction is the consistent abandonment of all Late (Final) Bronze Age sites in the territory between the River Ombrone and Lake Trasimeno that, following the pattern that characterized all Etruria, merged in the proto-urban center of Chiusi. During the 8th century BCE, Chiusi promoted the reoccupation of the ager in parallel to what is observed in most of the Etruscan proto-urban sites.[7]

Over the past twenty years, almost all scholars have accepted that the emergence of the early city-states of Etruria and especially of the proto-urban centers occurred together with the creation of single settlements. This does not mean physically delineated and united settlements—fields alternating with huts was the norm, although the densely occupied terraces at Montevenere and Petriolo would suggest the consistent occupation of the entire space—but settlements politically united into a single entity. It is surprising to read that Bettini’s reconstruction, which directly criticizes Pacciarelli’s analysis,[8] still suggests a physical and political separation between different nuclei of settlements. The absence of a unified plateau and the presence of a series of hills created a different geomorphological context for Chiusi when compared to South Etruria or to Volterra and Perugia in northern Etruria. Nevertheless, the system of hills of Chiusi still rises in the Valdichiana plain like a sort of island (between the modern A1 highway and the railway line). From this perspective it is difficult to accept Bettini’s assumption of the presence of different settlements under some sort of coordination between group leaders (329). This outdated reading of archaeological data also contrasts with the fundamental analysis of the single cemeteries of the Early Iron Age necropolis of Chiusi. Bettini for the first time provides an invaluable analysis of the location of the different nuclei. From the north, moving east, south, and west, she identifies cemeteries at Pilella, Poggio Renzo (and Volpaio), San Bartolomeo, Stazione, and Fornace Marcianella. Following the narrative presented in the volume, it is surprising to disregard the fact that these nuclei constitute a clear belt around the hills of Chiusi, occupying the slopes towards the plain and thus marking the separation between the space of the single settlement (and not of the settlements plural) and the proto-urban area beyond. They should be considered burial grounds (sepolcreti) of a single belt-shaped necropolis (necropoli). It is important—and thanks to Bettini, it is now possible—to stress that in the area encircled by this “belt” no funerary evidence has ever been found. In fact, recent excavations on the slopes of the Lavatoi in the locality of Arcisa testify to a consistent Early Iron Age occupation within the settlement after the first agglutination that occurred during the Late (Final) Bronze Age.[9]

In recent years, the beginning of Etruria’s proto-urban revolution is almost unanimously dated to the end of the Late (Final) Bronze Age and attested almost everywhere in Etruria.[10] Chiusi does not follow a different pattern than what is now observed in South Etruria (contra Bettini, p. 327). Although in the conclusion of the volume Bettini may suggest differently, her role in this understanding is clear. Thanks to her preliminary publications together with Alessandro Zanini in the 1990s and early 2000s, the direct continuity between the Late (Final) Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age at Chiusi became visible; this has become clear in the rest of Etruria only recently.

In conclusion, despite differences in our interpretation of the data, we all are indebted to Bettini for her comparison of Chiusi to the other proto-urban centers of Etruria, thus marking with her volume the beginning of a new season of research.

Table of Contents

1. La Protostoria di Chiusi: le vicende dei ritrovamenti (1–12)
2. Il quadro topografico alla fine dell’età del Bronzo (13–20)
3. Le testimonianze dell’età del Ferro: L’insediamento di Montevenere (21–23); Le strutture (24–28); Catalogo dei materiali (29–161); Nota sui resti faunistici (162–63); L’insediamento della Rocca (165); Catalogo dei materiali (166–84); I Forti (185); Ricognizioni di superficie (185–204)
4. Classificazione dei materiali in catalogo (205–72)
5. Cronologia dei complessi esaminati: Cronologia assoluta di Montevenere (273–77); Cronologia relativa: Montevenere. Area dei poderi Gigliotti e Margheriti (278–86), La Rocca (287), and Siti invididuati nelle ricognizioni di superficie (288–89)
6. Testimonianze di ambito funerario (291–322)
7. Il popolamento di Chiusi nell’età del Ferro: Gli insediamenti (323–25); Le necropoli (326–30)
8. Chiusi e le altre comunità nell’età del Ferro (331–46)
Appendice: I materiali dalle necropoli (347–72)


[1] Alessandra Minetti, L’orientalizzante a Chiusi e nel suo territorio (Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 2004).

[2] Gilda Bartoloni and Filippo Delpino, eds., Oriente e Occidente: Metodi e discipline a confronto, riflessioni sulla cronologia dell’età del ferro in Italia. Atti dell’Incontro di studi, Roma, 30–31 ottobre 2003 (Pisa: Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 2005).

[3] Patrizia Gastaldi, ed., Chiusi: Lo scavo del Petriolo (1992–2004), AIONArch 17 (Naples, 2009).

[4] Maria Chiara Bettini, “Un’urna cineraria villanoviana con coperchio da Città della Pieve,” in Città delle Pieve e il territorio in età etrusca: Ritrovamenti recenti, vecchie scoperte e collezionismo archeologico(Dimensione Grafica, 2019), 167–73; Giulio Paolucci, “Gli scavi di Umberto Calzoni nella necropoli di Cancelli e a Casa Carletti sulla Montagna di Cetona. Nuovi dati,” in Umberto Calzoni e gli scavi di Cetona: Ieri e oggi. Atti del convegno (Museo archeologico nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia 29 March 2019), ed. Silvia Casciarri, Luana Cenciaioli, and Barbara Venanti (Marsciano: Bertoni Editore, 2020), 100–131.

[5] Paolucci, “Gli scavi di Umberto Calzoni”; Jacopo Tabolli and Mattia Bischeri, “Chiusi dalla prima età del Ferro all’ellenismo: Lo scavo dell’Arcisa,” in Leggere il passato, costruire il futuro: Gli Etruschi e gli altri popoli del Mediterraneo. Scritti in onore di Gilda Bartoloni, ed. Valeria Acconcia, Alessandra Piergrossi, and Iefke van Kampen, Mediterranea 18.1–2 (Rome: Quasar, 2022), 233–46.

[6] For Castiglione del Lago, see Maria Cristina De Angelis, “Il lago Trasimeno tra Bronzo Medio e Primo Ferro: Proposta per un’analisi dell’insediamento,” in Preistoria e protostoria in Etruria: Atti del nono Incontro di studi. L’alba dell’Etruria. Fenomeni di continuità e trasformazione nei secoli XII–VIII a.C. Ricerche e scavi, ed. N. Negroni Catacchio (Milan: Centro studi di preistoria e archeologia, 2010), 425–440.

[7] See Jacopo Tabolli, “Ai confini meridionali di Chiusi tra Bronzo Finale e prima età del ferro,” in Il Santuario Ritrovato: Nuovi Scavi e Ricerche al Bagno Grande di San Casciano dei Bagni, ed. Emanuele Mariotti and Jacopo Tabolli (Livorno: Sillabe, 2021), 33–40.

[8] Marco Pacciarelli, Dal villaggio alla città: La svolta protourbana del 1000 a.C. nell’Italia tirrenica(Florence: All’Insegna del Giglio, 2001).

[9] See Tabolli and Bischeri, “Chiusi dalla prima età.”

[10] Giacomo Baldini, “Paleogenesi volterrana: Materiali per un aggiornamento alla luce delle ultime ricerche,” in Velathri Volterrae: La città etrusca e il municipio romano. Atti del convegno di studi (Volterra, 21–22 settembre 2017), ed. Marisa Bonamici and Elena Sorge, Biblioteca di “Studi Etruschi” 64 (Rome: Giorgio Bretschneider, 2021), 135–58.

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