The Etruscan Period

Evidence for human occupation in the in the territory of Castiglione del Lago can be traced back to the prehistoric period. The region really begins to flourish, however, in the 7th century BC with the emergence of major centers at Chiusi, Cortona, and Perugia. At this time we see an increase in trade with the Greeks and Phoenicians, which brings new products and ideas into Italy. In the territory of Castiglione del Lago the Etruscan presence is known largely from chance finds and limited excavations. Many of those discoveries occurred in the 19th and early 20th centuries and, as a result, they were not well documented and most of the objects recovered are now lost or distributed among various collections, both public and private.

Etruscan Sites in the Territory of Castiglione del Lago (Google Earth/R. Schindler)

Etruscan Beginnings: 7th-6th centuries BC
Early evidence for the Etruscan presence comes primarily from tombs, which tend to cluster along a “Ridge Road” that runs from Villastrada in the south to Petrignano in the north. This line of low hills separates the lower Chiana Valley on the west from the territory of Trasimeno on the east and serves as a connector between Chiusi to the south and Cortona to the north. Beginning in the early 6th century BC, funerary evidence from the area between Villastrada, Buscalupo, and Collelungo suggests the presence of a significant habitation center. This area connects the “Ridge Road” with the plain of Tresa and the route to Perugia, the easternmost Etruscan city. At the western edge of the territory a necropolis and settlement at Porto demonstrate efforts to control traffic on the Clanis River.

The Etruscan materials that have been documented from this period indicate that the region prospered and enjoyed a rich cultural life connected primarily to the political, economic, and social power of ancient Chiusi (Etruscan Clevsin; Roman Clusium). Most burials from the 7th century are “tombe a ziro,” containing cremated remains in ceramic urns sometimes covered with a human head in terracotta, a form of burial typical at Chiusi. One such tomb at Porto contained an assemblage of fibulae (pins) and impasto vases with relief decoration similar to examples from Vulci and Saturnia. In contrast, at Badia S. Cristoforo, a monumental tumulus excavated in 1897 (unpublished) presents an example of a domed chamber tomb indicative of a wealthy and powerful owner. 

The region’s Etruscan character, as well as the influence of the Greeks and Phoenicians on its culture, can be seen in burial assemblages from the 6th century BC. For example, a tomb at Pozzuolo contained Etruscan bucchero vases as well as pottery in the Corinthian style with polychrome paint and mythological figures such as griffins. Two painted amphorae, now lost, from a tomb at Gioiella also show Greek influence through the figures depicted, such as the Minotaur, and decorative bands of interwoven lotus flowers. A chamber tomb excavated in 1977 at Villastrada preserved a rich assemblage of bucchero with similarities to pieces from Chiusi, as well as bronze vessels and a complete set of iron spits for roasting meat.

Vessels from the early 6th century tomb at Pozzuolo (Paolucci 2002, p. 214)

Classical and Hellenistic Periods: 5th-2nd c. BC
At the beginning of the 5th century BC, the city of Chiusi was one of the most powerful Etruscan centers. The Roman historian Livy records that in 508 BC Lars Porsenna, the king of Chiusi, attacked and possibly occupied the city of Rome. Roman sources, particularly Pliny (Natural History 36.19 [91-93]), fancifully relate that Porsenna built himself a monumental tomb with five pyramids resting on a base 50 feet tall. No trace of such an elaborate tomb remains, but we can deduce that at the beginning of the Classical era, Etruscan Chiusi was a powerful and wealthy city. In the territory of Castiglione del Lago, archaeological discoveries dating to the early Classical period indicate a shift in settlement pattern toward the plain southwest of Trasimeno. At Bruscalupo over thirty tombs were excavated but never published. Nevertheless, the materials, which are now distributed among various collections, suggest an emerging class of wealthy individuals. Many tombs contained significant quantities of metal objects and pottery imported from Attica in Greece. Fragments of sculpted cippi (tomb markers) and ossuaries also contribute to the sense of prestige of the tomb owners. Similarly wealthy tombs dating from the 5th century BC are also found at Pozzuolo and Laviano. Rather than being in crisis in the 5th century, as may be the case in other parts of Etruria, the territory of Castiglione del Lago experienced growth in wealth and culture.

Although funerary evidence is less prevalent for the 4th century BC, an important sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Cel was established at Casamaggiore, just off the ridge road north of Gioiella. In 1902, five bronze statuettes, three male and two female, were discovered by the landowner, Raniero Romizi (read more on the discovery below). The statues are similar to each other in style but they each have slightly different attributes. For example, one of the males holds a drinking horn while another raises a patera in his right hand to pour a libation. Three of the figures hold pomegranates.

From Colonna 1976-1977, from the Vatican Museums archives 1936.

All five have the same Etruscan inscription written vertically across the drapery:

Colonna 1976-1977, photo taken after WWII, negative in the Istituto di Etruscologia dell’Università di Roma .
The inscription on the statuettes.

The inscription translates: I belong to the mother Cel in the place of Cel (i.e., the sanctuary).

During the Hellenistic period there is evidence of activity across the region but again the most prominent examples are the tombs along the ridge road—for example, the chamber tomb at Paradiso and a series of thirteen tombs at Gioiella that date from the 3rd to the 2nd century BC. The Gioiella tombs were excavated in 1973 and thus the materials are preserved intact and in their original tomb groups. Those objects are currently on display in the Antiquarium of Castiglione del Lago, allowing the visitor a window into the lives of the tombs’ occupants.

By the late 2nd century BC, the region between Lago Trasimeno and the Val di Chiana gradually became “Romanized” as economic, social, and political activity in Central Italy fell under the control of Rome. For the Roman period in the territory, see the next page.

The History of Archaeology: The Story of the Casamaggiore Bronze Statuettes
The story of the discovery and subsequent disappearance of the bronze statuettes from Casamaggiore highlights the difficulty of reconstructing the region’s history based on discoveries made in the late 19th and early 20th century. For the Casamaggiore statuettes, Paolucci (2002, Appendix II) has collected a series of documents that record correspondence between the land owner and the archaeological authorities, and later between the archaeological authorities and the local police. Together these documents provide traces of the post-discovery history of the Casamaggiore statuettes.

In early 1902, Raniero Romizi asked the archaeological authorities in Florence (Umbria did not have its own archaeological superintendency at the time) for permission to carry out excavations on his own land because he had discovered some tombs in the course of agricultural work. Permission was granted in March 1902 on the condition that the Archaeological Museum in Florence be notified when the excavations were to start so that they could be properly supervised. In June 1902, the Director of the Archaeological Museum in Florence inquired as to the status of the excavations and the mayor of Castiglione del Lago replied that excavations had been conducted but nothing was found so they stopped working. Although, there is no mention of the statuettes at the time, it is now clear that they were discovered in 1902 and it appears that Sig. Romizi decided not to report the discovery. Moreover, he kept them secret for nearly 33 years.

In 1935, the statuettes came to the attention of the authorities when the Carabinieri in Castiglione del Lago investigated the death of a Hungarian antiquities dealer, Giulio Popper, an acquaintance of Ugo Romizi, the son of Raniero Romizi. In the course of the police investigation it was revealed that Ugo Romizi was in possession of five inscribed Etruscan bronze statuettes, which he claimed were found by his father in 1901 or 1902. The Carabinieri alerted the Soprintendenza dell’Antichità at Florence to the existence of the five inscribed statuettes and A. Minto, the Soprintendente, requested that they send further information so that he could alert Ugo Romizi as to the historical significance of the statuettes. Under Italian law (no. 364, 20 June 1909 and its subsequent amendments) private citizens cannot sell objects of cultural or historical significance without first offering them for sale to the state.

According to the police report, Popper was a frequent visitor to Castiglione del Lago and the five statuettes caught his attention in an antiques gallery owned by Romizi. Popper asked Romizi to let him sell the statuettes outside of Italy and Romizi agreed. However, in 1934, Popper returned with only four of the statuettes, not having been able to sell them. He said that the fifth was in London with a dealer “for study.” Romizi told Popper that he wanted the fifth statuette back and Popper assured him that he would send a request to London. A few days later, however, Romizi received a letter from a mutual acquaintance in Rome challenging Popper’s story about the statuettes. Romizi then told Popper that he was going to Rome to clear up the matter but the very next day, 30 June 1934, Popper’s body washed up on the shore of Lago Trasimeno at the landing “Navagazione.”

The police ruled that Popper’s death was a suicide and suggested that he had been overcome with guilt because he was not able to get the price for the statuettes that Romizi had desired. It is notable that Romizi himself appears to have been the only source of information in the police reports and those reports consistently refer to Popper as a foreigner. Since Romizi essentially admitted to trying to sell the statuettes outside of Italy, we should perhaps be skeptical of his account. In any case, the Soprintendente was satisfied with the information he received from the Carabinieri and did not pursue the matter. Romizi regained possession of the fifth statuette but what happened to them after 1934 is not entirely clear.

As it turns out, Romizi may have been attempting to sell the statuettes as early as the 1920s. In one of documents published by Paolucci (#14), the Ispettore from the Carabinieri reported to the Soprintendenza that at least one of the statuettes was shown to Prof. G.Q. Giiglioli in Rome and that the inscription was subsequently published by G. Buonamici in Studi Etruschi IV (1930, p. 392). In 1933, a year prior to the drama between Popper and Romizi, a set of photographs of the statuettes were made in Rome (see Colonna 1976-77, p. 45, n.2) suggesting that Popper and/or Romizi was trying to sell them at that time. In 1936, according to Colonna (1976-77), a better set of photographs was taken because they were being offered for sale to the Vatican. That sale never happened but fortunately the photographs remain in the archives of the Vatican Museums. Colonna was able to track down one more photograph taken after World War II and now in the Istituto di Etruscologia dell’Università di Roma. From this photograph, a detail of the inscription (see above), Colonna concludes that at least one of the statuettes ended up in Switzerland (p. 46, n. 6). Today the locations of all five statuettes are unknown.

Colonna, G. 1976-1977, “La dea etrusca Cel e i santuari di Trasimeno,” Revista storica dell’antichità VI-VII: 45-62.

Paolucci, G. 2002. “A ovest del Lago Trasimeno. Note di archeologia e di topografia,” in G.M. Della Fina, ed., Perugia Etrusca. Atti del IX Convegno Internatzionale di Studi sulla Storia e L’Archeologia dell’Etruria (Orvieto), Rome, Quasar, 247-269.

Renzetti, A. 2011, “Realtà insediative e dinamiche di popolamento nel territorio del Trasimeno tra fine VIII e inizio I secolo a.C.,” Bollettino della Deputazione di storia patria per l’Umbria 108, fasc. I-II: 235-272.

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