AIA-4J: Fantastic (and Real) Beasts and Where to Find Them in Etruria (Colloquium)

  Hybrid   AIA Session   Colloquium

Sponsored by:

AIA Etruscan Interest Group


Daniele Federico Maras, Ministry of Culture (Rome, Italy); Fabio Colivicchi, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada; and Cristiana Zaccagnino, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada


Nancy T. de Grummond, Florida State University

Overview Statement

The interest in the study of animals in the ancient world has been expanding in the last few years, particularly in Greek and Roman culture. In Etruscan archaeology, the focus has been primarily on the fantastic animals represented so often in the art of the seventh century B.C.E.

The study of Etruscan evidence, however, still has an untapped potential and much can be done to move past the label of “generic decoration” under which many representations of animals are dismissed. Animals, real and fantastic, can be studied from multiple angles and with an array of methods able to shed light on the human-animal relations (in daily life as well as in rituals), the perceptions of the animal world and nature, the observation and interpretation of animal behavior and the use of animals as powerful signs and symbols to express cultural concepts in a “language” that was obvious to ancient audiences, but has not always been decoded by modern scholars.

In this context, the goal of this colloquium session is to foster the debate on specific subjects involving beasts in Etruscan iconography from different points of view.

Two papers focus on the symbolic use of animals in sacred and funerary contexts: moving from the study of the architectural terracottas from Caere, the former analyzes the significance of sea creatures both real and fantastic on roof decorations; the latter explains the renewed popularity of the representations of wild animals in the late Archaic period as a deliberate revival of the imagery of the “age of princes” and its related ideals.

Three further papers discuss the interactions between animals and human beings in the ecosystem of ancient Etruria: in one case the importance of birds is explored, with an emphasis on nonnative and migratory species; another contribution investigates the iconography of deer showing how artistic representations accurately reflect reality both in physical characteristics and behavior of the different species; the last paper uses an interdisciplinary environmental lens to highlight the role that the lynx, an animal native to their own landscape, may have played in the culture of the Etruscans.

Eventually, a distinguished Etruscan scholar is entrusted with the task of being the colloquium discussant and commenting the information gathered by the contributors’ diverse approaches.