Reconstructing History from Material Culture

Govi, Elisabetta. 2008. “Reconstructing History from Material Culture: The Case of Etruscan Marzabotto.” In Archaia, Case Studies on Research Planning, Characterisation, Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites, edited by Nicolo Marchetti and Ingolf Thuesen, 137-146. Oxfordshire, Archaeopress.

Presenter: Jenna Bittenbender

Courtney Freese;
Ali Gonzalez;
Allen Kupetz;
Ariana Louder;
Sara McFadden

11 thoughts on “Reconstructing History from Material Culture

  1. Where is the city of Marzabotto located, and when did this site enter its orthogonal construction phase. How was Marzobotto organized? How was space divided inside the city? Does this organization coincide with an Etruscan or Greek style of city planning?

  2. Marzabotto is in the Po Valley in Northern Etruria. Orthogonal planning began in the 5th century. There were 4 main streets which followed the axis of a compass. There were 8 main sections of Marzabotto all aligned in city blocks. These sections contained religious structures, houses, and workshops.The article argues that these organizations are influenced by a Greek style of planning especially in terms of how the religous structures were orientated, along with the planning of the streets.

  3. But wait, aren’t the cardinally aligned temples and the auguraculum at the rear of the peri-urban sanctuary an indication of the disciplina Etrusca?

    • The virtual diagram on the last page is a mish-mash of Etruscan and Greek temple styles. While the colonnade is peripteral and appears to be dedicated to a single god (Tinia), it still retains many Etruscan elements. For example, the cella is divided into a tripartite structure (not in the typical way for three separate deities, but it is tripartite nonetheless), it has a raised podium, a single frontal entrance, and, most notably Etruscan, the roof is much longer than Greek roofs and, based on the imagery, was probably made of terracotta. This strongly suggests that the Hellenistic Romanization (Hellenization?) played a part in temple construction in Marzabotto. And though the columns present a problem when it comes to the Disciplina Etrusca, one could infer that the Marzbottans used hepatoscopy or went to a nearby emporium to divine the future.

      • One has to be careful about Romanization in the 5th century BC. Clearly not operative yet, although Hellenization make sense as a rubric under which to evaluate the process, especially since the model currently operative is to see the rise of Po sites like Marzabotto as a direct result of the loss of control over the Tyrrhenian Sea after the Battle of Cumae.

  4. The Etruscan town of Marzabotto was founded along the valley of the Reno River, a important river that connects Bologna to the Tyrrhenian River. (The city is located in the region now known as Emilia-Romagna). Marzabotto entered its Orthogonal planning phase during the beginning of the fifth century when the city replaced an earlier settlement. The city was structured on four main orthogonal streets (“the plateiai”) and organized according to the cardinal points of a compass. The streets were then divided into eight large sectors. The “stenopoi” further subdivided the city into longer blocks. These streets were aligned on a north-south axis. Temples, cult buildings and other sacred buildings were built on the terrace of the acropolis. Behind the temples there was a designated space for foundation rites to be performed.
    Houses were also organized within the city. Many of these dwellings had a drainage system running underneath them. Moreover, workshops also held a place in this city plan. The workshops were vital to the development to the urbanization of the Marazbotto because they manufactured objects such as pottery and produced the tiles for the roofs of important city buildings (i.e. temples).
    This city’s organization resembles the Greek planned layout. Yet, the reading argues that its strategic orientation (which was based on cardinal points) reflects the ritual processes in found in Etruscan cities.

    • So is this the perfect love child of an Etruscan and Greek design? Is the layout discernibly Greek or just a coincidence? What evidence supports the idea that the City of Marzabotto had contact with the Greek world?

      • The organization of Marzabotto follows rigorous urban city planning, which we can see simultaneously going on in the planning of Greek cities. For example, the use of a water supply system is evident in both the Greek and Marzabotto civilizations. In addition, the urban temple in the city, employed as a sacred meeting place, resembles the Greek “agora”.

        However, I think Marzabotto has a mix of elements found in both Greek and Etruscan cities. For example, the orientation of the town based on certain foundation rites and astronomical observations is also found in other Etruscan cities. This urban plan was based on two solstice diagonal lines, which were shaped by the practice of augury.

        The article argues that imported religious architecture provides evidence that the Etruscans came into contact with the Greeks. This is specifically seen in the ground plan of the building at Marzabotto, a structure that designed on numeric and geometric standards. This structure clearly was inspired by Greek patterns. In addition, some inscriptions have been found that document settlers from abroad were incorporated into the local community (i.e. Kraikalus means ‘the Greek’). Throughout the city, numerous graffiti marks show geometric and alphabetical signs. These markings are linked to pottery production, a possible indicator of trade with Greece.

  5. Marzabotto is located along the Reno river, in the middle of Po valley. This is in modern day northern Italy. The city entered its orthogonal construction phase at the beginning of the 5th century.
    Marzabotto was organized according to an orthogonal, grid-like plan with long city blocks. Four main streets, called plateiai, aligned along the cardinal points divided space in the city. The city was then divided into eight regiones, and from there, stenopoi, small streets that ran north-south, subdivided the city into blocks.
    According to the article, the organization of Marzabotto is similar to that of Greek cities, but the orientation to the cardinal points and astrological lines is uniquely Etruscan and corresponds to the foundational rituals outlined in the disciplina Etrusca. Evidence of Greek influence in Etruria includes imported items, like wine, oil, marble, and decorated pottery. The presence of these objects in Etruscan archaeological sites indicates the influence of Greek culture in Etruria during this time period.
    I have a question that is kind of unrelated to the content, was this article translated? I looked at the publication information, but I couldn’t tell. The sentence structure and grammar seem a little awkward in some places, and complicated by understanding of the article.

  6. Marzabotto, considered to be both one of the best preserved and most renowned Etruscan cities, runs along the Reno River in the Po Valley. the city of Marzabotto entered it’s phase of reconstruction at the beginning of the fifth century. the city was divided into 8 regions, built off of four primary orthogonal streets and is then further divided by smaller additional streets (“which run parallel to the [city’s] north-south axis”). This plan seems to echo more of a Greek city plan which is emphasized particularly in the choice of orientation of the sacred buildings.

  7. No one posed any questions, do you guys have any remaining thoughts or things you find ambitious? Did you like the article? Was the author clear, and thoughtful in the way she structured the information in her article?

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