The Process of Urbanization of Etruscan Settlements

Steingraber, S.  2001.  “The Process of Urbanization of Etruscan Settlements from the Late Villanovan to the Late Archaic Period (End of the Eight to the Beginning of the Fifth Century B.C.): Presentation of a Project and Preliminary Results,” Etruscan Studies 8: 7-34.

Presenter: Whitney Tyrkala


Caitlin O’Loughlin;
Francesca Pierre;
Mal Pigmon
Abby Rosensen
Morgan Williams

14 thoughts on “The Process of Urbanization of Etruscan Settlements

    • The principal aim for this author is to define what a “city” is in the ancient Mediterranean, and then apply that to the question of what an Etruscan city is. He then wants to tackle the question of whether or not we can really use the term “city” to describe Etruscan settlements at all (I believe). The article was a bit difficult to follow because a lot of it talked about the results of settlement excavations in Etruria, though important, they are very lengthy and one has to remember the author’s motive constantly throughout in order to find his argument. However, he does actually state “the principal aim of this project is a critical collection of all possible data for the documentation of the decisive phase in the formation process of Etruscan settlements into real “cities”, so I’m not very surprised with the lengthy descriptions. As with Abby’s comment, I too felt it ended quite abruptly; I was not expecting the bibliography to come up instead of another page. His conclusion was not necessarily a conclusion that would have pulled everything together and convinced me that he succeeded in explaining Etruscan cities and urbanization, but it seemed to be a last minute collection of examples that he remembered at the last moment. It’s quite possible I may have missed it within the text, but he does not seem to reiterate that an Etruscan city has its own definition of what a “city” was, as compared to the Greeks. (At least, I think that is what he is saying). It is hard to say, but yes it seems he attempted to convey his argument, but I’m not so sure he tied it all together and really succeeded.

    • The author’s principle aim for his project was to define what “city” means in Etruria and to formulate a time period where we can speak about these “cities”. He attempts to explain his aim through a collection of data available for the documentation of the decisive “phases” of the formation process of Etruscan settlements into real “cities,” which must be seen in the historical and cultural context with Rome and Greek world. I do not think the author succeeds to actually defining what an Etruscan “city” is. The second to last paragraph states that Etruscan cities possessed “paved streets and sewers…underground cuniculi” which functioned as drains, wells which point to the hydraulic engineers frequently mentioned by ancient scholars, and an outlet, called an “emissaria.” All of these attributes have been cited to different locations in Etruria, but there is no significant description of what a “city” as a whole would consist of in Etruria. Descriptions throughout the article express varying attributes of a city, which is compiled of a community of citizens sharing religious and cultural identity, living in private homes while having access to public urban areas separate from their private habitats. Each site describes some new information that could be used to define an Etruscan city, but the conclusion ends so abruptly that I feel like the author forgot what the purpose of the article is. He jumps from site to site pointing out characteristics of the location, but since each site is excavated with specific and different techniques than the last, there can only be so many similarities across the sites to come up with a stable conclusion which describes all of the Etruscan “cities.”

    • I am particularly troubled by Steingraber’s sample itself. A number of the so-called “urban spaces” in his catalog are far from urban. Many are small secondary or tertiary centers that were under the hegemony of the major Etruscan city-states. Is he conflating two separate processes? Should we really be comparing Caere to Murlo? What is the justification for this?

    • The principle aim of this author was to define a “city” within Etruria. Steingraber starts successfully by outlining what is traditionally used to define an ancient city and then brings up a list of which will be used to examine Etruscan sites. I too found the ending to be lacking. I wanted more of a summary of thought as too what does define a city rather than pointing to this and that, oh and this. I feel Steingraber would have greatly strengthened his work by doing so. As is, the definition gets a little lost in translation unless the reader actively remembers the purposed thesis. I was left wanting more of a through line (like Mallory). However, I do believe Steingraber’s outlines to take into account the majority of aspects one would need in order to truly analyze this question. Further more, addressing the interaction of smaller settlements (Murlo) to larger settlements (Chuisi) was a great strength. If the smaller sites had been ignored I would have found Steingraber to be less convincing in his in depth analysis.

  1. After pointing out that we cannot define an Etruscan city based on the criteria for a Greek city, the author’s main goal is to define the criteria for an Etruscan city and then to determine how often, and in which particular cases, the term “city” can actually be used to discuss Etruscan settlements or communities. Ultimately, this will allow the author to effectively discuss the process of urbanization in Etruria (since In order to do this, the author plans to collect all data from various Etruscan cites which may pertain to defining a city and the process of urbanization. As far as whether or not the author accomplished his goal, I am not quite sure. After reading the article, I am not sure I was able to identify a clear conclusion (of course, I may just have missed it!). It seemed like the author identified a problem as well as the information still needed to answer the question, laid out a plan for solving the question at hand, and briefly discussed methods by which archaeologists and researchers could follow the plan. Then the author went on to share the relevant information that researchers DO have. The end seemed very abrupt without any general conclusion. However, this is probably at least somewhat logical since there is not sufficient information to make a conclusion regarding the author’s original question. Is the layout I have described here somewhat correct? I might have missed transitions or general themes.

    • You did good.That is what I got from the article as well. My question was a trick question to see if anyone had actually read the article.The lack of a clear concise conclusion bothers me a bit. I think he could have done a better job putting one togerher even just to say that he lacked sufficent information. But you summarized the information in the article really well.

      • I just saw this after I posted my response. I feel that the argument is lost throughout the article, or is it just me? He starts off really well, but I feel the overall statement about Etruscan cities and urbanization is lost.

        • No I think you have a point. He seems to go off on theses little tangents and its a little hard to remember what he is trying to point out. The lack of conclusion really hurts as well in my opinion. He just stops, he doesn’t drive his point home or connect it in anyway.

  2. Okay I have another question for everyone. In the article Steingraber lists various aspects, questions, and problems that need to be taken into consideration when studing the remains of Etruscan settlements. Name a few. Which ones do you think are more important that others? Are any not needed or are there any you don’t agree with (personal opinion)?

    • I am particularly troubled by his assertion that a minimum size for an “urban” space can be as small as 1000 people. Are we really willing to consider something this small a city? What is the utility of trying to squeeze such a breadth of sites into the category?

  3. The author has specified many different aspects/questions/etc. that must be clarified, many of which seemed to reflect each other (or at least very closely relate). He mentions the basic ones first (location, population, socioeconomic function), but then the rest are mostly related to the layout of the area and comparisons between different parts of the area. I think that the first, basic questions are definitely important because they would help to quickly identify differences among various sites, and thereby assist in clarifying logical categories for the sites. The later, more specific questions are also important though to some degree because they will help make distinctions within the larger group organizations. However, I don’t think the author brings up a sufficient range of questions and considerations because many of the specific considerations could probably end up applying to either too great a number of sites, or too few sites. The end result could be sorting each site into its own group, or having only a few groups at all. Additionally, many of the questions and considerations are too related to the function of the site, rather than the site itself. While this is important of course, it is entirely logical that two sites could both be cities of equal status, but have COMPLETELY separate functions in greater Etruria. By the end of reading the list, I felt as though maybe the author was more interested in studying the differences among cities than defining what an Etruscan city actually was (especially since, by the end, the author was using terms such as “urban area” and “city” in the considerations, which completely defeats the purpose). I thought the last consideration was especially interesting because the author clarified at the beginning that we cannot use the requirements for a Greek city to define an Etruscan city, but then he wishes to look at the differences. While this could be a cool research topic, I don’t feel like it would necessarily help to define the Etruscan city (although maybe it would in some way I haven’t thought of!).

    • I found that part interesting as well. In the beginning he mentions that Etruscan cities are completely different from Greek cities and that is why he came up with specific criteria to identify them in the first place. But the last criteria he mentions that a comparison needs to be made between the greek “polis” and the Etruscan “citiy”. Did any one else find this an interesting statement? Reasons why? Any opinions on why he would have this as part of the criteria?

  4. The author provides a list of 14 questions and problems that are required in his study of the Etruscan urban area. A geographic study of the site is necessary, along with an approximate number of inhabitants, the existence of a city wall or fortifications, the duration of the settlement, and the relationship between private habitats and public areas, buildings, and sanctuaries. The position of these public and private spheres of the site is taken into consideration as well, along with the typological, architectural, functional and social differences among the various aspects of the urban area. I think a comparison of the common elements and differences in the urban structure and organization between the Etruscan cities and the Greek “polis” would be relative to his project to prove his point that they are different entities. Although I don’t think he proved very many differences, and made these two areas look very similar. The process of “disculpa etrusca” relates to the pomerium of an Etruscan and Greek city. Divisions were made between public and private areas of the city, the ‘polis’ included the Agora, public buildings, urban sanctuaries. These were separate from the living and working areas, and the necropolis, which were outside the city walls. In light of his conclusion, I would say that the author had a very difficult time trying to define what an Etruscan “city” is compiled of, and found that comparing it to the Greek “polis” would help him make definitive observations between the two, if all of the aspects, problems, and questions derived from his systematic study of the remains of Etruscan settlements failed to do so.

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