Tarquinia: Museo e Necropoli
Introduction to Tarquinia: Museo e Necropoli
|The Etruscans continue to fascinate me and I always take any the opportunity to visit the most important archeological sites (tomb mounds) and museums dedicated to their surviving artifacts.
On June 18th, 2015, I visited Tarquinia to see both the tombs and the local museum. Unfortunate for the visitor, the tomb area of Monterozzi is apparently divided into two areas. After touring the 20 tombs open to the public and not finding the so-called “Tomb of the Bulls” with it famous sex scene, I asked if was closed or if I had possibly missed it. It was then explained to me that I would need to hire a professional guide at a cost of 70 euros to see that other group of tombs! (The ticket for the main area of the mound was a reasonable 8 euros.) There isn’t even a sign or other indication that there is this other area (containing around half dozen tombs) so, if I hadn’t been a bit inquisitive, I would have left somewhat confused. The giveaway was none other than two postcards depicting the sexual penetration frescoes! After thinking it over, I decided to not allow myself to be exploited in such a manner. It made me think that this was an Italian variation on my experiences in Egypt, trying to access the gay tomb at Saqqara. A combination of censorship and exploitation is one way to see this. (For the most part, these photos are not very good and I hope the viewer will understand that (1) one is not allowed to use flash; (2) the lighting in the tombs is extremely poor and one (3) is not allowed into the actual tomb chambers (for obvious reasons).
In the museum, there are different problems involving the display cases, the positioning and lighting of the objects. These images are meant to record many images you are unlikely to find in any book or website … while others are just personal favorites that make me imagine what living as an Etruscan might have been like.
Finally, I include a surviving fragment from a great and much forgotten Greek historian, Theopompus. Tragically, despite his great output and prominence in ancient times, not a single volume of his extensive histories survived, only fragments like this one. From what I know, it may be the only surviving description of the world of Etruscan sexuality.
“And Theopompus in the 43rd book of his Histories says that it is customary with the Etruscans to share their women in common; the women bestow great care on their bodies and often exercise even with men, sometimes also with one another; for it is no disgrace for women to show themselves naked. Further, they dine, not with their own husbands, but with any men who happen to be present, and they pledge with wine any whom they wish. They are also terrible bibulous and are very good-looking. The Etruscans rear all the babies that are born, not knowing who is the father in any single case. These in turn pursue the same mode of life as those who have given them nurture, having drinking parties often and consorting with all the women. It is no disgrace for Etruscans to be seen doing anything in the open, or even having anything done to them; for this also is a custom of their country. And so far are they from regarding it as a disgrace that they actually say, when the master of the house is indulging in a love affair, and someone enquires for him, that he is undergoing so-and-so, openly calling the act by its indecent name. When they get together for companionship or family parties they do as follows: first of all, after they have stopped drinking and are ready to go to bed, the servants bring into them, the lamps still being lighted, sometimes female prostitutes, sometimes very beautiful boys, sometimes also their wives; and when they have enjoyed these, the servants the introduce to them lusty young men who in their turn consort with them. They indulge in love affairs and carry on these unions in full view of one another, but in most cases with screens set up around the beds; the screens are made of latticed wands, over which cloths are thrown. Now they consort very eagerly, to be sure, with women; much more, however, do they enjoy consorting with boys and striplings. For in their country these latter are very good looking, because they live in luxury and keep their bodies smooth. In fact all the barbarians who live in the west remove the hair of their bodies by means of pitch-plasters and by shaving with razors. Also among the Etruscans at least, many shops are set up and artisans arise for this business, corresponding to barbers among us. When they enter these shops, they offer themselves unreservedly, having no modesty whatever before spectators or the passer-by. This custom is also in use even among many of the Greeks who live in Italy; they learned if from the Samnites and Messapians. (C.B. Gulick, tr.,L.C.L.)”
After reading this fragment take a look at the gallery. The tomb images are very widely available on the internet. The images of pottery and other objects in the museum will be much more difficult to find on the internet or likely, even in any printed material. Seeing the variety of images helps this viewer’s attempts to imagine what their world might have been like.