(Murlo) Province of Siena, Italy.
One of the many hills within the metal-bearing
mountains of N Tuscany, lies to the S of Siena near
the Ombrone river. Excavations have revealed an Etruscan structure, probably a sanctuary, daring from ca. 650 to slightly before 525 B.C.
The latest building phase at the site is represented
by a monumental sanctuary. The complex (over 61 m
square) has a central court. Colonnades flank three sides
of the court and a small rectangular enclosure, perhaps
a templum, dominates the W flank. The building techniques consist of rubble stone foundations, pisé walls,
and wooden structural members. The various units forming the complex were richly decorated with architectural
terracottas: acroteria in the form of life-size standing
and seated human figures, crouching and walking animals, and fantastic creatures adorned the ridgepoles.
Gorgon antefixes or lateral simas molded with feline
water spouts, rosettes, and human heads terminated the
eaves while a raking sima, decorated by hounds chasing
hares, edged the gables. Four frieze types further embellished the sanctuary. These are in low relief and
depict a banquet, a procession, a horse race, and an
assemblage of divinities.
The building's plan, its precision of construction, and
the homogeneity of its architectural decoration suggest
that the complex was constructed at one time. The
stylistic evidence from the terracottas points to the period ca. 575 B.C. Ionic bowls and a middle Corinthian
skyphos came from the burned debris of an earlier
building, sealed under the sanctuary's floor of beaten
earth. These pieces indicate that the sanctuary could not
have been built much before 580 B.C.
The archaic sanctuary stood until the third quarter
of the 6th c. when it was deliberately torn down. Its
architectural terracottas were buried in specially constructed dumps and existing ditches, and an earthen
mound was thrown up around the entire area of the
sanctuary. This destruction, probably a ritual act intended to set the total area of the sanctuary out of bounds
for future occupation, seems to relate to the rise of Chiusi
as a city state.
The structures under the 6th c. sanctuary are only
partially cleared but they display similar building techniques and were also adorned with architectural terracottas. As mentioned above, they were destroyed by fire
around 580 B.C. and then sealed under the earthen floors
of the later sanctuary. The debris layer is unusually
rich in pottery, metal objects, and bone and ivory ornaments. Included are molded bucchero cups whose handles are decorated with winged women, ivory figurines in the shape of crouching animals, ivory and bone furniture inlays, and bronze, silver, and gold jewelry. These
objects appear to be the contents of a rich dwelling,
perhaps the house of a chief magistrate or priest.
During the summer of 1972 a small necropolis was
discovered in the area of the site farthest W, a location
known as Poggio Aguzzo. Simple fossa tombs and inhumation were found. The pottery has its best parallels with the material from the earlier structures.
No literary sources identify Poggio Civitate. Because
of the rich finds and because of the well-planned and
well-constructed buildings of both phases, the area appears to be a sanctuary. At the hub of N Etruria, Poggio
Civitate perhaps served as a political and religious center for the N cities. Ultimately it may have incurred the
wrath of one or more powerful centers and was thus
ritually destroyed, much as Rome desecrated Veii.
The sanctuary from Poggio Civitate gives us a first
glimpse of monumental archaic Etruscan architecture.
This architecture rivals that of the Greek world and
appears strong enough to influence later Roman Republican forms.
K. M. Phillips, Jr., Poggio Civitate
) The Archaic Sanctuary
by G. Caputo in StEtr
38 (1970) 409-11; L. Meritt,
“Architectural Mouldings from Murlo,” StEtr
13-25; M. Cristofani & K. Phillips, “Poggio Civitate:
Etruscan Letters and Chronological Observations,” StEtr
39 (1971) 409-30; T. Gantz, “Divine Triads on an
Archaic Etruscan Frieze Plaque from Poggio Civitate
39 (1971) 3-24; J. Small, “The Banquet
Frieze from Poggio Civitate,” StEtr
39 (1971) 25-61. A.
Andrén, “Lectiones Boëthianae I: Osservazioni sulle
terrecotte architettoniche etrusco-italiche,” Opuscula Romana
8.1 (1971) pls. 18-22. For further bibliography
76.3 (1972); 77.3 (1973); 78.3 (1974).
K. M. PHILLIPS, JR.