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TARQUINII (Tanquinia, formerly Corneto) Italy.

By repute the oldest city of the Etruscans in Italy, founded by Tarchon the brother of Tyrsenos, who led the Etruscans from Lydia to the W shortly after the fall of Troy (Hdt. 1.94). It was, so far as we know, the earliest settlement in Etruria of the Villanovans, who came to Italy by sea early in the Iron Age bringing a culture of mingled Danubian, Western European, and Aegean elements. The date of their arrival is not inconsistent with Herodotos' date for the Etruscan migration.

The city lies 5 km from the sea on the left bank of the Marta, the emissary of Lake Bolsena, whose tributaries drain Tarquinii's territory. The site is a plateau bounded N by Fosso degli Albucci and S by Fosso San Savino. The Villanovan settlement was on the same site as the Etruscan and its biggest tomb-field, Monterozzi, a long ridge parallel to the city across Fosso San Savino, became the Etruscan necropolis, a fact which speaks strongly for the identity of Villanovans and Etruscans at Tarquinii. The Villanovan burials are rich in bronze: helmets of European type, shields and swords recalling Aegean forms, bridle-bits, horse trappings, and fittings for chariots as well as hammered bronze vessels and cast bronze ornaments; Etruscan Tarquinii had no such wealth of metal. Possibly the metal-rich mountains of La Tolfa to the S belonged to Villanovan Tarquinii although in Etruscan times they belonged to Caere.

Tarquinii's early and continuing importance is attested by the many stories told about the city. It was in her fields that the child Tages sprang from the plowed furrow and dictated to the Lucumones the books of the Etruscan Discipline (Cic. Div. 2.50). It was there that Demaratos of Corinth settled when the expulsion of the Bacchiads drove him into exile; he brought with him Greek craftsmen who taught the art of clay modeling to the Etruscans (Pliny HN 35.152). Tarquinii gave Rome her Etruscan dynasty, the Tarquins, and the insignia of rank that became the symbols of the Roman state: curule chair, fasces, the triumphal and consular robes, trumpets “and all music used publicly” (Livy 1.34.1-3; Strab. 5.220).

In Roman history Tarquinii first appears as an enemy in 397 B.C. during the siege of Veii (Livy 5.13), and the city spent most of the 4th c. at war with Rome. The city walls presumably date from this time. The early wars ended with a 40 years' truce in 351. At the end of it a great Etruscan alliance against Rome involved Tarquinii again, but in 308 she made a separate peace. About 287 a Roman colony was founded at Castrum Novum on land taken from Tarquinii and in 181 another at Graviscae. These were coastal towns on the Via Aurelia, Castrum Novum between Pyrgi and Centumcellae, Graviscae between Centumcellae and Cosa. Thereafter Tarquinii fades from history. We know only that as an ally of Rome in 205 she furnished sails for Scipio's fleet (Livy 28.45) and that under the Empire she was the center of a semi-official Roman priesthood of 60 haruspices.

Tarquinii's painted tombs are her finest remains. They range from the third quarter of the 6th to early 1st c. B.C. and are scattered along the whole length of Monterozzi. The tomb chambers are rock-cut, approached by steep dromi and originally covered by tumuli. The earlier tombs (6th c. and first half of 5th) are small, usually a single rectangular room with a gabled roof and broad rooftree brightly painted in geometric designs. Often a kingpost fills the center of the tympanum and is flanked by heraldic animals like the gables of some Lydian temple tombs. In the Tomb of the Lionesses slender Doric columns are painted at the corners and in the center of each long wall. Clearly the architecture depicted here is of wood, light and open, a cloth-roofed pavilion rather than a house, set up to house the funeral banquet that is the subject of the wall paintings. Canonically (Tombs of the Triclinium, Leopards, Ship, and Black Sow) the banquet is painted on the wall opposite the door; the banqueters, men and women, recline on couches, served by young boys and entertained by flute and lyre, while their numerous and heterogeneous pets lurk under the tables. On the side walls are painted men and women dancing among trees, or athletes engaged in the various contests that compose the games to honor the dead.

The later tombs are larger, and their walls are often peopled with winged demons, some hideous and armed with axe or serpents, some young and handsome. There are still banquet scenes but they take place in dark surroundings and the games and dancers have disappeared. Only in the recently discovered Tomb of the Warrior does a winged figure appear hovering above a racing chariot.

Many tombs of the 4th and 3d c. contained tufa sarcophagi, the chest carved with reliefs, a reclining figure on the lid. The earliest show animal combat and winged spirits; the figure on the lid is supine, with closed eyes. Later effigies recline on the left elbow, a drinking cup in the right hand; the funeral bed has become a banquet couch. The chest reliefs are now often mythological and usually violent; some, however, represent an important personage's journey to the underworld. He rides in a chariot, led by demons but attended by trumpeters and lictors, the ancient insignia of power. These must be magistrates' sarcophagi.

The Pian di Cività, the site of the ancient city, still has stretches of the city walls, of rectangular tufa blocks, without towers, a circuit of 8 km. But the chief ruin is the temple called Ara della Regina at the E end of the plateau. A massive platform (77.15 x 35.55 m) of large rectangular tufa blocks is approached on the E by a flight of steps between parotids trimmed with heavy moldings. The temple itself is set back and the terrace projects beyond it on both sides and behind. It had a single cella with alae and two rows of columns in the pronaos; the columns were of tufa, unfluted, with Tuscan capitals. The walls of the temple must have been of sun-dried brick; the gable and roof were decorated with terracottas. A fine pair of winged horses once yoked to a chariot is perhaps part of the plaque that covered the columen. The temple dates from the 3d c.

Although material from Tarquinii is widely scattered, the best concentration of it is at Tarquinia in the Museo Nazionale Tarquiniese (Palazzo Vitelleschi).


M. Pallottino, “Tanquinia,” MonAnt 36 (1937); id., Etruscan Painting (1952); P. Romanelli, NSc (1948) 193-270; R. Herbig, Die jüngeretruskischen Steinsarcophage (1952) 51-70; M. Moretti, Nuovi monumenti della pittura etrusca (1966); H. Hencken, Tarquinia, Villanovans and Early Etruscans (American School of Prehistoric Research, Peabody Museum Bulletin no. 23; 1968); id., Tarquinia and Etruscan Origins (Ancient Peoples and Places, vol. 62; 1968)MPI; L. Banti, The Etruscan Cities and their Culture (1973) 70-84.


hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.94
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 28, 45
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 13
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 34.1
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