etruscan archaeology

Orvieto is a town in the Province of Terni in Umbria. The site is among the most dramatic in Europe, rising above the almost-vertical faces of tuff cliffs that are completed by defensive walls built of the same stone. The ancient city, populated since Etruscan times, has been associated with Etruscan Velzna, but some modern scholars disagree. Orvieto was certainly a major center of Etruscan civilization; the archaeological museum houses some of the Etruscan artifacts that have been recovered in the immediate neighborhood.

The Capitoline Wolf: Etruscan Masterpiece or Medieval Replica?

The Capitoline Wolf, is a nearly life-sized bronze statue of she-wolf suckling two twin infants, inspired by the myth of Romulus and Remus. The she-wolf was regarded as a symbol of Rome during antiquity, and statues are known to have existed in Rome as early as 295 BCE.

The origin and dating of the Capitoline Wolf is a subject of major controversy. It had been long established that twin infants were added to the statue sometime in the late 15th century, but the wolf portion was thought to be much older. In the 18th century, German art historian and archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann attributed the wolf statue to an unknown Etruscan artist in the 5th century BCE, based on the design of the wolf’s fur. The Etruscan attribution of the Capitoline Wolf was universally accepted for over two centuries. 

Although there were a few scholars in the 19th century who questioned the statue’s link to antiquity (believing it to be medieval instead), the date was not seriously challenged until 1997 when the statue was being restored. Conservator Anna Maria Carruba noticed that the she-wolf was cast as a single unit, a technique that was not used in ancient times.  Ancient bronze sculptures were casted from multiple pieces then brazed together. The technique was first used by the ancient Greeks and then adopted by the Etruscans and Romans. Single-piece casting was, however, a technique that was widely used in the Medieval period. In 2007, radiocarbon dating confirmed with an accuracy of 95% that the wolf was cast between 1021 and 1153 CE.

It was long believed that the Capitoline Wolf was the very same statue that the philosopher Cicero mentions as one of the sacred objects of the Capitoline Hill. Taking the new dates into consideration, it is more likely that the statue was cast as a replacement for an earlier (now lost) version, as Roman wolf statues were known to have existed as late as the 9th century CE. Despite the confirmation that the Capitoline Wolf is in fact a medieval creation, it is still taught in many art history and archaeology classes throughout the world as an example of Etruscan sculpture.

The statue is on display at The Capitoline Museums in Rome.

Limestone Etruscan funerary urn, 104 x 75 cm, late 3rd century B.C, Italy.

This object is one of five ash urns found in a tomb of the Velsi family of ancient Chiusi. This urn is the largest and best preserved of the group. Its inscription, “FASTIA VELSI LARZL, VELUS PUIA,” which extends across the front and part of the left end of the lid, identifies the cremated remains as those of “Fastia Velsi, wife of Larza Velu.” -