Villanovan culture

Villanovan culture

The Villanovan culture was the earliest Iron Age culture of central and northern Italy, abruptly following the Bronze Age Terramare culture and giving way in the seventh century BC to an increasingly orientalizing culture influenced by Greek traders, which was followed without a severe break by the Etruscan civilization. Villanovan cultural origins, but perhaps not all its peoples, lay in the Eastern Alps, with connections to the Halstatt culture. The Villanovans introduced iron-working to the Italian peninsula; they practiced cremation and buried the ashes of their dead in pottery urns of distinctive double-cone shape.

The culture is broadly divided into a proto-Villanovan culture (Villanovan I) from 1100 BC to 900 BC and the Villanovan culture proper (Villanovan II) from 900 BC to 700 BC, when the Etruscan cities began to be founded.

The name "Villanovan" comes from the type-site, that of the first archaeological finds relating to this advanced culture, remnants of a cemetery found near "Villanova" (Castenaso, 8 kilometers south-east of Bologna) in northern Italy. The excavatation lasting from 1853 to 1855 was made by the scholarly owner, count Giovanni Gozzadini, and involved 193 tombs, six of which were separated from the rest as if to signify a special social status. The "well tomb" pit graves lined with stones contained funerary urns; they were only sporadically plundered and most were untouched. In 1893, a chance discovery unearthed another distinctive Villanovan necropolis at Verucchio, overlooking the Adriatic coastal plain.

Generally speaking, Villanovan settlements were centered in the Po River valley and Etruria round Bologna—later an important Etruscan center—and areas in Emilia Romagna (at Verucchio) in Tuscany and at Fermi, Lazio. Further south, in Campania, a region where inhumation was the general practice, Villanovan cremation burials have been identified at Capua, at the "princely tombs" of Pontecagnano near Salerno [Pontecagnano finds are conserved in the Museum of Agro Picentino.] and at Sala Consilina. Small scattered Villanovan settlements have left few traces other than their more permanent burial sites, which were set somewhat apart from the settlements— largely because the settlement sites were built over in Etruscan times. This site continuity encourages modern opinion generally to follow Massimo Pallottino in regarding the Villanovan culture as ancestral to the Etruscan civilization.

The burial characteristics relate the Villanovan culture to the Central European Urnfield culture (c. 1300 -750 BC), and Hallstatt culture (which succeeded the Urnfield culture). Cremated remains were placed in cinerary urns and then buried. A custom believed to originate with the Villanovan culture is the usage of "Hut urns", cinerary urns fashioned like small huts, and other advanced urn designs. Typical "sgraffiato" decoration of swastikas, meanders and squares were scratched with a comb-like tool. Urns were accompanied by simple bronze fibulae, razors and rings.

The later phase (Villanovan II) saw radical changes, evidence of contact with Hellenic civilization and trade with the north along the Amber Road: glass and amber necklaces on women, bronze armor and horse harness fittings, and the development of elite graves in contrast to the earlier egalitarian culture [Some archaeologists Fact|date=July 2008 read early settlement and grave sites as providing indications that the earlier phases were probably feudal.] Chamber tombs and inhumation practices were developed side-by-side with the earlier cremation practices.

These cultural traces may not be directly equivalent to a widespread ethnic culture that identified itself as the equivalent of "Villanovan", Renato Peroni has suggested; they tend to underlie those of both Celtic and Italic provenance, adding to the difficulties in assessing who "founded" the culture.


ources and further reading

*S. Gozzadini: "La nécropole de Villanova", Fava et Garagnani, Bologna, 1870
*J. P. Mallory, "Villanovan Culture", "Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture", (Fitzroy Dearborn), 1997.
*G. Bartoloni, "The origin and diffusion of Villanovan culture." in M. Torelli, (editor) "The Etruscans", pp 53-74. (Milan), 2000.
*M.E. Moser, "The "Southern Villanovan" Culture of Campania", (Ann Arbor), 1982.
*D. Ridgway, "The Villanovan Cemeteries of Bologna and Pontecagnano" in "Journal of Roman Archaeology" 7: pp 303–16 (1994)

External links

* [ Museo Archeologico di Verucchio: Villanovan necropolis] (in English)
* [ Ashmolean Museum: "Ancient Italy Before the Romans"]

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