You may wish to see a map of the region and a short introduction to this section first.
The great object of our stay at Viterbo was to see the Etruscan remains in its neighbourhood, to which three hard-worked days must be devoted, for distance and difficulty make it utterly impossible that any traveller can ever have visited Castel d'Asso, Norchia, and Bieda, on the same day, as is indicated in Murray's Handbook. It is best to make head-quarters at Viterbo, as we did, and drive out each day, for though Vetralla is nearer the scene of action at the two latter places, the inn, a mere tavern, is so dirty and so perfectly miserable, we should not advise any one to attempt it. Castel d'Asso is only five miles from Viterbo, on the edge of the great plain of Etruria, but the place is so little visited, and the track across the fields so constantly changed, that it is most difficult to find.
Augustus J. C. Hare - Days near Rome - 1875
Several works of art which were found in the locations mentioned by Hare and in other ones which were discovered at a later time can be seen at the National Archaeological Museum which is housed in Rocca Albornoz and at the Town Museum which is housed in the former convent of S. Maria della VeritÓ; the latter contains also some works of art from churches. In this page some of the exhibits are described in a broad chronological order, regardless of the museum which houses them. You may wish to see a page on the National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia which houses many Etruscan exhibits.
The shields are dated between the Xth and the VIIIth century BC and are therefore among the most ancient exhibits of the Museum and they show how the early Etruscans (or the people who lived in the area before them) were master metal smiths. They mined various ores including iron, tin, copper, silver, and gold and they smelted bronze to work with. They developed unique skills and specialized techniques. The shields were most likely combined together to form a long vertical shield. It was not meant for defence purposes and it was most likely used by priests during ceremonies.
Numa chose twelve Salii (priests) for Mars Gradivus, and granted them the distinction of wearing the embroidered tunic and over it a bronze breastplate, and of bearing the divine shields which men call ancilia, while they proceeded through the City, chanting their hymns to the triple beat of their solemn dance.
Livy - The History of Rome, Book I - Translation by Benjamin Oliver Foster.
The museum houses a very rare example of Etruscan biga of the VIth century BC. It was found inside a tomb; the skeletons of two horses were found in the passage leading to the main room. It was a parade chariot and the fact that it was buried with the horses testifies to the rank of the dead. The practice of burying horses with their masters can be found also in other cultures, e.g. that of the Longobards who invaded Italy in the VIth century AD, e.g. at Cividale.
The acropolis of an Etruscan town 4.6 km N of Viterbo was destroyed in ca. 500 BC and not rebuilt. It was the archaic predecessor of the Etrusco-Roman town of Ferentium (Ferento - see below in this page), which was built later ca. 1.6 km NE and flourished in the Augustan epoch and the early Empire. It is named Acquarossa (red water, because of a nearby ferruginous spring) after the modern name of the site. The excavations at Acquarossa were carried out in large-scale campaigns in 1966-1978 by Swedish teams, and after that more sporadically and on a smaller scale. The late King Gustaf VI Adolf participated regularly in the field work and enthusiastically supported the excavations. The Archaic Etruscan settlement, with roughly square houses, is the most important part of the history of the acropolis. It began ca 625 or somewhat earlier and lasted until 550 or shortly after. Acquarossa at that time seems to have been a real city with numerous inhabitants. Following the destruction of the city, the site seems to have been abandoned before it was inhabited again later on. At the excavations on the acropolis, relatively well-preserved remains of dwellings and monumental buildings were unearthed. The house plans range from a building with a single room to two or three rooms in a row. A more elaborate type has three rooms preceded by a narrow hall or porch. The dwellings were very often embellished with architectural terracottas, previously considered to be used only for temples.
In addition to the numerous houses in different parts of the plateau, a complex with buildings of a particularly monumental character has been identified and excavated. In its latest period of use, it was richly decorated with relief terracottas. With the finds of houses decorated with painted non-relief terracottas and of the monumental buildings with terracottas in relief, the Swedish excavations at Acquarossa have demonstrated that it can no longer be maintained that decorated architectural terracottas were solely connected with sanctuaries. (..) Among other interpretations, it can be noted that many of the structures with which the terracottas are associated have been regarded as residences, i.e. Etruscan regiae, as has been suggested also for the monumental area at Acquarossa. Such an interpretation does not exclude religious functions, cults and rites connected with the rulers. (..) Plaques of the same type were placed together to form long friezes. Through the repetition, a mass effect was created: long processions with an overwhelming number of horses, chariots and warriors, a huge number of banqueters and a turmoil of dancing figures. (..) The rituals were basically religious and whatever the exact function or functions of the area, there was always a religious side to it.
Finds and Findings from the Swedish Excavations in the Viterbo Region - 2006
Revolutionary for our understanding of the Etruscan cities has been the discovery of early towns: houses at Acquarossa where stone and tile-covered roofs existed side by side with thatched-roof huts.
Larissa Bonfante - Etruscan Life and Afterlife - 1986
A complex of monumental buildings and porticoes, was probably the administrative, political, and possibly also the religious centre of the city. A series of terracotta frieze-plaques found in this context are among the finest of their kind. The monumental area has been interpreted in different ways, as a centre with religious or profane functions. The interpretations vary between a sanctuary, a festal area (especially for the initiation of the young) and a regia, a palace for a local ruler.
The practice of placing statues of real or imaginary animals as wardens of tombs or temples was widely common in many ancient civilizations, e.g. that of the Hittites and it continued until more recent times, e.g. in China. The depiction of harpies documents the contacts between the Etruscans and the Greeks for whom the harpies accompanied the souls of the dead to the Underworld.
The Attic/Athenian vase painters produced a particular type of amphora for the Etruscan market; eventually local artisans produced a large number of these vases in Etruria where some 200 of them have been found (see a similar amphora from Cerveteri).
Numerous examples of two-handled skyphoi have been found in a variety of sanctuaries; they played a role in the ritual activity at these sites, in particular those related to Dionysus.
This small shrine was saved from clandestine robbers in 2006. It was found in a bush near a dried out stream. The presence of votive offerings in connection with springs and rivers can be documented in other Etruscan locations. At Macchia delle Valli it served a rural community. It was found perfectly preserved and it therefore provided archaeologists with the sacred context and the venerated images in their entirety. The statues were in a small cell in the shape of a house. The sanctuary is dated end of the IIIrd century BC.
The exhibits are ex-votos, objects that were offered to a divinity along with a request or prayer. What they expected in return had to do with healing and health, or prosperity. A hand or a foot or other parts of the human body were connected to a healing of them. The offerings were placed upside down, following the customs of the underworld gods.
Here (in the courtyard of the Town Hall) are five Etruscan figures reclining upon their tombs much like people looking out of their berths in a steamer. Hare
The site of Musarna was discovered in 1849, 10 km west of Viterbo. The excavations led to finding many tombs which still contained sarcophagi and ceramic, bronze and gold objects. Two large tombs were of particular interest because they belonged to the same family, the Alethnas, an important and influential family of Musarna, the holders of many magistrateships. One of the tombs contained forty sarcophagi and it was used by the family for up to 250 years from about 320 BC well into the Ist century BC. Eventually excavations stopped and the site of Musarna was neglected and almost forgotten.
In 1982 fragments of a floor mosaic were discovered by chance near the site of the tombs. Excavations by the ╔cole Franšaise de Rome led to finding some evidence of the town, including the calidarium (hot room) of baths which were decorated by the floor mosaic. The construction of baths is an indication that the Etruscans adopted Roman customs, but the IInd century BC floor mosaic shows that they continued to use their alphabet for some time after the Roman conquest of Etruria, which was almost complete by the early IIIrd century BC.
In 1987 a hoard of 994 Roman silver denarii was discovered in its pot with the lid, presumably in a shop of the Musarna marketplace. The task of cleaning the encrusted coins required great patience and skill, but it led to the identification of almost all the coins. They were minted between 211 (the likely year of the introduction of the silver denarius towards the end of the Second Punic War) and 67 BC. They show that coins remained in circulation for a very long period of time. It does not seem that the hoard was closed due to some dramatic event; perhaps the fact that it was not retrieved was due to personal circumstances. It appears that the owner of the coins selected for retention the best of the coins he received. You may wish to see a hoard of denarii which was found at Howe in South Norfolk.
The Smurinas family was most prominent at Norchia in the late IVth and IIIrd centuries BC, where they can be traced over three generations. They established family bonds with the Alethna of Musarna. Similar reconstructions of family bonds have been made for other Etruscan families, e.g. the Partunus of Tarquinia by studying inscriptions on sarcophagi. Archaeologists were helped in many cases by the Etruscan tradition of mentioning also the mother of the dead.
Ferentium lay on a site slightly NE of the Archaic Etruscan town at Acquarossa. Excavations have identified tombs, temples and houses. Roman Ferentium was already a flourishing municipium by the time of Augustus. Its most famous native son was Emperor Otho. In the Late Empire Ferentium dwindled to a village, but it retained its own bishops down to the VIIth century. Neighbouring Viterbo finally destroyed the place in 1172.
The funerary urn which was found in 1880 testifies to the wealth of Ferentium. Its decoration depicts festoons of fruit with masks in the lunettes, supported by craters placed on candlesticks. The handle of the lid is in the shape of a pomegranate. You may wish to see a marble funerary urn of the same period which was found in Rome.
Archaeological Museum: from the theatre of Ferentium: statues of Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy, Euterpe, Muse of Lyric Poetry and Pothos, a brother of Eros who symbolized the loving desire towards a distant person
Apparently the theatre was built under Augustus, or slightly earlier, and was later restored (perhaps under Septimius Severus). The scaenae frons, the building behind the stage, was adorned with marble statues of Apollo, the Muses, and a winged Pothos, copied from originals by Skopas. Surviving fragments of the marble cladding attest the sumptuous appearance of the theatre.
In 1955 a beautiful small bronze statue was found in the environs of Viterbo, perhaps hidden by looters. It is one of the best known exhibits of the Archaeological Museum and it is assumed to portray Vediovis, a god similar to Jupiter, to whom a temple was erected in Rome.
The Bella Galliana sarcophagus depicts an animated hunting scene which overall is a celebration of courage and military valour. The deceased is in the centre of the scene riding a horse.
The sarcophagus might have belonged to a high ranking Roman officer, but it might have had a more symbolic meaning as it was made after a dramatic period of Roman history during which some barbarian tribes managed to break into the Empire.
See similar sarcophagi of approximately the same period at Rome, Palermo, Barcelona and Reims.
The sarcophagus from Soriano shows another development in Roman society in the late IIIrd century: the figure sculpted in the centre of the box depicts the deceased dressed in the manner of the philosophers. In the side panels are carved a philosopher and a (good) shepherd; these figures indicate a greater interest for some form of afterlife and they eventually were utilised for Christian sarcophagi, e.g. at Tolentino.
In the Town Hall are preserved the forgeries by which Fra Giovanni Nanni, commonly called Annio di Viterbo, claimed for his native city an antiquity greater than that of Troy. Hare
In the late XVth century, a Dominican friar named Giovanni Nanni (1437-1502), but known as Annio di Viterbo, became famous for his investigations of ancient Etruria; they were a mixture of insightful analysis and brilliant fiction, both literary and archaeological. Though he is famous now as a forger, Annio was also an ingenious scholar in several fields. Hare referred to a marble composition presented by Annio as evidence of the coming of Osiris in Italy and his stay in Viterbo. At the centre appears a medieval lunette, surrounded by reworked marble scraps. At the upper corners of the table were then set two human heads, dating back to the second half of the XVth century. A century later an unknown follower of Annio claimed to have found another ancient relief in the environs of Viterbo.
Giovanni Battista degli Almadiani was a prelate at the court of Pope Leo X; he made donations for the foundation of a Carmelite convent and church at a site near the Town Hall. In 1870 the convent was confiscated and the church was deconsecrated. Today it is used for exhibitions and conferences. The church was decorated with glazed terracottas which are attributed to the workshop of Andrea della Robbia, a Florentine sculptor. Similar terracottas can be seen at Acquapendente, Bolsena and S. Maria della Querce, locations which are all north of Viterbo on the road to Tuscany and Florence.