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Room 5


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.Other finds of relief terracottas similar to those at Acquarossa have been made at different sites, such as Poggio Civitate at Murlo near Siena, Tuscania, Veio (Piazza d'Armi), S. Omobono in Rome, Velletri etc. 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.

    Relief plaque, type A

The subject matters on the relief plaques from Acquarossa, apart from banqueting and dancing, themes connected with the ceremonies in the complex, seem to convey a message of glorification. Warriors on foot or mounting chariots in long processions created by the repetition of the plaques bring to mind military activities that are celebrated through the representations. The presence of the figure of Herakles in the two series of plaques with processions, one with the Nemean lion and the other with the Cretan bull, underlines, with the use of the myth, the heroic deeds of the ruling aristocratic class and its leadership. It seems to be possible to interpret other finds of architectural relief plaques of the same types along the same lines. At Tuscania, plaques from identical moulds have come to light in a tomb area along with monuments belonging to aristocratic families, thus placing the same themes within a more obviously cultic context.


In the western part of zone F, which is situated in the northern part of the main plateau, there is a building complex of a special kind. In its latest period (phase 3), it had a mould-made terracotta decoration. Both the architectural decoration and the pottery that was in use during the latest period were found in fragments together with the remains of the walls.
The two main buildings (A and C) are arranged at more or less right angles to each other. Both buildings have a portico in front of them, but they differ as to the depth of the porticoes and the distance between the columns.¨
Building A has its rooms on a higher level than that of the portico. In the west, there is a narrow room, but the rest of the plan is uncertain.
Building C is better preserved, which makes it less problematic to establish its ground plan. From the portico, through a wide opening supported by a column in the middle, there is an entrance to a large room behind. From this room, two more rooms can be reached, both with the same dimensions. In the one to the south were found tufa blocks, presumably parts of benches as in a triclinium.


  All four types of relief plaques

More than two thousand fragments of the terracotta decoration were found. It consists of one type of head antefix and four types of relief plaques:

Type A, a procession scene with an inserted Herakles figure with the Cretan bull

Type B, a procession with an inserted Herakles figure with the Nemean lion

Type C, a banquet

Type D, a dancing scene

The plaques of types A and B have a cavetto moulding with convex “strigils”;

C and D on the other hand have a moulding with concave “strigils”.

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.
Both the antefixes and the plaques were painted with white, red and black. There are enough traces of paint to show that plaques of the same type were painted in different ways. The figures that were repeated over and over again were thus not meant to be the same few figures but a succession of new figures.
The material is not complete, but through various methods, it has been possible to calculate the minimum numbers of each type. The results show that the plaque types were represented in different numbers (at least 43 A, 10 B, 18 C and 16 D).


The fact that the fragments of the terracotta decoration were found in large quantities together with the remains of the buildings offers unique possibilities to attempt a reconstruction of the buildings.
The distribution of the fragments shows clearly that only the façades of the buildings were decorated, which means that it was not the four sides of each building that constituted the architectural unit, but rather the open courtyard enclosed by the façades.
Building C seems to have had a single row of plaques of type A and a row of antefixes along the eaves of one side.
Building A seems to have had a more complex façade, because the find circumstances suggest that all four types of plaques and one row of antefixes belonged to that building. The large amount of terracottas, the numbers of the different types and their distribution make it probable that there was a gable with an inserted roof.
In this room, parts of buildings A and C have been reconstructed. The reconstruction is based on an analysis of the find spots of the terracotta decoration in relation to the remains of the buildings as well as on the number of items of the different kinds of terracottas that are parts of the decoration. This kind of information provides a basis for an attribution to the different buildings, but not for a detailed reconstruction of e.g. the wooden construction of the roofs or the height of the buildings, which consequently are hypothetical.

 Model of the monumental area     

   Partial reconstruction of the portico



Large amounts of pottery were found on the ground and floors, smashed by the collapsing roofs in the destruction.
The pottery, which is typical of the first half of the sixth century BC, consists of a wide range of shapes, from very large storage vessels and containers of more modest dimensions to small drinking cups and miniatures. Most of the pottery is made of different varieties of impasto, sometimes with a painted decoration in white on a reddish background. Among the finer pottery, there are bucchero, Etrusco-Corinthian and so-called Ionian cups. There are also transport amphorae, both Etruscan and imported ones, and one single lekythos from Samos.
Most of the Etruscan transport amphorae have flat bases, a type which seems to have come from Vulci, but there is also an amphora with a rounded base, a type which is otherwise mostly known to have been exported from Etruria to southern Gaul, i.e. what is now the south of France.
The imported amphorae come from Corinth, Lesbos and Samos. Imports of that kind probably arrived at Acquarossa through the mediation of the large cities situated closer to the coast.


The find circumstances of the plaques show without any doubt that all four types were used together at the same time, in spite of the stylistic differences between them, but it may have taken some time before the construction of the whole area was completed, one building being erected after the other.
The latest period in the monumental area can be dated both through the pottery and through the terracottas. The pottery is typical of the whole first half of the 6th century BC, but the terracotta decoration was probably not made until after 575 BC.
Some of the pottery, e.g. the large dolia decorated in white, may have been made during an earlier building period, but continued to be used until the area was destroyed, probably shortly after 550 BC.
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 palace for a local ruler (with a cult of the ancestors).
The pottery indicates that the area was used for festivities with banqueting, and the friezes show processions, banqueting and dancing, all parts of celebrations. The representations are no faithful renderings of real events but work through allusions. The Herakles figures inserted into the processions underline certain qualities in the surrounding figures, notably their bravery and courage, strength and invincibility, i.e., aristocratic values. Thus, the representations give allusions to ideology, myth and rite, all at the same time. The rituals were basically religious and whatever the exact function or functions of the area, there was always a religious side to it.

Room 1. Acquarossa and San Giovenale. Introduction - Room 2. San Giovenale - Room 3 and room 4. Acquarossa. Houses and roofs -

Room 6. Acquarossa. Roof-tiles: variants. Objects - Room 7. Acquarossa. Daily life and women - Selected bibliography - See the film

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The Valle Giulia Dialogues

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