Processes of urban development in northern and central Etruria in the Orientalizing and Archaic periods

Perkins, Phil (2014). Processes of urban development in northern and central Etruria in the Orientalizing and Archaic periods. In: Robinson, Elizabeth C. ed. Papers on Italian urbanism in the first Millennium B.C. Journal of Roman Archaeology supplementary Series, Supplement (97). Portsmouth, Rhode Island: Journal of Roman Archaeology, pp. 62–80.


Etruscan cultural identity and its distinct material culture grew from Late Bronze Age and Villanovan protohistoric roots during the 8th c. B.C. in southern Etruria. Through the 7th c. Oriental influences transformed the aesthetics of elite material culture and Etruscan literacy began to become evident throughout Etruria. In the 6th c. B.C. Etruscan culture spread though the central parts of Italy and beyond into the Po Valley and Campania in an expansion that has been termed the ‘Archaic flowering’ of Etruscan culture. The geographical spread of this historical process has led to the almost subconscious perception of southern Etruria as an Etruscan core and other parts of Etruria and neighboring areas of Italy as an Etruscan periphery, although it is rare to find this conceptual framework theorized in Etruscan studies. A key element of this process, and a focus of Etruscan studies, is the growth of urban centers that gradually become identifiable in the archaeological record as a regional settlement structure emerges and social complexity increases while connectivity between Etruria and the Mediterranean becomes more extensive. The development of urbanism in Etruria is significant at a European scale because the Etruscan cities, along with Rome, possibly predate Greek cities and are therefore, potentially, the earliest Mediterranean cities outside of South West Asia and Egypt, and so lie at the roots of contemporary European urban societies.

This chapter will consider the extent to which models of urbanization that have been developed in the southern Etruscan ‘core’ are applicable to the history of the urbanization in the more ‘peripheral’ areas of central and northern Etruria. Within the core of southern Etruria and neighboring Rome, archaeological research has focused on understanding the Etruscan urban centers and their genesis that may be traced back to the Bronze Age. This is the earliest instance of the process urbanization in the western Mediterranean and is therefore termed ‘primary urbanization’, a convenient shorthand for a complex combination of processes and circumstances and using ‘urbanization’ to mean the overall process of urban development rather than a specific a specific relocation of rural population to urban centers. Outside the ‘core’ of southern Etruria there has been less research focusing on urban origins. However, evidence is currently emerging which suggests that not all of the urban centers follow the same trajectory of urban genesis and development as those in the south. Indeed, there appears to be a later phase of development in central and northern Etruria that has less strong Bronze Age and Villanovan roots. At the risk of simplifying a very variable picture this later phase will be termed ‘secondary urbanization’. Having outlined these two instances of urban formation this chapter will explore the relationship between them focusing on two themes colonial settlement and independent local development of urban centres.

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