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Book Review by Thomas L. Dynneson

Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History by Sybille Hanes

The book authored by Sybille Hanes contains an extensive collection of photographs (almost a complete inventory) of the items of the material culture of the Etruscan civilization. In general, it should be noted that items related to the material culture of ancient civilization are stored mainly in private and public collections and not extensively in universities, although many universities do maintain museums. Public collections are held primarily within large and small museums and these museums are scattered throughout the world.
Consequently, Sybille Hanes, in order to complete her work on Etruscan civilization, was required to spend decades searching out a huge number of collections in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, and to obtain permission to photograph and to include selected Items that were catalogued for purposes related to the production of her book. The importance of museum collections is signified by the fact that the publisher of this work was the J. Paul Getty Museum located in Los Angeles California.
Without exception, the work of Sybille Hanes is destined to serve as the standout (of all the works published today) on the material culture of the Etruscans. The focus of Hanes’ work is built around the artifacts of the Etruscans from almost all the museums of the western world, especially those items housed in the great museums of Italy, including the Vatican and many other national and regional museums. This book should be considered an essential for all readers interested in the origins of Roman culture and the contributions of the Etruscans in helping to shape Roman and Italian civilization.
The author provides ample evidence that the material culture of the Etruscans provided the Romans with most of their early cultural elements, many of which were derived from the Greeks vis-à-vis diffusion from the international seagoing trading culture that carried Greek elements to west-central Italy. Consequently, the years of research done by the author provide a profound amount of material evidence that helps to explain the diffusion of cultural elements that came to influence and revolutionize Latin culture, especially Roman urban culture beginning as early as the eighth century BCE.

One of the exceptional strengths of this book is the author’s knowledge of Etruscan and Roman cultures and her ability to connect them in such a way as to give the reader new insights into the evolution of culture and history. While the Romans were living in small agricultural settlements scattered over the Seven Hills, the Etruscans were advancing their league of scattered cities, which came to include the development of their urban architecture and arts, as well as their technologies related to navigation and international trade. Nevertheless, the Romans were willing students and became flexible enough to benefit from the elements of urbanization that surrounded them. As difficult as it may be for many to accept, Roman culture, stripped of its borrowed Etruscan and Greek elements, would not, or could not become what became known as Roman civilization. At the same time, it should be noted that, although the Romans accepted and accommodated many elements of culture from beyond the Seven Hills district, they often modified these cultural traits to better express their particular needs and worldview -- a Roman worldview that was best suited to their drive to survive and to expand in order to create a secure and stable city-state that was essentially Roman.

The material artifacts are organized around chapters that trace the great archeological epochs of Italian development including: The Villanovan, Orientalizing, The Archaic, Fifth and Fourth centuries, and The Hellenistic Period. The entire narrative of the profound work is built around photography of artifacts, with captions that were extremely edifying and interesting. This book is not a coffee table book, but a profound and well-structured work that illustrates the evolution of classical civilizations. In addition, the narrative provides the reader with a new look at Etruscan civilization, and as a consequence, he or she will be somewhat amazed at how advanced it was in terms of cosmopolitan living.

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