Tarquinia (Tarchna/Tarchuna)

Introduction | History of Tarquinia | The Necropolis Areas | Exploring Tarquinia |


Tarquinia is one of the most ancient of Etruscan cities. The ancient myths connected with Tarquinia (those of its eponymous founder Tarchon - the son or brother of Tyrrhenos - and of the infant oracle Tages, who gave the Etruscans the disciplina etrusca, all point to the great antiquity and cultural importance of the city; and the archaeological finds bear out that Tarquinia was one of the oldest Etruscan centres which eclipsed its neighbours well before the advent of written records.

Remains of walls and buildings of the Etruscan city of Tarchuna/ Tarchna and its Roman successor, Tarquinii, were excavated on the now uninhabited hill known as Pian di Civita, which lies parallel with and to the north-east of a ridge situated about seven kilometres from the coast , and 3km west of the modern city of Tarquinia. Extensive excavations were carried out on the Civita hill in the 1930's and excavations are still being carried out to this day.

On this site, small sections of the solid walls of the early 4th century BCE, made of blocks of limestone and about 8km long remain today, as do the foundations of a great Etruscan sanctuary of the same age, known as the Ara della Regina, The decoration of this temple includes a terra-cotta group of winged horses in Hellenistic style that is considered a masterpiece of Etruscan art. (Pictured at the top of the page)

Above: Etruscan gate of Tarquinia, situated on the Decumanus

The position of the ancient city was a strategic one, on an easily defended plateau, controlling the coastal plain and with access to the hinterland by the River Marta, which flows from Lake Bolsena past the northern flank of Tarquinia into the Tyrrhenian Sea and provides a natural route of penetration.

The emergence of Tarquinia as a trading power as early as the 8th Century BCE was influenced by it s control of mineral resources located in the Tolfa Hills (Monti della Tolfa), which lay to the south of the city, and midway between Tarquinia and the Caeretan port of Pyrgi.

There is evidence that the old city of Tarquinia may have survived in the form of a small village on the Pian di Civita as late as medieval times, however the modern city of Tarquinia expanded rapidly from the 5th century CE. on another hill 3 km east of the Pian di Civita. Modern Tarquinia grew around this new medieval centre which became known as Corneto until the 19th Century when it was renamed to Tarquinia. The western part of the hill is occupied by an extensive Etruscan burial site, which comprises the Monterozzi and Scatolini Necropolis.

History of Tarquinia

As noted above, the origins of Tarquinia are steeped in the foundation legends of the Etruscans themselves and go back to at least the 9th Century BCE, or early iron age.

Villanovan period

During the early part of the Iron Age the number of villages gradually decreased. In a process known as synoecism. there was a tendency of the settlements to nucleate close to the agricultural areas and the natural route of communication. The oldest Villanovan tombs of the ninth century have been found in great quantities in the hills to the east of the Pian di Civita and suggest that a Villanovan settlement on the plateau preceded the Etruscan city. Numerous well-preserved Villanovan hut foundations and a Villanovan cemetery have also come to light on the ridge of the Monterozzi in the vicinity of the modern town and in the area of the Etruscan necropolis, enriching and complicating the picture of the early settlement pattern. It seems that in about the middl e of the eighth century this village on the Monterozzi, and perhaps other outlying villages, were abandoned and that habitation was thenceforth concentrated on the western part of the Pian di Civita (which was eventually to form the nucleus of the Etruscan city of Tarchna), while the Monterozzi ridge became the main burial area.

Towards the end of the eghth century, a new culture, with significant Eastern Greek influence, arose towards the end the urbanisation process, and a true aristocratic class developed, complete with impressive burial monuments and tomb fumishings. The Civita Hill became the only settlement of importance, and the social stratification became more prominent.

Orientalising period

During the late 8th century BCE the s ocial fabric of Tarquinia was influenced by frequent contact with the Greek World. The colonies of Magna Graecia in the south of Italy seem to have had the greatest role in stimulating trade with the area, particularly in metals and ceramic ware. Imitation of imported Greek objects gradually appeared, probably initially by Greek immigrants and later by Etruscans. However the growing city of Tarquinia probably kept the mines of the Tolfa hills under its control. The archaeological evidence is of a period of great prosperity.

Similar chamber-tombs covered by small tumuli remain typical throughout much of the seventh century and among the grave-goods now appear local imitations of Proto-Corinthian and East Greek pottery. On the whole, however, the contents of the aristocratic tombs and the size of the mounds covering the chambers are secondary compared with the enormous tumuli and the richness of imported precious metal and ivory objects deposited in the graves of Cerveteri, which seems to have begun to outstrip Tarquinia in economic and political power.

The presence of Greek settlers in Tarquinia is illustrated in semi legendary form by the story of the Corinthian exile Demaratus, (father of Tarquinius Priscus . This is further attested by the influence of Corinthian pottery, with its Orientalizing repertoire of sphinxes, chimaeras, winged creatures and centaurs, during the second half of the seventh century, as well as by such inscriptions as that of Rutile Hipucrates, the Etruscanized form of the Greek name Hippokrates, painted under the base of a oinochoe of Proto Corinthian style.

Archaic period

According to ancient sources, during the seventh century, Tarquinia was still described as a powerful and prosperous centre, but was losing wealth and power compared to neighbouring cites.

Cerveteri may by then have secured a hold on the mining area of the Tolfa Mountains, perhaps previously exploited by Tarquinia alone. By the end of the seventh century Tarquinia was further eclipsed by the rise of its northern neighbour Vulci. Nevertheless, the city remained relatively prosperous, however at the end of this century. Tarquinia and Veii were isolated in the southem coastal area of Etruria.

During the end of the seventh and beginning of the sxth century, Tarquinia again recovered its old prosperity, During this period, objects made in Tarquinia were exported as far as Carthage. The construction of the Gravisca port occurred during this period of renewed growth. Nearby was constructed an important emporium which was frequented by Punic and Greek merchants and craftsmen.

The area of Tarquinia, had not yet occupied its fullest extent. Later it expanded, and in the first half of the sixth century B.C.E., a magnificent sanctuary was built. Two centuries later was built the magnificent temple of the Ara della regina (Altar of the Queen). By the end of the sixth century, Tarquinia had extended its territory inland as far as Lake Bolsena. However by the mid fifth century, it began to suffer from the political and social upheavals common to all Etruria. By the fifth century, in common with many other Etruscan cities, Tarquinia had overthrown its tyrants, and became controlled by the aristocracy.

Powerful families began to emerge as evidenced by names in the lavishly decorated tombs, but external difficulties during this period imposed restrictions on trading. A reduction of Attic pottery imports, a stagnation of building trade and handicrafts were the results. The Gravisca port and its sanctuary suffered badly as a result.

Hellenistic and Roman periods

At the end of the fift h century and during the first half of the fourth a brief revival took place, both in the political and artistic sphere, probably under the ascendancy of the Spurinna family, whose members contributed to the renewed expansion of Tarquinia and the repopulation and growth of towns in the hinterland. The Spurinnas' tomb, known as the "Tomba dell'Orco" , is decorated with fine frescoes of a banquet uniting the famous members of the family, who are identified by inscriptions. The Spurinna family was prominant in Tarquinia up to the 1st Century CE. Recently, two fragmented slabs were found known as the Elogia Tarquiniensis. These pay tribute to Velthur Spurinnas and Aulus Spurinnas, and give a rare glimpse of Etruscan history, including the mention of one King Orgolnium of Caere, recalling the family name of Urgulanilla,which included among its members, the wife of the emperor Claudius.

During this period, Tarquinia overtook Caere and ot her Etruscan cities in terms of power and influence. It was about this period that colossal walls were built around the city in response to threats from the Celts and from Rome. In this period, Tarquinia, not affected by Celtic invasions (about 385 B.C.), finally colonised all its previously held territories. This new flourishing state allowed a rapid recovery of all activities.

Impressive burial monuments decorated by paintings, with sarcophagi and funerary sculptures in stone, reflect the eminent social position of the new aristocratic classes, but several inscriptions on walls and sarcophagi show as the gradual process of an increasingly democratic transition was taking place.

During the second half of the fourth century sculpted and painted sarcophagi of nenfro, marble and alabaster come into use. They were deposited on rock-carved benches or against the walls in the now very large underground chambers. The earliest sarcophagi are carved with the image o f the deceased supine on the lid. The later and more numerous types show him or her reclining on the left side, facing the spectator and frequently holding a libation vessel; occasionally a man displays an inscribed scroll listing his ancestry and the magisterial offices he occupied. The stone boxes were decorated with reliefs of symbolic or mythological content, often derived from Tarentine models. Sarcophagi of this type, which continue until the second century, are found in such numbers at Tarquinia that they must have been manufactured locally. The walls of the tomb-chambers of the late period are painted with underworld demons escorting the dead on their journey to the beyond, scenes in the nether world, processions of magistrates and other symbols of the rank of the eminent members of the families buried there.

However, during the fourth century B.C.. when Tarquinia's expansion was at its peak, a bitter struggle with Rome took place and, after a forty years truce, in 311 B.C. T arquinia had to confront the Romans again. .

Between the end of the 4th century and the beginning of the 3rd century BCE, Tarquinia, at the height of its power, came into conflict on several occasions with Rome. Between 358 and 351 Tarquinia, their Faliscan allies, and Rome fought a war with appalling cruelties on both sides. In 356, the Tarquinians sacrificed 307 Roman prisoners of war in their forum (Livy 7.15.9-10), but the Romans retaliated later by publically killing 358 aristocratic Tarquinian prisoners in the Roman forum. Defeated in these wars (261 BCE), it had to relinquish its coastal dominions, including its port of Graviscae. The Romans founded a colony in Graviscae in 181 BCE, but this was later abandoned due to their inability to control the drainage systems set up by the Etruscans, and the resulting prevalence of malaria.

In 204 B.C. by now completely under Roman domination, Tarquinia allied with Rome in struggles against their old allies the Carthaginians. After the creation of independent municipia in the smaller cities, once under Tarquinia's sway, its territory and influence shrank further. The grand old families of Tarquinia either declined or abandoned the city for senatorial and other careers in Rome. However, many survived into the 1st Century CE, as attested by the finding of the Elogia Tarquiniensis which pays tribute to the Spurinna family of Tarquinia. Records of the history of the city must have been at the disposal of the emperor Claudius, whose work Tyrrenika no longer survives. Many hours were spent by the young Claudius in reading through the archives of Tarquinia. His wife's grandmother, Urgulania had good connections with the aristocracy of both Caere and Tarquinia. The name of a Tarquinian leader named "Orgolnius Velthume" is mentioned in a fragment of the Elogia Tarquiniensis.

The Necropolis Areas

Villanovan Tombs

The Villanovan tombs of the ninth and eighth centuries are small cylindrical pits containing cinerary urns of impasto, each covered by an inverted, one-handled bowl or a helmet. In the richer graves a hut-shaped urn is sometimes substituted for the more usual biconic vessel. Together with small impasto vases of various shapes, bronze objects such as razors and fibulae make up the earliest grave-goods. In the eighth century trench-graves appear in addition to pits. Imported painted pottery from Pithekousai from the first half of the eighth century and numerous later local imitations and derivations from the eighth and seventh centuries bear witness to the trade between Greeks from the motherland and those of Magna Graecia.

Amongst the bronze grave-goods are fibulae of great variety; rectangular and lunate razor s with incised patterns; hammered, crested helmets with embossed decoration and calotte helmets with cast socket for insertion of a separate crest; swords with fine incised ornaments; chains, pendants, beads and miniature tripods. Somewhat rarer are objects such as shallow cups of embossed sheet bronze with tall handles, a wheeled container in the shape of a horned bird, a small cylindrical box with chains and a lid, the handle of which is formed by two birds set back to back.

The contents of a large stone sarcophagus, known as the 'The Warrior's Tomb' (now in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin), from the Monterozzi necropolis, constitute the best example of the often astounding richness of the graves of the Early Orientalizing period. The skeleton was covered by a linen corselet, fastened with bronze buttons and hooks and provided with bronze shoulder pieces and a rectangular breast-plate decorated with gold foil and ornamented with stamped patterns of swimming ducks, stylized lotus flow ers and other details. A shield of thin bronze sheet with a raised central boss, surrounded by herring-bone patterns and bands of concentric circles, a single strap handle in the centre of the inside and four pairs of rattling pendants in the form of openwork 'bird-boats', closely resembles other such shields found at Cerveteri, at Veh, at Vetulonia and as far afield as Verucchio in Romagna and at Cumae. This type of shield was probably made in several Southern Etruscan cities. Around the body lay weapons, hammered sheet bronze vases, wine-cups, cauldrons and a flask, cast bronze horse-bits, bronze, silver and gold fibulae, a signet ring with a Phoenician scarab, bronze bracelets, chains, a razor, wooden cups with bronze studs and impasto and painted pottery with birds in the Italo-Geometric style, comparable to vases found at Veii and Vulci.

Orientalising period Tombs

With the second half of the eighth century, when inhumation is gradually introduced, more orie ntal imports, precious metal objects and wheel-made pottery inspired by Greek prototypes characterize the increasing wealth of the tombs' owners. Sheet bronze versions of the biconic pottery ash-urns are now found, and in the tombs of warriors, as well as the traditional helmets, swords and lances, appear axes and pairs of horse-bits, the latter denoting the use of the two-horse chariot. The cheek-pieces of these horse-bits often take the form of small horses, sometimes with duck-like heads. The embossed decoration of sheet bronze objects, which now include new types such as amphorae, 'pilgrims' flasks' of lenticular shape and situlae, or buckets with movable handles, is composed from straight lines, zigzag, herring-bone, concentric rings, rows of dots and duck-heads.

The most representative tomb of the Early Orientalizing period is that named after the Egyptian pharaoh of the twenty-fourth dynasty, Wahkare (720-715), whom the Greeks called Bocchoris. A cartouche with his name appear s on a Phoenician faience vessel discovered in this simple chamber-tomb together with faience beads of a necklace in the shape of small Egyptian deities and two amulets of Bes overlaid with silver. Besides these spectacular imported pieces was found a wealth of stamped gold plaques and of splendid, locally made vessels of wood, bronze and impasto, as well as painted Italo-Geometric pottery. The tomb was probably closed in the first decade of the seventh century.

Above: Jar on a high Pillar and (right) Faience Situla from the tomb of Bocchoris

Similar chamber-tombs covered by small tumuli remain typical throughout much of the seventh century and among the grave-goods now appear local imitations of Protocorinthian and East Greek pottery. On the whole, however, the contents of the aristocratic tombs and the size of the mounds covering the chambers cannot vie during this period with the en ormous tumuli and the richness of imported precious metal and ivory objects deposited in the graves of Cerveteri, which seems to have begun to outstrip Tarquinia in economic and political power.

Fabulous creatures, animals and human figures in relief, similar to those painted on Corinthian and Rhodian vases, but separated by guilloche pattern, plain or hatched frames and alternating with a motif of stepped panels, decorate numerous nenfro or limestone slabs excavated in the necropolis. Sculpted in a technique which recalls wood carving or repouss work in metal, they were a characteristic product of Tarquinia during the sixth century, perhaps serving as doors or ceilings of chamber-tombs or possibly as steps to give access to the tops of funerary mounds.

Archaic Period Tombs

The most famous Etruscan cemetary in Tarquinia is the Monterozzi, situated on a ridge southwest of the ancient city, which contains the most important painted tombs in Etruria, mostly rock-cut chamber tombs dating from the 6th to the 4th century. As well as the Monterozzi necropolis, there are others such as the Scatolini necropolis, where the Tomb of the Orcus is located, as well as Poggio Gallinaro, Poggio Cavalluccio, Poggio Quagliere and Due Poggi. BCE.

Today the location of more than one hundred and fifty painted tombs are known, but only a small number of these can be visited.

The most famous of these is probably the Fowling and Fishing Tomb with its polychrome frescoes painted about 520 BCE. The tombs of the Lionesses, of the Augurs, and of the Bacchantes (all 6th century BCE) show dancing and banqueting scenes.

The Tomb of the Triclinium is the most outstanding 5th-century painted tomb, and the Tomb of the Shields is a masterpiece of 4th-century painting. A di stinctive 2nd-century painting tradition, rare in Etruria, is found in the paintings of the Tomb of the Cardinal. A serious conservation problem has arisen as many of the paintings have been attacked by moisture and fungus since the collection was opened to the public.

The Calvario area of the Monterozzi necropolis is open to the public all days except mondays and public holidays.

The other main necropolis in Tarquinia is the Scatolini necropolis, which include the tomb of the Charontes. This is situated across the main road from the Monterozzi necropolis.

Examples of Etruscan Tombs:

A rich collection of articles from the necropolis is housed in the archaeological museum in the Palazzo Vitelleschi (1436-39) in modern Tarquinia.

VillanovanCremation, Biconical Urns
Early trench graves;
600-520BCETomb of the Olympiads
Tomb of the Augurs
Tomb of the Bulls
Tomb of The Jugglers
Tomb of the Lionesses
520-500BCETomb of the Baron
The Cardarelli Tomb
Tomb of the Painted Vases
Tomb of Hunting and Fishing
5th CenturyTomb of the Ship
Tomb of the Triclinium
Tomb of the Leopards
Tomb of the Chariots
Tomb of the Blue Demons
Tomb of the Funerary Bed
4thCentury onwardsTomb of the Shields
Tomb of Orcus I & II

Exploring Tarquinia

Getting There

Tarquinia is about 100 km North of Rome. From Fiumicino airport, you can drive (allow about an hour- Toll section) or catch a train into Rome, and from there to Tarquinia station. There is a bus every 30 minutes from Tarquinia railway station to central Tarquinia, but every second bus goes to Tarquinia Lido (the beach).

There are several hotels in Tarquinia, contact details below. Not all have refrigerator or airconditioning. It is important to check. Prices range from about 40 Euros (approx $30 US) u p to about 120 Euros per night. Some will not accept credit cards, and will require a cash advance to confirm bookings. Tarquinia itself is not really geared up to the tourist, because most tourists arrive on day trips from Rome, so it still retains its "innocence" and small town feeling.

See also :
The Comune di Tarquinia Official Site
- How to get there

Above - The Vitelleschi Palace

From central Tarquinia, it is an easy (though hilly) walk to the Museo Nazionale and the Monterozzi necropolis. The latter is a 4 kilometre walk from the museum, and a combined ticket may be purchased. The road leading up past the door of the museum leads to the Monterozzi necropolis. A snack bar is available at the Necropolis, which is on the outskirts of Tarquinia.

If planning to hire a vehicle, Tarquinia is a reasonable base, since Vulci, Caere and Tuscania are only a short drive from this location. Public transport can be slow, and there is nowhere in Tarquinia itself (except perhaps at Tarquinia Lido) where scooters may be hired. Civittaveccia may be a more suitable base if that is your intention.

Some Useful Contact Numbers

Photo (lower right): Etruscan Child's Toy 7th Century BCE, Tarquinia

Hotel Aurelia (2 Star), Via A. Santi, 23 Tel.0766 856062
Hotel Tarconte (3 Star), Via Tuscia, 19 Tel. 0766 856141
Hotel Sporting (3 Star), tel 0766-842350
Hotel All' Olivo (2 Star), tel 0766-857318
Taxi Termentini Tel. 0766 8560493
Autolinee / Taxi Eusepi Tel. 0766 840835

Click here for a map of the Calvario area of the Monterozzi necropolis.

Back to The Etruscan League Map