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Sarcophagus of the Spouses (Rome)

Sarcophagus of the Spouses (or Sarcophagus with Reclining Couple), from the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri, Italy, c. 520 B.C.E., painted terracotta, 3 feet 9 1/2 inches x 6 feet 7 inches (Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia, Rome). Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris.

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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Given that "...most of what we know about Etruscan culture comes from their tombs..." my question is this: When is it seen as acceptable...or how many years need to pass before it is "OK" to raid someone's grave?

    I imagine that after thousands of years have passed, and there is no living relative to be immediately offended by an archaeological expedition that is going through a tomb or grave site then society would be more forgiving, but all this "tomb talk" got me thinking about my grave being picked over some day.

    I better put some pretty nice mosaics and wall relief sculptures in it!
    (16 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Миленa
      I googled "when is it ok for archaeologists to open a grave" and nothing on the topic came up! I suppose archaeologists justify it by saying that the collective knowledge of humanity is far more important than the wishes of the individuals whose graves are opened.

      The problem is mostly between archaeology VS grave-robbing. On that subject, this article is really neat! http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geology/archaeology-grave-robbing.htm

      Some interesting points: The intent of the digger is what distinguishes them, as archaeologists dig for the benefit of human knowledge, and grave robbers dig for personal profit. Archaeology is protected by law, and archaeologists need to apply for a permit to excavate a site. Many states in the US even have "head archaeologists" who set guidelines for excavation.


      In my grave [which I will name the Milenian Tomb], I will put in mundane technologies like batteries and an iPhone 12, which will be as cool to future people as astrolabes and medieval clocks are to us today. They will probably marvel how strange and primitive we were to have to physically handle our technology (unlike theirs, which are built into their heads).
      (22 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Миленa
    Her hand is very outstretched! How did the craftsmen prevent the soft clay arm from drooping down and deforming before they fired the sarcophagus? Was there likely a prop?
    (5 votes)
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  • piceratops seedling style avatar for user Nadia Skye
    In comparing Etruscan art with Greek art from the same time, we see that their sculptures differ immensely in pose and portrayals of intimacy, yet typically both are funerary pieces. It is mentioned in the video that the Greeks did not have monumental tombs like the Etruscans did, but were there similar funerary rituals that would result in them both having sculptures for the event?
    (4 votes)
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  • duskpin tree style avatar for user annafahlgren
    Why is lady richly dressed and the man only covered in a cloak? Specifically, why is she wearing shoes and he is barefoot?
    (7 votes)
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  • leaf grey style avatar for user 𝕎𝕙i̶τε 𝕎øℓƒ
    How is it that most of these historic monuments have not been stolen?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Belicia
    Is there a possibility they could be holding a baby?
    (3 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Suv
    At , they said that there were a lot of Etruscan tombs. How many are there exactly?
    (2 votes)
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  • duskpin seedling style avatar for user osoriaanina
    What was the significance of having a happy couple atop the sarcophagus? Did it have anything to do with beliefs or customs attributed to the afterlife?
    (2 votes)
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    • leafers sapling style avatar for user Alejandra A.
      The two figures appear to be attending a banquet and, during this time, banquets represented wealth and prosperity. Etruscans could enjoy drinks and feasts during times of stability and prosperity, so they used banquet scenes on sarcophagi to ensure the deceased could have continued joy and merriment in their afterlives.
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Jean Marceau
    Often, when we read about the antique civilizations, we can glimpse some similarities about mores and beliefs. As there is no literature about the etruscan society, and as all we know about it comes from excavations objects, what do scholars know about funerals ? Can we imagine the widow of an important persona, in an etruscan city, could have been buried with him ? Was there always only one person's bones inside sarcophagus ?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

(light piano music) - [Voiceover] We're in the Etruscan Museum in Rome and we're looking at one of the most important objects ever found in an Etruscan tomb and there were a lot of Etruscan tombs. - [Voiceover] Well this is the primary way we know about Etruscan culture. They left us no literature, no history. But we have a lot of their artwork, which is found in tombs and a lot of those have inscriptions. - [Voiceover] This is the Sarcophagus of the Spouses. There were two well known versions of this: One is in Paris at the Louvre and the other is here in Rome. So this is a large ceramic container and the two figures are essentially a lid that can be lifted off. - [Voiceover] The Etruscans occupied the area of Northern Italy and it's an interesting time because at the same moment there are Romans who are occupying the city of Rome and south of that there are Greek colonies. - [Voiceover] But the Romans were not yet Rome as we know it. They were just beginning and in fact they were ruled by Etruscan kings. - [Voiceover] Right and it wasn't until 509 that the Romans ousted the last Etruscan king. And this dates from slightly earlier than that. - [Voiceover] So let's look at the couple. - [Voiceover] Well they're incredibly life-like and this is surprising because when we think about ancient Greek sculpture from this time, we might think of the Kouros figures, which are very stiff, where the limbs are very close to the body. And here immediately we notice the figures moving out into our space, extending their arms. - [Voiceover] The figures represented in archaic Greek art are also separate. You think of the male Kouros figure or the female Kore. Those are free-standing figures that stand alone and here we have two figures that embrace, that lie next to each other, where there's a tremendous sense of intimacy. - [Voiceover] In ancient Greek culture there are no monumental tombs like the ones we find in Etruscan culture. There are similarities and there are differences between these two cultures that are closely communicating with one another. - [Voiceover] One of the most important differences is that this is made in terracotta, that is this is clay. Whereas the Greeks preferred mostly marble, but increasingly would work in bronze. This would've been modeled as a complete object and then most likely when it had begun to dry, what potters call the leather-hard stage, it's likely that the artist would've burnished the object, that is smoothed it with a hard surface to create a glossy sheen. Then it would have been cut in half, likely because the object is so large, it might not have fit in the kiln. And so this would've been fired in four pieces: both the lid and the base, on both sides. - [Voiceover] So we mention the way that the figures' arms are outstretched and the way the figures move into our space. Likely they were holding objects relating to a banquet. We see banqueting scenes often on the walls in frescoes in Etruscan tombs. - [Voiceover] Or as some art historians have conjectured, it's possible the women was holding a perfume bottle. It's also possible that one of the figures was holding a pomegranate, which is a symbol of the eternal. - [Voiceover] There is a sense of sociability here and it might remind us of scenes we see on Greek pottery, of figures at a banquet, the symposium. And when we see that in Greek pottery, those are male figures. But here we have a couple: He's got his arm around her. But we're not supposed to see these as portraits; this is not the way this man and women look. But instead, like the archaic smile, we have features that are stylized. - [Voiceover] These are clearly not rendered from the observation of a model. So we have found literally thousands of Etruscan tombs. - [Voiceover] This was found in a necropolis, that is a cemetery called Banditaccia, at Cerveteri. - [Voiceover] This was one of the principle cities of the Etruscans. - [Voiceover] It was found, broken into 400 pieces, and reassembled. And you can see when you look closely which pieces have been filled in by conservators and which pieces are original to the sculpture. - [Voiceover] And if you look closely you can see the discs of the pupils are hollows and it's likely that something was originally inlaid there. It's really quite extraordinary how lucky we are to have such an intact object. (light piano music)