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Villanovan culture

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The Villanovan culture (c. 900–700 BC), regarded as the oldest phase of Etruscan civilization,[1][2][3][4][5] was the earliest Iron Age culture of Central Italy and Northern Italy, abruptly following the Bronze Age Proto-Villanovan culture, branched from the Urnfield culture of Central Europe,[6] and giving way in the 7th century BC to an increasingly orientalizing culture influenced by Greek traders and colonists who settled in South Italy.

Villanovan culture
Geographical rangeEurope (Northern-Central Italy: Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Lazio)
PeriodEarly Iron Age. Early phases of the Etruscan civilization.
Datesc. 900–700 BC
Preceded byProto-Villanovan culture
Followed byOrientalizing period (later 700–500 BC) of the Etruscan civilization
Iron Age
Bronze Age

Ancient Near East (1200–550 BC)

Bronze Age collapse (1200–1150 BC)
Anatolia, Caucasus, Levant


Aegean (1190–700 BC)
Italy (1100–700 BC)
Balkans (1100 BC – 150 AD)
Eastern Europe (900–650 BC)
Central Europe (800–50 BC)
Great Britain (800 BC – 100 AD)
Northern Europe (500 BC – 800 AD)

South Asia (1200–200 BC)

East Asia (500 BC – 300 AD)

Iron metallurgy in Africa

Iron Age metallurgy
Ancient iron production

Ancient history
Mediterranean, Greater Persia, South Asia, China
Greek, Roman, Chinese, Medieval

The Villanovans introduced iron-working to the Italian Peninsula, and they practiced cremation and buried the ashes of their dead in pottery urns of distinctive double-cone shape.


Bronze Villanovan crested helmet 9th century BC, (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City)
Villanovian double urn from Chiusi, Tuscany. 9th–7th century BC. (National Archaeological Museum of Florence)
Bronze Harness Trapping in the Shape of a Horse; Villanovan, 9th–8th century BC. LACMA

The name Villanovan of the early phases of the Etruscan civilization comes from the type-site, that of the first archaeological finds relating to this advanced culture, remnants of a cemetery found near Villanova (Castenaso, 8 kilometers south-east of Bologna) in northern Italy. The excavation lasting from 1853 to 1855 was made by the scholarly owner, count Giovanni Gozzadini, and involved 193 tombs, six of which were separated from the rest as if to signify a special social status. The "well tomb" pit graves lined with stones contained funerary urns; they had been only sporadically plundered, and most were untouched. In 1893, a chance discovery unearthed another distinctive Villanovan necropolis at Verucchio, overlooking the Adriatic coastal plain.

The burial characteristics relate the Villanovan culture to the Central European Urnfield culture (c. 1300–750 BC), and Celtic Hallstatt culture (which succeeded the Urnfield culture), in such a way that it is not possible to tell them apart in their earlier stages. Cremated remains were placed in cinerary urns, specifically in biconical urns[7] and then buried. The urns were a form of Villanovan pottery known as impasto.[7] A custom believed to originate with the Villanovan culture is the usage of "Hut urns", cinerary urns fashioned like small huts, and other advanced urn designs. Typical sgraffito decorations of swastikas, meanders, and squares were scratched with a comb-like tool. Urns were accompanied by simple bronze fibulae, razors and rings.


The Villanovan culture is broadly divided into Villanovan I from c. 960 BC to c. 801 BC and the Villanovan II from c. 800 BC to 720 BC. The later phase (Villanovan II) saw radical changes, evidence of contact with Hellenic civilization and trade with the north along the Amber Road: glass and amber necklaces on women, bronze armor and horse harness fittings, and the development of elite graves in contrast to the earlier egalitarian culture.[citation needed] Chamber tombs and inhumation (burial) practices were developed side-by-side with the earlier cremation practices. With the last phase of Villanovan II the Etruscans, in particular Southern Etruria, entered the Orientalizing period. For the northernmost areas of the Etruscan world, such as Etruria Padana, Villanovan III (750–680 BC) and Villanovan IV (680–540 BC) are still in use as periodization.

Villanovan chronology within the Etruscan civilizationEdit

Etruscan civilization
(900–27 BC)[8]
Villanovan period
(900–720 BC)
Villanovan I 900–800 BC
Villanovan II 800–720 BC
Villanovan III (Bologna area) 720-680 BC [9]
Villanovan IV (Bologna area) 680-540 BC [9]
Orientalizing period
(720–580 BC)
Early Orientalizing 720–680 BC
Middle Orientalizing 680–625 BC
Late Orientalizing 625–580 BC
Archaic period
(580–480 BC)
Archaic 580–480 BC
Classical period
(480–320 BC)
Classical 480–320 BC
Hellenistic period
(320–27 BC)
Hellenistic 320–27 BC

Metalwork and tradeEdit

The metalwork quality found in bronze and pottery show commitment by Villanovan artisans. Some grave goods from burial sites display a higher quality, suggesting the development of societal elites within Villanovan culture. Tools and items were placed in graves suggesting a belief in an afterlife, men's graves contained weapons, armor, weaving tools for the women with a few graves containing vice versa goods. Indicating exceptions with the possibility that women played a more active role in Villanovan culture and that men too had made clothing. [10]

Etruscans during the Villanovan period traded with other states from the Mediterranean such as Greeks, Balkans, and Sardinia. Trade brought about advancement in metallurgy, and Greek presence influenced Villanovan pottery.[10]


Housing was rectangular in shape. The people lived in small huts, made of wattle and daub with wooden poles for support. Within the huts, contained cooking stands, utensils and charred animal bones indicate the family life of early inhabitants in Italy.[11] Some huts contained large pottery jars for food storage sunk into their floors, there was also rock cut drainage to channel rainwater to communal reservoirs. [12]

Villanovan settlementsEdit

Generally speaking, Villanovan settlements were centered in the Adriatic Etruria, in Emilia Romagna (in particular, in Bologna and in Verucchio, near Rimini), in Marche (Fermo), and in the Tyrrhenian Etruria, in Tuscany and Lazio. Further south, Villanovan cremation burials are to be found in Campania, at Capua, at the "princely tombs" of Pontecagnano near Salerno,[13] at Capo di Fiume, at Vallo di Diano and at Sala Consilina.

Small scattered Villanovan settlements have left few traces other than their more permanent burial sites, which were set somewhat apart from the settlements—largely because the settlement sites were built over in Etruscan times. Modern opinion generally follows Massimo Pallottino in regarding the Villanovan culture as ancestral to the Etruscan civilization.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Diana Neri (2012). "1.1 Il periodo villanoviano nell'Emilia occidentale". Gli etruschi tra VIII e VII secolo a.C. nel territorio di Castelfranco Emilia (MO) (in Italian). Firenze: All'Insegna del Giglio. p. 9. ISBN 978-8878145337. Il termine “Villanoviano” è entrato nella letteratura archeologica quando, a metà dell ’800, il conte Gozzadini mise in luce le prime tombe ad incinerazione nella sua proprietà di Villanova di Castenaso, in località Caselle (BO). La cultura villanoviana coincide con il periodo più antico della civiltà etrusca, in particolare durante i secoli IX e VIII a.C. e i termini di Villanoviano I, II e III, utilizzati dagli archeologi per scandire le fasi evolutive, costituiscono partizioni convenzionali della prima età del Ferro
  2. ^ Gilda Bartoloni (2012). La cultura villanoviana. All'inizio della storia etrusca (in Italian). Roma: Carocci editore.
  3. ^ Giovanni Colonna (2000). "I caratteri originali della civiltà Etrusca". In Mario Torelli (ed.). Gi Etruschi (in Italian). Milano: Bompiani. pp. 25–41.
  4. ^ Dominique Briquel (2000). "Le origini degli Etruschi: una questione dibattuta fin dall'antichità". In Mario Torelli (ed.). Gi Etruschi (in Italian). Milano: Bompiani. pp. 43–51.
  5. ^ Gilda Bartoloni (2000). "Le origini e la diffusione della cultura villanoviana". In Mario Torelli (ed.). Gi Etruschi (in Italian). Milano: Bompiani. pp. 53–71.
  6. ^ "Villanovan culture". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  7. ^ a b Soren, David; Martin, Archer (2015). Art and Archaeology of Ancient Rome. Midnight Marquee Press, Incorporated. p. 9.
  8. ^ Bartoloni, Gilda, ed. (2012). Introduzione all'Etruscologia (in Italian). Milan: Hoepli. ISBN 8820348705.
  9. ^ a b Giovanna Bermond Montanari (2004). "L'Italia preromana. I siti etruschi: Bologna" (in Italian). Treccani. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  10. ^ a b "Villanovan Culture". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  11. ^ Cary, Max; Scullard, H. H. (1975). History of Rome: Down to the Age of Constantine. Springer. p. 13. ISBN 978-1349024155.
  12. ^ "Villanovan Culture". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  13. ^ Pontecagnano finds are conserved in the Museum of Agro Picentino.

Sources and further readingEdit

  • Giovanni Gozzadini, La nécropole de Villanova, Fava et Garagnani, Bologna, 1870
  • J. P. Mallory, "Villanovan Culture", Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, (Fitzroy Dearborn), 1997.
  • Gilda Bartoloni, "The origin and diffusion of Villanovan culture." in M. Torelli, (editor) The Etruscans, pp 53–74. (Milan), 2000.
  • Mary E. Moser, The "Southern Villanovan" Culture of Campania, (Ann Arbor), 1982.
  • David Ridgway, "The Villanovan Cemeteries of Bologna and Pontecagnano" in Journal of Roman Archaeology 7: pp 303–16 (1994)
  • David Ridgway, The World of the Early Etruscans, Göteborgs Universitet: The Félix Neubergh Lecture, 2000.

External linksEdit