Etruscans-The National Museum in Tarquinia



European Trip April 2017 638

Here is the author in Tarquinia visiting the National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia, Italy.  Last week, we discussed to some extent the Etruscan hypogea, that is burial tombs that are just a short drive away from this Museum.

Before moving on to the a discussion of the Museum and its artifacts, I wanted to make digression concerning the Etruscan burial habits.

At first, Etruscans apparently  cremated the remains of their dead.  It seems that a part of their religion was the concept that a deceased person should be provided in death with what they had in life.  Thus, in the earliest times, the Etruscans placed the cremated ashes of their dead, along with small items depicting things used in daily life, in a small sculpture which resembled the circular  huts in which they lived.  While, I did not see such a hut in the Museum in Tarquinia, Italy, there are fine examples in the Vatican Museum in Rome.


Etruscan hut urn (c. 800 B.C.E.), impasto (Vatican Museums)


It was later that the Etruscans turned to creating the burial tombs which were cover d in my last blog.

Turning to the  Museum,  it is housed in the splendid Palazzo Vitelleschi.  Built between 1436 and 1439 by Cardinal Giovanni Vitelleschi during the papacy of Eugene IV, it houses a superior collection of Etruscan artifacts.  Most of the collection  is composed of  items unearthed during excavation of the ancient Etruscan city and its rich, extensive necropolises.

European Trip April 2017 631

The Papal coat of arms graces the outside of the Museum, denoting its origins.


The Museum is known for its extensive collection of sarcophagi which are mainly located on the first floor of the museum.

European Trip April 2017 635

A typical Etruscan sarcophagus shows an Etruscan reclining.  We know that the Etruscans reclined while dining, which is presumably the source of the Roman custom.  One should note that women, as well as men, are depicted in this pose, which is one of the reasons why archaeologists believe the Etruscan society was one in which women were treated equally with men.

European Trip April 2017 648

Some are exquisitely and extensively carved, such as the one above.  This demonstrates a great deal of artistic sophistication and ability.

European Trip April 2017 644

As one can see from this sarcophagus, attention was paid to trying to make the gown of the woman appear with its pleats and folds, to make it look as much as possible like cloth.


Many of the sarcophagi have depictions of this two figures.  There is disagreement about these figures, but given the fact that they appear quite often on sarcophagi, it would appear that they were the guardians of the underworld.

All photographs in this article were taken by the author, except as otherwise noted.

In my next blog, I will continue with a review of the Museum and its collections.  After that, I will be taking you on a survey of Herculaneum.

The website for the Museum is :




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s