Bucchero amphora from Formello

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Bucchero amphora from Formello

The bucchero amphora of Formello is an Etruscan artifacts dating from the late 7th century. BC and is now in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia in Rome . The amphora is made of black baked clay ( Bucchero ) and served as a grave goods . An early Etruscan alphabet , known as the Formello alphabet , is carved twice on the vessel .

Discovery of ceramics

The Bucchero amphora was discovered in 1882 when a barrow was excavated on Monte Aguzzo near Formello in Lazio . The tumulus, which was built in the 7th century BC. It served as the burial place of an important Etruscan aristocratic family, is also known as Tumulo Chigi , as the entire area was previously owned by the noble Chigi family . The Olpe Chigi , a vessel painted with scenes of war and mythological episodes, which is also exhibited in the Museum of Villa Giulia, comes from this tomb .

Description of the pottery

The amphora is 18 cm high and has a diameter of 15 cm at the widest point. The vessel was built between 625 and 600 BC. Made from baked clay . The black, shiny color results from a fire in the so-called reducing fire. The oxygen supply is stopped by narrowing the exhaust air openings and adding fuel, which creates deep black iron oxide. Ceramic fired in this way is known as Bucchero . The pattern and the inscription were carved into the ceramic after the fire.

The inscription

Inscription on the Bucchero amphora

Etruscan letters are carved into the amphora in five lines with no separators or spaces. One letter follows the other (scriptio continua) .

  1. URUR

URUR in line 1 could be the plural of URU for empty , perhaps meaning glasses emptied as an expression of joy. In line 2, a group of letters follows the alphabet, which is often separated from SAURUAS ZUAZ, so that the first sequence of letters SAURUAS results in a palindrome , i.e. a word that, when read backwards, results in exactly the same text. The following word ZUAZ is almost palindromic. It has not yet been possible to determine whether these words had any real meaning. The beginning of line 3 is read as UARAR ZUASUAUZ S. After adding or shifting S, ZUASU (S) AUZ results again in a palindrome. After the alphabet one can read the palindrome AUSAZ (A) SUA by adding a letter. At the end of line 3 and line 5, suitable separations result in noticeable repetitions of words: ZUSA UAS ZUSA and AZARU AZARU AZARUAS. These palindromes and repetitions could have had a magical meaning as well as a decorative purpose.

Line 4 is partially deciphered: MI stands for I and ATIANAIA is probably the genitive of the female first name Atiana or Atianai . Occasionally ATI for mother and ANAIA are separated from each other and read as mother Anai . As in other inscriptions, ACHAPRI could name the vessel that was donated by Atianai. It is also conceivable that ACHAPRI is the gentile name of Atianai. In any case, ALICE is a past tense of give , probably in the 3rd person singular active . VENELUSI or VENELISI is the dative of VENEL, a male given name. This results in the following addition for line 4: I (am) the vessel of Atinai. She gave (it) to Venel (as a gift). In the case of inscriptions on grave goods, it was common among the Etruscans that the object spoke directly to the viewer. Mother Anai's reading I Vessel is also possible . She gave Venel. Then maybe a mother dedicated this amphora to her son who died young.

Line 5 clearly names the potter of the pottery. Velthur is a male first name in the nominative and ZINACE is the past tense in the third person singular of active make or customize , so that as reading Velthur has (this vessel) made results.

The Formello alphabet

An early Etruscan alphabet is carved into lines 2 and 3 . The 26 letters run from left to right and come from a western Greek alphabet that the Etruscans used in the 7th century BC. By Greek settlers in Campania .

The two versions of the Formello alphabet

The writer probably made a mistake while writing down the letters, because in the first version the letters E and V are interchanged. The letter for S is mirrored in the second version. In inscriptions from this period, the S can be found in both variants. The letters B, D and O were not used for text inscriptions, since the corresponding sounds did not occur in the Etruscan language . An S-sound in the form of a window was also not used.

Etruscan alphabet from the 7th century BC With transliteration. Unused letters in brackets.

Cultural and historical significance

The amphora is an early example of Etruscan Bucchero ware and of alphabets as an inscription on such ceramics.

The Etruscans produced Bucchero goods from the middle of the 7th century to the beginning of the 4th century BC. They developed a wide variety of shapes, from simple bowls and pots to ceramics in the shape of animals and human bodies. This type of ceramic was made in an elaborate and labor-intensive process that required a great deal of skill. Therefore, a Bucchero ceramic was not intended for everyday use, but served as a representative object in the household or as a prestigious grave object.

In addition to the amphora from Formello, other artefacts with model alphabets have been preserved from the Etruscan period, including the Bucchero chicken from Viterbo , an alabastron from the Tomba Regolini-Galassi in Cerveteri and another Bucchero vessel from the Sorbo necropolis Cerveteri. The alphabets on these artefacts are clockwise as on the amphora, i.e. H. from left to right, written. In the 7th century the Etruscans initially wrote their inscriptions in a clockwise direction, from the 6th century BC onwards. Chr. Left-handed with mirror-inverted letters. E.g. on the writing board of Marsiliana d'Albegna the letters are incised to the left and mirror-inverted. They are the same letters as in the Formello alphabet.

Obviously, the Etruscans found the representation of such alphabets to be highly decorative. In addition, such inscriptions illustrated the knowledge of the owners of the recently developed technique of writing and thus also served as a status symbol. In addition, one can assume that inscriptions on Etruscan artefacts also had a magical character, as the formulaic repetitions on the amphora of Formello suggest. The writing thus became a ritual act. It is unclear whether the manufacturers of the Bucchero goods or the wealthy clients made the inscription.

See also


  • John Boardman (Ed.): The Cambridge Ancient History: Plates to Volume IV. University Press, Cambridge 1988, ISBN 9780521305808 , p. 209.
  • Giuliano Bonfante , Larissa Bonfante : The Etruscan Language. An Introduction. 2nd Edition. Manchester University Press, Manchester / New York 2002, ISBN 0719055407 , pp. 52-55 and pp. 132-134.
  • Heinz Kronasser (Ed.): The language. Journal of Linguistics. Volume 9, Wiener Sprachgesellschaft, 1963, p. 57.
  • Laura Maria Michetti, Iefke van Kampen (ed.): Il tumulo di monte Aguzzo a Veio e la collezione Chigi. L′Erma Bretschneder, Rome 2014, ISBN 9788876892820 , pp. 143–148.
  • Massimo Pittau : 600 Iscrizioni etrusche - tradotte e commentate. Ipazia Books, Sassari 2018, ISBN 9781980788515 , p. 524.

Web links

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