- In the literary sources, Etruscan women had the reputation of much greater freedom than other major groups in classical antiquity, a view that is overlaid by a moralistic comparison of Latin and Etruscan women from the perspective of Republican Rome. The archaeological evidence includes rich female burials from as early as the eighth to seventh century BC from Caere, Tarquinia, Vetulonia, Bologna, and elsewhere, even though the history of excavation has often precluded an independent biological identification of sex, using instead a cultural identification of gender. Reexamination of old excavations, such as that of the Regolini-Galassi tomb at Caere, has identified the association of a female with a rich personal outfit, the accumulation of precious materials, signs of the ancestor cult, symbols of power and feasting, and signs of the domestic cult. Such a burial is exceptional, but points to the potential achievement of some females. The most visible enhanced status of women is their presence in feasting or symposium contexts, where they have a presence as prominent as that of men. However, this emphasizes the relative power of women in the domestic sphere, whereas men appear to have dominated the scene in the public sphere.Moreover, there may be variations over time, from a series of prominent women in burials in the eighth and seventh centuries toward a statistically less dominant pattern from the sixth century BC. On this more statistical basis, the number (40) and proportion (20 percent) of chariot/cart burials associated with females indicates that the association of women with ideological power was more greatly concentrated in central Italy than in other regions of the peninsula. More specifically in Etruria, 19 out of 61 chariot burials where the sex is known (31 percent) belonged to women, ranging from 32 percent at Veii, to 38 percent at Vetulonia, to 21 percent at Marsiliana d’Albegna. A further indication of the relative importance of women is the presence of the matronymic (female name) in naming individuals. However, until the Hellenistic period, males were generally much more prominent in funerary contexts.Furthermore, the depiction of women takes the form of idealized, perhaps even passive, individuals to be gazed upon by male counterparts. Women are frequently coded in white, in the domestic shade, whereas men are coded a ruddy red, exposed to the open air. A common interpretation is that women were adorned to bolster the status of the men, in the most extreme cases adorning the male himself on the lid of the sarcophagus. A case can also be made that women showed their status by the exhibition of male symbols, most clearly in the case (above) where females are buried with male wheeled vehicles and other military accoutrements. There is also a case to be made that the distinction between male and female became more bounded and distinct over time, moving from fluid boundaries in the Orientalizing period, through increasing clarity in Archaic times, to profound differences in the Hellenistic period.Of the first names known from the Archaic period, only eleven out of 137 are female. At Orvieto in the sixth century BC, the names of men are disproportionately more prominent on the doors of tombs in the Crocifisso del Tufo cemetery. At Tarquinia, women appear to be underrepresented in the formal inhumations, although greater parity appears in the Hellenistic period. In the later Hellenistic period, another snapshot of relative female power is given by the relative presence of named female individuals in tombs; only in one instance at Tuscania does the proportion reach 50 percent, whereas the general proportion is 40 percent women to 60 percent men. It may be concluded that Etruscan women had a greater role than in many other contemporary Mediterranean societies, as suggested by many paired representations of men and women in tomb paintings and on sarcophagi, but that this power was still generally subordinate to that of men. The divine world of mythology also illustrates the prominence of women.
Historical Dictionary of the Etruscans. Simon K. F. Stoddart.
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