History of the Studies

Narce: an old International Tradition and a new virtual Museum

The exploration of Narce took place during the golden years, the last decades of the Nineteenth century, when the Carta Archeologica d’Italia project was conceived in order to map the archaeological cultural heritage of newborn Italy 1. The protagonists in the words of Felice Barnabei were “ il commendator G. F. Gamurrini e sotto di lui il sig. conte Adolfo Cozza e il sig. Angelo Pasqui. Ad essi più tardi furono associati il bravo ing. Mengarelli ed il valente disegnatore sig. Enrico Stefani2. Those surveys resulted in the discovery of the capital of the region, Falerii, in 1884. It has been highlighted how the Ager Faliscus surveys, and especially Falerii, constituted at the same time the beginning and the end of the Carta Archeologica adventure 3. Once the surveys were abandoned, excavations were conducted by private diggers, often extemporized, in the first so-called Societies of Archaeological Excavations 4. The proliferation of excavations by private companies meant that A. Cozza and A. Pasqui were diverted from their official work within the Carta Archeologica and began to follow, as much as they could, the increasingly pressing excavations 5, “ ad acquistare corredi di tombe per portarli a Villa Giulia, dove essi stessi allestivano le vetrine sotto la guida del Barnabei6. Meanwhile, the reputation of the discoveries at Falerii was made public though the press 7, and attracted the attention of foreign scholars in the Faliscan region. The first scientific monograph about the Ager Faliscus, primarily linguistic, by W. Deecke, dates back to 1888 8. W. Deecke made no mention of the ancient site of Narce, because its discovery did not take place until the beginning of 1890 9. In the previous year, 1889, the Villa Giulia Museum was inaugurated, with an exhibition displaying finds from Falerii. In the early years of its history and for a long time after that the Museum of Villa Giulia was commonly defined as a “Faliscan Museum” or even a “ Museo topografico delle antichità preromane del territorio falisco10. The project was developed in an ideal connection with the Italic Museum project which G. F. Gamurrini had imagined since the 1870s 11. The other model for the Villa Giulia Museum was the “Great Museum”, which Barnabei and Cozza 12 were planning since 1886. And Cozza himself was just emerging from the Orvieto Museum experience 13. The conception and design and of Villa Giulia can therefore be attributed to F. Barnabei and A. Cozza. Cozza was responsible for the architectural design, and, in the following years, for the exceptional reconstruction of the temple of Alatri that was (and is) displayed in the courtyard 14.

With the opening of Villa Giulia, the excavations at Falerii ended, while the explorations at Narce began. Twenty-two necropoleis were discovered on the slopes surrounding the three hills of the habitation site between 1890 and 1892: Narce, Monte Li Santi and Pizzo Piede 15. Limited excavations also discovered part of the settlement and portions of the valley 16. The excavated material was divided between landowners, such as Principe Del Drago or Duca Massimo, and private diggers, such as Francesco Manicinelli Scotti 17, Fausto Benedetti 18, or Giuseppe Ficola 19 or was purchased in several lots by the State, with the purpose of using it for a new exhibition at the Museum of Villa Giulia, which was already in the works since 1891, under F. Barnabei, A. Cozza and A. Pasqui. Approximately a fifth of the archaeological material found was acquired by the State and today is displayed or stored in the Italian museums that hold antiquities from Narce 20. The remainder was acquired by foreign institutions and museums and by private collectors. On May 11th 1892, in the presence of Queen Margherita 21, the new exhibition at the Museum was inaugurated. While retaining unchanged the Falerii section, the museum was enhanced with the exposition of finds from the necropoleis of Narce and Monte S. Angelo, displayed in the hemicycle of the first floor, the famous room IV (Figs. 1-2) 22. The tomb-groups, arranged in large wooden cabinets, were presented according to “chronological” order. The revolutionary criteria of exposition, as evident in the period photographs, did not result in a selection of materials, instead the tomb-groups were displayed in their entirety (Figs. 3–4). The success of this exhibition was so great and widespread that the Minister of Education P. Villari urged the publication of the investigations’ results. 23 The Monumenti Antichi dei Lincei on Narce appeared in 1894 24. The scope of this publication was certainly historic. Compared to the contemporary Notizie degli Scavi, Monumenti Antichi marked a turning point in the conception of scientific archaeological publications. The presentation of the research followed an introduction on the site and the necropolis. A. Cozza, together with Barnabei, presented the types of funerary structures and artifacts. For the first time a typological methodology appeared in an archaeological publication accompanied by an emphasis on technological details concerning the ancient artifacts. The presentation of the cemeteries and individual graves and tomb-groups was edited by A. Pasqui. G. F. Gamurrini was the author of the rich epigraphic section.

The 1892 exhibition and the 1894 publication attracted attention, favors and criticism from Italian and international scholars and institutions. This bond with Narce, especially with researchers and foreign museums seems to somehow not have been broken. In fact, since those years the archeology of Narce could be linked with three foreign scholars, a French, an American and a German, who marked the continuation of the history of the excavations and research at Narce: Gustave Paille, Arthur Lincoln Frothingham and Wolfgang Helbig.

The French: Françoise Gaultier has described the presence of G. Paille in the Faliscan territory, and in particular at Narce, since 1893 25. After the continuous initial refusal of the Ministry to grant permission to conduct archaeological excavations (after the biennium 1890-1892), a period of cooperation with Raniero Mengarelli followed, which was focused on the excavation of the Monte Soriano necropolis 26. Paille returned to Narce in the early years of the twentieth century together with Pasqui in the 1902 campaign. This was also considered the “unfinished masterpiece” of Pasqui’s political plot against Barnabei 27

The American. At the dawn of foundation of the American School of Rome, Arthur Lincoln Frothingham was appointed as “Junior Associate Professor” in the Academy. Frothingham’s first approach to the Ager Faliscus dates back to his visit to the Villa Giulia Museum in 1896. His words reflected a boundless enthusiasm for the recent exhibition of materials from Narce.


“ Especial attention was paid to the Etruscan museum outside of the Porta del Popolo – Museum of the Agro Romano – at the villa of Pope Julius. This museum, the arrangement of which is due to Comm. Barnabei and Count Cozza, is illustrated in the most systematic way in a series of articles published by its directors in the Monumenti Antichi [...] the Museum itself furnishes the best instance of an Etruscan collection arranged on perfectly scientific principles, the contents of each tomb being kept separate and the tombs themselves being arranged in chronological order, thus making it easy to follow the historic succession of types and the transformation of cultures ” 28.


His enthusiasm appeared perhaps to be not entirely disinterested, with the aim of securing the consent of F. Barnabei, who, as in the case of Paille, was reluctant to grant concessions to foreigners 29. All these denials can be easily ascribed to a general contraction in granting excavation permits that caused more than a few recalcitrant reactions (also by the Italian diggers, as seen in the number of complaints of Mancinelli Scotti which came about to beat Barnabei 30 ). The presence of Frothingham in the territory of Narce led him to purchase a number of tomb-groups to enrich the collections of several American museums in Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C. An echo of a visit to the ruins of Narce with the students of the American Academy remains in Frothingham’s words:


“In connection with their studies of Faliscan antiquities, and in order to give them some practical experience of the manner in which excavations are carried on in Etruscan necropoleis, I took some of the students to Narce, not far south of Falerii, where some excavations were being carried on which were of unusual importance for the early civilization in Etruria, between the tenth and the seventh century B.C. [...] Here we were present at the opening of a number of primitive well-tombs and trench tombs, of the archaic period, the context of which had never been disturbed” 31.


A. L. Frothingham purchased from Francesco Mancinelli Scotti, Fausto Benedetti, and Giuseppe Ficola a series of tomb-groups for scientific institutions in America. Since 1895 new permissions were given to private persons to undertake new explorations within the necropoleis of Narce 32. As early as 1897, however, the figure of Frothingham had exhausted his moment of glory in the history of the American Academy. His unprofessional behavior, which occurred in 1897, resulted in the second shipment of materials from Narce to Philadelphia and already by the winter of 1898 Frothingham had fallen out of favor in the Academy and retired to Princeton 33.

The German: Wolfgang Helbig is linked with the so-called Villa Giulia Scandal, which followed the first enthusiasm for the discoveries. In fact, a court case begun in 1897 centered on the excavations of Narce and continued until 1942. The trial was brought against the Ministry of Education by the prince Del Drago – owner of most of the land in which the excavation took place. -. Del Drago accused Barnabei and his collaborators of having cheated while buying tomb-groups for the Villa Giulia exposition, for a price much lower than the market value. The court case ended up in the same way as most court cases in Italy: legal prescription 34. Beginning in November 1898, the allegations Helbig was gathering against the Villa Giulia exhibitions began to circulate 35. In February 1899, the introduction of the Führer declared the accusation. It took only four pages to demolish two decades of archaeological work: the Museum of Villa Giulia was not worthy of being included in the guide 36, because of the misrepresentation of the Narce tomb-groups. On 17 February 1899, an Inquiry Ministerial Commission was set up, consisting of Adeodato Bonasi, Gherardo Ghirardini and Luigi Pigorini. The commission’s mandate was to clarify the criteria for scientific reliability in conducting excavations, in the 1892 Villa Giulia exhibition and in the 1894 publication. The results of the Commission’s works confirmed the good faith of the excavations and the exhibits, as well as the value of Monumenti Antichi. Helbig’s accusation was therefore highlighted, in the context of the reactions of foreign collectors against the first State legislation concerning archaeological excavations 37.

The end of the century coincided with the conclusion of the two investigations which marked the conclusion of the first phase of the history of research on Narce and, more generally, of the Ager Faliscus. The goal of the detractors of the archaeological campaigns at Narce seemed to have failed, according to the resolutions of both trials. Yet the political weight, the shadow of discredit on Barnabei, the members of the Carta Archeologica project and the establishment of the Villa Giulia Museum had consequences far beyond the resolution of the proceedings. The idea that, despite any resolution, twenty years of excavations and research in Narce were covered by a mantle of lawlessness, extortion, or simply total scientific approximation, survived well after the nineteenth century. The decline in the early twentieth century of the young Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia could be attributed to the effects of general discrediting 38. This mood prevented, in fact, many data from Narce from being published, contributing to the idea of ​​a general “silence” of Italian scholars after the effervescent first phase of the Carta Archeologica. On the contrary, a very lively scientific focus on Narce abroad corresponded to the Italian silence 39.

Gold objects at Narce were first described in 1905 by G. Karo 40. An important milestone in the history of research on Narce, although unfortunately incomplete, consisted of the Oscar Montelius publication La civilisation primitive en Italie depuis l’introduction des métaux 41, and especially its second edition in 1910. The Swedish scholar, father of typology and chronological seriation applied to archeology, never completed his immense work dedicated to the presentation of the material found in the Italian necropoleis. In the last volume only tables concerning Falerii and Narce remained, with the relative publication of a number of pieces that were only presented, in a nutshell, in the 1894 Monumenti Antichi.

The connection of Narce with foreign scientific institutions, and in particular American museums, seemed to be reflected even in the first book dedicated to the Ager Faliscus, after the pioneering work of Deecke. Louise Adams Holland published her monograph in 1925, as a member of the American Academy in Rome. Holland’s name is associated with Bryn Mawr College 42, another fil rouge in the history of the research in Narce in the twentieth century. The title, The Faliscans in prehistoric times, confirmed Holland’s attention towards the earliest phases of Narce and although it was largely superseded in its historical reconstructions, the book stands out even nowadays for the careful description of the technological and morphological characteristics of materials, especially the impasto vases.

The year nineteen-forty-two was pivotal in the history of international research on Narce. The reason lies in the publication of those contexts acquired by Frothingham between 1896 and 1897 and moved to Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum). The publication was edited by Edith Hall Dohan 43. The catalog of twenty tomb-groups presented remains the first scientific publication, in the modern sense of the term, of funerary contexts from the Ager Faliscus. Dohan’s methodological rigor is not only a landmark in the history of research of Narce, but the text is still valid not only for the comparanda presented, but also for the comments on the different artifacts. The first few pages, tracing the history of acquisitions by the Penn Museum, could also be considered the first synthesis of the history of research on Narce. The long years of work by E. H. Dohan had led to a detailed analysis of archival documents, which came to Philadelphia along with two loads on shipments from Civitavecchia. Methodological rigor led E. H Dohan to edit only those contexts that were accompanied by reliable photographic documentation. In fact, the differences in the available archival records reflected the decline of the figure of Frothingham at the American Academy, in particular with regard to documentation for the second shipment of 1897. The discovery of new archival data, which were not in Dohan’s possession, 44 has made it possible to re-establish the identity of additional tomb groups.

In the late Nineteen-Sixties and early -Seventies, a new era of excavations promoted by the British School at Rome 45 explored the settlement of Narce. The excavation was a joint collaboration between the British School at Rome and the Soprintendenza alla Preistoria e all’Etnografia 46. The initiative for the excavation was taken by J.B. Ward Perkins and Renato Peroni, with the encouragement of Massimo Pallottino. Timothy W. Potter directed the British team while the supervision of Soprintendenza trench was carried out by M. A. Fugazzola. The Soprintendenza excavation was of limited extent, but was conducted in depth in order to clarify the extension of the stratigraphical deposit; it ended with the 1969 campaign. The excavations of the British School continued until 1971, investigating a large portion of the valley. The British trenches produced new data on Bronze Age huts and on a portion of the necropolis occupying the area in the Late Orientalizing Period. The finds also demonstrated the presence of a workshop for tile processing, dating to the Republican Period. Although a series of historical reconstructions (and in particular the relevance of the materials in phase V have been reinterpreted and attributed to the Late Bronze Age instead of the Early Iron Age), the stratigraphical methodology as well as the attention to each context and the complete presentation of the materials found make Potter’s 1976 publication an essential tool even today for understanding the historical development of Narce. 47.

Returning to tomb-groups preserved in the different collections abroad, as part of her thesis in the Scuola di Etruscologia dell’Università Italiana per stranieri di Perugia, Jean M. Davison published in 1972 Seven Tomb-Groups from Narce, analyzing material purchased by Frothingham for the collections of the Chicago Field Museum and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington 48. The natural comparison with Dohan’s publication resolves overwhelmingly in favor of Dohan. Davison’s book had the great merit of presenting “new” contexts and of implanting, in the first part of the book, a sort of coherent system of types for different classes of materials. Nevertheless it appeared to be a very partial publication and questionable in the articulation of philological commentary to finds presented, in addition to the well known problem of a hasty composition of the volume in the editing with a lack of correspondence between the tables and the text.

The last series of tomb-groups acquired at the end of the Nineteenth century and stored abroad, was published in 1974 by Helle Salskov Roberts. The publication concerned three other tombs from Orientalizing Narce kept at the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen 49, along with contexts from Capena and Poggio Sommavilla. The three tombs published by Salskov Roberts were excavated by Fausto Benedetti in the Pizzo Piede necropolis (7th century BCE). To these three tomb-groups from Narce at the Danish National Museum, at least one more could be added. In fact, in CVA Copenhagen IV, an olla with its cover bowl are published and attributed to a tomb no. 4817, with a general provenience from Narce 50. Archival research has allowed the identification of the entire set in a photograph, preserved at the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut of Rome, with a tomb-group excavated by Fausto Benedetti in 1897, probably coming from the necropolis of I Tufi 51.

The interest of foreign scholars was also focused on the finds preserved in Italy. Our very partial knowledge of Early Orientalizing documentation at Narce was enriched in 1980 by M. D. Molas I Font, Escuela Española, Rome, who published the rich tomb 18 (XXIII) from the Monte Lo Greco necropolis.

A brief summary of the relevant funerary contexts abroad was later presented in 1986 by Richard De Pouma, with particular reference to the collections of the Chicago Field Museum 52. In the same year, a small group of impasto finds from tomb 103 of the Monte Cerreto necropolis was finally published by K. Berggren. This is otherwise known in the literature as the “tomb of gold”, and is in the collection of the British Museum in London 53. This is not the whole tomb-group, but only the vascular half, since the remaining part, especially the ornaments, the “gold”, are preserved in the Villa Giulia Museum 54.

The opening in 2003 of the Etruscan Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, offered to the American public a new look at Narce materials purchased by Frothingham and published by E. H. Dohan in 1942. Author of the catalog and consultant for the exhibition was Jean MacIntosh Turfa, a student of Kyle Phillips (who was the discoverer of Murlo and to whom the Gallery at Penn was dedicated) 55. Narce materials in the museum exposition, as well as in the catalogue, were presented on thematic lines focusing on different aspects of Etruscan and Faliscan life, customs and funerary ideology. The work of J. MacIntosh Turfa included an interdisciplinary collaboration especially with physical anthropologists, culminating in a joint publication with J. Marshall Becker and Bridget Algee-Hewitt of all the anthropological remains from Etruscan and Faliscan contexts preserved in the Penn Museum 56. The publication of the different contexts from Narce is the first systematic anthropological presentation of the Narce population and is the basis for all other studies focused on the analysis of human remains in the Ager Faliscus.


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1Gamurrini et al. 1972.

2 Narce 1894, col. 8. Indeed Raniero Mengarelli and Enrico Stefani joined the group at a later time, after (?) 1889 (Tamburini et al . 2002, 79).

3 Cozza 1972, 429.

4 Biella 2010; De Lucia et al. 2012.

5 G. F. Gamurrini in his authobiography (Gamurrini 1924) addressed this theme several times: “ in queste ultime settimane si ebbe come una smania di scavi in Civita Castellana e in Corchiano. In quest’ultimo Comune si fecero anche scavi abusivi … che ricorsero d’urgenza la presenza del Cozza il quale giunto sul luogo riferì al ministero … sulla necessità di accordare subito vari permessi a persone che desideravano scavare in vari luoghi …” in Cozza 1972, 447.

6Cozza 1972, 429.

7As the well known echo of the discovery of inscribed tiles presented by Barnabei and Delpino 1991, 210-212.

8Deecke 1888.

9For a “previous” discovery of Narce in 1883 Tabolli 2013; in press.

10Santagati 2004, p. 9.

11For the unfinished story of the Italic Museum Delpino 2001, 632.

12 Benocci and Delpino 2004, 13-16.

13 Tamburini et al. 2002, 91-92.

14 Tamburini et al. 2002, 95; Delpino 1995, p. 441; Benocci and Delpino 2004, 21.

15 Narce 1894.

16 With the discovery of a temple at the foot of La Petrina, whose excavation in 1891 was soon interrupted. De Lucia Brolli 1990; 1990a; forthcoming.

17 Barnabei and Delpino 1991, 298, note 48.

18 Benedetti 1900; Baglione and De Lucia Brolli 1990, 62, note 2.

19Gaultier 1999, 91, Gaultier and Haumesser 2011. Concerning Paille see also Barnabei, Delpino 1991, 298-299, note 55.

20 Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Museo Nazionale Preistorico-Etnografico L. Pigorini in Rome, Museo Archeologico dell’Agro Falisco in Civita Castellana and Museo Nazionale Etrusco Centrale in Florence.

21The Queen played a fundamental role even in the first exhibition in Villa Giulia during 1899 (Benocci and Delpino 2004, 19), as close friend to F. Barnabei (Barnabei and Delpino 1991).

22 Santagati 2004, 86.

23 Cozza 1972, 429.

24 Narce 1894.

25Gaultier 1999.

26 Gaultier 1999, 90-95. The only publication of the 1897 excavations is a note, consisting in few lines, appeared in 1897 «Notizie degli Scavi» (Gatti 1897, 417).

27 Pasqui 1902; Delpino 1997; Tabolli 2013.

28 Frothingham 1897, 52.

29The beginning of the relationship between A. L. Frothingham and Barnabei had to be stormy. Barnabei, who was working to regulate strictly the excavation concessions given to foreign entities, at first did not grant Frothingham permission to conduct excavations as is evident from its{who is “it” here?} annual report “The most difficult question which we were obliged to solve during the first season on behalf of the School was the possibility of carrying on excavations. Without being positive in the matter, I had hoped that we should not find an invincible opposition on the part of the Italian Ministry towards our accomplishing something in this important department of work. I found, however, that Professor Barnabei, who is at the head of the department of excavations at the Ministry of Public Instruction, was at this time opposed in principle to allowing the School, as a foreign institution, to undertake any work of original and independent excavation”. Frothingham would be limited to directing a sort of survey concentrated in Norba. At a later time the availability of Barnabei seemed to replace the initial refusal. In the famous dinner inside the Norba cisterna, involving, in addition to Barnabei, all members of the ‘”Archaeological Commission,” so defined by Frothingham, Cozza, Pasqui and Borsari, Barnabei seemed to provide every possible support to the American professor to run excavations (Frothingham 1897, 64; Barnabei and Delpino 1991, 431).

30 Processo Del Drago.

31Frothingham 1897, 53.

32Concerning 1895-96 excavations at Narce, Tabolli 2013.

33 Dohan 1942.

34 Processo Del Drago, 132-133.

35Barnabei and Delpino 1991, 218-220.

36Helbig 1899; 1901; Benedetti 1900.

37Bonasi et al. 1899, 1129.

38Delpino 1997.

39We will focus our paper just on the publications by foreign scholars in order to address the international tradition of studies on Narce. For the complete review of all the Italian literature see Tabolli 2013.

40Karo 1905.

41Montelius 1910.

42Where she graduated in 1920 and where she returned as Professor, during World War II.

43Dohan 1942.

44Unfortunately, a fatal heart attack that caught her in her office in the hot summer of 1943 in Philadelphia, just as she was working on an edition of the material not included in the first publication, prevented Dohan from continuing her work.

45 Potter 1976.

46Potter 1976, Peroni, Fugazzola 1969.

47The British School conducted a survey at Narce and in the surrounding area in 1979 (Potter 1979). T.W. Potter not only excavated the settlement at Narce, but is the only scholar to have investigated the medieval center of Mazzano Romano (Potter 1972), and the extraordinary site of Monte Gelato (Potter and King 1997)

48 Davison 1972.

49 Salskov Roberts 1974.

50 CVA Copenhagen 4; Baglione, De Lucia Brolli 1990, 89, note 49.

51 Tabolli 2013.

52 De Puma 1986.

53 Berggren 1986.

54 Baglione, De Lucia Brolli 1998.

55 MacIntosh Turfa 2005.

56 Becker et al. 2009.


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