Etruscan Bronze Cauldron

Etruscan Bronze Cauldron


A Metalsmith’s Guide to Rome

Rome. Truly the eternal city, where every monument reflects simultaneously the past and the present. As Goethe so aptly states in his Italian Journey, “The very site of the city takes one back to the time of its foundation.” As a living museum, the vastness of its collections is overwhelming, even to the initiated visitor. For the metalsmith, Rome is an adventure, testing all of one’s senses and instincts of discovery.

Palatine Hill is the legendary site of the founding of Rome. It is here where the twins, Romulus and Remus, were discovered, suckled by a she-wolf, and it is here where in 753 B.C. Romulus ploughed the boundary lines of Rome, becoming the first king of one of the most powerful cities in history. The layered vestiges of the past illustrate the city’s development from an agricultural settlement comprised of Iron Age huts to a city of monumental architecture sheathed in marble and bronze, the seat of the Republic, the Empire and, more recently, the Papacy.


Archaeological Samples Chosen for Analysis

The coastal site of Lattara, near the modern town of Lattes south of Montpellier, is key to understanding the transference of the wine culture to Mediterranean France (8). Merchant quarters for the storage, preparation, and transport of imported and exported goods were newly constructed inside a walled settlement ca. 525 B.C. (Fig. 2). Multiroom buildings along the southwestern wall gave direct access to a lagoon (now partly silted up) connecting to the sea, where boats could have been moored and protected.

Map of the ancient settlement of Lattara (modern Lattes), showing the locations of the analyzed samples. Map courtesy of Lattes excavations (redrawn by B.P.L.).

Etruscan amphoras, believed to contain wine on archaeological grounds, had already been arriving along the coast of France since the end of the seventh century B.C. Their importation, however, dramatically decreased at many sites after ca. 525 B.C. when the Greek colony of Massalia, founded in 600 B.C. by Phocaean Greeks coming from western Anatolia, began to produce its own wine amphoras. These people began producing a distinctively shaped Massaliote amphora (Fig. 1C) in the second half of the sixth century B.C., thought to have been used to export locally produced wine so as to compete with the Etruscan market. Lattara was the exception to the rule Etruscan amphoras and other artifacts from Italy, attesting to close commercial contacts, continued to be imported during the heyday of activity in the merchant quarters from about 525–475 B.C.

The critical issue addressed by this study is whether these Etruscan and Massaliote amphoras did indeed contain wine. A biomolecular archaeological argument, as the phrase implies, entails a rigorous assessment of the chemical, archaeological, and, in this instance, archaeobotanical evidence separately and in combination. Absolute certainty is unattainable in a biomolecular archaeological investigation because it is an inherently probabilistic historical field of inquiry. The probability of a solution to an archaeologically relevant problem increases with ever-accumulating data, with the refinement of chemical, archaeological, and archaeobotanical methods, and as more natural products are analyzed and become available for bioinformatics searches.

On this basis, amphora samples were selected for chemical analysis based on whether it (a) was an Etruscan or Massaliote type (b) was excavated from an undisturbed, sealed context (c) was part of a whole vessel, with base sherds available for analysis (d) had remnants of a possible residue on its interior and (e) was unwashed. Only 13 Etruscan amphoras, lined up in two rows in the southeastern part of the storeroom of a merchants’ building in zone 27 (Figs. S1 and S2), met all these criteria. They were clearly in situ and sealed off from later intrusions by a ca. 475 B.C. destruction layer. Another 22 amphoras in this room were more haphazardly arranged and might have been secondarily disturbed.

The 13 Etruscan amphoras belonged to a very specific pottery type (9), amphore étrusque 4 (A-ETR 4), which was likely manufactured at the Etruscan city of Cisra (modern Cerveteri) ca. 525–475 B.C. (10). The archaeological consensus is that this type was primarily used to transport wine from Etruria to southern France and elsewhere. Three of the 13 amphoras (Dataset S1 nos. 4, 5, and 7) were chosen as representative samples for analysis. These were base sherds because precipitates of liquids settle out and, upon evaporation, concentrate organic compounds there. Two of the sherds (nos. 4 and 5) had small, darkened areas on their interiors, possibly residues of the original contents. Another amphora base (no. 10) of the same Etruscan type from a secure context—the construction level of the building—completed our Etruscan analytical corpus.

To gain a fuller perspective on the possible importation and production of wine at Lattara, two base sherds (nos. 8 and 9) from complete Massaliote amphoras from later (ca. 475–450 B.C.), nearby contexts were also analyzed. No. 9 had a resin-like deposit covering its interior. Archaeologists are in agreement that Massaliote amphoras were almost certainly used for wine.

Additionally, a limestone installation (11) (Fig. 3), dated to ca. 425–400 B.C. and found in situ in a courtyard built over the destroyed merchants’ quarters, was analyzed. It has been interpreted as a pressing platform for processing olives or grapes (5 ⇓ –7). Contemporaneous Greek vase paintings (e.g., see Fig. S6) show how such platforms supported baskets of grapes for stomping and collecting the juice. Excavated examples are common throughout the ancient Mediterranean world (1, 7) up until today. Our goal was to determine whether the platform had been used in local production of wine or olive oil.

Ancient pressing platform from Lattara, seen from above. Note the spout for drawing off a liquid. It was raised off the courtyard floor by four stones. Masses of grape remains were found nearby. Photograph courtesy of Michel Py, copyright l'Unité de Fouilles et de Recherches Archéologiques de Lattes.


The Cauldron in Celtic Lore

The cauldron plays a role in many Celtic stories and the lore even describes them as great treasures with magical powers.

The Gunderstrop Cauldron

The Gunderstrop cauldron is a silver cauldron found in a peat bog in Denmark. It is beautifully decorated with images of Cernunnos and possibly Taranis and animals and is believed to have been or have held an offering to the Gods. It dates from between 200 BCE and 300 CE and is believed to be of either Gaulish or Thracian origin. This awe inspiring piece is on display at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.

Pair Dadeni

In Welsh lore, specifically the second branch of the Mabinogi, Branwen ferch Llŷr, or Branwen, Daughter of Llyr, we hear of the Pair Dadeni, the Cauldron of Rebirth. The Pair Dadeni belonged to a pair of giants, Llasar Llaes Gyfnewid and his wife, Cymydei Cymeinfoll who lived in the Lake of the Cauldron in Ireland. When they met the Irish King, Matholwch, he invited them to his court, but they ran afoul of the Irish people the King decided to do away with them by burning them to death in their own house. So the giants fled Ireland to the Island of the Mighty (Britain) and there they were sheltered by Welsh King Bendigeidfran (Bran the Blessed), son of Llyr. In thanks for his hospitality, they gifted him with the Pair Dadeni before they moved on.

After a time, Matholwch visited Bendigeidfran’s court to forge an alliance between the two islands and he married [[[god:Branwen]], Bran’s sister, to solidify the alliance. But Efnysien fab Euroswydd, the maternal half brother of Branwen and Bran, was furious that he was not consulted about the arrangements and showed his displeasure by mutilating the horses that the Irish had brought with them. Matholwch was outraged and Bran was terribly embarrassed and offered Matholwch the Pair Dadeni as compensation for the horses. He accepted the gifts and returned to Ireland with his entourage and his new bride.

But the Irish hold a grudge and Branwen bore the brunt of it. Instead of ruling as queen, she was put in the kitchens and forced to work and beaten every day. She gave birth to a son, Gwern who apparently had the affection of his father, though his mother did not. Branwen tamed a starling and sent it to Britain with a message for her brother who gathered their other brother Manawydan and a huge host of Welsh warriors and sailed to Ireland to reclaim her.

When the Welsh landed in Ireland, the Irish made a peace offering of a huge house, large enough for the entire British army and stocked with 100 bags of flour. But Efnisien discovered that the bags of flour really contained hidden Irish warriors and killed them all.

Finally, the Welsh and the Irish struck a deal for peace and Matholwch abdicated the throne in favor of his son Gwern and a great feast is held in his honor. But at the feast, Efnisien seized the boy and threw him into the fire and killed him.

This sparked off a bloody war during which the Irish use the Pair Dadeni to great advantage. They tossed their dead into it and they rose up able to fight again, but lacking the power of speech (zombies!?). The Welsh were pummeled until Efnisien hid among the dead and was tossed into the cauldron by the Irish where he burst it from the inside, killing himself in the process.

The two sides thus on even ground, the Welsh won the war but only seven men were left. The Welsh returned to Britain and Bran, who suffered a mortal wound, ordered that his head be cut off and brought London where it continued to speak for many years after. Branwen died of grief.

The Dagda’s Cauldron

The Cauldron (coire) of the Dagda, or the Cauldron of Plenty/Bounty was one of the four treasures of the Tuatha de Dannan, brought across the sea to Ireland from the mythical city of Muirias. It is said that the magic of the cauldron was such that no one ever went away from it hungry. It was named Undry.

The Cauldron of Dyrnwich

The Cauldron of Dyrnwich is one of the 13 Treasures of Britain ( Tri Thlws ar Ddeg Ynys Prydain) according to Welsh folklore. It is said that this cauldron would only cook food for a brave man. If a coward attempted to prepare a meal in it, it would not boil.

The Cauldron of the Head of Annwfn

The Pair Penn Annwfn, or the Cauldron of the Head of Annwn behaves just as the Cauldron of Dyrnwich. It will not cook the food of a coward. Perhaps it is the same cauldron. It is described as dark blue with pearls around the rim. This cauldron is described in the story Preiddeu Annwfn or The Spoils of Annwfn, which features King Arthur.
Read the text at http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/text/preiddeu-annwn

Ceridwen’s Cauldron

We learn about Ceridwen’s Cauldron from The Book of Taliesin. Hers is the Cauldron of Inspiration, Pair Awen or Pair Ceridwen. Ceridwen had two children A hideous son named Morfran and a lovely daughter named Creirwy. Ceridwen decided to give her son the gift of great wisdom and inspiration to make up for his unfortunate appearance. She prepared a very complicated potion that needed to be stirred constantly for a year and a day and employed a young boy named Gwion Bach to do the stirring. The first three drops of the potion conferred the gift, the rest of the batch would be only the foulest potion.

On the last day, just as the potion was nearing completion, Gwion got a little excited with his spoon and caused three drops of the burning hot potion to splash onto his hand, which he instinctively stuck in his mouth. He was instantly granted knowledge and inspiration and knowing Ceridwen would be furious, he fled, turning himself into a hare. She perceived what had happened and quickly turned herself into a greyhound to chase after him. He came to a river and turned himself into a fish and she turned herself into an otter, then he turned himself into a bird and she a hawk and on it went until he turned himself into a tiny bit of grain to hide and she turned herself into a hen and swallowed him up.

Nine months later she birthed the boy and abandoned him, tossing him into the sea. But he was rescued and grew into the legendary bard Taliesin.


Ancient cauldron found inside a Celtic prince’s ancient tomb

Fifth century . A cauldron has been uncovered in a late Bronze Age tomb site, believed to be of a Celtic prince in eastern France. The large bronze-decorated cauldron that was used to store watered-down wine. Picture: AFP Source:AFP

A TOMB from the fifth century BC, likely that of a Celtic prince, has been unearthed in a small French town, shedding light on Iron Age European trade, researchers say.

The 𠇎xceptional” grave, crammed with Greek and possibly Etruscan artefacts, was discovered in a business zone on the outskirts of Lavau in France’s Champagne region, said the National Archaeological Research Institute, Inrap.

A team from the institute has been excavating the site since October last year, and have dated it to the end of the First Iron Age — a period characterised by the widespread use of the metal.

The burial mound, 40 metres across, has at its heart a 14 sq m burial chamber, not yet opened, of an ancient VIP.

“It is probably a local Celtic prince,” Inrap president Dominique Garcia told journalists on a field visit.

Ancient artefact . Site manager Bastien Dubuis sits beside a cauldron uncovered in a late Bronze Age tomb site, believed to be of a Celtic prince in eastern France: Picture: AFP Source:AFP

The most exciting find, he said, was a large bronze-decorated cauldron that was used to store watered-down wine. It appears to have been made by Etruscan craftsmen from an area that is today in Italy.

The mausoleum also contained a decorated ceramic wine pitcher made by the Greeks.

The pieces 𠇊re evidence of the exchanges that happened between the Mediterranean and the Celts,” said Garcia.

The end of the sixth and beginning of the fifth centuries BC were characterised by the rise of Etruscan and Greek city states like Marseilles in southern France.

Mediterranean merchants, seeking slaves, metals and other precious goods, opened trading channels with continental Celts


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Excavation of ancient well yields insight into Etruscan, Roman and medieval times

During a four-year excavation of an Etruscan well at the ancient Italian settlement of Cetamura del Chianti, a team led by a Florida State University archaeologist and art historian unearthed artifacts spanning more than 15 centuries of Etruscan, Roman and medieval civilization in Tuscany.

"The total haul from the well is a bonanza," said Nancy de Grummond, the M. Lynette Thompson Professor of Classics at Florida State. De Grummond, who has performed work at the site since 1983, is one of the nation's leading scholars of Etruscan studies.

"This rich assemblage of materials in bronze, silver, lead and iron, along with the abundant ceramics and remarkable evidence of organic remains, create an unparalleled opportunity for the study of culture, religion and daily life in Chianti and the surrounding region," she said of the well excavation that began in 2011, which is part of a larger dig encompassing the entire Cetamura settlement.

A July 4 news conference at Italy's National Archaeological Museum in Siena drew a standing-room-only crowd as de Grummond and her team reported on their findings from the well excavation over the past four years. Among the most notable finds: 14 Roman and Etruscan bronze vessels, nearly 500 waterlogged grape seeds and an enormous amount of rare waterlogged wood from both Roman and Etruscan times.

The bronze vessels, of different shapes and sizes and with varying decorations, were used to extract water from the well, which has been excavated to a depth of more than 105 feet.

"One of the Etruscan vessels, actually a wine bucket, is finely tooled and decorated with figurines of the marine monster Skylla," de Grummond said. "Another was adorned with a bronze finial of the head of a feline with the mane of a lion and the spots of a leopard and, for handle attachments, had African heads, probably sphinxes."

The grape seeds, found in at least three different levels of the well -- including the Etruscan and Roman levels -- are of tremendous scientific interest, according to de Grummond.

"They can provide a key to the history of wine in ancient Tuscany over a period from the third century B.C.E. to the first century C.E.," she said. "Their excellent preservation will allow for DNA testing as well as Carbon 14 dating."

Many of the seeds excavated in 2012 and 2013 have been analyzed by Chiara Comegna in the laboratory of Gaetano di Pasquale at the University of Naples Federico II, using a morphometric program originally devised for tomato seeds. The seeds are measured in millimeters and can be sorted into types. Thus far, three distinctive types have been identified, and very likely more will emerge from analysis of seeds found in Etruscan levels in 2014. The payoff could come with matching these specimens with modern grapes of known varieties.

Though the grape seeds are of a primary importance, they are put into context by the many objects associated with the drinking of wine -- a wine bucket, a strainer, an amphora -- and numerous ceramic vessels related to the storage, serving and drinking of wine.

The grape seeds often were found inside the bronze vessels, a curious detail that de Grummond says could be indicative of ritual activity. The remarkable amounts of well-preserved wood found at the bottom of the well also were most likely ritual offerings.

"Many of the pieces of wood were worked, and already several objects have been identified, such as parts of buckets, a spatula or spoon, a spool and a rounded object that might be a knob or child's top," she said. "The sheer amount of Etruscan waterlogged wood -- with some recognizable artifacts -- could transform views about such perishable items."

These and other finds -- from the bones of various animals and birds to numerous worked and unworked deer antlers -- suggest that the Cetamura well, like other water sources in antiquity, was regarded as sacred. In the Etruscan religion, throwing items into a well filled with water was an act of religious sacrifice.

"Offerings to the gods were found inside in the form of hundreds of miniature votive cups, some 70 bronze and silver coins, and numerous pieces used in games of fortune, such as astragali, which are akin to jacks," she said.

Besides being thrown into the well as part of a sacred ritual, some artifacts and items found their way in by intentional dumping or accidental dropping.

The well, dug out of the sandstone bedrock of Cetamura, has three major levels: medieval Roman, dating to the late first century B.C.E. and the first century C.E. and Etruscan, dating to the third and second centuries B.C.E. Not fed by a spring or other water source, the well would accumulate rainwater that filtered through the sandstone and poured into the shaft from the sides.

De Grummond's team included Florida State University alumna Cheryl Sowder of Jacksonville University, who served as the registrar in charge of keeping an inventory of the objects and organic remains as they came out of the well Florida State alumnus Jordan Samuels, who served as foreman for the handling of the finds Lora Holland of the University of North Carolina-Asheville, director of the Cetamura laboratory at Badia a Coltibuono, who processed the items for transport and storage and Laura Banducci of the University of Toronto and Carleton College, who is organizing the ceramics for study, with particular attention to the pottery made in the region of Cetamura.

The actual excavation of the well, a spectacular engineering feat according to de Grummond, was carried out by the Italian archaeological firm Ichnos, directed by Francesco Cini of Montelupo Fiorentino. The bronze vessels and numerous other items are under restoration at Studio Art Centers International (SACI) in Florence, under the supervision of Nora Marosi.

Over the years, de Grummond's excavations at Cetamura have not only produced archaeological finds but myriad opportunities for student research at Florida State.

"Thus far, two doctoral dissertations, 18 master's theses and four honors theses have resulted from study of Cetamura subjects, and students have assisted with two exhibitions in Italy and the writing of the catalogs," she said.

De Grummond now is planning an exhibition of the new discoveries from the well and, once again, Florida State students will provide valuable collaboration.


Getty Publications Virtual Library

Small-scale bronze sculpture from the ancient Mediterranean is reviewed here by fifteen leading scholars and scientists. This collection of essays explores the historical and technical considerations in provenancing and collecting bronzes of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman manufacture.

The volume is a collection of papers given at a symposium on small bronze sculpture held in March 1989 at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
    John Walsh
  • Dr. Heinz Menzel: In Memoriam David Gordon Mitten
  • Samos and Some Aspects of Archaic Greek
    Helmut Kyrieleis
  • Ancient Copper Alloys: Some Metallurgical and Technological Studies of Greek and Roman Bronzes
    David A. Scott and Jerry Podany
  • Egyptian Metal Statuary of the Third Intermediate Period (Circa 1070–656 B.C.), from Its Egyptian Antecedents to its Samian Examples
    Robert Steven Bianchi
  • The Human Figure in Classical Bronze-working: Some Perspectives
    Joan R. Mertens
  • The Gilding of Bronze Sculpture in the Classical World
    W. A. Oddy, M. R. Cowell, P.T. Craddock, and D. R. Hook
  • The Casting of Greek Bronzes: Variation and Repetition
    Carol C. Mattusch
  • Practical Considerations and Problems of Bronze Casting
    Paul K. Cavanagh
  • Surface Working, Chiseling, Inlays, Plating, Silvering, and Gilding
    S. Boucher
  • Patinated and Painted Bronzes: Exotic Technique or Ancient Tradition?
    Hermann Born
  • Scientific Approaches to the Question of Authenticity
    Arthur Beale
  • How Important Is Provenance? Archaeological and Stylistic Questions in the Attribution of Ancient Bronzes
    Beryl Barr-Sharrar
  • The Use of Scientific Techniques in Provenance Studies of Ancient Bronzes
    Pieter Meyers
  • Connoisseurship and Antiquity
    George Ortiz
  • List of Ancient Objects
    Illustrated

About the Authors

Marion True is curator of antiquities and Jerry Podany is conservator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum.


The Archaeological Institute of America awarded Maurizio Forte for the project: Digital Vulci: Urban Development and Water Cults in Southern Etruria, Italy.

The project is focused on the study and interpretation of urban transformations in the transition between Etruscan and Roman cities, their public spaces, and specifically on the unique case study of Vulci (Viterbo, Italy), a still intact and non-investigated archaeological deposit with over 1,500 years of continuous occupation (it was an Etruscan, then Roman city). This occupation started in the Bronze Age, it continued in the Early Iron Age by satellite settlements around the tufa plateau of Vulci, and it ended in a monumental Etruscan site on the top of the plateau.


Etruscan Bronze Cauldron - History

Behind the scenes at the British Museum sometimes resembles Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. So when the British Library asked to borrow a 3,000-year-old cauldron for their exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic, we were delighted!

The cauldron that is on loan was found in the River Thames at Battersea. It was made around 3,000 years ago, crafted from many separate sheets of bronze and skilfully riveted together. It was among the largest and most sophisticated metal objects of its day. The capacity of the cauldron is around 70 litres – enough to boil meat or brew beverages for a mighty feast. But it’s not just a technological masterpiece, it was also a cherished object. All over its body are repair patches and pegs from heavy use, probably over several generations.

We know cauldrons were important, symbolic objects because they were often deposited in unusual and special places in the landscape, for instance in bogs and rivers. These locations are often considered to be powerful because they are betwixt-and-between the domains of the living and the dead.

Cauldrons feature in later writings, including the Book of Leinster, which reflects earlier oral traditions. In these Irish stories, cauldrons are closely linked to chiefs and kings and their ability to redistribute food and drink as a symbol of their power. The most famous was the magic cauldron belonging to the Dagda, a protecting god and father figure. His cauldron overflowed with abundant food, could heal any wound, and even restore life to the dead – warriors killed in battle were lowered into the cauldron to be brought back to life. The link between cauldrons and supernatural powers is most famously captured in the witches’ scenes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. These stories are likely to echo much older beliefs about the power and magic of cauldrons, stretching back to the cauldron dredged from the Thames at Battersea.

We would also like to highlight this 3,000-year-old ‘flesh-hook’. As its rather sinister name suggests, it was used in the course of feasting, probably in combination with cauldrons – its curved prongs serving and stirring meaty portions. It was found in a bog in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, in an area that contained other objects associated with ancient ceremonies and rituals.

The rod-shaped flesh-hook is made up of three metal and two wooden parts. The most remarkable feature is the seven little bronze birds that decorate the metal sections. There are two birds of the crow family (probably ravens) and a family of swans (two swans and three cygnets). They appear to float along the flesh-hook in a bird-on-bird face off. The birds bob on small rods connected to metal rings dangling beneath their bellies. These could have been used to tie on other objects, perhaps even feathers taken from real birds.

The two sets of birds may have represented opposing forces in the world of ancient people. Swans are white birds of the water but also associated with the sun and light, and the family group suggests fertility. The ravens, on the other hand, are black birds of the air and divine communication, connected with wild uplands – their dark colour and gruesome dietary habits were connected with war and death. These differences may have represented the competing forces of good and evil in the world.

Details of the birds on the flesh-hook.

Similar ideas come to us from much later sources including the Book of Invasions (Lebor Gabála Érenn) and the Ulster Cycle (an Rúraíocht), written down in the 8th century AD. In these myths, ravens are associated with war, death, land and goddesses. In the central tale of the Ulster Cycle, the goddess Badb takes the form of a crow or raven and causes chaos when she perches on the shoulder of the hero Cú Chulainne, predicting his death. Both swans and ravens were connected with shape-shifting gods, objects of worship and foretellers of the future.

The places where cauldrons and flesh-hooks are found are associated with burnt mounds (fulacht fiadh) in Britain and Ireland, sites used for ritual feasting connected to seasonal cycles. The most famous festival mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature is Samhain (pronounced so-ween). This ceremony marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter when the ritual fires were relit and the dead were honoured, an early version of some aspects of Halloween. It was a liminal time when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld could be easily crossed.

As you settle down to a scary movie this Halloween or reach for a Harry Potter book, imagine for a moment a late October evening in an ancient land. Cauldrons bubble and fires burn in the darkening days of autumn. A flesh-hook is wielded by a village elder, a renowned storyteller. She tells a tale of shape-shifting gods, of divine spirits in the form of birds and competing forces – good and evil – that bind the world.


Watch the video: Ludwig Supra-Phonic LB552, Bronze-Kessel