Etruscan Research: Rome 2022

Hello and welcome to my new research website and blog, simply named ‘Etruscan Research’. For those of you who don’t already know me, I’m Tony and I’m a part-time PhD student in the Department of Classical Studies at the Open University where I’m researching ‘New Materialist Approaches to Sensory Change in Etruscan Tombs of the Orientalising & Archaic Periods’. You can find out more about my research project by visiting the ‘About’ page. This is the first post on the ‘Etruscan Research’ blog and it coincides with my recent return from Italy where I spent a busy three days roaming around Rome visiting the Etruscan collections at the Vatican Museums and the Villa Giulia. If you follow me on Twitter – @MrTonyPotter, then you’ll have already heard lots about my recent research trip, but if you don’t follow me yet, please consider doing so. In either case I wanted to write this post to tell you all about my trip and more importantly share all of the photographs of the Etruscan material culture that I’ve collected. I’ve got far too many photographs to share on Twitter and I don’t want to clog up your social media feeds more than I already have, so this is the perfect place to show you what I experienced whilst in Rome. I hope you enjoy my write up and please feel free to share and leave a comment.

I should start my telling you that despite my long term interest and research into the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean I’ve embarrassingly never been to Italy until this year. I’d always intended to visit, but persuading friends and family who have no interest in the ancient world proved impossible and it was only recently that I built up the confidence, decided to bite the bullet and go alone. It was honestly the best decision I’ve made as I could be selfish and do everything that suited me without having to worry about anyone else. Plus as I’m in the first year of a PhD which is heavily focused on material culture, I really had to see that material in the flesh so to speak rather than just looking at pictures and reading about it. Given my non-existent experience of visiting Italy I decided to keep it simple and book a package stay which included flights, accommodation and transfers to and from Rome. Now that I have my bearings and I’m more confident for my next visit I’ll probably not need this level of assurance, but in any case it was a great option for me this time. My accommodation was in a quieter residential part of Rome, but it was only a fifteen minute walk from Vatican City so it was close to what I needed. You could actually see the dome of St Peter’s Basilica from the hotel which shows how convenient the location was. To make my trip even easier I got in touch with Agnes Crawford who runs ‘Understanding Rome’ and arranged a guided tour of the Vatican Museums and the Villa Giulia. I can’t thank Agnes enough for the time and effort she put in to making my time in Rome enjoyable. Agnes was so helpful and knowledgeable and now I feel more confident than ever to branch out when I visit Italy again in 2023. If you don’t already know about ‘Understanding Rome’, please take a look at the website: and get in touch with Agnes if like me, you’d like some helpful guidance on your next trip to Rome.

Although my first full day started off in Rome, I actually spent most of my time in the Vatican Museums. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen so many people heading to the same place and I was really grateful to have arranged a two hour tour with Agnes as it was so busy. The Vatican Museums are impressive, the collections are vast but it can be hard to navigate considering the sheer volume of people that are moving around and on occasion I got caught up in a throng of bodies and ended up going in the complete opposite direction to what I’d planned! Thankfully the Etruscan collections were relatively quiet (I’m still not really sure why) so getting around everything was easy and enjoyable. As is the case in all museums, decisions have to be made about what to display and how to do it. Personally I’m not a fan of the rationale that’s followed in the Etruscan collection at the Vatican Museums. The majority of the items are grouped together by material composition e.g., all bronzes are together, all ceramics are together etc. Granted everything is meticulously labelled and dated and it’s certainly not wrong to follow this method of display but I did find it hard to make contextual connections between the assorted collections there and then which is why I took so many photographs so I could revisit them later. That being said, where full assemblages are excavated intact (or as intact as possible) they’re displayed together such as the assemblage from the Regolini-Galassi tomb. This particular tomb is a brilliant example of an Orientalising Period burial. It’s located in Caere (modern Cervetiri) approximately 60 kilometres northwest of Rome and given the nature of the material culture that was excavated from the tomb in 1836, it’s been interpreted as an elite burial. Here’s some further general information on the Regolini-Galassi tomb: I finished my day in the Vatican with a visit to the Sistine Chapel. It’s artistically impressive and a lot bigger than I thought. That being said I felt slightly underwhelmed by the experience and felt a bit disappointed with myself but perhaps this was due to the volume of people who were in the chapel at the same time. I suspect if it were quieter and less crowded the experience would be very different. Nevertheless, it’s a must see when visiting Vatican City and the walk through the Gallery of Maps to get to the Sistine Chapel is well worth the time it takes. 

The Etruscan collection at the Vatican Museums is impressive and there’s a lot to see, which is why I spent almost a full day there. That being said, I much prefer the experience at the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia. Not only is Villa Giulia dedicated entirely to Etruscan civilisation, I feel that the collections are displayed in much more accessible ways emphasising assemblages over typologies. Furthermore, the information boards accompanying the various displays are much more engaging and informative. Compared to the Vatican Museums, Villa Giulia is entirely different. There’re no large crowds or long queues and it’s generally less hectic which means the whole museum experience is much more laid back. The relaxed atmosphere allows you the time to really soak up the material culture on display and have a much more immersive Etruscan encounter. The assemblage approach to the display of the Etruscan material culture at Villa Giulia is particularly evident in the reconstructed tombs. I was very impressed with the reconstruction of the Tumulo Moroi from the necropolis of the Banditaccia at Cervetiri which was originally excavated between 1948-1950. Owing to more meticulous archaeological practices of data recording at the time of the excavation we have good records on the layout of this specific tomb including the locations of the tomb’s material contents. The reconstructions at Villa Giulia provides a useful example of ‘experimental archaeology’ in practice. Aside from the reconstructed tombs, Villa Giulia houses some of the more familiar pieces of Etruscan material culture such as the Apollo of Veii and the impressive Sarcophagus of the Spouses which are well worth seeing. Here’s a link to the official Villa Giulia website:

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Italy and although I was only there for three days, I managed to experience absolutely loads of Etruscan material culture. My time perusing the Vatican Museums and the Villa Giulia Etruscan collections was well spent and it’s helped me to think critically about my research project, it’s also raised a lot more questions that I need to ponder on. In 2023 I’ll be going back to Italy as I’d like to visit the necropolis of the Banditaccia at Cervetiri and experience the tombs in context. Logistically I’m not certain on the best way to do this yet, but I’m sure I’ll work it out, perhaps I’ll need to bite the bullet and hire a car! In any case I’m looking forward to my next research trip.


Here’s a selection of photographs (not all from the Etruscan collections) that I took whilst exploring the Vatican Museums. I tried to capture as much of the display information as I could, but I didn’t get everything. Apologies if any of the Villa Giulia collection has got mixed in with these & for any inconvenient reflections in the glass!

I took this next selection of photos whilst exploring the Villa Giulia. Like before, I tried to capture as much of the display information as I could, but I didn’t get everything. However, everything in this selection is Etruscan.

  1. Never understood what the Etruscans did despite having studied the Roman period for years. Did the Etruscans ever fight Rome?…

  2. I’m sorry but this has got to stop! Tony Potter is giving a lot back to ancient history. He’s approaching…

  3. Are the Etrusacans basically early Romans? I’m thinking of doing an OU classics degree but I’m not sure I’m clever…

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