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A New Latin Inscription from Cetamura del Chianti: Private Ritual at a Sacred Well

Lora Holland

The purpose of this paper is to present an unpublished inscription on a semiprecious stone discovered in 2013 by excavators at the site of Cetamura del Chianti. Located in the heart of Tuscany on one of the highest hills between Florence and Siena, the main components of the site that have been excavated so far are: a top level (Zone I) featuring a deep Etruscan well, Roman baths, and the remains of a medieval fortified village; and below, on Zone II, an Etruscan sanctuary of the 3rd-2nd centuries BCE with an associated artisans' quarter. Along with kilns for making brick and tile, evidence for the production of textiles, iron working, and possibly jewelry making are present in this area, with some activity continuing into the Roman phase of the site. Stamped pottery and other artifacts suggest strong ties to major cities such as Volterra, Arezzo, and Populonia.

The Cetamura stone had been deposited in the well on Zone I and was found at a level with coins, pottery, and other artifacts dating between the 2nd c BCE and the first half of the 1st c CE. Votive offerings from antiquity are often found in wells and other water sources, since there was a widespread belief that these were the abodes of divine spirits or that they provided a means of access to the underworld realm. Such deposits are particularly important evidence for the religious practices of individuals from various social classes and life circumstances who are largely absent from the literary sources. Cetamura itself is revealing a complex combination of ethnicities and social identities, so that it has much to offer for understanding the lives of ordinary people during the centuries that blended Etruscans with Romans and Greeks from the Hellenistic East. Over the past five years the well has yielded a great many votive objects in various materials, but to date only one inscribed stone.

The Cetamura votive is similar in size and shape to a gaming piece or lucky charm, like the modern Italian porta fortuna. Its material is local calcareous serpentine (Italian oficalce) cut as a thick disc, and polished to a high sheen. Cetamura, since its discovery in 1964, has also yielded many vitreous, ceramic, stone, and bone "gaming pieces" (de Grummond, 2009:118-125; de Grummond, 2000: 45-46)-from the well and other areas of the site--but none similar to this (although a number of objects crafted from serpentine stone have been found) and none inscribed as a votive. Recent studies of votive deposits, including some from wells, springs, and other water sources, present no comparanda (e.g. Bouma, 1996, and Piranomonte, 2010: 191-213 in Latium; Iozzo, 2013, in Etruria; and more generally Schaefer and Witteyer, 2010). Votive inscriptions on gemstones are rare, although jewelry and semiprecious stones per se are common votive offerings (e.g. Middleton, 1913: 225-274; Castor, 2009). Where inscriptions are the sole ornament, the name of the owner or a "good luck" wish are most common (Richter, 1956: 119-120). Unlike the engraved gems, however, the Cetamura inscription is formatted as a Latin votive with names and formulaic abbreviations. The letters are confined to the flat faces of the circular surface in four rows on the obverse and two on the reverse, and are read from left to right. It has no additional ornamentation apart from the decorative nature of the stone itself.

I will offer photographs of the object and its associated context, an initial transcription and translation of the Latin text, and an interpretation of its meaning as a private votive offering at Cetamura in a 20 minute paper.

Session/Panel Title

Religion, Ritual, and Identity

Session/Paper Number

20.4

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