Thiermann, Ellen: Capua – Grab und Gemeinschaft. Eine kontextuelle Analyse der Nekropole Fornaci (570 bis 400 v. Chr.), 322 Seiten, 297 x 210 mm, 27 s/w Abb., 12 Diagramme, 207 Farbabb., 98 s/w-Abb., 14 Pläne auf Tafeln, ISBN 978-3-89500-844-3, 98 €
(Reichert Verlag, Wiesbaden 2012)
Compte rendu par Lieve Donnellan, VU University, Amsterdam

Nombre de mots : 1675 mots
Publié en ligne le 2018-01-31
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).


          For some years now, theoretical and interdisciplinary innovations are proliferating in German archaeology, even in one of its most traditional corners, that of Classical Archaeology. As much is testified by the well-studied and carefully-analysed material that constitutes Ellen Thiermann’s first book, published in the Italikà series - a small but wonderful series of innovative German-language (revised) PhD publications.


         In her book, Thiermann studies previously unpublished contexts from the Fornaci necropolis of Capua, dating from ca. 570-400 BCE. Capua is traditionally seen as the most important Etruscan city in Campania, but its important historical significance is regretfully not reflected in its publication record, which has witnessed a great backlog in excavated but unpublished contexts and a relative neglect in attention in other scholarly work. Attempts to amend the situation came in the last couple of years, with Gianluca Melandri’s L'età del Ferro a Capua. Aspetti distintivi del contesto culturale e suo inquadramento nelle dinamiche di sviluppo dell'Italia protostorica (Oxford 2011) and Sergio Occhiolupo’s La necropoli capuana: per una definizione della prima fase tra l'età del Bronzo finale e la prima età del Ferro (Pisa 2011), and now Thiermann’s volume.


         The book consists of five chapters and an extensive catalogue listing the contexts discussed, including excavation details (if known), previous (preliminary) publication, a brief description of the inventory as well as the current location of the objects (if known). High-quality images of the inventories and plans of the Fornaci necropolis’ various sections are provided at the end of the book.


         In a brief introduction (p. 13-16) Thiermann outlines the necessity of the work and its main aims. Emergency excavations conducted by the local authorities under Werner Johannowsky in the 1960s-1970s brought ca. 1500 tombs to light in the Fornaci sector. Thiermann studies the 170 tombs that can be dated from ca. 570-400 BC. Johannowsky reported his discoveries only in preliminary fashion and a substantial analysis and publication of the discoveries had not yet been undertaken. Thiermann goal is thus, as she emphasizes, not just to publish the contexts, but to provide a historical narrative of Capuan society in the 6th - 5th centuries BCE, especially regarding the hotly-debated issue of Capua’s Etruscan identity. Capua possessed a number of different foundation myths, linking it to Etruscan foundational efforts that are difficult to establish historically, however. The scrutiny to which foundation myths are now subjected usually leads to the establishment of more specific contexts of historical identity-making and “invention of tradition”, often spurred by regional conflict, rather than actual migrations or foundations. Thiermann outlines that she will attempt to tackle the issue by adopting an anthropological approach, which allows her to focus on the "microstoria" - a term mainly known through the work of the Italian contemporary historian Carlos Ginzbourg. Microhistory focusses on the narratives of daily life of individual agents, rather than social structures or historical change. Despite adopting the terminology of the fourth Annales School, Thiermann does not elaborate on the topic, however.


         In the first chapter (p. 17-23), Thiermann introduces the historical debate on Capua’s alleged Etruscan foundation and Etruscan identity. Studying Capua’s origins archaeologically is notoriously difficult because of contemporary overbuilding which makes that excavations are limited to small-scale emergency interventions on the occasion of infrastructural works. Very few buildings dating from the Early Iron Age and Archaic Period are known. As a result, Capua’s origins have mainly been treated from a historical point of view. References in Velleius Paterculus (1st century BCE - 1st century AD), a Capuan native and Cato the Elder (3rd - 2nd centuries BC) give two very different foundational accounts: 471 BCE for the latter and ca. 800 BCE for the former. Scholars have proposed to attribute the first Capuan foundation to a group coming from the Villanova area, which would also explain similarities in the burial rites. The second foundation would then be linked to the historical Etruscans. Both reconstructions remain problematic, as Thiermann points out, because of the scarcity of historical sources to connect to the equally scarce archaeological sources.


         In the second chapter (p. 25-32) Thiermann discusses the theoretical assumptions underlying the analysis of tombs and the link with ethnicity. One of the main problems with Classical Archaeological approaches to tombs was - and still is - its overfocussing on tomb inventories, preferably painted vessels and valuable metalwork. More theoretical-anthopological or at least contextual analyses have been produced on a number of occasions in the past, but none provide a direct example for Thiermann because, as she explains, one of the issues she wants to tackle is the link between historical and archaeological sources regarding ethnic identity. The historical sources generated the whole identity debate, so Thiermann feels they should be included in her study.


         The complicated background of the Capua excavations proves an additional challenge to the study of the funerary contexts. In Roman times, the tombs were plundered so extensively that the report reached Rome and was transmitted by Suetonius. The mass plundering could be confirmed by modern excavations. Nineteenth-century excavations further disturbed the Capuan burial record. It is unknown how many tombs were unearthed during the legal and many illegal excavations. Thiermann estimates, based on the number of Attic vessels in international collections, that ca. 150 to 200 tombs might have been “excavated” during the early years of archaeological exploration, but she adds that - at least in Fornaci - only one out four tombs contained Attic pottery, which means that the real number is likely to have been much higher. To illustrate the turbulent nineteenth-century excavation history, regretfully reminiscent of many other Italian sites, Thiermann elaborates on the life history of the Capuan objects that are now held by the Berliner Antikensammlung - one of many international collections possessing Capuan objects. She further provides details on the excavation of the most famous and rich tombs in Capua, about which we lack many details: the so-called tomba Barone, the Brygos tomb, the tomb of the board-player and the tomba Dutuit.


         Better protection of the site came in the twentieth century, eventually leading to the controlled emergency excavations by Johannowsky. However, even the latter's excavations have provided only partial and sometimes contradictory documentation. It is based on this information that the author seeks to provide a reconstruction. Based on the description in Johannowsky’s diaries, Thiermann selected the the contexts containing material dated to the 6th-5th centuries BCE and tried to match these to the material held in the local museums, an exercise which illuminated the fact that several contexts have been mixed up or lost.


         In the extensive fourth chapter (p. 57-137), Thiermann proposes a reconstruction of the necropolis and its burial rites. Both topographical and chronological reconstructions are seriously hampered by the lacunae in the excavation documentation. It seems, however, that throughout the centuries, a general shift form the North-West to the East can be perceived. The Fornaci necropolis displays the largest chronological continuity of all currently-known necropoleis in Capua.


         The internal division of the necropolis is not entirely clear. Each sector displays different characteristics in terms of internal organization, ranging from orderly and structured to dense and overlapping and, sometimes, no organization at all. Thiermann convincingly proposed that the continuity points to the existence of a coherent society in which kinship groups and families express themselves through burial.


         The remainder of the chapter is devoted to the careful analysis of tomb types, rites and tomb inventories. Thiermann discusses each in a typological fashion but pays attention to the re-contextualization by looking at meaningful co-occurrences of the various elements. She also presents the Etruscan inscriptions that were discovered and which play an important role in the Capuan ethnicity debate.


         In the last and concluding chapter (p. 141-160), Thiermann provides a historical narrative of the social and materialized cultural developments in Capua between the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. She distinguishes between horizontal, vertical and diagonal differentiation in burial. Gender and age appear to have been expressed by using different tomb types and objects. Vertical hierarchies were clearly visible in Capua, but Thiermann believes that the Fornaci necropolis was not used by the highest echelons of Capuan society. There was, however, also social differentiation in the Fornaci necropolis, most clearly found in the use of the cube-shaped monolithic tombs (Würfelgräber in German or tombe a dado in Italian), which were linked to more ostentatious forms of burial. Thiermann elaborates on the origin and significance of the burial rite, which is traditionally linked to the Euboeans at nearby Cuma. However, rather than seeing the rite as a direct imitation of Greek examples, Thiermann proposes to see it as a negotiated ritual, to be situated in between both worlds, through the use of diverging strategies for collecting the ashes of the deceased. Whereas the Cumaean examples use lebetes, the Capuans use kraters. She also points out that the iconography on a number of Capuan urns, which have traditionally been linked to male gender identities, should rather be linked to broader notions of death and afterlife.


         In conclusion, Thiermann finds no evidence to support the notion of a rupture that would have been caused by an Etruscan colonization. Rather, the differentiation and changes that exist should be attributed to expressions of group identities and clan rivalries. The notoriously difficult task undertaken by Thiermann of sorting out old excavation documentation results is a well-structured and clearly-written book, which is amply provided with sub-conclusions and documentary material to support the author’s proposed interpretation. Thiermann’s detailed reconstruction of the evidence allows to build a nuanced historical narrative that constitutes an important work for Capua in general, but also in terms of Classical Archaeological methodology, by introducing innovative methods and theories into the sometimes sterile Classical Archaeological approaches. A very broad public interested in Etruscan culture and history, South-Italian archaeology and Classical funerary Archaeology will thoroughly enjoy the fruits of Thiermann’s labour.