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The huge Etruscan tomb that has been recently discovered at San Giuliano Necropolis, Marturanum Park, Italy.  Source: Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the Province of Viterbo and Southern Etruria

Huge Etruscan Tomb Found Hidden in Plain Sight at San Giuliano Necropolis

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The world’s most expansive and complex Etruscan necropolis continues to produce surprises, revealing more details about the powerful civilization that preceded the Romans as the dominant force in ancient Italy. While performing maintenance procedures at the San Giuliano Necropolis in Marturanum Park in the central Italian village of Barbarano Romano, archaeologists unearthed a beautifully preserved Etruscan tomb, one that had somehow remained undetected and undiscovered for decades.

The discovery of the tomb was announced by the Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the Province of Viterbo and Southern Etruria on its Facebook page. It introduced the newly identified rock-carved structure as “an additional three-room tomb over headed by three semi-finished doors … perfectly preserved in the architectural part.”

The newly discovered tomb was found quite close to the Queen’s Tomb (Tomba della Regina), a monumental Etruscan installation that dates to the fifth century BC. This huge man-made, rock-cut cavern is approximately 45 feet (14 meters) wide and 33 feet (10 meters) high, and includes stairs leading to an upper terrace, plus two doorways that open into a pair of interior burial chambers. The new tomb was cut out of the rock right next to it, and it is quite astonishing that it was overlooked for so long.

Newly found tomb at the San Giuliano Necropolis in Marturanum Park. (Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the Province of Viterbo and Southern Etruria)

Newly found tomb at the San Giuliano Necropolis in Marturanum Park. (Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the Province of Viterbo and Southern Etruria)

A Queen’s Tomb and its Long-Hidden Companion

The archaeologists responsible for the newly discovered tomb were digging and cleaning around the Queen’s Tomb as part of a restoration project, and they were not really looking for anything new. But much to their surprise, as they continued clearing away overgrown vegetation from the outside of the Queen’s Tomb they noticed the unmistakable outline of another tomb, one that was apparently constructed parallel to the Tomba della Regina. Once they’d uncovered it and opened it there was no longer any doubt about what they had discovered, totally by accident.

The new tomb essentially matches the Queen’s Tomb in size and shape, making it clear it was built according to the same template. This means it was likely constructed at nearly the same time as its neighboring tomb, in the fourth century BC. 

“This operation is thus proving to be fundamental to shed light on a part of necropolis previously unclear and that will increase knowledge of the varieties of tombs of the 5th and 4th centuries BC,” a the Superintendency wrote in its Facebook post.

Despite its highbrow name, archaeologists don’t believe the Queen’s Tomb was used for elite burials. It and its newly discovered partner instead appear to have been reserved for the entombment of people who belonged to the Etruscan version of the middle class.

The tomb is on at least two levels, with a staircase between them. (Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the Province of Viterbo and Southern Etruria)

The tomb is on at least two levels, with a staircase between them. (Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the Province of Viterbo and Southern Etruria)

The Rise and Fall of the Etruscans

This newly discovered tomb was just the latest in a long line of fantastic finds at the San Giuliano Necropolis, a multilevel cemetery carved into a rocky hillside in the small town of Barbarano Romano in the Province of Viterbo just 31 miles (50 kilometers) northwest of Rome. The cemetery was in use from the 7th through the 3rd centuries BC, and the hundreds of Etruscan tombs of different shapes and dimensions found there reflect the diversity of the economic and social classes that were entombed at this sacred location.

Despite the proximity of the necropolis to the capital city of the great Roman Empire, it was an exclusive creation of a people who lived separately from the Romans for more than 600 years. The Etruscans were an indigenous population that built a thriving civilization in the lands of modern-day Tuscany, northern Lazio, western Umbria and surrounding territories in the Po Valley and western Campania in pre-Roman times. Most of these lands comprised the ancient nation of Etruria (the source for the name Etruscans), which was located right on Rome’s doorstep but avoided absorption into the growing Roman Republic until the mid-third century BC.

After the dramatic appearance of their city-state-based society and culture around 900 BC, the Etruscans lived peacefully alongside the Romans for more than three centuries. The two peoples were separated geographically by the Tiber River, with the Romans on the east bank and the Etruscans on the west. But as population levels increased on both sides of the river the competition for resources grew more intense, and a series of local conflicts between Etruscan city-states and Roman Republic settlements eventually escalated into all-out warfare.

The Roman-Etruscan Wars raged on and off for somewhere between 200 and 300 years (historians aren’t exactly sure when they started), and it wasn’t until 265-264 BC that the spirited Etruscans were finally defeated and their lands incorporated into the Roman Republic’s expanding sphere of influence.

Over time the Etruscans were gradually assimilated into Roman society and culture, officially becoming Roman citizens in 90 BC. They managed to hold onto their distinctive language for another 150 years or so after that, but eventually their language died and their absorption into Roman culture was complete.

Getting to Know the Etruscans, One Tomb at a Time

Unfortunately, the number of surviving Etruscan texts is limited, and their language up to now has only been partially translated. As a result, there are still many mysteries associated with their culture and civilization.

This is one reason why the discovery of new Etruscan tombs is always greeted with excitement in the archaeological community. The physical characteristics of those tombs and the burial goods they contain can help illuminate the truth about a once-great civilization that disappeared deeply into the annals of history more than 2,000 years ago.

Top image: The huge Etruscan tomb that has been recently discovered at San Giuliano Necropolis, Marturanum Park, Italy.  Source: Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the Province of Viterbo and Southern Etruria

By Nathan Falde

 
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Nathan

Nathan Falde graduated from American Public University in 2010 with a Bachelors Degree in History, and has a long-standing fascination with ancient history, historical mysteries, mythology, astronomy and esoteric topics of all types. He is a full-time freelance writer from... Read More

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