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Monumentality in Etruscan and Early Roman Architecture

Monumentality in Etruscan and Early Roman Architecture
Ideology and Innovation
Afterword by Ingrid E.M. Edlund-Berry

Experts explore what factors drove the emergence of scale as a defining element in ancient Italian architecture, and how these factors influenced the origins and development of Etruscan and early Roman monumental designs.

Series: Classics and the Ancient World Endowment

November 2012
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200 pages | 7 x 10 | 25 b&w photos, 1 map, 32 line drawings, 10 tables |

Every society builds, and many, if not all, utilize architectural structures as markers to define place, patron, or experience. Often we consider these architectural markers as “monuments” or “monumental” buildings. Ancient Rome, in particular, is a society recognized for the monumentality of its buildings. While few would deny that the term “monumental” is appropriate for ancient Roman architecture, the nature of this characterization and its development in pre-Roman Italy is rarely considered carefully. What is “monumental” about Etruscan and early Roman architecture?

Delving into the crucial period before the zenith of Imperial Roman building, Monumentality in Etruscan and Early Roman Architecture addresses such questions as, “What factors drove the emergence of scale as a defining element of ancient Italian architecture?” and “How did monumentality arise as a key feature of Roman architecture?” Contributors Elizabeth Colantoni, Anthony Tuck, Nancy A. Winter, P. Gregory Warden, John N. Hopkins, Penelope J. E. Davies, and Ingrid Edlund-Berry reflect on the ways in which ancient Etruscans and Romans utilized the concepts of commemoration, durability, and visibility to achieve monumentality. The editors’ preface and introduction underscore the notion of architectural evolution toward monumentality as being connected to the changing social and political strategies of the ruling elites.

By also considering technical components, this collection emphasizes the development and the ideological significance of Etruscan and early Roman monumentality from a variety of viewpoints and disciplines. The result is a broad range of interpretations celebrating both ancient and modern perspectives.

  • Preface (Michael L. Thomas)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Note on Abbreviations
  • 1. Introduction: The Experience of Monumentality in Etruscan and Early Roman Architecture (Gretchen E. Meyers)
  • 2. Straw to Stone, Huts to Houses: Transitions in Building Practices and Society in Protohistoric Latium (Elizabeth Colantoni)
  • 3. The Performance of Death: Monumentality, Burial Practice, and Community Identity in Central Italy’s Urbanizing Period (Anthony Tuck)
  • 4. Monumentalization of the Etruscan Round Moulding in Sixth-Century BCE Central Italy (Nancy A. Winter)
  • 5. Monumental Embodiment: Somatic Symbolism and the Tuscan Temple (P. Gregory Warden)
  • 6. The Capitoline Temple and the Effects of Monumentality on Roman Temple Design (John N. Hopkins)
  • 7. On the Introduction of Stone Entablatures in Republican Temples in Rome (Penelope J. E. Davies)
  • Afterword: Reflections (Ingrid E. M. Edlund-Berry)
  • About the Contributors
  • Index

Michael L. Thomas is Director of the recently launched Center for the Study of Ancient Italy at the University of Texas at Austin. He has excavated in Italy for seventeen years, and he currently codirects two archaeological projects there.

Gretchen E. Meyers is Assistant Professor of Classics at Franklin and Marshall College. A scholar of Etruscan archaeology and culture, she has authored articles on architecture, roofing tiles, and textile production and serves as Director of Materials at the Etruscan site of Poggio Colla.


The Experience of Monumentality in Etruscan and Early Roman Architecture

Gretchen E. Meyers

A monument is intended to call forth fear or wonder in the observer: to remind him of the antiquity of the dynasty, the power of the regime, the wealth of the community, the truth of its ideology, or of some event—a military victory or successful revolution—that demonstrated such wealth, power, or truth.
—D. J. Olsen, The City as a Work of Art

Every society builds, and many, if not all, societies utilize architectural structures as markers to define place, patron, or experience. Often we identify these architectural markers as “monuments” or “monumental” buildings. Ancient Rome, in particular, is a society recognized for the monumentality of its buildings, with landmarks such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the massive Imperial bath complexes still dominating the Eternal City’s urban landscape. While few would deny that the term “monumental” is appropriate for ancient Roman architecture, the nature of this characterization is rarely considered very carefully. What is “monumental” about Roman architecture? Is it the size of the buildings? Or is it the splendor of the exterior materials? Does “monumentality” infer great expenditure of time and resources in construction? Must a monument be visible to many, or only to a few? The answers to such questions are often taken for granted in discussions of Roman architecture, and as a result the characterization of Roman architecture as “monumental” has become commonplace and somewhat diluted.

This volume reconsiders the technical and ideological components of monumental building in Etruscan and early Roman architecture. Imperial monumentality may be self-evident, but the early origins of ancient Roman monumentality are difficult to pinpoint. As with many aspects of Roman architecture, it is necessary to trace the lineage of monumental practice back through the earliest buildings in Rome to nearby Etruria. Since the first publication of Axel Böethius’s work in 1970, scholars have recognized that Etruscan architecture and early Roman architecture are closely related. Therefore, in order to study the emergence of monumentality as building practice in ancient Italy, one must begin in Etruria and the pre-Roman cultures of Italy. The papers of this volume focus on this crucial period before the zenith of Imperial Roman building and explore the emergence of monumentality as a product of evolving technical innovation and adapted strategies to communicate power and ideology. Much as architects do today, ancient Etruscans and Romans were able to distinguish the monumental from the ordinary through employment of the concepts of durability, visibility, and commemoration.

Monumentality in Etruscan Architecture

It would be difficult to argue that a single type of building epitomizes the earliest monumental experience in ancient Italy. However, two types of structures from Etruria are often designated as “monumental” early on. The first are the monumental tumulus tombs dating to the Orientalizing period in Cerveteri, and the second are the “monumental complexes,” sometimes referred to as palazzi, also originating in the Orientalizing period and in use during the Archaic period; this second architectural form does not appear to continue in central Italy beyond this time.

Although the remains of several Central Italic buildings have been classified under this nomenclature, the building type has largely been defined by two dominant examples: the Archaic Building at Poggio Civitate (Murlo) and the building from the monumental area of Zone F at Acquarossa. These structures share a number of physical similarities visible in the archaeological record: first and foremost, a similar architectural form—a central courtyard bounded by at least two linear wings of accessible spaces; second, analogous building materials, i.e., stone foundations and tile roofs; third, their larger size in comparison to earlier building endeavors; and fourth, an elaborate decorative program of architectural terracottas. These characteristics are often used as evidence in the debate about the function and cultural significance of these buildings in Archaic Etruria; however, these are also the very factors that are used to assert their monumentality. In fact the entanglement of function and perceived monumental qualities is so dense that in English scholarship the buildings are often referred to generically as “monumental buildings” or “monumental complexes.”

Perhaps the most obvious way that the Etruscan palazzi stand out as “monumental” to modern scholars is through their size and durable materials. For example, in describing the foundations of the Archaic structure at Poggio Civitate (Murlo), the original excavator of the site said simply, “One was immediately struck by the monumentality of the building.” Indeed, the Archaic Building at Murlo was remarkable for its size in the sixth century BCE, approximately 60.0 x 61.85 m. While a great deal of the enclosed area is taken up by an open-air courtyard, the four flanking wings are composed of substantial stone foundations supporting earthen walls and heavy terracotta roofs.

Although smaller in overall size than its often-cited counterpart at Murlo, Acquarossa’s monumental area in Zone F is significantly larger and more complex than surrounding contemporary buildings on the Acquarossa plateau, where small domestic structures of one or two rooms dominate. The monumental complex at Acquarossa actually comprises two main buildings arranged around a courtyard: Building A, approximately 10 m in length, and Building C, approximately 25 m in length. Other smaller structures also surround the courtyard space, although the courtyard is not completely enclosed. While formal aspects of their plans distinguish the structures at Murlo and Acquarossa from one another, much of what might be termed “monumental” remains the same: comparative size, stone foundations, and substantial terracotta roofing elements.

The large, extensive plans, utilizing stone and terracotta as support and cover, of the Archaic structure at Murlo and the monumental complex at Acquarossa differed greatly from previous constructions in Iron Age Italy, such as large huts, which did not possess lower and upper elements of such durability. In addition, the size and sturdy building materials allowed for the placement of many rich and varied terracotta decorations on the buildings’ roofs. Although there is evidence for some terracotta adornment on smaller buildings in Etruria prior to these, as well as on a number of contemporary religious structures, the decorative programs at Poggio Civitate and Acquarossa are remarkable in their scale, richness, and iconography. This is partly due to the enhanced size and durability of the structures themselves. For example, a foundation less substantial than the one for the massive courtyard building at Poggio Civitate would not have been able to support the vast collection of acroterial sculptures in the form of mythological creatures and seated and standing human figures, four types of frieze plaques, antefixes, and decorative simas that adorned the building and enhanced its visibility from both near and far vantage points.8 At Acquarossa, the decorative program is somewhat less varied, but equally complex in its imagery. It includes a series of frieze plaques depicting common Etruscan visual motifs such as banqueters, dancers, and mythological creatures and characters, including Herakles. These eye-catching features suggest that the visibility and readabilty of the palazzi were not an accident of monumental building practices, but an important component of monumental design itself. Clearly the palazzi were intended to reach beyond a small, exclusive audience of patrons, and to communicate more widely within Etruscan culture—the second characteristic that is often associated with monumental architecture.

Without a doubt, the archaeological evidence at Poggio Civitate (Murlo) and Acquarossa discussed here confirms the monumentality of the so-called Archaic Etruscan palazzi, which were clearly built in a manner that distinguishes them from other previous and contemporary Etruscan architectural forms. However, for many scholars their monumentality does not end there: the structures possess an ideological component as well, which might be termed “commemoration.” For example, when Vedia Izzet writes about “the so-called ‘monumental’ complex at Acquarossa, or the elaborate courtyard building at Murlo,” she notes that their very existence embodies “the increase in wealth and power” of the first half of the sixth century BCE. In fact, much of the debate on the function and usage of the structures swirls around the issue of what political entity or elite individual the elaborate structures were intended to commemorate or serve, an argument that is not engaged in with regard to contemporary “non-monumental” Etruscan structures. In some cases the palazzi have been interpreted as elite residences; in others they are considered seats of political authority or assembly. At the very least, both the Archaic complex at Murlo and the monumental area at Acquarossa were preceded by smaller constructions on the same sites, and one could thus assume that their architectural form is simply the result of evolving technical innovation. However, for most the connotation of the buildings’ monumentality is more than just bricks, mortar, and terracotta. Scholars generally agree that the complicated iconography of the architectural terracottas and the substantial commitment to building materials and size suggest that the Etruscan palazzi were intended to commemorate some source of power or influence. This third feature is less tangible in the archaeological record, but we have nevertheless come to associate it with monumental architecture.

This brief discussion of Archaic Etruscan monumental complexes exposes the tenuous nature of our actual understanding of monumentality in its earliest phases in ancient Italy. Despite a nebulous characterization of the monumental qualities of the complexes at Poggio Civitate and Acquarossa that ranges widely from scale to commemorative ideology, no one disagrees with the assertion that these structures are in fact “monumental” with respect to other buildings, particularly when they are compared with those constructed prior to this period. However, with no written sources to support an Etruscan conception of “monumentality” (if such a concept even existed), discussion of monumentality in the Etruscan archaeological record has been unavoidably merged with contemporary views of monumental architecture.

Despite the ubiquitous occurrence of the term “monumentality” and the phrase “monumental architecture” in modern archaeological and architectural literature, the establishment of a single definition of the term “monumentality” is actually much more complicated than it first appears. A close look at the term’s origin and the history of its usage demonstrates that the meaning and the cultural associations of the term are far from universal; the very notion of “monumentality” is best seen as a social construct, unique and inseparable from the culture that creates, views, and experiences it.

Defining Monumentality

Neither the abstract noun “monumentality” nor the adjective “monumental” appears until the early modern era. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first occurrence of “monumental” dates to 1596 and the more conceptual term “monumentality” appears even later, in 1884. In both these early instances the terms are descriptive of the qualities of a physical monument or memorial. The English word “monument,” which appears ca. 1325, has a more distinct association with memory, and its earliest usage refers to a tomb or sepulcher.

These early English references are consistent with the word’s etymological origin—the Latin word monumentum. Itself a somewhat complicated term, monumentum first and foremost denotes an inherently commemorative object, as illustrated by an early appearance in Latin literature in Plautus’s comedy Curculio. In this play, Phaedromos, a comically lovesick adolescent, pleads with the female slave of a pimp to release his beloved, who happens to be a prostitute: Tibine ego, si fidem servas mecum, vineam pro aurea statua statuam, quae tuo gutturi sit monumentum(“You keep your word and I’ll put you up a statue of vines instead of gold to commemorate your gullet”). Here comedic parody—a memorial made out of something as ephemeral as grapevines, honoring a female slave of a pimp—exposes the more typical associations of the term. The audience surely knows that a true monumentum is an austere marker, in some cases a statue, which is erected in honor of an individual of high status, probably a male, and would be more realistically constructed out of durable, even costly materials. As is typical in comedy, much of the joke revolves around social status: in this case, the female slave’s lack of it and her inherent undeservedness of a monumentum because of both her sex and her social position. It is possible to infer from this instance that to a Republican Roman audience the monumentum’s ideological significance is just as important as its appearance. A closer look at the term in pre-Imperial Latin literature demonstrates other meanings, and enhances our understanding of the Roman conception of the ancient monumentum.


The noun monumentum (or monimentum) derives from the verb moneo, “to bring to the notice of, remind, warn.” Its etymological root emphasizes that the monument’s primary function is to evoke a particular response through the viewer’s memory. In this way the monumentum is interactive and we can assume that, as memories are not universal, a monumentum may evoke different responses for different individuals throughout time. Therefore the very nature of a monumentum allows for a broad range of interpretative possibilities. In one sense, the ancient monumentum is an object or structure with physical qualities. It can be a statue, a trophy, a building, etc. One of the term’s most common meanings in Latin literature and inscriptions is “tomb,” a monument that is generally intended to call to mind an individual, rather than an event or a communal group. A statue or trophy might function similarly in recalling an individual, but also could easily focus that recollection on an individual’s actions or successes. In this way, monumenta may also recall events.

One might expect to find copious references to grand monumenta throughout the architectural treatise of Vitruvius. De architectura was written in the early years of the Augustan principate, and it is the only surviving architectural treatise from ancient Rome. It was composed with the intention of aiding Augustus in building “public and private buildings, that will correspond to the grandeur of our history and will be a memorial to future ages”—a goal surely consistent with our modern sense of “monumentality.” In actuality, however, Vitruvius uses the term in only three of his ten books: in book 2 with reference to stone as a material for statues or tombs; in book 4 in a passage detailing Callimachus’s establishment of the symmetrical proportions of the Corinthian column, derived from his imitation in stone of an acanthus root growing on top of a young girl’s grave; and in book 8 to describe the placement of Euripides’ stone tomb at the convergence of two streams in Macedonia. In general the word is used specifically for memorials for the dead, while the first passage also includes sculptures, which may have been part of funerary structures or sarcophagi. Thus, these associations are much closer to the example in Plautus cited above than to modern notions of massive, imposing buildings. Noteworthy in these passages is the association of the term specifically with stone. One might suggest that for Vitruvius “monumentality” is the opposite of “ephemerality”; it encompasses something sturdy, long lasting, and durable.

A second well-documented example from the years of the late Republic and early Principate similarly emphasizes the durability of monumenta; however, in this case it is not stone that promotes such endurance. In the preface to his written history of Rome, Ab urbe condita, Livy uses the term twice: Quae ante conditam condendamve urbem poeticis magis decora fabulis quam incorruptis rerum gestarum monumentis traduntur, ea nec adfirmare nec refellere in animo est (“Such traditions as belong to the time before the city was founded, or rather was presently to be founded, and are rather adorned with poetic legends than based upon trustworthy historical proofs, I propose neither to affirm nor to refute”); and Hoc illud est praecipue in cognitione rerum salubre ac frugiferum, omnis te exempli documenta in inlustri posita monumento intueri (“What chiefly makes the study of history wholesome and profitable is this, that you behold the lessons of every kind of experience set forth as on a conspicuous monument”).

Scholarship on the significance of the term monumentum in Livy and in reference to the annalistic tradition in general is vast. Livy was not the first or the last to intimate that his written work functions as an eternal monumentum; nor is this sort of written monumentality limited to history, as Horace’s famous line describing his poetry—“a monument more lasting than bronze”—attests. Of interest here is the fact that the qualities Livy ascribes to the written monument are similar to those we have already seen attributed to physical monumenta. In the first instance, where Livy contrasts the fanciful legends of poets with the incorruptis rerum gestarum monumentis, the modifier incorruptis alludes to the security and permanence of historical monuments. Such histories (as Livy no doubt considers his own) are literally long lasting in their imperishability. In the second instance, it is the visual quality of the monument that receives the focus. As noted by Feldherr in reference to this passage, “the process of seeing [is] fundamental to the beneficial effects [Livy’s] narrative will exert upon his readers.” The inlustre monumentum compels the viewer/reader, who, through its clarity, cannot help but witness and follow the exempla laid out within. Ultimately, as Mary Jaeger has pointed out, monumenta for Livy are experiential, relying on the monuments’ “spatial, visual, and mnemonic” qualities to direct viewer/reader response.

At this point it is interesting to consider the possibility that over time a monumentum might trigger a range of memories and associations—even incorrect ones. An appropriate case study could be the Lapis Niger in the Forum Romanum. Although no literary reference specifically calls the black stone in the pavement in front of the Curia Iulia a monumentum, it appears to have functioned as one. Archaeological excavations in 1899, which uncovered an assemblage of Archaic material beneath the Lapis Niger—including an altar, an inscribed stele, and an assortment of votive bronzes, terracotta revetments, and pottery—indicated that the stone was intended to mark a location associated with some ancient event or ritual. Festus refers to the Lapis Niger as a locus funestus of Romulus, a term that could easily refer to a place of his death or his burial. Nonetheless, without inscriptional evidence it is impossible to know how Romans, decades or even centuries later, would have responded to the stone. They may or may not have “recalled” what event or individual the stone marked. In fact, it has been suggested that at the time of the burial of these Archaic monuments few if any Romans would have understood what the monuments themselves commemorated. This example is instructive as a demonstration of the potential flexibility and limits of the Roman mind in respect to the memories evoked by a particular place or monument. One must be cautious in assuming that only one particular and finite meaning for an ancient monumentum is recoverable.

A final example, from a letter of Cicero dated to 54 BCE, demonstrates this uncertainty. In this letter, Cicero writes to Atticus about his role in financing a monumentum, believed by scholars to refer to Julius Caesar’s Forum Iulium: Itaque Caesaris amici (me dico et Oppium, dirumparis licet) in monumentum illud quod tu tollere laudibus solebas, ut forum laxeremus et usque ad atrium Libertatis explicaremus, contempsimus sescenties HS cum privatis non poterat transigi minore pecunia. Efficiemus rem gloriosissimam (“So Caesar’s friends (I mean Oppius and myself, choke on that if you must) have thought nothing of spending sixty million sesterces on the work which you used to be so enthusiastic about, to widen the Forum and extend it as far as the Hall of Liberty. We couldn’t settle with the private owners for a smaller sum. We shall achieve something really glorious”). We now know that this monumentum ultimately became the Forum Iulium. However, what Cicero actually meant by the term “monumentum” here is debatable; it is particularly unclear whether Cicero, Atticus, or even Caesar conceived of that space in 54 BCE as an imperial forum in the sense we now know it, and whether “monumentum” would have been an appropriate term for such a space at that time. Some translators have taken the term generically and translated it as “public work.” However, James Anderson argues, on the basis of Cicero’s standard usage of the term, that in his writings “monumentum” is usually more concrete and that “Cicero would have been unlikely to use it in reference to a vague commission from Caesar.” Anderson further suggests that the terms “laxeremus,” which stresses the act of extending or widening, and “explicaremus,” which Cicero often uses to express disentanglement of complex issues, demonstrate that Cicero was conceptualizing Caesar’s plans at this time as an extension of the Forum Romanum in order to relieve spatial pressures, not necessarily envisioning the creation of the Forum Iulium as a separate forum. He concludes that the monumentum under discussion here must be simply the space for expanding the Forum Romanum, rather than an actual structure.

Discussion of this passage has focused principally on how much of the later Forum Iulium was conceived by Caesar or Cicero at the time of the letter, and less on the passage’s role in interpreting the perception of monumentality by ancient Romans. Cicero’s letter is in fact quite instructive in this respect. A closer look reveals that Cicero uses the term monumentum two additional times in the very same paragraph of this letter to Atticus: once immediately prior to the cited passage and again two sentences afterward. In these additional sentences Cicero discusses two other monumenta under construction that are more securely identified, and these references can be used to clarify his understanding of the term. The first is Paullus’s basilica in the Forum Romanum: Paulus in medio foro basilicam iam paene texerat isdem antiquis columnis, illam autem quam locavit facit magnificentissimam. Quid quaeris? Nihil gratius illo monumento, nihil gloriosius (“Paullus has now almost roofed his basilica in the middle of the Forum, using the original antique pillars. The other one, which he gave out on contract, he is constructing in magnificent style. It is indeed a most admired and glorious edifice”). Here the emphasis on the term “monumentum” rests on the sense of permanence supplied through the reused columns from the original Basilica Fulvia (one might think of them as Livy’s incorrupta monumenta), compared with the superlative visual qualities of L. Aemilius Paullus’s new additions. The use of the adjective magnificentissimam/em> here emphasizes the luxury and expense of these new elements of Paulus’s building and looks forward to the rem gloriosissimam in Cicero’s following remarks on the project that will become the future Forum Iulium. Clearly, building materials combining permanence and excessive display bring gloria to the monument’s patron.

The third monumentum of the paragraph is the Saepta Iulia in the Campus Martius: iam in campo Martio saepta tributis comitiis marmorea sumus et tecta facturi eaque cingemus excelsa porticu, ut mille passuum conficiatur. simul adiungetur huic operi villa etiam publica. dices “quid mihi hoc monumentum proderit?” (“As for the Campus Martius, we are going to build covered marble booths for the Assembly of Tribes and to surround them with a high colonnade, a mile of it in all. At the same time the Villa Publica will be attached to our building. You’ll say, ‘What good will such a structure be to me?’”). Again the monument is associated with durability and expense through Cicero’s reference to marble and roofing. The echo of the earlier verb texerat in the term “tecta” and the evocation of the Basilica Paulli’s columns with the visual image of Saepta’s mile-long portico are powerful indications of what links all three of the structures described in this letter as being “monumental.” It is not size or grandiosity alone, as our modern sensibilities dictate, but rather an intriguing combination of commemoration, durability, and visual spectacle.

In all three cases the display of expenditure—in terms of either size or materials, or both—plays a central role, emphasizing a particular communicative role for a monumentum within the competitive, aristocratic culture of Cicero’s Rome. Moreover, this passage clearly demonstrates a twist in the interpretation of the physicality of a monumentum. The monument need not be a specific structure—like a building, statue, or trophy—but may in fact be simply a space, as long as it is bounded and confined, as in the case of Caesar’s commemorative extension of the Forum Romanum.


Together the above examples serve to establish a multivalent definition of “monumentum” in pre-imperial Rome, consistent in principles, if not specific details, with the nuanced characterization of the monumental complexes of Etruria. This definition recognizes the physical quality of monumental space, while also capturing a monument’s communicative potential. The passages I have discussed demonstrate that by the end of the Republic many shades of meaning pertained to “monumentality,” despite the lack of a specific term to describe the phenomenon. Among this variation, however, certain elements of the monumental experience dominate: commemoration, visibility, and the monument’s perceived durability. Over time these experiences were destined to change, as imperial monuments in Rome and beyond became more expansive, more ornate, and more long lasting. Eventually, by the late antique period, scale would become an identifying characteristic of the architecture of the Roman cityscape. As the generational experience of monumentality changed to encompass each new extraordinary innovation, so did the specific associations with the term “monumentum.” However, throughout time, the same qualities of commemoration, visibility, and durability continued to characterize the experience of monumentality.


Edmund Thomas asserts that the abstract concept of the “monumentalization” of ancient buildings was first addressed in academic terms at a conference in 1987, when Paul Zanker defined it as “adornment with buildings and memorials intended for show.” While still grounded in the original sense of the term as a memorial, Zanker’s statement also moves closer to the primary modern sense of architectural “monumentality,” which is used to denote buildings that are grand and showy. In today’s parlance, the commemorative function of a monumental building is more of an option than a necessity.

In truth the erosion of the original meaning of monumentum and the creation of the term “monumentality” to include generic qualities of size and ostentation began a few centuries ago. Many scholars have written about the origins of the abstract noun “monumentality,” and in large part they agree that the term’s genesis is connected to the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century interest in the ruins of ancient monuments. Enlightenment debate about the relationship between ancient models and modern innovation, particularly in France and England, was fueled by a burgeoning link between archaeological exploration and tourism and architectural theory. As European writers, architects, and tourists viewed the remnants of ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian architectural creations, they originated the modern sense of the term “monumentality” to signify the qualities that these long-standing, distinctive buildings possessed.

The French architectural historian Françoise Choay documents the linguistic shift from the original memorial-based meaning of “monument” in French dictionaries of the later seventeenth century. The 1690 edition of Antoine Furetière’s Dictionnaire universel described a “monument” as a “witness of some great power or grandeur of past centuries,” and cites “the pyramids of Egypt and the Coliseum” as “beaux monuments de la grandeur.” This emphasis on architectural effect and quality, rather than function, led first to the adjective “monumental” and eventually to the noun “monumentality,” first attested as monumentalité in 1845. Thus, the “monumentality” of modern parlance does indeed owe much to ancient monuments, although this debt is less etymological than experiential.

Piranesi’s eighteenth-century prints of decaying ancient structures, overgrown and deteriorating through the passage of time, epitomize the emotional power of these ancient monuments, which affect one through their longevity rather than through their universal architectural form. In capturing their perceptions of the grandeur, size, and durability of ancient monumenta, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century architects and architectural theorists created the modern sense of “monumentality.” “Monument” and “monumentality” essentially separate into two distinct ideas: the “monument”—more closely related to the original sense of monumentum—signifying a marker of the past; and “monumentality“ encompassing the wide range of qualities and characteristics such monuments possess.

Since the nineteenth century, monumentality has remained a topic of discussion and debate among architectural historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists. Many architects and architectural historians have grappled with issues of the architect’s role in creating “monumentality” in modern architecture, the urban versus residential character of monumental buildings, and the universality of monumental experience in architecture. A crisis point for modern European architects occurred after World War II, as they sought appropriate expression for the melancholy relationship of war trauma and history. Essentially as a backlash from perceived deficiencies in the International Style, architects created a “new monumentality” through the utilization of large, powerful, and emotive architectural elements, albeit without explicit reference to historical forms. Ultimately, this “new monumentality” returned to ancient influences, particularly through the work of Louis Kahn, who, as a fellow at the American Academy in Rome in the 1920s, had traveled in Italy, Greece, and Egypt. Kahn’s name is associated with monumentality as a result of his attention to the archaic and because of the “massive grandeur” of his creations. For example, his National Assembly Building in Dacca, in present-day Bangladesh, blends a heavy concrete exterior in the shape of a citadel with wide openings throughout the interior that allow ventilation and light to burst through, creating an architectural effect not unlike the views of decaying ancient buildings in Piranesi’s prints: a solid durable exterior seems able to endure for centuries, while interior space dissolves, as if eroded by time.

For archaeologists, the most influential discussions of monumentality have focused on the relationship between monumental building and the ideology of power. This relationship is at the core of an influential explanation of monumentality put forth by Bruce Trigger in 1990. Trigger views monumental architecture as a universal aspect of all complex societies. He writes, “[Monumental architecture’s] principal defining feature is that its scale and elaboration exceed the requirements of any practical functions that a building is intended to perform.” Trigger goes on to argue, however, that monumentality is not simply a feature of architecture, but rather can be useful to the archaeologist as evidence of political power embodied in the building’s usage of energy. Because those in power control expenditure of energy, a monumental building epitomizes the social priorities of those who are able to marshal the time, expense, material, and labor to construct it. Trigger’s view ultimately connects monumentality to power through the architectural process rather than the architectural product.

Archaeologist Jerry Moore contributes another dimension, enhancing on Trigger’s definition with his own: “Monuments are structures designed to be recognized, expressed by their scale or elaboration, even though their meanings may not be understood by all members of society.” Moore’s argument is that a structure’s monumentality is directly related to its visibility, both from a distance and within the structure itself. While it may have required the same amount of energy to build two distinct structures, a society’s social patterns and power relationships (social, political, and ritual) become apparent when the abilities of individual monuments to control communication between patron and visitor are compared.

Later views such as these are helpful in demonstrating the complexity and continually shifting nature of a society’s experience of what is monumental. Certain elements remain consistent throughout the history of the term. For example, Trigger’s theoretical construct is rooted in the materiality of monumental structures, while Moore’s is founded upon visual access and effect. In both cases these elements are interpreted as expressions of social power. However, it is important to remember that the generational experience of monumentality is constantly changing. We must be careful not to impose “new” monumentality on structures of the past. Rather, in investigating ancient monumental architecture, we would be wise to direct strict attention toward understanding the consistent experiential qualities of monumentality—durability, visibility, and commemoration—within the structures’ original social contexts.

Conclusions and Contributions

The examples presented in this essay make the case that monumentality is best understood as an experience dictated by perspective. The Etruscan palazzi can be considered monumental because they made use of durability, visibility, and commemoration in a way that redefined the experience of architecture at the time. As with the Forum Iulium, social complexity demanded an unusual space for communal experience. At such moments of innovation, the ideology of monumental architecture emerges—not as a universal ideology of social power, but in a message specific to each occurrence. We need not assume that the message of the Forum Iulium is the same as the message of the palazzi because they are both monumental; the similarity lies instead in the means through which architecture communicates its message. Caesar’s Forum signaled a change in the Republican Roman monumental experience. It looked forward to the Imperial monumentality that ultimately impressed European architects on the Grand Tour. But at the same time it looked back to the architectural traditions of Etruscan and early Roman architecture. The contributions to this volume do the same.

The essays that follow serve as a compendium of the multiplicity of monumental experiences in ancient Etruscan and early Roman architecture. While each author focuses his or her argument on a specific building or architectural perspective, their essays considered together highlight ancient monumental architecture’s reliance on durability, visibility, and commemoration. Although arranged chronologically rather than according to these themes, pairs of papers are particularly relevant to each of these categories.

Monumentality as an expression of durability and the exploitation of building materials is at the center of the arguments of Colantoni and Davies. In “Straw to Stone, Huts to Houses: Transitions in Building Practices and Society in Protohistoric Latium,” Elizabeth Colantoni uses ethnographic data to explore the movement from small, ephemeral huts to larger, more sturdy houses in the seventh and sixth centuries BCE. She argues that this change in size and material is as much the result of technical innovation as of societal structure and strengthened political authority. Penelope Davies, discussing architecture that appeared several centuries later in “On the Introduction of Stone Entablatures in Republican Temples in Rome,” similarly confronts monumentality in terms of evolving building materials—this time, the replacement of wooden temple entablatures with entablatures of stone on Roman temples. By examining this phenomenon not simply as a product of the increased availability of building materials, but also from the ideological perspective of Rome’s political climate, Davies argues that this architectural development belongs to an earlier period than previously thought, namely, to the beginning of the third century BCE.

Visual cues and their role in enhancing the visibility of monumental architecture are discussed in the papers of Winter and Hopkins. Nancy Winter turns her attention to the distinctive Etruscan round moulding—an easily recognizable feature in Etruscan temple architecture. In “Monumentalization of the Etruscan Round Moulding in Sixth-Century BCE Central Italy,” she documents the occurrence of this visual marker of transitions in architectural terracottas in central Italy, based on its similar role in temple architecture. She further demonstrates that after the monumental construction of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus in Rome, a corresponding monumentalization of the Etruscan round moulding occurred on architectural terracottas. The impact of the Capitoline temple and its features on the perception of monumentality in the Republican Roman world is the subject of John Hopkins’s essay, “The Capitoline Temple and the Effects of Monumentality on Roman Temple Design.” Through an extensive survey of Republican Roman temples, Hopkins demonstrates that the Capitoline temple became a paradigm for the concept of monumentality in later temple architecture. He argues that the implementation of certain of its visual features, such as colonnades, deep foundations, and architectural decoration, allowed even smaller buildings to claim monumental status through their association with the definitive monumental temple on Rome’s Capitoline Hill.

Finally, the papers of Tuck and Warden consider monumentality broadly, in terms of not only the physical qualities of monumental architecture, but also the commemorative and performative aspects that are at the core of the original monumentum’s role as a reminder of burial and death ritual. Anthony Tuck’s “The Performance of Death: Monumentality, Burial Practice, and Community Identity in Central Italy’s Urbanizing Period” looks at changing communal identity in Etruscan burial practices. By examining the evolution of the Etruscan funerary marker (monumentum?) from small, individual forms to opulent monumental tombs of the seventh–sixth centuries BCE, Tuck documents the role of monumental architecture in reflecting social ideology and cultural priorities. Shifting attention to religious architecture, Gregory Warden considers the mingled relationship between monumental architecture and culture in physical terms in “Monumental Embodiment: Somatic Symbolism and the Tuscan Temple.” In his discussion of the metaphorical “burial” of a monumental temple from the Etruscan site of Poggio Colla, Warden connects the rituals of death to architecture itself, challenging further our conception of ancient monumentality and our own limited ability to perceive its parameters in ancient Italy.


“On relèvera à cet égard que les développements d’E. Colantoni sur les mutationsarchitecturales observées dans le Latium protohistorique et auprès de certaines peuplades américaineset africaines apportent quelques éléments de comparaison inattendus et fort utiles.”
Museum Helveticum

“This volume introduces new and interesting ways to look at Etruscan and early Roman buildings in their topographical and social contexts. One remarkable aspect of the essays is their consistently high quality of scholarly content. They are well-written, interesting, and remarkably cohesive. The theories have broad applications.”
Helen Nagy, Professor Emerita, University of Puget Sound

“An important contribution to the field. . . . Many new perspectives are included, along with comparative data that offer much food for thought.”
Alexandra Carpino, Chair and Associate Professor of Art History, Northern Arizona University


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