Engraved mirror, Etruria, 400-300 BC

Engraved mirror, Etruria, 400-300 BC
Dating:400 BC–300 BC
Origin:Mediterranean Basin, Etruria
Physical:26.9cm. (10.5 in.) - 245 g. (8.6 oz.)

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Links to others of type Mirror

Bronze mirror, double Horus, Dyn. 12
Bronze Mirror, Rome, 50 BC-50 AD
Copper and wood mirror, Dyn. 8
Engraved bronze mirror, Persia, 1100 BC
Engraved mirror, Etruria, 300 BC
Engraved mirror, Etruria, 380 BC
Hammered bronze mirror, Persia, c.1000 BC
Mirror, Amlash, Persia, 1100-900 BC
Mirror with long handle, Etruria, 400 BC
  This pyriform (pear-shaped) Etruscan mirror was probably crafted in Preneste, between 400 and 300 BC and was made in one piece.

The reflecting side is convex, and was probably originally gilded, as gold can be polished to a high sheen and does not tarnish. A beaded motif runs along the edge of the mirror. A stylized floral pattern typical of Etruscan work adorns the top of the handle, which stretches as a long neck, and ends with a swan’s head motif, capped with a crown of stylized feathers.

“Engraved bronze mirrors were an Etruscan specialty, from the sixth to the second century BC. On the reverse side, they were decorated with various motifs: botanic or figured, sometimes raised. These toiletry items were intended for a female audience, which influenced the selection of motifs.” (Thuillier 1995:40-41)

The Etruscan (or Tusci) civilization was a short-lived but original, sophisticated and influential civilization that developed in the region of northern Italy still known today as Tuscany. Following the Villanovian culture of the ninth century BC, the Etruscan culture emerged around 800 BC among the indigenous population, with perhaps some influence from the East. The Etruscan language is still poorly understood. Although the writing symbols are similar to the Greek alphabet, the words of the language are like no other.

Although we speak of Etruria as if it were a nation, it was really no more than a set of cities and city-states with a common culture. Although Roman historians describe a “council” of twelve Etruscan cities, we have no idea what was the purview of the council, and there is little evidence left of any concrete political entity.

With a long coastline rife with natural harbors, and a back country rich with copper and iron ore, Tuscany was well suited to the development of both technology and commerce. The Etruscans excelled in both. Etruscan art and techniques were greatly influenced by the Greek World, yet preserved their own distinctive character. At their heyday, Etruscan metal craftsmen had no equal anywhere in the ancient world, and their wares were highly prized all over the Mediterranean. Etruscans also excelled in public works. Despite their lack of a central government, they built a spectacular network of roads, bridges, and viaducts. They developed a clever system for improving the drainage of their lands and controlling the levels of their lakes. They also built remarkable cities, temples and tombs. Etruscans had a complex religion and a deep concern for the afterlife that led them to build chamber tombs, replicating underground the dwellings of the living. It is from those tombs, their decorated walls, and the vast amounts of material cultural goods (much of them imported) the tombs contain that we have learned most of what we know about Etruscans.

Etruscan prosperity declined sharply during the fourth century, as other powers blocked their trade routes: southward with their complete naval defeat against the Greeks at Cumae in 474 BC on the Mediterranean side; northward with the progressive takeover of their outposts in northeastern Italy on the Adriatic. But in the long run it is Rome, a city-state of Latin people deeply influenced and infiltrated by Etruscan families at the highest levels of power, that would gradually absorb the cities of the Etruscan culture. By 100 BC, Etruria had become completely assimilated into the Roman world it had helped educate.

Bibliography (for this item)

Anlen, Léon, and Roger Padiou
1989 Les miroirs de bronze anciens. Guy Tredaniel, Paris, France.

Bianchi Bandinelli, Ranuccio, and Antonio Guiliano
1973 Les étrusques et l’Italie avant Rome. Gallimard, Paris, France.

Hus, Alain
1977 Dix siècles de bronze: l’âme étrusque et les séductions de l’Orient. Dossiers de l’Archéologie, 24:28-35.

Khalil, Hassan M.
1976 Preliminary Studies on the Sanusret Collection. Manuscript, Musée l’Egypte et le Monde Antique, Monaco-Ville, Monaco.

Moretti, Mario, Gugliemo Maetzke, Manuel Gasser, and Leonard Von Matt
1970 Art et civilisation des étrusques. Hachette, Paris, France.

Rebuffat, Denise
1977 Les miroirs étrusques: Les deux faces des miroirs, vanités perdues et images gravées. Dossiers de l’Archéologie, 24:88-96.

Settis, Salvatore
1985 La terre des Etrusques. Scala, Italy.

Thuillier, Jean-Paul
1995 LES ETRUSQUES, la fin d’un mystère. Gallimard -Découvertes-, Paris. (

Bibliography (on Etruscans)

Tait, Hugh
1991 Jewelry: 7000 Years: An international History and Illustrated Survey from the Collections of the British Museum (republication of the 1987 edtion by H. N. Abrams). Abradale Press, New York, NY.

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