In 509 BCE, the Etruscan kings of Rome were expelled from the city and the Roman Republic was established. By the fourth century BCE, Rome was beginning to expand across the Italian peninsula, and the first Etruscan city to fall was Veii in 396 BCE. Over the following centuries, Etruria was involved in Roman wars, and Etruscan territory was fully conquered by the Romans by the beginning of the first century BCE. While Roman culture drew from its Etruscan roots, borrowing and adapting Etruscan customs, Etruscan society was also influenced by Roman culture. During this period the figures begin to adopt a Roman style, and the presence of violence, especially in funerary images, becomes normal.
Funerary Artand Sarcophagi
Funerary art, both in tomb paintings and on carved sarcophagi, undergo a noticeable change in subject matter during the Roman period. The figures of Charon and Vanth begin to appear. These figures-- male and female demons of the Underworld-- are often painted in blue and with wings. The figures also carry torches, which they would use to light the way to the underworld, or sometimes keys, to open the door to the underworld, which underline the figures’ role as guides between the world of the living and the world of the dead (Figure 4). In tomb paintings in Tarquinia, figures of Charun and Vanth can be seen painted in front of or around doorways.
Figures of Charon and Vanth also appear on stone and terracotta sarcophagi. Charun is also sometimes depicted with a hammer, and on the Sarcophagus of Lars Pulena, two figures of Charun (with hammers but without wings) are depicted on either side of a central figure, most likely Lars Pulena, swinging their hammers at his head. The violent image may have been used as an apotropaic device to ward off evil, but in comparison to earlier funerary images, the level of violence seems to mimic the new level of violence in Etruscan society from Roman forces and influence. Two winged representations of Vanth also appear on the sarcophagus, at either end of the frieze.
The lid of the Sarcophagus of Lars Pulena (Figure 1) depicts a portrait of the deceased. The man lays across the lid, alone, with a somber expression, unlike the earlier terracotta Sacophagus of Spouses. His face is winkled and reflects a Roman republican portrait style. He had a pot belly, signifying his wealth, good life, and robust eating, and he holds a scroll across his lap that is inscribed with a list of his accomplishments.
Smaller cinerary urns (Figure 2) take the shape of a sarcophagus during this period. These urns are topped by images of the deceased laying across the lid, often in Roman dress, with relief-carved scenes of battle, violence, or Charun and Vanth figures. The shifting style of funerary customs and art underlines the change in Etruscan culture and its outlook on the afterlife as the Romans intruded and conquered their territories.
Aule Metele (Figure 3) is a life size bronze sculpture of an Etruscan-Romano man. The figure is depicted wearing a Roman toga and Roman sandals and he stands in a pose of an orator, with his hand raised to address a crowd. To further emphasize this gesture, the hand is slightly enlarged. He is clearly depicted as an individual, and an inscription on the hem of his toga in Etruscan names him as Aule Metele. Aule Metele dresses as a Roman magistrate and his face is a cross between Hellenistic and Roman veristic portraiture. It is idealized to an extent, but shows a level of individuality through the gaunt checks , thin lips, and wrinkled forehead. While the inscription marks him as an Etruscan, his dress and pose demonstrate the absorption of Roman culture into Etruscan values and the adoption-- especially by the upper, ruling class of Etruscans-- of Roman civic practices.