Social significance of communal dining in Etruscan Italy from the seventh to the fourth century BC: an iconographical approach
By Sabine Geissler
Master’s Thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2012
Abstract: Imagery relating to communal dining or banqueting in ancient Etruria is relatively abundant and provides a useful source of potential information about the workings of Etruscan society, not least because of the semantic value of banquet scenes. The conduct of eating and drinking in company generally reflects patterns of social behavior, governed by local traditions, rules, ritual, beliefs and ideology embedded in society. In addition, banqueting or feasting may be closely interwoven with other social events, while rules of inclusion or exclusion may well come into play, thereby helping to reinforce or create social hierarchies. The depiction of a convivial scene alluding to experiences of communal dining is automatically a reference to these concepts, irrespective of whether an image represents a specific event or not.
This thesis examines the iconography of banqueting in Etruscan Italy from the seventh to the fourth centuries BC. The analysis takes into account all types of Etruscan artefacts with banquet iconography. These include tomb paintings, scenes on vessels, mirrors or plaques once attached to buildings, grave stelae, sarcophagi and urns as well as sculptural representations made of ivory or bronze. The scenes are examined by considering a variety of visual elements that help to constitute a banquet. Theoretical perspectives and the defining elements of banquets are discussed in Part I. The latter are essential to the study because they were chosen to be included in representations and were evidently deemed important by the Etruscans themselves. By approaching the social practice of sharing food and drink through a systematic formal analysis of local iconography, many interesting questions, such as specific seating arrangements according to age and gender, can be explored. The ultimate aim of this thesis is to help us understand what constituted an Etruscan banquet from a study of its component parts, and what can be learned from banquet representations about the make-up and workings of Etruscan society.