The Importance of Being Etruscan: material culture and ethnic identity in the tomb of the Volumnii of Perusia
Can the treatment of material culture in such a controversial and ritually charged context as burial shed a light on the ethnic identity of the deceased and the role it played in their life? This paper aims to address this question by using as a case study one very peculiar burial: the underground family tomb of the gens of the Volumnii in the Italian city of Perusia. First established in the early first century BC, it was kept in use for about a century, and provides a precious insight in the development of the way this important Etruscan family chose to represent its own identity. Starting from the burials of the founder Arnth Velimnas, down to that of his Early Imperial descendant P. Volumnius Violens, the paper investigates the use of several burial features in the selfrepresentation of an increasingly mixed Etruscan-Roman ethnic identity, and the ways this identity was used by the Volumnii as a social and political tool. The epigraphic material, both Latin and Etruscan, inscribed on the tombs will be addressed, as well as the evolution of the iconography adopted in individual burials. Put in comparison with information about the Volumnii derived from literary sources, these features may help reconstruct how Etruscan nobility perceived their own heritage after Roman conquest, and how they knowingly used it to further social advantage in the quickly changing society of their time.