Luxury and Diadems: The Enotrian Princesses embark on a tour from Matera

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A hat that seems to have come straight from the 1920s, looking quite chic if not for the material from which it’s crafted, the same bronze as the earrings, the sumptuous necklace, and the many brooches and decorations adorning the attire, as well as the bracelets, rings on every finger, and even the toes. Astonishing in their opulence, two millennia-old female tombs, along with their incredible grave goods, will narrate the charm and mystery of the Enotri to Europe in a travelling exhibition set to open on October 30 in the halls of Italian cultural institutes in major cities.

Even the attire of the deceased was covered with bronze decorations [Credit: MIC via ANSA]
Enotrian princesses, details of the bronze jewellery [Credit: MIC via ANSA]

Fresh from an extensive and delicate restoration by experts from the Archaeological Museum of Siris in Policoro, in the province of Matera, the two burials belong to the earliest phase of this civilization, one dating back to the 9th century and the other to the 8th century BC.

Both come from the Chiaromonte necropolis (Pz), excavated between the 1990s and the early 2000s, just like the other sites of Alianello and Guardia Perticara. “These are extraordinary grave goods that have been in storage for over 30 years,” notes Massimo Osanna, the Director General of State Museums, who conceived and strongly supported this project. “Networking among state institutions is essential for enhancing that substantial part of our heritage still removed from public access, which should be known both in Italy and around the world.”

Princesses Enotrie, detail of one of the tombs [Credit: MIC via ANSA]
Enotrian tombs: details of the necklace and the bronze headdress [Credit: MIC via ANSA]
Princesses Enotrie, detail of one of the tombs [Credit: MIC via ANSA]

The Enotri society was powerful and complex but eventually succumbed around 500 BC due to contact with the Achaeans, who had settled along the coasts of that southern region, and other Italic peoples who replaced them, from the Campanians to the Samnites, Lucanians, and Bruttii.

Most of what we know about these people comes from the accounts of ancient sources, Greek and Roman authors, as well as from the grave goods in their tombs. Ancient sources, particularly Antiochus of Syracuse (5th century BC) and Aristotle, tell us that the Enotri, like their successors, came from Greece and that they were the ones who gave Italy its name in honor of Italo, their first and wise ruler. Truth or myth, what remains as the most objective testimony of the passage of these people and their lived experiences are the objects stored in the graves: refined ceramics, intricately decorated weapons, and jewelry, some of which is made of bronze, while others are crafted from ivory and glass paste.

Next to the skeleton, the bronze ring decoration that adorned the garment [Credit: MIC via ANSA]
All the jewellery on the skeleton, from the large earrings to the necklace and the bronze fibulae [Credit: MIC via ANSA]
Enotrian princesses, details of the bronze jewellery [Credit: MIC via ANSA]

Of the two tombs that will be exhibited, the director of the National Museum of Matera and project coordinator, Annamaria Mauro, explains that the older one still retains a border embroidery made of bronze rings sewn along the edge of the garment worn by the deceased. It was a sort of apron that extended nearly to the ankles. This precious attire was complemented by jewelry, including earrings, the diadem adorning the head, brooches, and rings.

The second deceased had an even more opulent collection, buried with the characteristic Enotrian bronze headgear, while dozens of other ornaments adorned her long dress, and an equal number of rings embellished her fingers. Magnificently, a ram-shaped pendant stood out above all. The restoration project, according to the director, involved a total of 22 burials, some of which belonged to children. It was accompanied by a ‘micro-excavation’ effort, still ongoing, which is revealing more bronze jewellery, ivory objects, glass paste, and painted ceramics. Among them, the most precious, she says, is “an amber necklace pendant in the shape of a water bird that adorned a child.”

The research continues. Meanwhile, the two adorned ladies are prepared to embark on their tour of European capitals. It starts in Vienna, followed by Budapest, Warsaw, and Hamburg.

Source: ANSA [October 26, 2023]

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