From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 18
The Etruscans
(7th Century B.C.)

People pre-dating the Etruscans had no doubt passed over the future site that became Gioviano and perhaps even camped on the highest point to gain an advantage over whatever animals might be grazing along the shores of the Serchio. However, they would have moved on with the movements of the game and the ripening of wild fruits and berries.

Their successors, the Ligurians, according to my theory, were the first permanent inhabitants of Gioviano. They recognized the strategic value of the Monte di Gioviano as well as the fertility of the surrounding lands, which were suitable for both raising crops and grazing livestock. Their rude dwellings would have been built up against the rocky outcrops upon where the ancient castle was later built.

During the 7th century B.C., the Etruscans began to settle strategic positions along the Serchio River, wishing to expand their influence and control toward the north of the Italian peninsula. They wanted to establish trade relations with the Ligurians of Lucca, the Versilian Coast and the Alpi Apuane. The Ligurian community that was located at present-day Gioviano’s position, in sight of Monte Bargiglio, was certain to have captured the attention of Etruscan leaders. It had a command of a huge expanse of the Serchio Valley and the Apennines and was located just beyond the narrow and militarily important Gola di Calavorno. Thus, it is my contention, based upon the archaeological evidence discovered in the Antro di Paura di Gioviano that Etruscans established a trading post around 650 B.C. in Piano di Gioviano (Lower Gioviano), just below Gioviano Alto (Upper Gioviano) where the Ligurians lived.

In no time, the Etruscan traders would have developed personal relationships with the Ligurians and would have, through marriage, become a part of the community of Gioviano, imparting to the Ligurians, many of their cultural traditions.

The lives of the Etruscans were governed by their gods, and it was imperative that the will of the gods be honored and that they be formally recognized and revered. A temple would have been erected in honor of Tinia, ruler of the Etruscan pantheon at the highest point in the settlement, now called “in Castello.” Tinia was the same god to the Etruscans as was Zeus to the Greeks and later Jupiter or Giove to the Romans.

It was believed by the Etruscans that the highest deities, those most powerful and favorable to humans, lived in the North, the East and the Northeast. Hence, it is extremely salient to my theories that Gioviano looks northeastward toward Monte Giove (Mount Zeus/Jupiter) and the Foce di Giove (Mouth of Zeus/Jupiter). The temple would have been a simple wooden building typical of Etruscan construction techniques, especially in military outposts and associated new settlements on the frontier.

The other Etruscan god most likely to have been worshipped by the first inhabitants of Gioviano was Ani (male)/Ana (female), the Etruscan god of the sun, water, nature and all beginning. The Roman adoption of this god was Giano or Janus, with a female equivalent in Jana, goddess of the moon. Giano and Giove were also held to be supreme and identical, hence the name for our little Etrusco-Roman village which has come down to us to this day through several glottochronological changes including being referred to in centuries past as Juvianus, Juveriano, Giuviano, and Juvejano.

Only in recent decades have archaeological investigations seemed to confirm the speculations of Gioviano’s origins made by early historians. The fertility cult center in the sacred cave nearby would become important to the Etrusco-Ligurians of Gioviano and surrounding communities and would come to be associated with Giano, supreme god of nature and of water.

In addition to the archeological evidence of Etruscans inhabiting the area around Gioviano’s Antro di Paura (cave of fear), an Etruscan tomb was unearthed just across the Serchio Valley in Tereglio. Parts of these Etruscan finds are on display at the National Museum of the Villa Guinigi in Lucca.

I had never heard of the cave Antro de Paura before this year when I noticed a one-sentence blurb in a rather obscure document. I asked several Giovianini if they had ever heard of the cave or knew where it was. Even Mariella, who perhaps cares more about preserving the history of her husband’s village than any other living soul, had not heard of the cave, even though she was born in nearby Fornaci di Barga.

Mariella, however, was determined to find out about it and invited me into the Barsanti Palazzo, where she and her family live, to show me a cave bear tooth and several fossil specimens given to her by a professor friend who she said knew every cave in the area. After two days of trying to track him down, she finally reached him and reported back that not only did he know the cave but he had photographs that he would show us if we had time to visit him.

The Alpi Apuane, upon which Gioviano rests, are riddled with caves, including the nearby Grotta del Vento (Cave of the Wind) with its miles of passages which are open to the public. The Antro di Paura, which today is hidden behind a tangle of vegetation, got its name due to the belief that there is a virtually bottomless chasm a hundred feet inside the mouth of the cave. According to Mariella’s spelunking professor friend, no one has ever reached the bottom, although I suspect that if someone ever does, they will find the skeletons of who knows how many unsuspecting animals -- and even humans -- who ventured inside the cave and fell into the pit of no return.

The lives of the Etrusco-Ligurian inhabitants of early Gioviano were simple and mundane except for the complexities associated with their religion. In addition to the rock-sheltered houses of the Ligurians, the small Etruscan populace would have lived in simple huts made of wooden poles supporting protective coverings of thatch or animal skins. The soil around Gioviano is rich and fertile even to this day, and thus producing a crop of their staple food farro (spelt), the most popular cultivated grain of the ancient world, would have required little labor.

Other than keeping watch on the primitive trade routes along the Serchio Valley and trading with their friendly Ligurian neighbors of the upper Garfagnana, the lives of the Giovianini of 2,500 years ago would have been relatively peaceful and uneventful until the passage of the Carthaginian General Hannibal and his elephants in 217 B.C.

Updated December 21, 2009
Copyright 2005-2009 George H. Russell
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