The Etruscan Antefix: Art, Architecture and Apotropaism


The public and private buildings of ancient Etruria differed from many similar Greco/Roman structures as they were often constructed from materials that degenerated over time (like wood, mud, turf and tile). The decay, leaving only ruined stone foundations, subterranean passages and fragments of other architectural materials. Nevertheless, despite the lack of substantial surviving architecture, evidence left to us by the Roman writer and architect Vitruvius, in addition to archeological remains, have enabled a better understanding of Etruscan architecture.



During the Archaic period, antefixes were produced in great numbers throughout Etruria, especially in Caere, southern Etruria (modern-day Cerveteri). Accordingly, many examples have survived. These painted terracotta objects were commonly used on the eaves of a roof, in order to protect the end tiles from the elements. They also formed part of the architectural decoration of buildings and were believed to banish bad luck.



References: Axel Boëthius, Etruscan and Early Roman Architecture, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1978. 

David M. Robinson, “Etruscan-Campanian Antefixes and Other Terra-Cottas from Italy at the Johns Hopkins University.” In the American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 1923), pp. 1-22.

Mark Cartwright, “Etruscan Architecture”. Ancient History Encyclopaedia, 23 January, 2017. https://www.ancient.eu/Etruscan_Architecture/

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, The Architecture of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio in Ten Books, trans. Joseph Gwilt, London, Lockwood and Co., 1874. https://warburg.sas.ac.uk/pdf/kfh125b2128022.pdf


Images: Terracotta Antefix with Head of a Maenad, late 4th century BCE, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Public domain image.

A 19th century reconstruction of an Etruscan temple at the Villa Giulia Museum, Rome. This image was first published on Flickr. Original image by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra. Uploaded by Mark Cartwright, published on 31 January 2017 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution.

Painted terracotta tile-end (antefix) moulded with a female head in a elaborate frame, 520-470 BCE, The British Museum. © Trustees of the British Museum.

Terracotta Antefix, 6th century BCE, The British Museum. © Trustees of the British Museum.

Terracotta Antefix, late 6th century BCE, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Public domain image.


Posted by Samantha Hughes-Johnson.


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