The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.
Today’s interview is with Phil Perkins
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
Where I always want to go back to is Etruria. Maybe I’m pushing at the definition of a source, but it is the place where most of the ancient world that I spend time with originated. Just now I can’t go back there, but one day I will.
When did you first become interested in Etruria?
I first went to Etruria in 1982 as an undergraduate in the Summer vacation, working on a research project mapping the ancient landscapes of the Albegna Valley in southern Tuscany. It was hard work – early starts – high temperatures – burning sun – biting bugs, but walking through fields for days and days seeking the broken remains of possessions, homes and lives of people from thousands of years ago made a very strong impression on someone who’d just finished their first year. It also convinced me that classical archaeology still had a huge amount to learn about.
Can you tell me a bit about Etruria and its context?
Etruria is an ancient region of Italy on the central part of the western coast. In modern terms it is the part of Lazio north of Rome, Tuscany, much of Umbria and also parts of Emilia Romagna in the Po Valley. So a good chunk of Italy. It was the homeland of the Etruscan people in the first Millennium BCE. But before the Etruscans, Etruria had a long prehistory although it becomes harder and harder to be sure of anything the further back you go – there’s still a lot of work to be done! After the Romans (the bad guys) demolished 1000 years of Etruscan life, Etruria gave birth to the Medieval and Renaissance cities of Siena, Florence, Pisa and many more.
What is it about Etruria that appeals to you most?
Its diversity and complexity. The landscape is very variable from coastal lagoons through rolling hills to rocky or forested mountains. This breaks the country into many small and distinctive units that reflect the natural environment and human exploitation and settlement, each with its own character and productivity. This means there is always something new to discover from a different place or a different time.
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
Well if it doesn’t involve shiny liquids enclosed in glass or photography it is gardening. Nothing beats planting seeds, helping them grow, enjoying looking at them, harvesting them and then cooking and eating them. Then you can do it all over again next year.
Phil Perkins is Professor of Archaeology at the Open University. His research focusses on Etruscan archaeology and he is currently writing up the results of excavations and artefact studies at the Etruscan sanctuary of Poggio Colla and the sacred lake at Albagino, both to the north of Florence in Tuscany. In 2016-17 he was a Hugh Last Fellow at the British School at Rome. His teaching at the Open University has ranged from Homer to 19th century netsuke.