Allia Benner

My DPhil thesis is a re-evaluation of the archaeological evidence and modern interpretations of the cult of the god Hercle in southern Etruria in the Archaic period (ca. 580-480 B.C.). Many scholars have argued for or assumed an Archaic presence of the cult of Hercle based on three groups of Archaic evidence: depictions of Hercle in temple decorations; depictions of Herakles in Greek vase paintings from sanctuaries; and natural or man-made water features in sacred contexts (e.g., springs and fountains), largely based on anachronistic and non-Etruscan associations between Hercle and water cults. The cultic value of architectural sculpture, vase painting, and individual topographic or architectural features is open to debate, however, and therefore the validity of using these types of archaeological evidence as evidence for Etruscan cult per se needs to be interrogated. The results of this re-evaluation are relevant not only for our understanding of the cult of Hercle, but also for the way we determine the presence and nature of Archaic Etruscan cult more broadly.

In addition to the archaeology of Etruscan religion, my research interests include Etruscan art history, especially the reception of Greek myths in Etruscan visual culture. In my 2017 master’s thesis (Columbia University), I examined images of Hercle and satyrs with sources and containers of water on engraved mirrors and gems, studying how the depicted bodies functioned as reflections of and models for the identity and behavior of the viewer. Prior to shifting my focus to the Etruscans, I studied Roman art history and archaeology for several years and excavated at Hadrian’s Villa and Gabii in Italy.