Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Hilary Becker

Affiliation: Binghamton University (SUNY)

Hilary Becker is Assistant Professor of Classics with the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies at Binghamton University. She earned her A.B. at Bryn Mawr College and her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has published articles dealing with Etruscan economy and settlement patterns and co-edited, along with Margarita Gleba, the volume Votives, Places and Rituals in Etruscan Religion (Brill 2009). She is currently writing a book entitled Commerce in Color about the trade in Roman pigments, an investigation that started with her research on the only surviving pigment shop from ancient Rome.  Professor Becker is the AIA’s Cinelli Lecturer for 2019/2020.


Little is known about the Etruscan army, principally because no Etruscan literary testimony or histories have survived. Etruscan armor from a range of different contexts away from the battlefield offers new opportunities to understand the significance of the Etruscan soldier within social context. This talk begins with a survey of armor discovered in tombs and votive contexts at sites such as Tarquinia, Vetulonia and Monte Falterona, to see just how (and where) Etruscan men defined and articulated their military status.  While ancient Greeks tended to prefer giving armor as votive dedications rather than burying it in a tomb, Etruscan practices were almost the inverse.

Etruscans could not only “take their armor with them” to the tomb, but occasionally the tomb itself also reveals further information about the life of the soldier. Indeed, a few elite tombs are decorated with multiple sets of shields. These tombs, modeled after Etruscan houses may reveal where Etruscan armor was stored and even may reveal the responsibilities that elite men may have held in terms of equipping fellow citizens.  This theory is especially enlightened by a series of inscribed helmets which reveal who was paying for armor in Etruria. These tombs and armor combined provide vital clues in terms of understanding for the first time how the Etruscan city-state managed its resources and citizens.

The discovery of the only known pigment shop in ancient Rome revealed an array of colors in their raw, mineral form waiting to be sold to wall painters. Ancient pigments provide a surprising opportunity to understand how science can be used in archaeology, revealing what pigments were present in the shop and, potentially, the source from which they originated, as well as exploring the supply-side economy of Roman painting and the steps by which these pigments went from the mine, to a shop, to the walls of a Roman house. This lecture also explores the economy of the Roman pigment trade, looking at the prices of pigments as well as the potential for their adulteration.

The competition for natural resources and the desire to increase a shop’s revenue led some Roman merchants to engage in retail fraud.  Papyri from Roman Egypt provide recipes with instructions on how to produce fake gemstones and pearls from crystals, as well as cheap ways to counterfeit “true” purple.  There was similarly great fraud amongst other naturally-sourced products ranging from aromatics, to pigments, to medicines.

But there were ways to negotiate such a treacherous commercial landscape. Ancient authors, such as Pliny the Elder, who knew full well the pitfalls of the market, offered methods for a purchaser to discern authentic natural sourced products (e.g. metals, pigments) from imposters. Archaeological evidence also indicates that the scrupulous producer or merchant, in turn, might be motivated to stamp or otherwise label his or her products in order to guarantee that their products are unadulterated. All of these circumstances suggest that for the wary consumer (caveat emptor), there was significant marketplace competition for his attention between trustworthy merchants and those merchants who should be avoided. This lecture provides insight into the potential pitfalls of the Roman supply industry that every consumer needed to know about and had to navigate.

support Us

The AIA is North America's largest and oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to archaeology. The Institute advances awareness, education, fieldwork, preservation, publication, and research of archaeological sites and cultural heritage throughout the world. Your contribution makes a difference.