Among the sacred stones, or cippes, that have been discovered on Etruscan archaeological sites, some are distinguished by their material and their color. They are trachyte or diorite skulls, black in color, carefully polished and often ovoid or phallic in shape, often with small engraved details, in particular a symbol representing a two-pointed arrow, associated in the Greek and Etruscan world with lightning.

The “Libri Fulgurales

We know from ancient authors that the Etruscan religion was based on several sacred books: the libri haruspicini (allowing haruspices to read the messages of the gods in the entrails of sacrificed animals), the libri rituales (compiling the rites of daily and public life, as well as funeral rituals and the wonders of nature) and the libri fulgurales. These defined the different types of lightning and their meaning, because the Etruscans considered this phenomenon as divine messages that the priests had to interpret in order to maintain the balance in the relations between humans and gods. As Seneca writes, “the Etruscans do not believe that things have meaning because they happen, but that they happen for the sole purpose of meaning”(Natural Questions, II, 32,2). These books also contained a “brontoscopic” calendar, proposing for each day of the year an interpretation of thunder and celestial manifestations. Nigidius Figulus, a contemporary of Cicero (98-44 BC), had translated a similar calendar into Latin.

An Oriental Origin ?

The belief in the divine language of lightning is attested in many religions, especially in the Near East among the Chaldeans. However, we cannot systematically associate all the trachyte skullcaps with lightning, but it is certain that black stones were the object of worship throughout the Mediterranean: black stone of the sanctuary of Aphrodite of Kouklia in Cyprus, Lapis Niger on the Roman Forum, and even the black stone of the Kaaba, already venerated by the Arabs in the pre-Islamic period.

Photography :

Etruscan skull in trachyte, discovered near the Sant’Antimo abbey, now kept in the museum of Montalcino. The two-pointed arrow carved at its top symbolizes lightning. Height: 39 cm, diameter: 30 cm and weight: 31 kg.

Photo credit: J. Labregère