Mario Torelli

2014 Balzan Prize for Classical Archaeology

For the profoundly innovative character of his studies in all of the main fields pertaining to the cultures of the ancient world, from Greek to Etruscan to Roman, and for the great relevance of his methodological experimentation and his archaeological discoveries. For the originality of his work, in which historical-epigraphic investigation, iconological analysis, historical-religious evaluation, and anthropological research come together in a well-founded, overarching vision that is always supported by perceptive attention to the economic and social structures as well as the ideological and institutional aspects of ancient cultures.

Mario Torelli was born in Rome in 1937 (1937–2020). After teaching at the universities of Cagliari and Perugia, and holding courses and seminars in the most prestigious universities in the world, above all in the USA, the United Kingdom, France and Canada, he is now a member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei and of numerous other European and American academic institutions. He has received honorary degrees from the University of Tübingen in Germany and from the University of Jaén in Spain.

Mario Torelli is an archaeologist of far-reaching scholarship and has an extraordinary mastery of the sources; he is a scholar of remarkable critical acumen and outstanding interpretative ability, and has dedicated studies of exceptional originality and wide-ranging vision to many crucial problems in the principal historical fields of ancient culture, passing from the Greek to the Etruscan to the Roman world.
His studies, in many cases, have been founded on his research activity carried out during field work, including the excavations he directed at the Etruscan sanctuary of Porta Caere at Veio, the Greek sanctuary-emporium in Gravisca, the port of Tarquinia, the suburban sanctuary of Aphrodite-Venus at Paestum, the sanctuary of Demeter and the agora at Eraclea. His interpretations of the evidence coming from the excavations of these sacred sites have led to acclaim and very special influence, as have the exhibitions on various aspects of Etruscan civilisation that he curated in Tuscany, Venice, Cortona and Rome between the years 1985 and 2008. His authoritative syntheses of the history, culture and art of the Etruscans are rare examples of thoroughness both for his in-depth analyses and for the solid grounding of his historical judgment, while the vastness of his interests is shown by two works on Greek and Roman urban planning.

The great theme of Roman historical relief sculpture, investigated both through structural and typological evaluations and through the aspects of rank and rite in the production of images, is addressed synthetically in particular contributions and in a decisively innovative manner. The gathering of archaeological, literary and epigraphic data, which have been elaborated to bring out the aspects of the dominant ideology in the archaic era, is the nucleus of a series of fundamental studies dedicated to the reconstruction of Roman-Latin rites of passage (such as at Lavinio), of relevant monumental complexes in the principal centres of the classical world (such as Aphrodite Sosandra on the Acropolis of Athens or the Great Altar of Hercules in Rome) and of figurative subjects on well-known monuments (such as the cycle of metopes from the Heraion at mouth of the Sele, the François Vase or the Ludovisi Throne).

The archaeology of religion in all its aspects and craftsmen’s production in western Greece is the subject of his most recent synthesis in which Greek traditions, Italic ferment and the Latin impact meet with fitting interpretative solutions. In a period of repeated methodological crises that have in part only brushed against classical archaeology but also in part clashed forcefully with it due to contact with neo-archaeological tendencies, the rigour of his method, which is always responsive to interdisciplinary innovations yet not tantalized by intriguing but merely passing trends, and his constant effort to radically historicize ancient experience beyond inadequate generalizations in order to grasp the specific nature of precise historical situations, have made and continue to make Torelli a guiding light for generations of scholars in Italy, Europe and America.

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