Piacenza Liver

The Liver of Piacenza is an Etruscan artifact found in a field on September 26, 1877, near Gossolengo, in the province of Piacenza, Italy, now kept in the Municipal Museum of Piacenza, in the Palazzo Farnese.

It is a life-sized bronze model of a sheep's liver covered in Etruscan inscriptions (TLE 719), measuring 126 mm by 76 mm by 60 mm and dated to the late 2nd century BC, i.e. a time when the Piacenza region would already have been Latin-dominated.

The liver is subdivided into sections for the purposes of performing haruspicy (hepatoscopy); the sections are inscribed with names of individual Etruscan deities. The Piacenza liver is a striking conceptual parallel to clay models of sheep's livers known from the Ancient Near East, reinforcing the evidence of a connection (be it by migration or mere cultural contact) between the Etruscans and the Anatolian cultural sphere. A Babylonian clay model of a sheep's liver dated to the Middle Bronze Age is preserved in the British Museum (ME 92668).[1] The Piacenza liver parallels the Babylonian artefact by representing the major anatomical features the gall bladder, caudate lobe and posterior vena cava, of the liver as sculpted protrusions.

The outer rim of the Piacenza liver is divided into 16 sections; since according to the testimony of Pliny and Cicero, the Etruscan divided the heavens into 16 astrological houses, it has been suggested that the liver is supposed to represent a model of the cosmos, and its parts should be identified as constellations or astrological signs. Each of the 16 houses was the "dwelling place" of an individual deity. Seers would e.g. draw conclusions from the direction in which lightning was seen. Lightning in the east was auspicious, lightning in the west inauspicious (Pliny 2.143f.). Stevens (2009) surmises that Tin, the main god of lightning, had his dwelling due north, as lightning in the north-east was most lucky, lightning in the north-west most unlucky, while lightning in the southern half of the compass was not as strong an omen (Servius ad. Aen. 2.693).

The theonyms are abbreviated and in many cases, the reading even of the abbreviation is disputed. As a result, there is a consensus for the interpretation of individual names only in a small number of cases. The reading given below is that of Morandi (1991) unless otherwise indicated:


1. tin[ia] /cil/en
2. tin[ia]/θvf[vlθas]
3. tins/θneθ
4. uni/mae uni/ea (Juno?)
5. tec/vm (Terra)
6. lvsl
7. neθ[uns] (Neptunus)
8. caθ[a] (Luna?[3])
9. fuflu/ns (Bacchus)
10. selva (Silvanus)
11. leθns
12. tluscv
13. celsc
14. cvl alp
15. vetisl (Veiovis?)
16. cilensl


17. tur[an] (Venus)
18. leθn (as no. 11)
19. la/sl (Lares?)
20. tins/θvf[vlθas] (as no. 2)
21. θufl/θas
22. tins/neθ (as no. 3?)
23. caθa (as no. 8)
24. fuf/lus (as no. 9)
25. θvnθ(?)
26. marisl/latr
27. leta (Leda)
28. neθ (as no. 7)
29. herc[le] (Hercules)
30. mar[is] (Mars)
31. selva (as no. 10)
32. leθa[m]
33. tlusc (as no. 12)
34. lvsl/velch
35. satr/es (Saturnus)
36. cilen (as no. 16)
37. leθam (as no. 32)
38. meθlvmθ
39. mar[is] (as no. 30)
40. tlusc (as no. 12)

Two words are on the bottom side of the artefact:

1. tivs (or tivr "Moon"?[1])
2. usils

See also


Further reading

  • Van der Meer, L.B. (1987). The bronze liver of Piacenza. Amsterdam: J.C. Gieben, 1987.
  • Alessandro Morandi, Nuovi lineamenti di lingua etrusca, Massari, 1991.[2]
  • Natalie L. C. Stevens, A New Reconstruction of the Etruscan Heaven American Journal of Archaeology 113.22 (April 2009), 153-164.
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