Giorgio Baratti University of Milan,
Carolina Megale Center for Public Archaeology Studies ‘Archeostorie’,
Open Access
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In July 2017, just nine months after the exceptional discovery that made headlines around the world, the ‘man in chains’ was exhibited at the Etruscan Museum of Populonia, with the purpose of building an intense and immediate dialogue between archaeologists and citizens.

Baratti, G., Megale, C. 2018. Exhibited in Populonia the recently discovered Man in Chains from Baratti. Archeostorie. Journal of Public Archaeology. 2: pp. 149-150.

CC BY 4.0 © The author(s). This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

The exhibition opening, on July 15, 2017, was a real triumph. It had been a long-awaited event: the Etruscan Museum of Populonia Gasparri Collection was exhibiting for the first time an exceptional discovery from the Gulf of Baratti (Livorno), occurred only a few months before. News of the discovery had made headlines around the world – also thanks to Archeostorie Magazine’s timely communication.

The exhibition featured the reconstructed burial of a man from the Etruscan period, who was found with chains on his ankles and an iron yoke around his neck. A slave, who not even death could free from his shackles. His body and the reconstructed tomb were placed in a structure created especially for this exhibition by architect Erica Foggi.

Buried in chains among the dunes of Baratti. The discovery of the Man in Chains from Populonia was the title of the exhibition that for almost four months, until November 5th, 2017, has made known the circumstances of the discovery, explained aspects of the depositional process as derived from the context where the man was found, and provided preliminary information on the anthropological investigations carried out by Cristina Cattaneo with her LABANOF Anthropology Lab team of the University of Milan.

The raw reality of ancient slavery

The Man in Chains certainly had a strong visual impact on visitors, but there were other reasons that made the exhibition worth a visit. The pleasant and idealized world of antiquity in general, and of ancient Etruria in particular, which has taken hold of modern and contemporary imagination, vanishes here, and gives way to a harsher and more authentic reality. Visitors are compelled to reflect on the many contradictions, deep inequalities, and ancestral brutality that mark the history of humanity.

The story of the Man in Chains emerged from the quiet and gentle dunes of the Gulf of Baratti, a place almost out of time, ecstatically peaceful, like a slap in the face. It is the story of a man – a foreigner, probably, from the far- away lands of Sub-Saharan Africa, as suggested by preliminary anthropological analysis – who was taken captive and perhaps sentenced to forced labor.

The poor man lived the last part of his life in fetters, restrained by a complex and cruel system of coercion that nobody, neither his jailers nor anyone else in the community, thought to remove even after his death, perhaps perceiving it as totally ‘normal.’

This discovery offers almost unprecedented evidence of the existence of actual slaves in the lower classes of Etruscan society. Latin sources usually mention ‘servants’ and rarely acknowledge the presence of more rigid forms of servitude, but we can get an idea of their conditions based on the disturbing scenarios of modern slavery.

Ancient sources do not say much about slavery, and the topic seems to be quite unpopular among our contemporaries, too. The Populonia exhibition shed some light on it, and at the same time offered opportunities for drawing comparisons with similar contexts elsewhere.

The Man in Chains is not alone

The Populonia exhibition of the Man in Chains has actually marked the beginning of a profitable exchange among scholars interested in similar issues, with the purpose of starting specific projects. To this aim, a small section of the exhibition premiered data from the excavations of the large Roman necropolis of York, in England, carried out by the York Archaeological Trust. Some of the beheaded individuals buried there have rings on their ankles, too; although from a more recent period, the York shackles are exactly the same as those found in Populonia.

A    constant     dialogue     between archaeology and citizens

The 2017 exhibition followed the lead of the previous year’s data display of the discovery of the House of Seeds in Populonia, made public only four months after the end of the emergency excavation.

Their common aim is building an increasingly intense and constructive dialogue between archaeologists and citizens, as well as establishing a new relation between the territory (with its touristic potential) and the scientific research (with its innovative, often internationally known discoveries). Researches are still carried out in Populonia, as these initiatives proved, often in spite of the limited economic resources available, but just as often with extraordinary results.

Archeostorie has contributed to the Man in Chains adventure with a tale by Mariangela Galatea Vaglio, available in the Archaeotales section.

Baratti, G., Camilli, A. & Megale, C. 2018. Sepolti incatenati. Storie di schiavi e prigionieri in Etruria e nel Mediterraneo antico. Pisa: Pacini Editore.