Corpus of Etruscan Mirrors (Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum)

Project leader

Department of Greece and Rome 


  • Istituto Nazionale di Studi Etruschi ed Italici

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Bronze hand mirrors were a characteristic product of the Etruscans. Made throughout the period between the sixth and first centuries BC, they provide much information about Etruscan bronze technology and the development of Etruscan art.

They were very often decorated on the backs with scenes from daily life, religion and mythology. Some show stories from Greek mythology, some purely Etruscan, some a mixture of both. The wealth of information they convey makes them a resource comparable to Greek painted vases. Sometimes the names of the figures are inscribed making the mirrors important for knowledge of the Etruscan alphabet and writing. The design varies in quality, but the best are exquisite examples of design and craftsmanship.

The reflecting disc was highly polished to give a sharp, detailed image. Most were slightly concave, so that held at arm’s length much of the upper body would be in view.  The alloy was copper with about 7-11% tin and less than 1% lead, resulting in a yellowish metal and, consequently, a yellowish image.

The Corpus of Etruscan Mirrors is a worldwide project to catalogue all known Etruscan mirrors in public and private collections. Under the leadership of the Istituto degli Studi Etruschi ed Italici in Florence, some 30 volumes have so far been produced. The first British Museum volume appeared in 2001, the second is scheduled for late 2009, and a third will follow. The volumes are fully illustrated with photographs and drawings of each mirror.


The first of the British Museum volumes of the Corpus covers the archaic and early classical mirrors, that is those of the sixth and early fifth centuries BC, and a few fakes and forgeries linked to that period.* Mirrors of this date were usually tanged, that is the circular or pear-shaped disc had a small projection for insertion into a handle of another material - bone, ivory or wood – which usually does not survive. Later mirrors usually were made in one piece with a bronze handle.

The next volume will deal with classical mirrors, those of the fifth  and fourth centuries BC, that are decorated with some of the finest and most intricate scenes from mythology.

The final volume will deal with mirrors of the Hellenistic period, late fourth to first centuries BC, when many mirrors of Etruscan type but with distinctively pear-shaped discs were produced at Praeneste, near Rome, some with Latin inscriptions. At this time lidded mirrors, resembling large compact mirrors, were also produced. They were quite heavy and never as popular as mirrors with handles, but the tops of the lids are often decorated with interesting and beautiful scenes with figures made by the repoussé technique, that is hammered from the back into shallow relief form, and soldered to the lid.

* J.Swaddling Etruscan Mirrors. Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum, Great Britain 1, The British Museum I, The British Museum Press, 2001


The next volume on the Etruscan mirrors, comprising those of the fifth and fourth centuries BC, in the British Museum collection will be published by Judith Swaddling in 2008/9.

All the Etruscan inscriptions on objects in the British Museum, including those on the mirrors, will be fully published in a catalogue of Etruscan inscriptions being prepared by Margaret Watmough and Judith Swaddling. Publication is planned for 2009.