The University of Arizona
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Sacred Serpent Symbols: The Bearded Snakes of Etruria

Lisa C. Pieraccini


The symbolic attributes of snakes, which have appeared in art for thousands of years in all corners of the world, make them a popular icon. In Etruria, bearded snakes become symbols of fear, protection, and perhaps even the afterlife (due to the shedding of their skin), i.e., as the chthonic dwellers of the Underworld. They are usually held as funerary symbols by so-called demons or guardians as they traverse the Underworld with the newly deceased. The following review traces the depictions of the bearded snake in Etruscan art at the end of the Archaic period and looks at how it transitioned into an important funerary symbol lasting into the Hellenistic period.


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