The Mediterranean Section collections of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology comprise approximately 30,000 objects of Greek, Etruscan, Roman, Cypriot, and Bronze Age Aegean origins, as well as small numbers of objects from related culture areas. The majority of these objects were acquired before World War I, when the laws governing the export of antiquities made it possible.

Bronze crested HelmetThe classical world and the acquisition of objects from classical lands, especially excavated archaeological material, was a primary interest of the Museum at its founding in 1887 and in its formative years. This was a reflection not only of the specific goals of the University Museum, but also of a general intense interest in classical antiquity in the late 19th and early 20th century in America. This interest was fostered by an educational system that emphasized classical literature and languages, and it was fueled in the 1870s by a fascination with Heinrich Schliemann’s search for Homer’s Troy.

The encouragement and financial support of luminaries of Philadelphia society who supported the Museum and sat on its Board—Lucy Wharton Drexel, Phoebe A. Hearst, and John Wanamaker—made possible many of the important early acquisitions of the Mediterranean Section. These activities were guided by Sara Yorke Stevenson, who became Curator of the Mediterranean Section of the Museum in 1894. In 1895 the Museum made an arrangement with Arthur L. Frothingham, Jr., a professor at Princeton University and Associate Director of the American School in Rome (later the American Academy in Rome), to serve as an agent for the Museum in locating and purchasing antiquities and plaster casts suitable for the Museum’s classical collections. Frothingham’s purchases were to shape the Etruscan and Roman collections immeasurably.

Arthur Frothingham played a critical role in the formation of the Museum’s Etruscan collections, and while many of the objects, such as the important series of architectural terracottas from Cerveteri and Tarquinia, were purchased from dealers in Rome, Frothingham also employed Italian excavators to conduct excavations and provide documentation for the finds. One particular excavator, Francesco Mancinelli Scotti, excavated tombs at the important Etruscan city of Vulci and at Narce, in the Faliscan zone to the south. A careful excavator by contemporary standards, he provided Frothingham with entire tomb groups—groups of objects from the same tomb—as well as documentation—plans, drawings, photographs, and lists of tomb contents. The young Museum, acquiring objects to fill the new building then under construction, was articulating a collecting policy whereby it would be less interested in individual objects and more concerned with acquiring whole groups of objects covering a large chronological range which had come from scientific exploration and which would be accompanied by carefully and scientifically gathered documentation. The new Etruscan collection, with its complete and well-documented tomb groups, was a perfect example of the Museum’s mission.

A number of the Etruscan objects, particularly their black-fired bucchero pottery and small bronzes, but also the cinerary urn of Arnth Remzna, came from the collection of Robert H. Coleman. The entire collection was purchased by the Museum at auction, in February of 1897, with funds provided by Phoebe Hearst. Coleman, heir to a vast ironworks empire in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, was one of the wealthiest men in America in the late 1880s until his bankruptcy soon after forced him to sell off his assets. When he formed his collection, it was probably with the assistance of an agent in Florence, James Jackson Jarves. Jarves, whose father was the founder of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, was a well-known figure in Florence and served as American vice-consul from 1880 to 1882.

Phoebe Hearst was one of the most generous donors to the Mediterranean Section in the early years of the Museum. Funds for the Museum’s sponsorship of Frothingham’s work came largely from her. Six late Etruscan sarcophagi from Cività Musarna, which arrived at the Museum in late 1900, were among the last of her gifts for the Mediterranean Section collections.

Apart from the Etruscan vases that came to the Museum through the Philadelphia Museum of Art loan of the early 1930s, there was no significant addition of Etruscan material until 1968, when the Museum purchased some thirty objects from the Hercle Excavation Company in Rome. A quasi-governmental organization, the Hercle company had been formed to excavate and legally export finds. The Museum’s collection comes from excavations at the necropolis at Vulci, the so-called "zona dell’Osteria."

The Museum continues its archaeological interest in Etruria. Since 1997 it has been collaborating with Southern Methodist University to excavate the Etruscan site of Poggio Colla in the Mugello Valley north of Florence.