A Distinguished Etruscan

A Distinguished Etruscan


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3D Image

A distinguished Etruscan, 530 BCE, Etrusce, Nye Carlsberg Glyptotek (Copenhagen, Denmark). Made with Memento Beta (now ReMake) from Autodesk.

The Etruscans were skilled at fashioning sculptures in clay, which was painted in bright colours. This statue of a distinguished Etruscan in a white toga with purple border may have been placed in a tomb pouring libation to a god in the underworld.

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A Distinguished Etruscan - History

The Etruscans were a Mediterranean civilization during the 6 th to 3 rd century BCE, from whom the Romans derived a great deal of cultural influence.

Learning Objectives

Explain the relationship between the Etruscan and Roman civilizations

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The prevailing view is that Rome was founded by Italics who later merged with Etruscans. Rome was likely a small settlement until the arrival of the Etruscans, who then established Rome’s urban infrastructure.
  • The Etruscans were indigenous to the Mediterranean area, probably stemming from the Villanovan culture.
  • The mining and commerce of metal, especially copper and iron, led to an enrichment of the Etruscans, and to the expansion of their influence in the Italian Peninsula and the western Mediterranean Sea. Conflicts with the Greeks led the Etruscans to ally themselves with the Carthaginians.
  • The Etruscans governed within a state system, with only remnants of the chiefdom or tribal forms. The Etruscan state government was essentially a theocracy.
  • Aristocratic families were important within Etruscan society, and women enjoyed, comparatively, many freedoms within society.
  • The Etruscan system of belief was an immanent polytheism that incorporated indigenous, Indo-European, and Greek influences.
  • It is believed that the Etruscans spoke a non-Indo-European language, probably related to what is called the Tyrsenian language family, which is itself an isolate family, or in other words, unrelated directly to other known language groups.

Key Terms

  • theocracy: A form of government in which a deity is officially recognized as the civil ruler, and official policy is governed by officials regarded as divinely guided, or is pursuant to the doctrine of a particular religion or religious group.
  • Etruscan: The modern name given to a civilization of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Latium.
  • oligarchic: A form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next however, inheritance is not a necessary condition for the application of this term.

Those who subscribe to an Italic (a diverse group of people who inhabited pre-Roman Italy) foundation of Rome, followed by an Etruscan invasion, typically speak of an Etruscan “influence” on Roman culture that is, cultural objects that were adopted by Rome from neighboring Etruria. The prevailing view is that Rome was founded by Italics who later merged with Etruscans. In that case, Etruscan cultural objects are not a heritage but are, instead, influences. Rome was likely a small settlement until the arrival of the Etruscans, who then established its initial urban infrastructure.

Origins

The origins of the Etruscans are mostly lost in prehistory. Historians have no literature, and no original texts of religion or philosophy. Therefore, much of what is known about this civilization is derived from grave goods and tomb findings. The main hypotheses state that the Etruscans were indigenous to the region, probably stemming from the Villanovan culture or from the Near East. Etruscan expansion was focused both to the north, beyond the Apennines, and into Campania. The mining and commerce of metal, especially copper and iron, led to an enrichment of the Etruscans, and to the expansion of their influence in the Italian Peninsula and the western Mediterranean Sea. Here, their interests collided with those of the Greeks, especially in the 6t h century BCE, when Phoceans of Italy founded colonies along the coast of Sardinia, Spain, and Corsica. This led the Etruscans to ally themselves with the Carthaginians, whose interests also collided with the Greeks.

Map of the Etruscan Civilization: Extent of Etruscan civilization and the 12 Etruscan League cities.

Around 540 BCE, the Battle of Alalia led to a new distribution of power in the western Mediterranean Sea. Though the battle had no clear winner, Carthage managed to expand its sphere of influence at the expense of the Greeks, and Etruria saw itself relegated to the northern Tyrrhenian Sea with full ownership of Corsica. From the first half of the 5 th century BCE, the new international political situation signaled the beginning of Etruscan decline after they had lost their southern provinces. In 480 BCE, Etruria’s ally, Carthage, was defeated by a coalition of Magna Graecia cities led by Syracuse. A few years later, in 474 BCE, Syracuse’s tyrant, Hiero, defeated the Etruscans at the Battle of Cumae. Etruria’s influence over the cities of Latium and Campania weakened, and it was taken over by the Romans and Samnites. In the 4 th century, Etruria saw a Gallic invasion end its influence over the Po valley and the Adriatic coast. Meanwhile, Rome had started annexing Etruscan cities. These events led to the loss of the Northern Etruscan provinces. Etruria was conquered by Rome in the 3 rd century BCE.

Etruscan Government

The Etruscans governed using a state system of society, with only remnants of the chiefdom and tribal forms. In this way, they were different from the surrounding Italics. Rome was, in a sense, the first Italic state, but it began as an Etruscan one. It is believed that the Etruscan government style changed from total monarchy to an oligarchic republic (as the Roman Republic did) in the 6 th century BCE, although it is important to note this did not happen to all city-states.

The Etruscan state government was essentially a theocracy. The government was viewed as being a central authority over all tribal and clan organizations. It retained the power of life and death in fact, the gorgon, an ancient symbol of that power, appears as a motif in Etruscan decoration. The adherents to this state power were united by a common religion. Political unity in Etruscan society was the city-state, and Etruscan texts name quite a number of magistrates without explanation of their function (the camthi, the parnich, the purth, the tamera, the macstrev, etc.).

Etruscan Families

According to inscriptional evidence from tombs, aristocratic families were important within Etruscan society. Most likely, aristocratic families rose to prominence over time through the accumulation of wealth via trade, with many of the wealthiest Etruscan cities located near the coast.

The Etruscan name for family was lautn, and at the center of the lautn was the married couple. Etruscans were monogamous, and the lids of large numbers of sarcophagi were decorated with images of smiling couples in the prime of their life, often reclining next to each other or in an embrace. Many tombs also included funerary inscriptions naming the parents of the deceased, indicating the importance of the mother’s side of the family in Etruscan society. Additionally, Etruscan women were allowed considerable freedoms in comparison to Greek and Roman women, and mixed-sex socialization outside the domestic realm occurred.

Etruscan Religion

The Etruscan system of belief was an immanent polytheism that is, all visible phenomena were considered to be a manifestation of divine power, and that power was subdivided into deities that acted continually on the world of man and could be dissuaded or persuaded in favor of human affairs. Three layers of deities are evident in the extensive Etruscan art motifs. One appears to be divinities of an indigenous nature: Catha and Usil, the sun Tivr, the moon Selvans, a civil god Turan, the goddess of love Laran, the god of war Leinth, the goddess of death Maris Thalna Turms and the ever-popular Fufluns, whose name is related in an unknown way to the city of Populonia and the populus Romanus, the Roman people.

Ruling over this pantheon of lesser deities were higher ones that seem to reflect the Indo-European system: Tin or Tinia, the sky Uni, his wife (Juno) and Cel, the earth goddess. In addition the Greek gods were taken into the Etruscan system: Aritimi (Artemis), Menrva (Minerva), and Pacha (Bacchus). The Greek heroes taken from Homer also appear extensively in art motifs.

The Greek polytheistic approach was similar to the Etruscan religious and cultural base. As the Romans emerged from the legacy created by both of these groups, it shared in a belief system of many gods and deities.

Etruscan Language and Etymology

Knowledge of the Etruscan language is still far from complete. It is believed that the Etruscans spoke a non-Indo-European language, probably related to what is called the Tyrsenian language family, which is itself an isolate family, or in other words, unrelated directly to other known language groups. No etymology exists for Rasna, the Etruscans’ name for themselves, though Italian historic linguist, Massimo Pittau, has proposed that it meant “shaved” or “beardless.” The hypothesized etymology for Tusci, a root for “Tuscan” or “Etruscan,” suggests a connection to the Latin and Greek words for “tower,” illustrating the Tusci people as those who built towers. This was possibly based upon the Etruscan preference for building hill towns on high precipices that were enhanced by walls. The word may also be related to the city of Troy, which was also a city of towers, suggesting large numbers of migrants from that region into Etruria.


Contents

Ethnonym and etymology Edit

The Etruscans called themselves Rasenna, which was shortened to Rasna or Raśna (etymology unknown). [19] [20] [21]

In Attic Greek, the Etruscans were known as Tyrrhenians ( Τυρρηνοί , Turrhēnoi, earlier Τυρσηνοί Tursēnoi), from which the Romans derived the names Tyrrhēnī, Tyrrhēnia (Etruria), and Mare Tyrrhēnum (Tyrrhenian Sea), [22] [ full citation needed ] prompting some to associate them with the Teresh (one of the Sea Peoples named by the Egyptians).

The ancient Romans referred to the Etruscans as the Tuscī or Etruscī (singular Tuscus). [23] [24] Their Roman name is the origin of the terms "Toscana", which refers to their heartland, and "Etruria", which can refer to their wider region. The term Tusci is thought by linguists to have been the Umbrian word for “Etruscan,” based an inscription on an ancient bronze tablet from a nearby region. [25] The inscription contains the phrase turskum . nomen, literally "the Tuscan name". Based on a knowledge of Umbrian grammar, linguists can infer that the base form of the word turskum is *Tursci, [26] which would, through metathesis and a word-initial epenthesis, be likely to lead to the form, E-trus-ci. [27]

As for the original meaning of the root, *Turs-, a widely cited hypothesis is that it, like the word Latin turris, means "tower", and comes from the Greek word for tower: τύρσις . [28] On this hypothesis, the Tusci were called the "people who build towers" [28] or "the tower builders". [29] This proposed etymology is made the more plausible because the Etruscans preferred to build their towns on high precipices reinforced by walls. Alternatively, Giuliano and Larissa Bonfante have speculated that Etruscan houses may have seemed like towers to the simple Latins. [30] The proposed etymology has a long history, Dionysius of Halicarnassus having observed in the first century B. C., "[T]here is no reason that the Greeks should not have called [the Etruscans] by this name, both from their living in towers and from the name of one of their rulers." [31]

Origins Edit

Ancient sources Edit

Literary and historical texts in the Etruscan language have not survived, and the language itself is only partially understood by modern scholars. This makes modern understanding of their society and culture heavily dependent on much later and generally disapproving Roman and Greek sources. These ancient writers differed in their theories about the origin of the Etruscan people. Some suggested they were Pelasgians who had migrated there from Greece. Others maintained that they were indigenous to central Italy and were not from Greece.

The first Greek author to mention the Etruscans, whom the Ancient Greeks called Tyrrhenians, was the 8th-century BC poet Hesiod, in his work, the Theogony. He mentioned them as residing in central Italy alongside the Latins. [32] The 7th-century BC Homeric Hymn to Dionysus [33] referred to them as pirates. [34] Unlike later Greek authors, these authors did not suggest that Etruscans had migrated to Italy from the east, and did not associate them with the Pelasgians.

It was only in the 5th century BC, when the Etruscan civilization had been established for several centuries, that Greek writers started associating the name "Tyrrhenians" with the "Pelasgians", and even then, some did so in a way that suggests they were meant only as generic, descriptive labels for "non-Greek" and "indigenous ancestors of Greeks", respectively. [35]

The 5th-century BC historians Thucydides [36] and Herodotus, [37] and the 1st-century BC historian Strabo [38] [ full citation needed ] , did seem to suggest that the Tyrrhenians were originally Pelasgians who migrated to Italy from Lydia by way of the Greek island of Lemnos. They all described Lemnos as having been settled by Pelasgians, whom Thucydides identified as "belonging to the Tyrrhenians" ( τὸ δὲ πλεῖστον Πελασγικόν, τῶν καὶ Λῆμνόν ποτε καὶ Ἀθήνας Τυρσηνῶν ). As Strabo and Herodotus told it, [39] the migration to Lemnos was led by Tyrrhenus / Tyrsenos, the son of Atys (who was king of Lydia). Strabo [38] added that the Pelasgians of Lemnos and Imbros then followed Tyrrhenus to the Italian Peninsula. And, according to the logographer Hellanicus of Lesbos, there was a Pelasgian migration from Thessaly in Greece to the Italian peninsula, as part of which the Pelasgians colonized the area he called Tyrrhenia, and they then came to be called Tyrrhenians. [40]

There is some evidence suggesting a link between the island of Lemnos and the Tyrrhenians. The Lemnos Stele bears inscriptions in a language with strong structural resemblances to the language of the Etruscans. [41] The discovery of these inscriptions in modern times has led to the suggestion of a "Tyrrhenian language group" comprising Etruscan, Lemnian, and the Raetic spoken in the Alps.

However, the 1st-century BC historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Greek living in Rome, dismissed many of the ancient theories of other Greek historians and postulated that the Etruscans were indigenous people who had always lived in Etruria and were different from both the Pelasgians and the Lydians. [42] Dionysius noted that the 5th-century historian Xanthus of Lydia, who was originally from Sardis and was regarded as an important source and authority for the history of Lydia, never suggested a Lydian origin of the Etruscans and never named Tyrrhenus as a ruler of the Lydians. [42]

For this reason, therefore, I am persuaded that the Pelasgians are a different people from the Tyrrhenians. And I do not believe, either, that the Tyrrhenians were a colony of the Lydians for they do not use the same language as the latter, nor can it be alleged that, though they no longer speak a similar tongue, they still retain some other indications of their mother country. For they neither worship the same gods as the Lydians nor make use of similar laws or institutions, but in these very respects they differ more from the Lydians than from the Pelasgians. Indeed, those probably come nearest to the truth who declare that the nation migrated from nowhere else, but was native to the country, since it is found to be a very ancient nation and to agree with no other either in its language or in its manner of living.

The credibility of Dionysius of Halicarnassus is arguably bolstered by the fact that he was the first ancient writer to report the endonym of the Etruscans: Rasenna.

The Romans, however, give them other names: from the country they once inhabited, named Etruria, they call them Etruscans, and from their knowledge of the ceremonies relating to divine worship, in which they excel others, they now call them, rather inaccurately, Tusci, but formerly, with the same accuracy as the Greeks, they called them Thyoscoï [an earlier form of Tusci]. Their own name for themselves, however, is the same as that of one of their leaders, Rasenna.

Similarly, the 1st-century BC historian Livy, in his Ab Urbe Condita Libri, said that the Rhaetians were Etruscans who had been driven into the mountains by the invading Gauls and he asserted that the inhabitants of Raetia were of Etruscan origin. [43]

The Alpine tribes have also, no doubt, the same origin (of the Etruscans), especially the Raetians who have been rendered so savage by the very nature of the country as to retain nothing of their ancient character save the sound of their speech, and even that is corrupted.

First-century historian Pliny the Elder also put the Etruscans in the context of the Rhaetian people to the north, and wrote in his Natural History (AD 79): [44]

Adjoining these the (Alpine) Noricans are the Raeti and Vindelici. All are divided into a number of states. The Raeti are believed to be people of Tuscan race driven out by the Gauls, their leader was named Raetus.

Archeological evidence and modern etruscology Edit

The question of Etruscan origins has long been a subject of interest and debate among historians. In modern times, all the evidence gathered so far by etruscologists points to an indigenous origin of the Etruscans. [45] [46] [47] [48] There is no archaeological or linguistic evidence of a migration of the Lydians or Pelasgians into Etruria. [49] [46] [47] [48] Modern etruscologists and archeologists, such as Massimo Pallottino (1947), have shown that early historians’ assumptions and assertions on the subject were groundless. [50] In 2000, the etruscologist Dominique Briquel explained in detail why he believes that ancient Greek historians’ writings on Etruscan origins should not even count as historical documents. [51] He argues that the ancient story of the Etruscans’ 'Lydian origins' was a deliberate, politically motivated fabrication, and that ancient Greeks inferred a connection between the Tyrrhenians and the Pelasgians solely on the basis of certain Greek and local traditions and on the mere fact that there had been trade between the Etruscans and Greeks. [52] [53] He noted that, even if these stories include historical facts suggesting contact, such contact is more plausibly traceable to cultural exchange than to migration. [54]

Several archaeologists who have analyzed Bronze Age and Iron Age remains that were excavated in the territory of historical Etruria have pointed out that no evidence has been found, related either to material culture or to social practices, that can support a migration theory. [55] The most marked and radical change that has been archaeologically attested in the area is the adoption, starting in about the 12th century BC, of the funeral rite of incineration in terracotta urns, which is a Continental European practice, derived from the Urnfield culture there is nothing about it that suggests an ethnic contribution from Asia Minor or the Near East. [55]

A 2012 survey of the previous 30 years’ archaeological findings, based on excavations of the major Etruscan cities, showed a continuity of culture from the last phase of the Bronze Age (13th–11th century BC) to the Iron Age (10th–9th century BC). This is evidence that the Etruscan civilization, which emerged around 900 BC, was built by people whose ancestors had inhabited that region for at least the previous 200 years. [56] Based on this cultural continuity, there is now a consensus among archeologists that Proto-Etruscan culture developed, during the last phase of the Bronze Age, from the indigenous Proto-Villanovan culture, and that the subsequent Iron Age Villanovan culture is most accurately described as an early phase of the Etruscan civilization. [10] It is possible that there were contacts between northern-central Italy and the Mycenaean world at the end of the Bronze Age. However contacts between the inhabitants of Etruria and inhabitants of Greece, Aegean Sea Islands, Asia Minor, and the Near East are attested only centuries later, when Etruscan civilization was already flourishing and Etruscan ethnogenesis was well established. The first of these attested contacts relate to the Greek colonies in Southern Italy and the consequent orientalizing period. [57]

Genetic research Edit

A mtDNA study in 2004 stated that the Etruscans had no significant heterogeneity, and that all mitochondrial lineages observed among the Etruscan samples appear typically European, but only a few haplotypes were shared with modern populations. Allele sharing between the Etruscans and modern populations is highest among Germans (seven haplotypes in common), the Cornish from South West England (five haplotypes in common), the Turks (four haplotypes in common), and the Tuscans (two haplotypes in common). [58]

A couple of mitochondrial DNA studies, published in 2013 in the journals PLOS One and American Journal of Physical Anthropology, based on Etruscan samples from Tuscany and Latium, concluded that the Etruscans were an indigenous population, showing that Etruscans' mtDNA appear to fall very close to a Neolithic population from Central Europe (Germany, Austria, Hungary) and to other Tuscan populations, strongly suggesting that the Etruscan civilization developed locally from the Villanovan culture, as already supported by archaeological evidence and anthropological research, [10] [59] and that genetic links between Tuscany and western Anatolia date back to at least 5,000 years ago during the Neolithic and the "most likely separation time between Tuscany and Western Anatolia falls around 7,600 years ago", at the time of the migrations of Early European Farmers (EEF) from Anatolia to Europe in the early Neolithic. The ancient Etruscan samples had mitochondrial DNA haplogroups (mtDNA) JT (subclades of J and T) and U5, with a minority of mtDNA H1b. [60] [61]

In the collective volume Etruscology published in 2017, British archeologist Phil Perkins provides an analysis of the state of DNA studies and writes that "none of the DNA studies to date conclusively prove that Etruscans were an intrusive population in Italy that originated in the Eastern Mediterranean or Anatolia" and "there are indications that the evidence of DNA can support the theory that Etruscan people are autochthonous in central Italy". [62] [63]

A 2019 genetic study published in the journal Science analyzed the remains of eleven Iron Age individuals from the areas around Rome, of which four were Etruscan individuals, one buried in Veio Grotta Gramiccia from the Villanovan era (900-800 BC) and three buried in La Mattonara Necropolis near Civitavecchia from the Orientalizing period (700-600 BC). The study concluded that Etruscans (900–600 BC) and the Latins (900–500 BC) from Latium vetus were genetically similar, [64] with genetic differences between the examined Etruscans and Latins found to be insignificant. [65] The Etruscan individuals and contemporary Latins were distinguished from preceding populations of Italy by the presence of ca. 30-40% steppe ancestry. [66] Their DNA was a mixture of two-thirds Copper Age ancestry (EEF + WHG Etruscans

24–37%). [64] The only sample of Y-DNA extracted belonged to haplogroup J-M12 (J2b-L283), found in an individual dated 700-600 BC, and carried exactly the M314 derived allele also found in a Middle Bronze Age individual from Croatia (1631-1531 calBCE). While the four samples of mtDNA extracted belonged to haplogroups U5a1, H, T2b32, K1a4. [67] Therefore, Etruscans had also Steppe-related ancestry despite speaking a non-Indo-European language.

In his book, A Short History of Humanity, published in the English world in 2021, German geneticist Johannes Krause, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Jena, concludes that all the evidence tells us that the Etruscan language arrived in Europe with the Neolithic revolution. [68]

Periodization of Etruscan civilization Edit

The Etruscan civilization begins with the Villanovan culture, regarded as the oldest phase. [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] The Etruscans themselves dated the origin of the Etruscan nation to a date corresponding to the 11th or 10th century BC. [6] [69] The Villanovan culture emerges with the phenomenon of regionalization from the late Bronze Age culture called "Proto-Villanovan", part of the central European Urnfield culture system. In the last Villanovan phase, called the recent phase (about 770–730 BC), the Etruscans established relations of a certain consistency with the first Greek immigrants in southern Italy (in Pithecusa and then in Cuma), so much so as to initially absorb techniques and figurative models and soon more properly cultural models, with the introduction, for example, of writing, of a new way of banqueting, of a heroic funerary ideology, that is, a new aristocratic way of life, such as to profoundly change the physiognomy of Etruscan society. [69] Thus, thanks to the growing number of contacts with the Greeks, the Etruscans entered what is called the Orientalizing phase. In this phase, there was a heavy influence in Greece, most of Italy and some areas of Spain, from the most advanced areas of the eastern Mediterranean and the ancient Near East. [70] Also directly Phoenician, or otherwise Near Eastern, craftsmen, merchants and artists contributed to the spread in southern Europe of Near Eastern cultural and artistic motifs. The last three phases of Etruscan civilization are called, respectively, Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic, which roughly correspond to the homonymous phases of the ancient Greek civilization.

Chronology Edit

Etruscan civilization
(900–27 BC) [4]
Villanovan period
(900–720 BC)
Villanovan I 900–800 BC
Villanovan II 800–720 BC
Villanovan III (Bologna area) 720–680 BC [71]
Villanovan IV (Bologna area) 680–540 BC [71]
Orientalizing period
(720–580 BC)
Early Orientalizing 720–680 BC
Middle Orientalizing 680–625 BC
Late Orientalizing 625–580 BC
Archaic period
(580–480 BC)
Archaic 580–480 BC
Classical period
(480–320 BC)
Classical 480–320 BC
Hellenistic period
(320–27 BC)
Hellenistic 320–27 BC

Expansion Edit

Etruscan expansion was focused both to the north beyond the Apennine Mountains and into Campania. Some small towns in the sixth century BC disappeared during this time, ostensibly subsumed by greater, more powerful neighbours. However, it is certain that the political structure of the Etruscan culture was similar to, albeit more aristocratic than, Magna Graecia in the south. The mining and commerce of metal, especially copper and iron, led to an enrichment of the Etruscans and to the expansion of their influence in the Italian peninsula and the western Mediterranean Sea. Here, their interests collided with those of the Greeks, especially in the sixth century BC, when Phocaeans of Italy founded colonies along the coast of Sardinia, Spain and Corsica. This led the Etruscans to ally themselves with Carthage, whose interests also collided with the Greeks. [72] [73]

Around 540 BC, the Battle of Alalia led to a new distribution of power in the western Mediterranean. Though the battle had no clear winner, Carthage managed to expand its sphere of influence at the expense of the Greeks, and Etruria saw itself relegated to the northern Tyrrhenian Sea with full ownership of Corsica. From the first half of the 5th century BC, the new political situation meant the beginning of the Etruscan decline after losing their southern provinces. In 480 BC, Etruria's ally Carthage was defeated by a coalition of Magna Graecia cities led by Syracuse, Sicily. A few years later, in 474 BC, Syracuse's tyrant Hiero defeated the Etruscans at the Battle of Cumae. Etruria's influence over the cities of Latium and Campania weakened, and the area was taken over by Romans and Samnites.

In the 4th century BC, Etruria saw a Gallic invasion end its influence over the Po Valley and the Adriatic coast. Meanwhile, Rome had started annexing Etruscan cities. This led to the loss of the northern Etruscan provinces. During the Roman–Etruscan Wars, Etruria was conquered by Rome in the 3rd century BC. [72] [73]

Etruscan League Edit

According to legend, [74] there was a period between 600 BC and 500 BC in which an alliance was formed among twelve Etruscan settlements, known today as the Etruscan League, Etruscan Federation, or Dodecapolis (in Greek Δωδεκάπολις). According to a legend the Etruscan League of twelve cities was founded by Tarchon and his brother Tyrrhenus. Tarchon lent his name to the city of Tarchna, or Tarquinnii, as it was known by the Romans. Tyrrhenus gave his name to the Tyrrhenians, the alternative name for the Etruscans. Although there is no consensus on which cities were in the league, the following list may be close to the mark: Arretium, Caisra, Clevsin, Curtun, Perusna, Pupluna, Veii, Tarchna, Vetluna, Volterra, Velzna, and Velch. Some modern authors include Rusellae. [75] The league was mostly an economic and religious league, or a loose confederation, similar to the Greek states. During the later imperial times, when Etruria was just one of many regions controlled by Rome, the number of cities in the league increased by three. This is noted on many later grave stones from the 2nd century BC onwards. According to Livy, the twelve city-states met once a year at the Fanum Voltumnae at Volsinii, where a leader was chosen to represent the league. [76]

There were two other Etruscan leagues ("Lega dei popoli"): that of Campania, the main city of which was Capua, and the Po Valley city-states in northern Italy, which included Bologna, Spina and Adria.

Possible founding of Rome Edit

Those who subscribe to a Latin foundation of Rome followed by an Etruscan invasion typically speak of an Etruscan "influence" on Roman culture – that is, cultural objects which were adopted by Rome from neighbouring Etruria. The prevailing view is that Rome was founded by Latins who later merged with Etruscans. In this interpretation, Etruscan cultural objects are considered influences rather than part of a heritage. [77] Rome was probably a small settlement until the arrival of the Etruscans, who constructed the first elements of its urban infrastructure such as the drainage system. [78] [79]

The main criterion for deciding whether an object originated at Rome and traveled by influence to the Etruscans, or descended to the Romans from the Etruscans, is date. Many, if not most, of the Etruscan cities were older than Rome. If one finds that a given feature was there first, it cannot have originated at Rome. A second criterion is the opinion of the ancient sources. These would indicate that certain institutions and customs came directly from the Etruscans. Rome is located on the edge of what was Etruscan territory. When Etruscan settlements turned up south of the border, it was presumed that the Etruscans spread there after the foundation of Rome, but the settlements are now known to have preceded Rome.

Etruscan settlements were frequently built on hills – the steeper the better – and surrounded by thick walls. According to Roman mythology, when Romulus and Remus founded Rome, they did so on the Palatine Hill according to Etruscan ritual that is, they began with a pomerium or sacred ditch. Then, they proceeded to the walls. Romulus was required to kill Remus when the latter jumped over the wall, breaking its magic spell (see also under Pons Sublicius). The name of Rome is attested in Etruscan in the form Ruma-χ meaning 'Roman', a form that mirrors other attested ethnonyms in that language with the same suffix : Velzna-χ '(someone) from Volsinii' and Sveama-χ '(someone) from Sovana'. This in itself, however, is not enough to prove Etruscan origin conclusively. If Tiberius is from θefarie, then Ruma would have been placed on the Thefar (Tiber) river. A heavily discussed topic among scholars is who was the founding population of Rome. In 390 BC, the city of Rome was attacked by the Gauls, and as a result may have lost many – though not all – of its earlier records. Certainly, the history of Rome before that date is not as secure as it later becomes, but enough material remains to give a good picture of the development of the city and its institutions. [ citation needed ]

Later history relates that some Etruscans lived in the Vicus Tuscus, [80] the "Etruscan quarter", and that there was an Etruscan line of kings (albeit ones descended from a Greek, Demaratus of Corinth) that succeeded kings of Latin and Sabine origin. Etruscophile historians would argue that this, together with evidence for institutions, religious elements and other cultural elements, proves that Rome was founded by Etruscans. The true picture is rather more complicated, not least because the Etruscan cities were separate entities which never came together to form a single Etruscan state. Furthermore, there were strong Latin and Italic elements to Roman culture, and later Romans proudly celebrated these multiple, 'multicultural' influences on the city.

Under Romulus and Numa Pompilius, the people were said to have been divided into thirty curiae and three tribes. Few Etruscan words entered Latin, but the names of at least two of the tribes – Ramnes and Luceres – seem to be Etruscan. The last kings may have borne the Etruscan title lucumo, while the regalia were traditionally considered of Etruscan origin – the golden crown, the sceptre, the toga palmata (a special robe), the sella curulis (curule chair), and above all the primary symbol of state power: The fasces. The latter was a bundle of whipping rods surrounding a double-bladed axe, carried by the king's lictors. An example of the fasces are the remains of bronze rods and the axe from a tomb in Etruscan Vetulonia. This allowed archaeologists to identify the depiction of a fasces on the grave stele of Avele Feluske, who is shown as a warrior wielding the fasces. The most telling Etruscan feature is the word populus, which appears as an Etruscan deity, Fufluns. Populus seems to mean the people assembled in a military body, rather than the general populace. [ citation needed ]

Roman families of Etruscan origin Edit

Government Edit

The historical Etruscans had achieved a state system of society, with remnants of the chiefdom and tribal forms. In this, they were different from the surrounding Italics, who had chiefs and tribes. [ citation needed ] Rome was in a sense the first Italic state, but it began as an Etruscan one. It is believed that the Etruscan government style changed from total monarchy to oligarchic republic (as the Roman Republic) in the 6th century BC, although it is important to note this did not happen to all the city-states. [ citation needed ]

The government was viewed as being a central authority, ruling over all tribal and clan organizations. It retained the power of life and death in fact, the gorgon, an ancient symbol of that power, appears as a motif in Etruscan decoration. The adherents to this state power were united by a common religion. Political unity in Etruscan society was the city-state, which was probably the referent of methlum, "district". Etruscan texts name quite a number of magistrates, without much of a hint as to their function: The camthi, the parnich, the purth, the tamera, the macstrev, and so on. The people were the mech. The chief ruler of a methlum was perhaps a zilach. [ citation needed ]

Family Edit

The princely tombs were not of individuals. The inscription evidence shows that families were interred there over long periods, marking the growth of the aristocratic family as a fixed institution, parallel to the gens at Rome and perhaps even its model. The Etruscans could have used any model of the eastern Mediterranean. That the growth of this class is related to the new acquisition of wealth through trade is unquestioned. The wealthiest cities were located near the coast. At the centre of the society was the married couple, tusurthir. The Etruscans were a monogamous society that emphasized pairing.

Similarly, the behaviour of some wealthy women is not uniquely Etruscan. The apparent promiscuous revelry has a spiritual explanation. Swaddling and Bonfante (among others) explain that depictions of the nude embrace, or symplegma, "had the power to ward off evil", as did baring the breast, which was adopted by western culture as an apotropaic device, appearing finally on the figureheads of sailing ships as a nude female upper torso. It is also possible that Greek and Roman attitudes to the Etruscans were based on a misunderstanding of the place of women within their society. In both Greece and the Earliest Republican Rome, respectable women were confined to the house and mixed-sex socialising did not occur. Thus, the freedom of women within Etruscan society could have been misunderstood as implying their sexual availability. [81] It is worth noting that a number of Etruscan tombs carry funerary inscriptions in the form "X son of (father) and (mother)", indicating the importance of the mother's side of the family. [81]

Military Edit

The Etruscans, like the contemporary cultures of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, had a significant military tradition. In addition to marking the rank and power of certain individuals, warfare was a considerable economic advantage to Etruscan civilization. Like many ancient societies, the Etruscans conducted campaigns during summer months, raiding neighboring areas, attempting to gain territory and combating piracy as a means of acquiring valuable resources, such as land, prestige, goods, and slaves. It is likely that individuals taken in battle would be ransomed back to their families and clans at high cost. Prisoners could also potentially be sacrificed on tombs as an honor to fallen leaders of Etruscan society, not unlike the sacrifices made by Achilles for Patrocles. [82] [83] [84]

Cities Edit

The range of Etruscan civilization is marked by its cities. They were entirely assimilated by Italic, Celtic, or Roman ethnic groups, but the names survive from inscriptions and their ruins are of aesthetic and historic interest in most of the cities of central Italy. Etruscan cities flourished over most of Italy during the Roman Iron Age, marking the farthest extent of Etruscan civilization. They were gradually assimilated first by Italics in the south, then by Celts in the north and finally in Etruria itself by the growing Roman Republic. [82]

That many Roman cities were formerly Etruscan was well known to all the Roman authors. Some cities were founded by Etruscans in prehistoric times, and bore entirely Etruscan names. Others were colonized by Etruscans who Etruscanized the name, usually Italic. [83]

Religion Edit

The Etruscan system of belief was an immanent polytheism that is, all visible phenomena were considered to be a manifestation of divine power and that power was subdivided into deities that acted continually on the world of man and could be dissuaded or persuaded in favour of human affairs. How to understand the will of deities, and how to behave, had been revealed to the Etruscans by two initiators, Tages, a childlike figure born from tilled land and immediately gifted with prescience, and Vegoia, a female figure. Their teachings were kept in a series of sacred books. Three layers of deities are evident in the extensive Etruscan art motifs. One appears to be divinities of an indigenous nature: Catha and Usil, the sun Tivr, the moon Selvans, a civil god Turan, the goddess of love Laran, the god of war Leinth, the goddess of death Maris Thalna Turms and the ever-popular Fufluns, whose name is related in some way to the city of Populonia and the populus Romanus, possibly, the god of the people. [85] [86]

Ruling over this pantheon of lesser deities were higher ones that seem to reflect the Indo-European system: Tin or Tinia, the sky, Uni his wife (Juno), and Cel, the earth goddess. In addition, some Greek and Roman gods were taken into the Etruscan system: Aritimi (Artemis), Menrva (Minerva), Pacha (Dionysus). The Greek heroes taken from Homer also appear extensively in art motifs. [85] [86]

Architecture Edit

Relatively little is known about the architecture of the ancient Etruscans. They adapted the native Italic styles with influence from the external appearance of Greek architecture. In turn, ancient Roman architecture began with Etruscan styles, and then accepted still further Greek influence. Roman temples show many of the same differences in form to Greek ones that Etruscan temples do, but like the Greeks, use stone, in which they closely copy Greek conventions. The houses of the wealthy were evidently often large and comfortable, but the burial chambers of tombs, often filled with grave-goods, are the nearest approach to them to survive. In the southern Etruscan area, tombs have large rock-cut chambers under a tumulus in large necropoleis, and these, together with some city walls, are the only Etruscan constructions to survive. Etruscan architecture is not generally considered as part of the body of Greco-Roman classical architecture. [87]

Art and music Edit

Etruscan art was produced by the Etruscan civilization between the 9th and 2nd centuries BC. Particularly strong in this tradition were figurative sculpture in terracotta (particularly lifesize on sarcophagi or temples), wall-painting and metalworking (especially engraved bronze mirrors). Etruscan sculpture in cast bronze was famous and widely exported, but few large examples have survived (the material was too valuable, and recycled later). In contrast to terracotta and bronze, there was apparently little Etruscan sculpture in stone, despite the Etruscans controlling fine sources of marble, including Carrara marble, which seems not to have been exploited until the Romans. Most surviving Etruscan art comes from tombs, including all the fresco wall-paintings, which show scenes of feasting and some narrative mythological subjects. [ citation needed ]

Bucchero wares in black were the early and native styles of fine Etruscan pottery. There was also a tradition of elaborate Etruscan vase painting, which sprung from its Greek equivalent the Etruscans were the main export market for Greek vases. Etruscan temples were heavily decorated with colourfully painted terracotta antefixes and other fittings, which survive in large numbers where the wooden superstructure has vanished. Etruscan art was strongly connected to religion the afterlife was of major importance in Etruscan art. [88]

The Etruscan musical instruments seen in frescoes and bas-reliefs are different types of pipes, such as the plagiaulos (the pipes of Pan or Syrinx), the alabaster pipe and the famous double pipes, accompanied on percussion instruments such as the tintinnabulum, tympanum and crotales, and later by stringed instruments like the lyre and kithara.

Language Edit

Etruscans left around 13,000 inscriptions which have been found so far, only a small minority of which are of significant length. Attested from 700 BC to AD 50, the relation of Etruscan to other languages has been a source of long-running speculation and study. The Etruscans are believed to have spoken a pre–Indo-European language, [89] [90] [91] and the majority consensus is that Etruscan is related only to other members of what is called the Tyrsenian language family, which in itself is an isolate family, that is, unrelated directly to other known language groups. Since Rix (1998), it is widely accepted that the Tyrsenian family groups Raetic and Lemnian are related to Etruscan. [11]

Literature Edit

Etruscan texts, written in a space of seven centuries, use a form of the Greek alphabet due to close contact between the Etruscans and the Greek colonies at Pithecusae and Cumae in the 8th century BC (until it was no longer used, at the beginning of the 1st century AD). Etruscan inscriptions disappeared from Chiusi, Perugia and Arezzo around this time. Only a few fragments survive, religious and especially funeral texts most of which are late (from the 4th century BC). In addition to the original texts that have survived to this day, we have a large number of quotations and allusions from classical authors. In the 1st century BC, Diodorus Siculus wrote that literary culture was one of the great achievements of the Etruscans. Little is known of it and even what is known of their language is due to the repetition of the same few words in the many inscriptions found (by way of the modern epitaphs) contrasted in bilingual or trilingual texts with Latin and Punic. Out of the aforementioned genres, is just one such Volnio (Volnius) cited in classical sources mention. [92] With a few exceptions, such as the Liber Linteus, the only written records in the Etruscan language that remain are inscriptions, mainly funerary. The language is written in the Etruscan alphabet, a script related to the early Euboean Greek alphabet. [93] Many thousand inscriptions in Etruscan are known, mostly epitaphs, and a few very short texts have survived, which are mainly religious. Etruscan imaginative literature is evidenced only in references by later Roman authors, but it is evident from their visual art that the Greek myths were well-known. [94]


Before and during the Roman dynasties, the mysterious Etruscan civilization dominated the central region of ancient Italy, around what is now the heartland of Tuscany. While the origins of the Etruscans are lost to prewritten history, Etruria is distinguished from other ancient societies by its remarkable culture, which possessed a unique language, powerful women, arcane religious beliefs, and magnificent art and architecture.

This film documents the work of Dr. P. Gregory Warden and his team as they search the hilltops of Poggio Colia, Italy, for clues into the mysterious Etruscan civilization. By restoring and cataloguing the cultural artifacts left behind by ancient settlers, modern archaeologists attempt to reconstruct a picture of daily life in Etruria. They ponder what it might have been like to make the great gold jewels for the ruling families or to build complex sarcophagi to hold their remains.

“A fast paced and stunning visual journey through history and material culture of one of Italy’s most dynamic civilizations.”—Rex Wallace, Professor, Center for Etruscan Studies, University of Massachusetts


Art of the Mysterious Etruscans: Funerary clay sculptures and wall frescoes

All that remains of this mysterious civilization are funerary art and inscriptions found in their elaborate underground tombs.

Nothing of much certainty is known about the origins of the Etruscan culture, which flourished in central Italy during the same era as classic Greek civilization and many generations before the rise of the Roman Empire. The Etruscans are the ancient people of Etruria, an area roughly equivalent to modern Tuscany, that flourished between about 800 and 300 B.C. Nothing remains, for instance, of Etruscan palaces, public buildings, or early temples, all built of wood and brick. They left no body of literature behind today we have only votive or funerary inscriptions. So the Etruscan culture remains mysterious.

All that remains of this remarkable civilization, in fact, is what has been found in their underground tombs. Like the Egyptians, the Etruscans were very much interested in the hereafter and in ensuring that their dead were comfortable in the afterlife. The tombs were typically carved from living rock with walls, windows, and doorframes, all decorated with household objects the dead might need in the afterlife. Much of the art left to us is in the form of frescoes or clay funerary sculpture, all found in these tombs. Frescoes adorned the walls of the tombs. Coffin lids were meticulously embellished with relief sculptures, often of the deceased husband and wife whose remains are contained within.

Etruscan art is very much influenced by the Greeks, who were already an established and thriving civilization. For example, a coffin has on its lid a couple, reclining as though at their own funerary banquet. The Greek influence is obvious in the Archaic smile and the stylized features.

However, Etruscan art has unique character and vitality. Not as tied to an ideal of perfection or beauty as were the Greeks, Etruscan artists often show their subjects in all their imperfections, perhaps slightly overweight or with homely features. By way of illustration, a later example of sarcophagus art realistically depicts a rather homely middle-aged couple.

Etruscan fresco paintings decorated tomb walls with depictions of everyday life or of the games, dancing, music, and feasting that accompanied their funerals. There is an unmistakable vitality in their paintings, showing characteristic Etruscan exuberance and joy of life. Their scenes record natural, realistic, and playful settings and always recount an event or a story. They love using color in their work. The drawing skill is strong, the figures are outlined in black, and though the lack of modeling makes the scenes or figures appear flat, they burst with brightness and energy. Male and female figures are distinguished from one another by different skin color as in the contemporary Egyptian and Minoan paintings. Again the evidence of Greek influence is strong, as in these dancers prancing next to a Greek-style amphora.


Who Were The Mysterious Etruscan People?

Etruscan civilization is the modern name given to a civilization of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Latium. The ancient Romans called its creators the Tusci or Etrusci. Their Roman name is the origin of the terms Tuscany, which refers to their heartland, and Etruria, which can refer to their wider region.

The Etruscans called themselves Rasenna, which was syncopated to Rasna or Raśna, earlier T’rasena from whence comes the Roman and Greek names, prompting some to associate them with the Egyptian Teresh (Sea Peoples).

As distinguished by its unique language, this civilization endured from the time of the earliest Etruscan inscriptions (ca. 700 BC) until its assimilation into the Roman Republic in the late 4th century BC. At its maximum extent, during the foundational period of Rome and the Roman kingdom, it flourished in three confederacies of cities: of Etruria, of the Po valley with the eastern Alps, and of Latium and Campania.

The latest mtDNA study (2013) shows that Etruscans appear to fall very close to a Neolithic population from Central Europe and to other Tuscan populations.

The origins of the Etruscans are mostly lost in prehistory. Historians have no literature, no original texts of religion or philosophy therefore, much of what is known about this civilization is derived from grave goods and tomb findings. Historians have first relied on the historical accounts of prominent Greek and Roman authors such as Herodotus and Pliny the Elder, who both described the Etruscan people and theorized about their origins, for example by comparing their coins to others from different regions.

A mtDNA study of 2013 has suggested that the Etruscans were probably an indigenous population. By further considering two Anatolian samples (35 and 123 individuals) it could estimate that the genetic links between Tuscany and Anatolia date back to at least 5,000 years ago, strongly suggesting that the Etruscan culture developed locally, and not as an immediate consequence of immigration from the Eastern Mediterranean shores.

As you have seen in the previous photos, the Etruscans were master craftsmen in stone, often not employing mortar of any kind. Where would this advanced knowledge have come from?

These works are very similar to those found in ancient Anatolia (Turkey) whose origins themselves are clouded in the mists of time…

We have 2 final major tours for 2014 where we explore the equally mysterious ancient sites of Peru and Bolivia that conventional archaeology can not explain. Come and join us:


CHAPTER IX - THE ETRUSCANS

T he Etruscan people, or Ras, as they called themselves, present a striking contrast to the Latin and Sabellian Italians, as well as to the Greeks. They were distinguished from these nations by their very bodily structure: instead of the slender and symmetrical proportions of the Greeks and Italians, the sculptures of the Etruscans exhibit only short sturdy figures with large heads and thick arms. Their manners and customs also, so far as we are acquainted with them, point to the conclusion that this nation was originally quite distinct from the Græco-Italian stocks. The religion of the Tuscans, in particular, presenting a gloomy fantastic character, and delighting in the mystical handling of numbers and in wild and horrible speculations and practices, is equally remote from the clear rationalism of the Bomans and the genial image-worship of the Hellenes. The conclusion which these facts suggest is confirmed by the most important and authoritative evidence of nationality, the evidence of language. The remains of the Etruscan tongue which have reached us, numerous as they are, and presenting so many data to aid in deciphering it, occupy a position of isolation so complete, that not only has no one hitherto succeeded in its interpretation, but no one has been able even to determine precisely its proper place in the classification of languages. Two periods in the development of the language may be clearly distinguished. In the older period the vocalization of the language was completely carried out, and the collision of two consonants was almost without exception avoided.


Etruscan Civilization History

The Etruscan civilization (/ᵻˈtrʌskən/) is the modern name given to a powerful and wealthy civilization of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Lazio.[1] As distinguished by its unique language, this civilization endured from before the time of the earliest Etruscan inscriptions (c. 700 BC)[2] until its assimilation into the Roman Republic, beginning in the late 4th century BC with the Roman–Etruscan Wars.[2]

Culture that is identifiably Etruscan developed in Italy after about 800 BC, approximately over the range of the preceding Iron Age Villanovan culture. The latter gave way in the 7th century BC to a culture that was influenced by ancient Greece, Magna Graecia, and Phoenicia. At its maximum extent, during the foundational period of Rome and the Roman Kingdom, Etruscan civilization flourished in three confederacies of cities: of Etruria, of the Po Valley with the eastern Alps, and of Latium and Campania.[3] The decline was gradual, but by 500 BC the political destiny of Italy had passed out of Etruscan hands.[4] The last Etruscan cities were formally absorbed by Rome around 100 BC.


Three faculty members named University Distinguished Professors

Three members of the SMU faculty have been named University Distinguished Professors, as announced by the Office of the Provost. The professorships have been awarded to Greg Warden, Art History Sherry Smith, History and Cordelia Candelaria, English.

The University Distinguished Professorships were created in 1982 by SMU’s Board of Trustees to honor outstanding faculty members who meet the highest standards of academic achievement. University Distinguished Professors are appointed in perpetuity and receive cash awards of $10,000 per year for a five-year rolling term.

Greg Warden has taught at SMU since 1982, chairing the Art History Division for six years and serving as associate dean for academic affairs in the Meadows School of the Arts since 1998. Since 1995, he has directed the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project and the SMU excavations at the Etruscan site of Poggio Colla, about 22 miles northeast of Florence. The University’s Poggio Colla field school in archaeology is open to students from around the world, and students from more than 60 universities have participated in it.

Warden’s major interest is the art and culture of ancient Italy, but his expertise – as both an archaeologist and an art historian – extends to a broader range of art from the ancient Mediterranean. His research interests include ancient metalworking technologies Greek, Etruscan and Roman bronzes and decorative arts and Roman architecture and patronage. He was director of the SMU-in-Italy summer program in Florence, Orvieto and Rome from 1987 to 1998 and received a Rotunda Award for outstanding teaching from the SMU student body in 1985-86. In addition, he was named the 1996-97 Meadows Foundation Distinguished Teaching Professor. He holds a Ph.D. in classical and Near Eastern archaeology from Bryn Mawr College.

Sherry Smith joined the SMU faculty in 1999 and currently serves as director of graduate studies in the Clements Department of History and as associate director of the University’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies. Her research focuses on the intersection of western, Native American and United States cultural history. She teaches courses on the American West in the 19th and 20th centuries, women in the West, and Native American history, among others.

Currently serving as president of the Western History Association, Smith is the author of Sagebrush Soldier: Private William Earl Smith’s View of the Sioux War of 1876 (University of Oklahoma Press) and The View From Officers’ Row: Army Perceptions of Western Indians (University of Arizona Press). Her most recent book, Reimagining Indians: Native Americans Through Anglo Eyes, 1880-1940 (Oxford University Press), won the 2001 James W. Rawley Prize from the Organization of American Historians for best book on race relations, as well as SMU’s Godbey Authors Award. Smith is also editor of The Future of the Southern Plains, published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 2003. She received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington.

Cordelia Chávez Candelaria, currently a Regents Professor at Arizona State University, will become a University Distinguished Professor when she begins her new duties as SMU’s dean of Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences in July. As chair of ASU’s Department of Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies, she helped establish its Southwest Borderlands Initiative to strengthen studies in this discipline and to recruit and retain underrepresented faculty.


Who Were The Etruscans?

For most of us, ‘Etruscan’ is one of those words we’ve met many times but, if pressed, couldn’t precisely explain. We might know the word has some connection with Tuscany. We might even know that the Etruscans were a people, and that they did impressive things of some kind. But like ‘Phoenicians’ and ‘Carthaginians’, they tend to be a name with no picture – another obscure, long-dead ethnic group only familiar perhaps to people with a classical education. If you plan to visit anywhere in central Italy, it’s really worth sharpening up your hazy understanding. You’re going to meet that word ‘Etruscan’ everywhere you go a lot of irritation can be saved by clearing it up here. A word of warning, though: it’s a well-founded cliché that anyone who starts learning about the Etruscans quickly becomes hooked on the subject. If you can’t bear to acquire a new interest, look away now.

Etruscan Legacy

For half a millennium or more, the Etruscans were Europe’s most advanced civilisation outside Greece. Made wealthy by international trade, they spent their time making wine, building roads, draining marshes, painting vases, founding cities, creating sculptures, and constructing aqueducts. Hmmm. sounds a bit like the Romans, doesn’t it? Well it should. Consider three facts: i) at least two of Rome’s earliest kings were Etruscans ii) most Romans had some Etruscan ancestors and iii) the Romans took many of their ideas on art, law, religion, public institutions, water management and road-building directly from the Etruscans. You owe more to these unfamiliar ancient people than you probably imagine.
So why haven’t you heard more about them? Because they were completely overshadowed by the Romans. And because so much of what they did was lost before historians could grasp it and imprint it on our popular map of the past. Building in wood and plaster, materials totally consumed over the centuries, the Etruscans left behind no temples, amphitheatres or triumphal arches to stamp their civilisation on our minds.
They don’t speak to us from the page, either. While early Roman schoolboys studied Etruscan literature as part of their curriculum, modern-day scholars can only understand a few hundred words of the language (it’s not part of the Indo-European family). Most Etruscan writing that could have helped linguists was burnt to ashes by Christian Roman Emperors eager to stamp out paganism what survived was torched by devout early Muslims in North Africa.

Laid-back Lifestyle

The Etruscans themselves, keen on living for the moment, didn’t seem to care whether or not they preserved their glory for posterity. When their civilisation was subsumed into Roman, they didn’t bother asserting a self-consciously distinct ethnicity and melded with the newcomers. Thus an artistic and fun-loving culture was half erased from history – a culture in which banquets were eaten in bed while dancers pranced about and wine-throwing games were played. A culture with strong erotic sensibilities, but also with rudimentary sexual equality – something lost, alas, on the Romans.
With so little testament to the particularities of Etruscan existence and so much testament to the spectacular existence of the Romans, popular and academic attention has understandably always concentrated on the latter. Indeed, scholarship on things Etruscan only really started in the last century or two – and studies still abound with words like ‘mysterious’ and ‘enigmatic’. Etruscan civilization might have been rescued from historical oblivion, but only just.

Fast Learners

What is known is that the Etruscans lived across a large swathe of central Italy encompassing modern-day Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Lazio. Their civilisation had its roots in what we now call ‘Villanovan’ culture, which existed across and beyond the same area from the 9th century BC (and was distinguished by its funerary practices). Wily Greeks, exploring Italy for minerals in the 8th century, encountered these comparatively primitive Villanovans and began filling their heads with ideas. They traded with them, showed them various technologies, and taught them to write. (Thus the Etruscans wrote in Greek letters, which they reshaped and passed to the Romans, who modified them and gave us our current alphabet. The characters you’re reading here have their roots in Etruscan).
Put simply, the Greeks galvanised the Villanovans they met – so much so that the people became something else. They became a recognisably new civilisation worthy of a new name: the Etruscans. In Greek-style ships, these Etruscans were soon whisking raw materials across the Med to Greece, Sardinia, Spain and Egypt, and getting rich enough on the proceeds to support a great civilisation – innovating technologies and commanding far-flung political power. The intimate relationship with Greece would weather the centuries, however, as is attested by two stray facts: more Greek pottery has been found in Etruscan tombs than in Greece itself and, in a coals-to-Newcastle coup, Etruscan potters eventually supplied Greece’s domestic market with perfect Greek-style pots.

What’s in a Name?

Fittingly, it was the Greeks who christened them, calling these new people the Tyrsenoi or Tyrrhenoi – names which Latin fiddled with to give us ‘Etruscan’, ‘Tyrrhenian’, ‘Etruria’, and ‘Tuscany’. The key element in these terms is probably the very ancient word tir or tur meaning ‘tower’ or ‘tall rocky hill’ (which has planted versions of itself in many languages – Glastonbury Tor is a venerable English example). The Greeks and Romans seemed to think of the Etruscans as a tower-people, and indeed most of their settlements were on high places or included tall defensive structures. The Etruscans, by the way, called themselves the Rasna or Rasenna – which, like Cymru to the Welsh, might just mean ‘the people’.
Whatever names given to them, they got on with being who they were from around the 8th century BC until the advent of the Christian era. The beginning of the end came when a little town called Rome started to get ideas above its station. From the 4th century BC, Romans began a slow, systematic conquest of Etruria. Their policy wasn’t slash and burn, but colonise and control. While many Etruscan cities resisted, others meekly allied themselves with the awesomely-organised newcomers. The last to fall to Roman control, in 264 BC, was Velzna (modern-day Orvieto).


The Romans were relatively benign masters to the Etruscans, charmed as they were by their achievements and recognising that they could learn things from them. But a mutual esteem between the two cultures hastened the loss of a distinct, exclusively ‘Etruscan’ people. In 89 BC, all Etruscans were granted Roman citizenship. They had literally been turned into Romans.
It can be useful to think of the Etruscans occupying a key position in an over-simplified genealogy of modern European civilisation. Imagine the ancient Egyptians shooting the spark of organised, creative life to the Minoans (and others), who passed it to the Greeks, who shared it with the Etruscans, who stoked up the Romans, who spread a fire across the rest of Europe. The full evolution of European civilisation is, of course, a bit more complicated. But the Etruscans certainly deserve a place among its most influential players.


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