The Etruscans

There is much controversy surrounding the origins and language of the Etruscans. This can clearly be seen by comparing the cited pages from the sources listed below.. Sinnigen and Boak tend towards an origin descending from the Villanovans and an Indo - European language. Grant favors an origin and close ties with Asia Minor or Lydia. Such is the nature of scholarship and controversy. Perhaps more importantly, everyone seems to be in agreement that the Etruscans were quite different in art, language, and culture from their neighbors in Italy. Furthermore, their technology in engineering and metals was much more advanced than the Latins or Villanovans.

No one is quite certain concerning the origins of the Etruscans. The name they had for themselves was Rasenna, and the Greeks called them Tyrrhenioi, from which we get our present name for the Tyrrhenian Sea. They occupied a region north of Latium and the Tiber that is still called Tuscany today after these early inhabitants. There is a group of anthropologists that believe that they had origins in the Asia Minor and migrated to Italy during the early Iron age. Other scholars believe they are direct descendants of the Villanovan culture. The style of their art, which often included stylized sculptures of animals with graceful, flowing lines and fantastic creatures such as the chimera and griffin was markedly different from the art of neighboring cultures. The language remains a mystery. Differences among scholars exist concerning the origins of the language. No one is quite sure whether it belongs to the Indo - European family of languages of which Greek and Latin are members, or whether the Etruscan language was related to those spoken in Lydia or Asia Minor. Though many inscriptions remain, these are mostly found on tombs and monuments and include a small group of phrases found repeatedly on many monuments and tombs. Though we can pronounce words of the Etruscan language today because they used an alphabet similar to Greek, we donít have a clue to their meaning. A bizarre twist is added to this mystery by the fact that the Roman emperor Claudius had access to such extensive written works in the Etruscan language that he was able to compile a history of the people. One must remember that the last decades of the First Century B. C. and the first decades of the First Century A. D. encompassed an age in which lived many of the most famous historians and writers known not only in Roman times, but in our own time as well. This was the period of Livy, Strabo, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Pliny the Elder. The Etruscan language was written and spoken in Rome until sometime in the Second Century A. D. Not only is the history of the Etruscans by Claudius now lost, but not one of the source documents from which he worked has survived. If any of the illustrious authors mentioned above ever translated, preserved, copied or had copied for them any Etruscan document, no modern scholar is aware of it as of this writing. The Etruscan language is and will probably remain for quite some time one of the great unsolved mysteries of history in our own time.

The Etruscans carried out a lively trade with their neighbors in the Aegean and Mediterranean. The Phoenecians, Carthagenians, Greeks, and many cities in Asia Minor were counted amongst their trading partners. One of the most striking consequences of this trade is that the Etruscans brought about a technological revolution in Italy in the area of metalworking. The Villanovans who occupied north central Italy before them were an iron age culture, but their use of metals was limited in that they did not mine native ores to any great extent, if at all. The Etruscans, on the other hand, actively mined native deposits of copper and iron, and brought efficient smelting and refining techniques with them. They were masters of the arts of casting beautiful and useful objects, and their fine craftsmen were adept at turning out excellent hammered bronze and iron products from art to jewelry to weapons. Two articles in this series provide details of the history of smelting, refining, and working of metals. These offer a concise overview of the technology and challenges involved in early metalworking and pertain to not only the Etruscans, but to all early copper and iron producing societies as well. One article describes early copper and bronze working, while another gives details on iron manufacture and working in prehistoric and early historic times.

There were, according to tradition, twelve city states which chose from amongst their citizens a king every year to reign over their major religions festival in honoor of their god Voltumna. The major cities of Etruria were Tarquinii, Caere, and Veii but archaeologists have identified many more early inhabited sites than the legendary twelve Etruscan cities. Rather than having a homogeneous Etruscan culture and society, the individual city states in Etruria were markedly different culturally.

The Etruscan city states never banded together to form a strong unified Etruscan state. It is taught in history classes that the Etruscans conquered and ruled Rome during Romeís early years but the truth is that individual Etruscan city states controlled towns in Latium at during certain periods in the Seventh and Sixth Centuries B. C. and the degree of control varied throughout that period.

Etruscan influence also extended to the south of Latium into Campania. They either founded the city of Capua, seventeen miles south of Rome or conquered an earlier community on that site. In order to control the crossing of the river Tiber occupied by early Rome, they had to control Rome herself. This led to the period of the Etruscan monarchs.

The last three of the seven legendary kings who ruled Rome before the founding of the Republic in 509 B. C. were Etruscan. They were Tarquinius Priscus, Servius Tullus, and Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud). According to some scholars, the Etruscans invaded and conquered Rome early in the Sixth Century B. C. Others hold that they did not conquer the Romans, but entered Latium peacefully and rose to a ruling position in Roman society. According to this group of scholars, some of the Etruscan families became established as influential families in Romeís early aristocracy. Tarquinius Priscus was of one of these families, and was actually elected as king upon the death of Ancus Marcius. Servius Tullus greatly improved the walls of the city, and Etruscan engineers drained the marshy ground around what later became the Forum of Rome. It is believed that the Cloaca Maxima, the famous sewer that was originally built to drain the Forum and has served Rome from before the dawn of written history until well into modern times was built in about 625 - 620 B. C. It was improved during the reign of Augustus, during which it gained an arched vault of stone.. The last Etruscan king, Tarquinius Superbus, was a rather highhanded and oppressive ruler, and was overthrown in 509 B. C. when the Republic was established. Early legends tell of the rape of Lucretia, a chaste maiden of good family. This was the final insolent act Tarquin committed that enraged the Roman people.

Sinngien and Boak pp. 21 - 28
Grant pp. 11 - 17, image of Cloaca Maxima, p. 16, other images 27, 48, 50
Atlas of the Roman World pp. 20 - 24, also see map of regions, p. 19. Images, pp. 31- 33. images of cinerary urns, p. 31.
Time - Life Imperial Rome pp. 35 - 36, images 31 - 32
A World History of Art images 111 - 121
The History of Art: Architecture - Painting - Sculpture images pp. 119 - 146. Image of cinerary urn, p. 122.
Roman Art and Architecture closeup of the stone arch of the Cloaca Maxima, p. 148.


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