Etruscan Civilization

Etruscan Civilization

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The Etruscan civilization flourished in central Italy between the 8th and 3rd century BCE. The culture was renowned in antiquity for its rich mineral resources and as a major Mediterranean trading power. Much of its culture and even history was either obliterated or assimilated into that of its conqueror, Rome. Nevertheless, surviving Etruscan tombs, their contents and their wall paintings, as well as the Roman adoption of certain Etruscan clothing, religious practices, and architecture, are convincing testament to the great prosperity and significant contribution to Mediterranean culture achieved by Italy's first great civilization.

Villanovan Culture

The Villanovan culture developed during the Iron Age in central Italy from around 1100 BCE. The name is actually misleading as the culture is, in fact, the Etruscans in their early form. There is no evidence of migration or warfare to suggest the two peoples were different. The Villanovan culture benefitted from a greater exploitation of the area's natural resources, which allowed villages to form. Houses were typically circular and made of wattle and daub walls and thatch roofs with wooden and terracotta decoration added; pottery models survive which were used to store the ashes of the deceased. With the guarantee of regular, well-managed crops a portion of the community was able to devote itself to manufacturing and trade. The importance of horses is seen in the many finds of bronze horse bits in the large Villanovan cemeteries located just outside their settlements. By around 750 BCE the Villanovan culture had become the Etruscan culture proper, and many of the Villanovan sites would continue to develop as major Etruscan cities. The Etruscans were now ready to establish themselves as one of the most successful population groups in the ancient Mediterranean.

The Etruscan cities were independent city-states linked to each other only by a common religion, language & culture in general.


The Etruscan cities were independent city-states linked to each other only by a common religion, language, and culture in general. Geographically spread from the Tiber River in the south to parts of the Po Valley in the north, the major Etruscan cities included Cerveteri (Cisra), Chiusi (Clevsin), Populonia (Puplona), Tarquinia (Tarchuna), Veii (Vei), Vetulonia (Vetluna), and Vulci (Velch). Cities developed independently so that innovations in such areas as manufacturing, art and architecture, and government occurred at different times in different places. Generally speaking, coastal sites, with their greater contact with contemporary cultures, evolved quicker but eventually passed on new ideas to the Etrurian hinterland. Nevertheless, the Etruscan cities still developed along their own lines, and significant differences are evident in one city from another.

Prosperity was based on fertile lands and improved agricultural tools to better exploit it; rich local mineral resources, especially iron; the manufacture of metal tools, pottery, and goods in precious materials such as gold and silver; and a trade network which connected the Etruscan cities to each other, to tribes in the north of Italy and across the Alps, and to other maritime trading nations such as the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, and the Near East in general. Whilst slaves, raw materials, and manufactured goods (especially Greek pottery) were imported, the Etruscans exported iron, their own indigenous bucchero pottery, and foodstuffs, notably wine, olive oil, grain, and pine nuts.

Historical Overview

With trade flourishing from the 7th century BCE, the cultural impact of the consequent increase in contact between cultures also became more profound. Craftsmen from Greece and the Levant settled in emporia – semi-independent trading ports that sprang up on the Tyrrhenian coast, most famously at Pyrgri, one of the ports of Cerveteri. Eating habits, clothing, the alphabet, and religion are just some of the areas where Greek and Near Eastern peoples would transform Etruscan culture in the so-called 'Orientalising' period.

Etruscan cities teamed with Carthage to successfully defend their trade interests against a Greek naval fleet at the Battle of Alalia (aka Battle of the Sardinian Sea) in 540 BCE. Such was the Etruscan dominance of the seas and maritime trade along the Italian coast that the Greeks repeatedly referred to them as scoundrel pirates. In the 5th century BCE, though, Syracuse was the dominant Mediterranean trading power, and the Sicilian city combined with Cumae to inflict a naval defeat on the Etruscans at the battle at Cumae in 474 BCE. Worse was to come when the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius I decided to attack the Etruscan coast in 384 BCE and destroy many of the Etruscan ports. These factors contributed significantly to the loss of trade and consequent decline of many Etruscan cities seen from the 4th to 3rd century BCE.

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Inland, Etruscan warfare seems to have initially followed Greek principles and the use of hoplites – wearing a bronze breastplate, Corinthian helmet, greaves for the legs, and a large circular shield – deployed in the static phalanx formation, but from the 6th century BCE, the greater number of smaller round bronze helmets would suggest a more mobile warfare. Although several chariots have been discovered in Etruscan tombs, it is likely that these were for ceremonial use only. The minting of coinage from the 5th century BCE suggests that mercenaries were used in warfare, as they were in many contemporary cultures. In the same century, many towns built extensive fortification walls with towers and gates. All of these developments point to a new military threat, and it would come from the south where a great empire was about to be built, starting with the conquest of the Etruscans. Rome was on the warpath.

From the 6th century BCE, the greater number of smaller round bronze helmets would suggest a more mobile warfare.

In the 6th century BCE some of Rome's early kings, although legendary, were from Tarquinia, but by the late 4th century BCE Rome was no longer the lesser neighbour of the Etruscans and was beginning to flex its muscles. In addition, the Etruscan cause was not in any way helped by invasions from the north by Celtic tribes from the 5th to 3rd century BCE, even if they would sometimes be their allies against Rome. There would follow some 200 years of intermittent warfare. Peace treaties, alliances, and temporary truces were punctuated by battles and sieges such as Rome's 10-year attack on Veii from 406 BCE and the siege of Chiusi and Battle of Sentinum, both in 295 BCE. Eventually, Rome's professional army, its greater organisational skills, superior manpower and resources, and the crucial lack of political unity amongst the Etruscan cities meant that there could only be one winner. 280 BCE was a significant year and saw the fall of Tarquinia, Orvieto, and Vulci, amongst others. Cerveteri fell in 273 BCE, one of the last to hold out against the relentless spread of what was fast becoming a Roman empire.

The Romans often butchered and sold into slavery the vanquished, established colonies, and repopulated areas with veterans. The end finally came when many Etruscan cities supported Marius in the civil war won by Sulla who promptly sacked them all over again in 83 and 82 BCE. The Etruscans became Romanised, their culture and language giving way to Latin and Latin ways, their literature destroyed, and their history obliterated. It would take 2,500 years and the almost miraculous discovery of intact tombs stuffed with exquisite artefacts and decorated with vibrant wall paintings before the world realised what had been lost.

Government & Society

The early government of the Etruscan cities was based on a monarchy but later developed into rule by an oligarchy who supervised and dominated all public positions and a popular assembly of citizens where these existed. The only evidence of a political connection between cities is an annual meeting of the Etruscan League. This is a body we know next to nothing about except that the 12 or 15 of the most important cities sent elders to meet together, largely for religious purposes, at a sanctuary called Fanum Voltumnae whose location is unknown but was probably near Orvieto. There is also ample evidence that Etruscan cities occasionally fought each other and even displaced the populations of lesser sites, no doubt, a consequence of the competition for resources which was driven both by population increases and by a desire to control increasingly lucrative trade routes.

Etruscan society had various levels of social status from foreigners and slaves to women and male citizens. Males of certain clan groups seem to have dominated key roles in the areas of politics, religion and justice and one's membership of a clan was likely more important than even which city one came from. Women enjoyed more freedom than in most other ancient cultures, for example, being able to inherit property in their own right, even if they were still not equal to males and unable to participate in public life beyond social and religious occasions.

Etruscan Religion

The religion of the Etruscans was polytheistic with gods for all those important places, objects, ideas, and events, which were thought to affect or control everyday life. At the head of the pantheon was Tin, although like most such figures he was probably not thought to concern himself much with mundane human affairs. For that, there were all sorts of other gods such as Thanur, the goddess of birth; Aita, god of the Underworld; and Usil, the Sun god. The national Etruscan god seems to have been Veltha (aka Veltune or Voltumna) who was closely associated with vegetation. Lesser figures included winged females known as Vanth, who seem to be messengers of death, and heroes, amongst them Hercules, who was, along with many other Greek gods and heroes, adopted, renamed and tweaked by the Etruscans to sit alongside their own deities.

The two main features of the religion were augury (reading omens from birds and weather phenomena like lightning strikes) and haruspicy (examining the entrails of sacrificed animals to divine future events, especially the liver). That the Etruscans were particularly pious and preoccupied with destiny, fate and how to affect it positively was noted by ancient authors such as Livy, who famously described them as "a nation devoted beyond all others to religious rites" (Haynes, 268). Priests would consult a body of (now lost) religious texts called the Etrusca disciplina. The texts were based on knowledge given to the Etruscans by two divinities: the wise infant Tages, grandson of Tin, who miraculously appeared from a field in Tarquinia while it was being ploughed, and the nymph Vegoia (Vecui). The Etrusca disciplina dictated when certain ceremonies should be performed and revealed the meaning of signs and omens.

Such ceremonies as animal sacrifices, the pouring of blood into the ground, and music and dancing usually occurred outside temples built in honour of particular gods. Ordinary folk would leave offerings at these temple sites to thank the gods for a service done or in the hope of receiving one in the near future. Votive offerings were, besides foodstuffs, typically in the form of inscribed pottery vessels and figurines or bronze statuettes of humans and animals. Amulets were worn, especially by children, for the same reason and to keep away evil spirits and bad luck. The presence of both precious and everyday objects in Etruscan tombs is an indicator of a belief in the afterlife which they considered a continuation of the person's life in this world, much like the ancient Egyptians. If the wall paintings in many tombs are an indicator, then the next life, at least for those occupants, started with a family reunion and rolled on to an endless round of pleasant banquets, games, dancing, and music.

Etruscan Architecture

The most ambitious architectural projects of the Etruscans were temples built in a sacred precinct where they could make offerings to their gods. Starting with dried mud-brick buildings using wooden poles and thatch roofs the temples, by c. 600 BCE, had gradually evolved into more solid and imposing structures using stone and Tuscan columns (with a base but no flutes). Each town had three main temples, as dictated by the Etrusca disciplina. Much like Greek temples in design, they differed in that usually only the front porch had columns and this extended further outwards than those designed by Greek architects. Other differences were a higher base platform, a three-room cella inside, a side entrance, and large terracotta roof decorations. These latter were first seen in the buildings of the Villanovan culture but now became much more extravagant and included life-size figure sculpture such as the striding figure of Apollo from the c. 510 BCE Portonaccio Temple at Veii.

Private houses from the early 6th century BCE have multiple intercommunicating rooms, sometimes with a hall and a private courtyard, all on one floor. Roofs are gabled and supported by columns. They had an atrium, an entrance hall open to the sky in the centre and with a shallow basin on the floor in the middle for collecting rainwater. Opposite was a large room, with a hearth and cistern, and side rooms including accommodation for servants.

Some circular tombs are huge & measure as much as 40 metres in diameter.

The burial practices of the Etruscans were by no means uniform across Etruria or even over time. A general preference for cremation eventually gave way to inhumation and then back to cremation again in the Hellenistic period, but some sites were slower to change. It is the burial of members of the same family over several generations in large earth-covered tombs or in small square buildings above ground that are, in fact, the Etruscan's greatest architectural legacy. Some circular tombs measure as much as 40 metres in diameter. They have corbelled or domed ceilings and are often accessed by a stone-lined corridor. The cube-like structures are best seen in the Banditaccia necropolis of Cerveteri. Each has a single doorway entrance, and inside are stone benches on which the deceased were laid, carved altars, and sometimes stone seats were set. Built in orderly rows, the tombs indicate a greater concern with town-planning at that time.

Etruscan Art

Without doubt the greatest artistic legacy of the Etruscans is their magnificent tomb wall paintings which give a unique and technicolour glimpse into their lost world. Only 2% of tombs were painted, which indicates only the elite could afford such luxury. The paintings are applied either directly to the stone wall or onto a thin base layer of plaster wash with the artists first drawing outlines using chalk or charcoal. The use of shading is minimal, but the colour shades many so that the pictures stand out vibrantly. The earliest date to the mid-6th century BCE, but topics remain consistent over the centuries with a particular love of dancing, music, hunting, sports, processions, and dining scenes. Sometimes there are also historical scenes such as the battles depicted in the Francois Tomb at Vulci. The paintings give us not only an idea of Etruscan daily life, eating habits, and clothing but also reveal social attitudes, notably to slaves, foreigners, and women. For example, the presence of married women at banquets and drinking parties (indicated by accompanying inscriptions) shows that they enjoyed a more equal social status with their husbands than seen in other ancient cultures of the period.

Pottery was another area of expertise. Bucchero is the indigenous pottery of Etruria and has a distinctive, almost black glossy finish. Produced from the early 7th century BCE, the style often imitated embossed bronze vessels. Popular shapes include bowls, jugs, cups, utensils, and anthropomorphic vessels. Bucchero wares were commonly placed in tombs and were exported widely throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. Another later specialisation was the production of terracotta funerary urns which had a half-life-size figure of the deceased on the lid sculpted in the round. These were painted, and although sometimes a little idealised, they, nevertheless, present a realistic portraiture. The sides of these square urns are often decorated with relief sculpture showing scenes from mythology.

Bronze work had been another Etruscan speciality dating back to the Villanovan period. All manner of daily items were made in the material, but the artist's hand is best seen in small statuettes and, particularly, bronze mirrors which were decorated with engraved scenes, again, usually from mythology. Finally, large-scale metal sculpture was produced of exceptional quality. Very few examples have survived, but those that do, notably the Chimera of Arezzo, are testimony to the imagination and skill of the Etruscan artist.

Etruscan Legacy

The Romans not only grabbed what lands and treasures they could from their neighbours but also stole quite a few ideas from the Etruscans. The Romans adopted the Etruscan practice of divination (itself an adaptation of Near Eastern practices) along with other features of Etruscan religion such as rituals for establishing new towns and dividing territories, something they would receive ample practice opportunities for as they expanded their empire. Also, Etruscan soothsayers and diviners became a staple member of elite households and army units, acknowledged as they were as the Mediterranean's experts in such matters.

The Tuscan column, arched gate, private villa with atrium, tombs with niches for multiple funerary urns, and large-scale temples on impressive raised stepped platforms are all Etruscan architectural features the Romans would adopt and adapt. Other cultural influences include the victory procession which would become the Roman triumph and the Etruscan robe in white, purple or with a red border, which would become the Roman toga. Finally, in language, the Etruscans passed on many words to their successors in Italy, and through their alphabet, itself adapted from Greek, they would influence northern European languages with the creation of the Runic script.

What were Etruscan settlements like?

Etruscan archaeological studies are difficult because Italy has been continuously and, densely inhabited for such a long period of time.

The Romans built cities on top of Etruscan cities and so on and so forth.

Because of this it's very difficult to isolate what's "Etruscan" vs. Latin vs. Roman.

The Great Courses has a good lecture series called "The Mysterious Etruscans" which I would recommend as a place to start.

The Wikipedia articles on the Etruscans vary between "useless garbage" and, "outright lies."


It's not so much that the Etruscans "lived in Raetia" as it is that they sat at the terminus of the "Amber Road" which connected them culturally to the Baltic region.

Similarities between Etruscan writing and later Runic inscriptions have been pointed out and, studied (without much success.)

As I understand the subject, it seems that "Slavic Peoples" differentiated culturally beginning around 400 CE when "Germanic" peoples started to have success in the Mediterranean as part of the "Migration Period."

Later, around 800 CE there was a possible "influx" of some sort which led to the emergence of what we now know as "Slavic Peoples" in its final form.

As with the "Slavic" label, Barry Cunliffe and, others, have argued that the "Celtic" identity was one that emerged by exclusion from around 400 BCE onward. After all, Archaeolgy demonstrates that Etruscan, some Latin and, Roman material culture evolved from the same "Urnfield Culture" that both "Celtic" and, "Germanic" culture were founded on beginning around 1300 BCE.

I.E. all of these seemingly "diverse" groups grew out of a shared material culture and, only appear to have "differentiated" themselves rather late in the historical record between around 700 and 400 BCE.


It's not so much that the Etruscans "lived in Raetia" as it is that they sat at the terminus of the "Amber Road" which connected them culturally to the Baltic region.

Similarities between Etruscan writing and later Runic inscriptions have been pointed out and, studied (without much success.)

As I understand the subject, it seems that "Slavic Peoples" differentiated culturally beginning around 400 CE when "Germanic" peoples started to have success in the Mediterranean as part of the "Migration Period."

Later, around 800 CE there was a possible "influx" of some sort which led to the emergence of what we now know as "Slavic Peoples" in its final form.

As with the "Slavic" label, Barry Cunliffe and, others, have argued that the "Celtic" identity was one that emerged by exclusion from around 400 BCE onward. After all, Archaeolgy demonstrates that Etruscan, some Latin and, Roman material culture evolved from the same "Urnfield Culture" that both "Celtic" and, "Germanic" culture were founded on beginning around 1300 BCE.

I.E. all of these seemingly "diverse" groups grew out of a shared material culture and, only appear to have "differentiated" themselves rather late in the historical record between around 700 and 400 BCE.


I may not be understanding your point correctly.

My point would be that the earliest mention of "Slavic" people doesn't occur until Tacitus' (98 CE) annals which talk about the "Veneti." Tacitus states that he doesn't know if they're "Germanic" or, "Sarmatian." At this time. Tacitus places the "Slavs" east of the Vistula River.

The "Amber Road" that I referred to had it's southern terminus in what is now Tuscany and, it's northern terminus in the area between modern Lubeck and, modern Szczecin (Poland) with the Oder River serving as the eastern most boundary.

Not only is this a long way geographically from any territory that might bring the Etruscans into contact with some sort of proto-slavic culture, it's also a long way in terms of time.

By the time Tacitus introduces the Veneti, the Etruscans had been fully assimilated into Rome both culturally and, politically for 125 years following the final annexation of "Etruscan Cities" by Rome in 27 BCE. This process however had begun as early as 500 BCE. So, even relying on Tactitus, and a very, very liberal interpretation of how the Amber Road functioned, the closest we can come to "Slavic Contacts" - even with regards to Raetia - is about 125 years and close to 1000 miles off.


This week is Etruscan week here at Ferrebeekeeper—a week dedicated to blogging about the ancient people who lived in Tuscany, Umbria, and Latium from 800 BC until the rise of the Romans in 300 BC (indeed, the Romans may have been Etruscan descendants). Happy Etruscan Week! The Etruscans were known for their sophisticated civilization which produced advanced art, architecture, and engineering. In an age of war and empires, they were, by necessity, gifted warriors who fought with the Greeks, Carthaginians, and Gauls. They won wars, captured slaves, and built important fortified cities on top of hills. The Etruscan league burgeoned for a while until Etruria was weakened by a series of setbacks in warfare which occurred from the fifth century BC onward until eventually the entire society was swallowed by Rome.

A Map of Etruscan Culture through time

Despite the fact that the Etruscans were the most important pre-Roman civilization of Italy (which left a cultural stamp on almost all Roman institutions) they remain surprisingly enigmatic. Although Greek and Roman authors speculated about the Etruscans, such writings tend to be…fanciful. The Greek historian Herodotus (alternately known as “the father of history” or “the father of lies” wrote that the Etruscans originated from Lydia (which was on the Western coast of Anatolia), but he certainly provides no evidence. Etruscan government was initially based around tribal units but the Etruscan states eventually evolved into theocratic republics–much like the later Roman Republic. The Etruscans worshipped a large pantheon of strange pantheistic gods. The Etruscans produced extremely magnificent tombs which were used by seceding generations of families.

Etruscan “Tomb of the Lioness” (ca.520 BC)

It is through their tombs that we have truly come to know about the real Etruscans. The burial complexes are repositories of art and artifacts which reveal the day-to-day life of the people (well, at least the noble ones who could afford sumptuous tombs). Perhaps, more importantly, the actual Etruscans are also there, albeit in a somewhat deteriorated and passive state. With the advent of advanced genetic knowledge and tests, scientists and anthropologists have been able to conduct mitochondrial DNA studies on Etruscan remains. Such studies suggest that the Etruscans were from…Tuscany, Umbria, and Latium. They were most likely descendents of the Villanovan people—an early Iron Age people of Italy who in turn descended from the Urnfield culture.

A sample of the Etruscan Language

This idea tends to conform with what linguists believe concerning the language of the Etruscans—which turns out to be a non-Indo-European isolate with no close language relations. Etruscan was initially an oral language only and it was only after cultural interchange with the Greeks that it acquired a written form (based around a derivation of the Greek alphabet). A few Roman scholars knew Etruscan (among them the emperor Claudius) but knowledge of the language was lost during the early days of the Empire. Today only a handful of inscriptions, epitaphs, and one untranslated book survive. We are left with a people who had unparalleled influence on Rome, yet are only known through inconclusive Greco-Roman accounts and through a tremendous heritage of art and artifacts. These latter are immensely beautiful and precious and form the basis of our knowledge of these mysterious early Italians.

Etruscan Families

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 Italy : Etruscan influences on the civilizations of Italy from antiquity to the modern era

Etruscan Italy : a rediscoverable history? / John F. Hall -- Locket gold, lizard green / Robert E.A. Palmer -- The origins of the Etruscans : new evidence for an old question / Mary E. Moser -- The judgment of Paris? : An Etruscan mirror in Seattle / Helen Nagy -- Greek mythology in Etruria : an iconographic analysis of three Etruscan relief mirrors / Alexandra Carpino -- A storage vase for life : the Caeretane dolio and its decorative elements / Lisa Pieraccini -- Etruscan domestic architecture : an ethnoarchaeological model / Dorothy Dvorsky Rohner -- From Tarquins to Caesars : Etruscan governance at Rome / John F. Hall -- Etruscan and Roman Cortona : new evidence from the southeastern Val di Chiana / Helena Fracchia -- The mausoleum of Augustus : Etruscan and other influences on its design / Mark J. Johnson -- Tyrrhena regum progenies : Etruscan literary figures from Horace to Ovid / Roger T. Macfarlane -- Quia ister Tusco verbo ludio vocabatur : the Etruscan contribution to the development of Roman theater / Robert L. Maxwell -- The musical legacy of the Etruscans / Harrison Powley -- Etruscan echoes in Italian Renaissance art / Steven Bule -- Etruscan Italy today / Nancy Thomson de Grummond

"Livy describes the Etruscans as filling the whole of ancient Italy with their power and influence. While Etruscan rule throughout large parts of the Italian peninsula endured for but a few centuries, Etruscan influence was so extensive that in some respects it continues into the present. Outside the Etruscan heartland, Rome itself was perhaps the best preserver of things Etruscan." "The fourteen essays comprising this volume explore Etruscan Italy and examine the influence exerted by Etruscan civilization upon the cultures of Italy in Roman and post-Roman times. Represented are contributions from various disciplines which converge to employ multiple methodologies in a comprehensive approach to delineating the enduring themes of Etruscan Italy."--Jacket

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Lesson Plan - Get It!

The Ancient Romans are famous for their gladiators, paved roads, aqueducts, planned towns, arches on buildings, and their alphabet. But did they really invent all these things themselves, or did they borrow them from another culture?

The Etruscans are known for their art, trade, love of luxury and feasting, the unique role of women in their society, and their puzzling language.

Historians are still debating where the Etruscans came from, but we know they settled near the Po River in northern Italy - a rich, fertile valley - sometime around 800 BC. They built channels to drain the marshy lands and planted farms, vineyards, and orchards.

From there, they spread out and came to control most of northern and central Italy before the Romans arrived. They had 12 main cities, shown on the map below as the Etruscan League cities.

Image by NormanEinstein, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

The cities formed the Etruscan League and joined together in fighting their enemies and establishing trade with other peoples. They traded far and wide, selling their wine, grain, pottery, olive oil, and iron.

Their land, which they called Etruria, was rich in metals so they became experts in metalworking, making items out of bronze, gold, and other metals. They made beautiful vessels, stands, mirrors, jewelry, statues, and other works of art. They traded with the Greeks and adopted some Greek artistic styles.

Art and Lifestyle

Visit Etruscan Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to take a look at some of their artwork. (Click on the main image at the top to see all of the works of art.)

The Etruscans left thousands of small inscriptions, but so far no written "history" of their civilization has been found. Most of what we know about the Etruscans comes from their tombs. For example, here's a mural found inside an Etruscan tomb:

The tomb murals often show people at feasts, relaxing on low couches while servants bring them food and drinks from tables piled high with meat, cheese, fruit, vegetables, herbs, and spices. They have luxurious settings, soft and plush material, and fluffy pillows. They drink from silver vessels.

The Etruscans grew grapes and made wine, which they carried across the Mediterranean to trade with other countries. and enjoyed drinking themselves, of course!

At their feasts, they had musicians play music on flutes and lyres (small harps), and the women dressed in fine clothing and were adorned with much jewelry.

Other murals in tombs show pictures of dancing, games, people acting out a play, and chariot racing.

Role of Women

Historians realized something surprising when they began to study Etruscan art: Etruscan women were considered as equals to men. They knew this because women are pictured as reclining with men at the feasts. This was something that shocked the Greeks when they saw it!

A 4th-century BC writer named Theopompus wrote:

"They [Etruscan women] sit down to table not beside their own husbands but besides any of the guests, and they even drink to the health of anyone they please!"

An Etruscan woman could have her own money and possessions, and her children would take her name as well as her husband's name.

Look at some examples of Etruscan sarcophagi (stone coffins). Notice how some show husbands and wives reclining together and some show women reclining by themselves. It's clear from these pieces of art that Etruscan women were honored members of society.

Although there are many examples of Etruscan writing, most of them are short inscriptions so their language is still a puzzle to historians. We know that the Etruscans borrowed letters from the Greeks, and that they wrote their words from right to left. But we don't know their spoken language. So, while we can sound out the words they wrote, we don't always know what they mean!

Image from the Fletcher Fund, 1924 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is in the public domain.

If you tried to read French, Italian, or Spanish without having studied the language, you might be able to say the words, but you would not know what most of them meant. The alphabets are almost the same, but the arrangement of the letters is different, making up different words. So it is with the Etruscans.

End of the Etruscans

Eventually, around 500 BC, the Romans began taking over the Etruscans' land. Although there were a few battles, they did not really "conquer" them it was more like the Romans "absorbed" the Etruscan civilization into their own.

Now, move on to the Got It? section, where you'll find out how much the Romans borrowed from the Etruscans and make a slideshow of Etruscan cities that have survived until this day!

Map of the Etruscan Territory

Map of Etruscan Cities in Italy By NormanEinstein [ GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Coastal Route: A Fine Etruscan Itinerary

You can make a fine exploration of the Etruscan civilization in Italy by hugging the coast from ancient Fufluna which is today the city of Populonia. Nearby the Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia will allow you to take interesting walks through the Etruscan countryside loaded with Etruscan tombs and quarries.

Just north, Felathri, now called Volterra is a major center for anyone interested in the Etruscans. The town itself is girded in Etruscan walls and tombs are scattered about in the countryside. Volterra's Guarnacci Museum houses one of the most interesting displays of Etruscan antiquities in existence.

Velch is the modern Volci, where you can visit the remains of the ancient city. It was a town known for its bronze sculptures. Thousands of Vulci's ancient tombs were discovered during the 19th century and became part of the Grand Tour of Europe. The folks of Velch traded with Sardinia the necropolis of Cavalupo includes the impressive Tomb of the Sardinian Bronzes.

Two of the next Etruscan destinations share UNESCO World Heritage Site honors: Tarquinia and Cerveteri, marked as Tarchna and Caisra on the map. The pained tombs of Tarquinia are amazing for their scenes of people enjoying life. The tombs of Banditaccia Necropolis on the outskirts of modern Cerveteri show some remarkable architectural skill, and the sheer number of tombs makes it truly a "city of the dead".

From here you can turn left and head to the scattered Etruscan remains at Veii or continue on the 12 miles to Rome, where the important National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia contains many of the finds from Cerveteri and other Etruscan sites.

Inland Etruscan Cities

The Etruscan League Cities in the East include ancient Perusia (modern Umbrian capital Perugia, where a 3rd century BC Etruscan well, the Etruscan Arch (one of the 7 city gates), and parts of the city wall are remnants of the city’s Etruscan past. Arretium is the modern Arezzo and Curtun is Cortona, which has Etruscan walls. Velsna might be Orvietto. You'll also find Clevsin, or the modern Chiusi.

If you're in a hurry but still want the full Etruscan experience, Chiusi is where you'd want to go. Not only is it surrounded by other compelling cities--mostly Etruscan in origin--but the town itself is quite pleasant and has a great museum which includes a visit to a nearby tomb in its ticket structure. You can also visit the The Labyrinth of Porsenna. The Labyrinth is actually just some underground Etruscan acqueducts that were mistaken for the burial space of the legendary Etruscan king Porsenna, who Pliny the Elder told us was buried in a tomb inside a very intricate labyrinth. The journey starts from inside the Museum of the Cathedral and ends at the Etruscan-Roman cistern, an interesting construction in itself. Here are the options for visiting the treasures in Chiusi.

Recommended Lodging in Chiusi

One of the great locations in Chiusi, free WiFi and parking. Very high rating by visitors to the bed and breakfast.

Social order

Economic and social development of the Etruscans was at a high level even in the earliest ages. At the very early age, new cities have been build, which by its type approached to the cities of the ancient world. Usually, cities were built in the naturally protected areas, with fenced walls, properly planned, and mainly constructed of stone buildings.

Throughout entire history, some remains of the tribe relations have been kept. Apparently, their social order was strictly aristocratic military – priest aristocracy ( Lucumonie) – are privileged part of society, to whom all other parts of society were submissive.

The peculiarity of their social order was reflected in the free position of women, which enjoyed certain privileges. It is assumed that the resolution of many issues of domestic life depended on the mother, and not on the father of the family. Slavery appeared in an early age – the evidence of that was hunger, fights, which were staged in the courts of the Etruscans aristocrats. They happened in an age when slaves were forced to fight over the graves of the fallen soldier, and later on, these fights were staged for entertainment and Italian people took staged shows from Etruria in order to entertain themselves.

Lucumonie, along with its groups (slaves and dependent people) attacked neighbouring areas and they were also engaged in piracy. In the beginning, cities were ruled by kings, whose power was probably an elective, and during the first half of the period, aristocracy weakened this power of kings. Because of this, in some cities electoral magistrates were removed. Symbols of royal power – were bundles of twigs, which were used for placed around the handle of axes – that have been carried by the servants of the king a cloak with a purple edge (a cloak of preaetext) curule seat – they moved to Rome, as well as the concept of highest power (emporium) was symbol of king’s power.

Etruscan cities were independent cities – states 12 cities formed free federation. The main economic branch was agriculture. Agriculture was possible only with artificial drying up of the soil. The Etruscans were the first people in Italy, which applied on a large-scale system of drying out of the soil. This large-scale system was possible only with mass use of working force and appropriate organization of this force. It also allowed the creation of grandiose buildings. Etruria was the first Italian region in which existed a large land estates and in which crafts and trade (and intermediary trade) were developed. Etruscan ships appeared in Carthage and even in Phoenicia.

They have perfected a technique of processing metal to a certain extent. In the Etruria, copper was extracted, and on island Elba they extracted – iron. Ceramics was also highly developed.

Etruscan Civilization - History

The Land of the Etruscans.

The Etruscans originally occupied the area of western central Italy between the Tiber and the River Arno which covers modern Tuscany and Umbria.

The land of the Etruscans was resource rich. It was a fertile land of rich volcanic soil as well as wooded hillsides and well stocked lakes. It was also the source of travertine stone for building and deposits of copper and iron- all resources essential to the development of sophisticated Iron Age civilization.

It was the ancient writer Herodotus who first claimed that the Etruscans were natives of Asia Minor who settled in Italy after a mass migration. This was believed to be true as their language contains many non Indo European elements, suggesting it had an eastern origin.

However, ancient Etruscan also bears a resemblance to the form of Greek in use in the Hellenistic colonies of southern Italy. The modern interpretation is that the Etruscans were native Italic people whose culture was influenced by its trade contacts. Evidence in the archaeological record supports this, demonstrating a gradual evolution of the Etruscan culture, rather than any evidence of the sudden cultural change that would accompany the influx of a new group of people.

From Villanovan to Etruscan

It is believed that the predecessor of Etruscan culture was the Iron Age Villanovan culture. The population of Etruria at this time was dispersed in small settlements with main centres of population concentrated at defensively sited hill towns such as Veii and Tarquinia.

Archaeology indicates a change in the culture of these settlements from early 8th century BC. Graves began to change from cremations to inhumations and grave goods became richer, including items of eastern Mediterranean origins. By the end of the 8th century, what can be defined as an Etruscan culture had emerged.

In the century that followed, towns became more monumental with public buildings and elaborate houses. Chamber tombs began to appear with opulent grave goods. A defined class structure becomes clear in the burial record, with necropolii such as that at Cerveteri showing evidence of an aristocracy.

The source of this cultural change was probably Greeks from the Aegean, southern Campania and the east who would have been attracted to resource rich Etruria for trade purposes and in their turn passed on the metal working skills, and oriental styles that epitomize their culture. This would explain the distinct Etruscan styles of art which resemble Archaic Greek and oriental fashions.

The Rise of the Etruscans.

By the 6th century BC, Etruscan culture was at its peak. The Etruscans themselves become active in trade with Greece and Asia Minor, as is indicated by the rise of a middle class of craftsmen and traders. As a result, Etruscan interests began to spread throughout Italy and they themselves began to colonise outside of their home lands, reaching as far south as Campania where they founded the city of Capua, and trading beyond the Apennines. They were now the dominant italic culture.

According to legend, the Etruscans ruled Rome from 616 to 509BC when they founded the Tarquin dynasty. They left the eternal city other cultural legacies. The principle gods of the Etruscans were Tinia , Uni and Menrva . They were adopted by the romans in the form of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, the principle deities of the roman Capitoline triad.

Etruscan Decline and the Rise of Rome

The Tarquins were expelled from Rome in 509BC and Rome became a republic. The decline of Etruscan culture began soon after this, due to the growth of Rome and a decline in Etruscan maritime trade due to loss of Cumae in 474BC.

Etruria shrank back to its original territory. Rome however was encroaching. The Etruscan city of Veii fell to the Romans in 396BC. By the first half of the third century BC, many Etruscan cities such as Caere, Tarquinia, Volterra and Perugia had made alliances with Rome, paying tributes of wood and agricultural products.

By 90BC, Etruria had become absorbed by the Roman republic when the Etruscans formerly became Roman citizens.


Long before the days of Rome’s greatness, Italy was the home of a people far advanced in civilization—the Etruscans, or Tyrrhenians. These people rose to prosperity and power, then almost vanished from recorded history, leaving unsolved many questions about their origin and culture.

Scholars think that the Etruscans were a seafaring people from Asia Minor. As early as 1000 bc they were living in Italy in an area that was roughly equivalent to modern Tuscany, from the Tiber River north almost to the Arno River. Later their rule embraced a large part of western Italy, including Rome. When the Tarquin Dynasty was expelled from Rome about 500 bc , Lars Porsena, king of Etruria and Clusium, sought to reestablish his influence over Rome.

The Etruscans already controlled the commerce of the Tyrrhenian Sea on their western border. After losing control of Rome, they strengthened their naval power through an alliance with Carthage against Greece. In 474 bc their fleet was destroyed by the Greeks of Syracuse. From that time their power rapidly declined. The Gauls overran the country from the north, and the Etruscans’ strong southern fortress of Veii fell to Rome after a ten-year seige (396 bc ). The Etruscans were absorbed by the Romans, who adopted many of their advanced arts, their customs, and their institutions.

Because little Etruscan literature remains and the language of inscriptions on their monuments has been only partially deciphered, scholars have gained most of their knowledge of the Etruscans from studying the remains of their city walls, houses, monuments, and tombs. Weapons and other implements, exquisite jewelry, coins, statues of stone, bronze, and terra-cotta, and black pottery (called bucchero) have been found. Grecian and Asian influences are seen in this art.

Watch the video: Etruskische Geschichte kurz