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Etruscan civilization (//) is the modern name given to a civilization of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Lazio. 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.
In Attic Greek, the Etruscans were known as Τυρρηνοὶ (Tyrrhēnoi), earlier Tyrsenoi, from which the Romans derived the names Tyrrhēni (Etruscans), Tyrrhēnia (Etruria), and Mare Tyrrhēnum (Tyrrhenian Sea). The Etruscans called themselves Rasenna, which was syncopated to Rasna or Raśna, earlier T'rasena, whence come the Roman and Greek names, prompting some to associate them with the Egyptian Teresh (Sea Peoples). The word may also be related to the Hittite Taruisa.
As distinguished by its unique language, this civilization endured from the time of the earliest Etruscan inscriptions (c. 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.
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 to a culture that was influenced by Hellenic, Magna Graecian, and Phonecian contacts. After 500 BC, the political destiny of Italy passed out of Etruscan hands. The latest mitochondrial DNA study (2013) shows that Etruscans appear to fall very close to a Neolithic population from Central Europe and to other Tuscan populations.
- 1 Legend and history
- 2 Society
- 3 Culture
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Legend and history
Origin and history
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. 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. Herodotus recorded a legend from the Lydians that the Etruscans emigrated from Lydia, at the Western coast of Anatolia, and were sent by their king to find a better land (Umbria) after a drought ravaged their homeland. Due to the fanciful and hypothetical nature of these tales, modern historians have been skeptical of these accounts. Pliny the Elder put the Etruscans in the context of the Raetic people to the north and wrote in his Natural History (79 CE):
- "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".
A mitochondrial DNA study of 2013 has suggested that the Etruscans were probably an indigenous population. The study extracted and typed the hypervariable region of mitochondrial DNA of fourteen individuals buried in two Etruscan necropoles, analyzing them along with other Etruscan and Medieval samples, and 4,910 contemporary individuals from the Mediterranean basin. Comparing ancient (30 Etruscans, 27 Medieval individuals) and modern DNA sequences (370 Tuscans), has suggested that the Etruscans can be considered ancestral. 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. Among ancient populations, ancient Etruscans are found to be closest to a Neolithic population from Central Europe.
An mtDNA study of 2007 confirmed that the Etruscans were not related substantially to the Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherer populations of Europe and also that they showed no similarities to populations in the Near East. Another earlier DNA study performed in Italy, however, partly gave credence to the theory of Herodotus, as the results showed that 11 minor mitochondrial DNA lineages extracted from different Etruscan remains occur nowhere else in Europe and are shared only with Near Eastern Anatolian people. Local tradition asserts the Etruscans arrived first at Piombino, earlier Populonia or Populonia Alta (Etruscan: Pupluna, Pufluna or Fufluna, all pronounced Fufluna; Latin: Populonium, Populonia, or Populonii), after crossing from the iron mines at Elba and Corsica, before spreading inland.
The latter hypothesis gives credence to the main hypotheses, which state that the Etruscans are indigenous, 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. Some small towns in the 6th century BC disappeared during this time, ostensibly consumed 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 6th century BC, 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.
Around 540 BC, 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 5th century BC, the new international 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. A few years later, in 474, 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 Romans and Samnites. In the 4th century, 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. Etruria was conquered by Rome in the 3rd century BC.
According to legend, there was a period between 600 BCE and 500 BCE in which an alliance was formed between twelve Etruscan settlements, known today as the Etruscan League, Etruscan Federation, or Dodecapoli (in Greek Δωδεκάπολις). The Etruscan League of twelve cities was founded by two Lydian noblemen: 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 total 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. 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 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.
Heritage, founding and Populus Romanus
Those who subscribe to an Italic 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 Italics who later merged with Etruscans. In this interpretation, Etruscan cultural objects are considered influences rather than part of a heritage. 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.
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 which mirrors other attested ethnonyms in that language with the same suffix -χ: 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.
Later history relates that some Etruscans lived in the Tuscus vicus, 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 Italics. 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, the people were said to have been divided into thirty curiae and three tribes. Few words of Etruscan entered the Latin language, 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.
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. 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.
The Etruscan state government was essentially a theocracy. 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.
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. There is no sign of such a hereditary aristocracy in the preceding Villanovan culture. 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 civilization 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 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. 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.
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 in Etruscan culture, 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 also 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.
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.
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.
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 unknown way to the city of Populonia and the populus Romanus. Perhaps he was the god of the 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, 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.
The architecture of the ancient Etruscans adapted the external Greek architecture for their own purposes, which were so different from Greek buildings as to create a new architectural style. The two styles are often considered one body of classical architecture. The Etruscans absorbed Greek influence, apparent in many aspects closely related to architecture. The Etruscans had much influence over Roman architecture.
Etruscan architecture made lasting contributions to the architecture of Italy, which were adopted by the Romans and through them became standard to Western civilization. Rome itself is a repository of Etruscan architectural features.
Art, music and literature
Etruscan art was the form of figurative art produced by the Etruscan civilization in northern Italy between the 9th and 2nd centuries BC. Particularly strong in this tradition were figurative sculpture in terracotta (particularly life-size on sarcophagi or temples) and cast bronze, wall-painting and metalworking (especially engraved bronze mirrors). There was also a tradition of Etruscan vase painting. Etruscan art was strongly connected to religion; the afterlife was of major importance in Etruscan art.
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. With the exception of the Liber Linteus, the only written records of Etruscan origin that remain are inscriptions, mainly funerary. The language is written in the Etruscan alphabet, a script related to the early Euboean Greek alphabet. Etruscan literature is evidenced only in references by later Roman authors.
Language and etymology
Knowledge of the Etruscan language is still far from complete. The Etruscans are believed to have spoken a non-Indo-European language; 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.
No etymology exists for Rasna, the Etruscans' name for themselves, although Italian historic linguist Massimo Pittau has proposed the meaning of 'Shaved' or 'Beardless', backing the opinion of ancient figurines collector and author Paolo Campidori. The etymology of Tusci is based on a beneficiary phrase in the third Iguvine tablet, which is a major source for the Umbrian language. The phrase is turskum ... nomen, "the Tuscan name", from which a root *Tursci can be reconstructed. A metathesis and a word-initial epenthesis produce E-trus-ci. A common hypothesis is that *Turs- along with Latin turris, "tower", come from Greek τύρσις, "tower." The Tusci were therefore the "people who build towers" or "the tower builders." This venerable etymology is at least as old as Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who said "And there is no reason that the Greeks should not have called them by this name, both from their living in towers and from the name of one of their rulers."
Giuliano and Larissa Bonfante (Bonfante, 2002) speculate that Etruscan houses seemed like towers to the simple Latins. It is true that the Etruscans preferred to build hill towns on high precipices enhanced by walls. On the other hand, if the Tyrrhenian name came from an incursion of Sea Peoples or later migrants, then it might well be related to the name of Troy, the city of towers in that case.
- According to Félix Gaffiot's Dictionnaire Illustré Latin Français, the term Tusci was used by the major authors of the Roman Republic: Livy, Cicero, Horace, and others. Cognate words developed, including Tuscia and Tusculanensis. Tusci was clearly the principal term used to designate things Etruscan; Etrusci and Etrūria were used less often, mainly by Cicero and Horace, and they lack cognates. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the English use of Etruscan dates from 1706.
- Rasenna comes from Dionysius of Halicarnassus I.30.3. The syncopated form, Rasna, is inscriptional and is inflected. The topic is covered in Pallottino, p. 133. Some inscriptions, such as the cippus of Cortona, feature the Raśna (pronounced Rashna) alternative, as is described in Gabor Z. Bodroghy's site, The Palaeolinguistic Connection, under Origins.
- Sandars, N.K. (1987). The Sea Peoples: Warriors of the ancient Mediterranean, Revised Edition. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27387-1.
- Helmut Rix, "Etruscan," in The Ancient Languages of Europe, ed. Roger D. Woodard (Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 141-164.
- A good map of the Italian range and cities of the culture at the beginning of its history can be found at , the mysteriousetruscans.com site. The topic of the "League of Etruria" is covered in Freeman, pp. 562–565. The league in northern Italy is mentioned in Livy, Book V, Section 33. The passage identifies the Raetii as a remnant of the 12 cities "beyond the Apennines". The Campanian Etruscans are mentioned (among many sources) by Polybius, (II.17). The entire subject with complete ancient sources in footnotes was worked up by George Dennis in his Introduction. In the LacusCurtius transcription, the references in Dennis's footnotes link to the texts in English or Latin; the reader may also find the English of some of them on WikiSource or other Internet sites. As the work has already been done by Dennis and Thayer, the complete work-up is not repeated here.
- M. Cary and H. H. Scullard, A History of Rome (3rd ed., 1979), p. 28. ISBN 0-312-38395-9.
- Silvia Ghirotto, Francesca Tassi, Erica Fumagalli, Vincenza Colonna, Anna Sandionigi, Martina Lari, Stefania Vai, Emmanuele Petiti, Giorgio Corti, Ermanno Rizzi, Gianluca De Bellis, David Caramelli, Guido Barbujani (6 February 2013). "Origins and Evolution of the Etruscans’ mtDNA". PLOS One. Retrieved 2015-04-25.
- Bonfante (2006): 9.
- Etruscan Origins In A Prehistoric European Context Observations That Transcend Law and Politics. Retrieved 2013-05-30.
- "Were the Etruscans after all native Italians?". For what they were... we are - Prehistory, Anthropology and Genetics. 8 February 2013. Retrieved 2015-04-25.
- Nicholas Wade (3 April 2007). "Origins of the Etruscans: Was Herodotus right?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-05-30.
- Achilli A, Olivieri A, Pala M et al. (April 2007). "Mitochondrial DNA variation of modern Tuscans supports the near eastern origin of Etruscans". Am. J. Hum. Genet. 80 (4): 759–68. PMC 1852723. PMID 17357081. doi:10.1086/512822.
- Larissa Bonfante. Etruscan life and afterlife. Google Books. ISBN 978-0-8143-1813-3. Retrieved 2009-04-22.
- John Franklin Hall. Etruscan Italy. Google Books. ISBN 978-0-8425-2334-9. Retrieved 2009-04-22.
- "The Etruscan League of 12". mysteriousetruscans.com. 2 April 2009. Retrieved 2015-04-25.
- Davis and Frankforter, Madison and Daniel (2004). "The Shakespeare Name Dictionary". Routleg. Retrieved 2011-09-14.
- Cunningham, Reich. Cultures and values: Survey of the Humanities (2006), p.92: "The later Romans' own grandiose picture of the early days of their city was intended to glamorize its origins, but only with the arrival of the Etruscans did anything like an urban center begin to develop."
- Hughes. Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History (2012), p.24: "Some Roman technical achievements began in Etruscan expertise. Though the Etruscans never came up with an aqueduct, they were good at drainage, and hence they were the ancestors of Rome's monumental sewer systems."
- Mario Torelli. The Etruscans. Rizzoli International Publications.
- Trevor Dupey. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History. Rizzoli Harper Collins Publisher.
- Dora Jane Hamblin. The Etruscans. Time Life Books.
- De Grummond and Nancy Thomson (2006). Etruscan Mythology, Sacred History and Legend: An Introduction. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology.
- Erika Simon. The religion of the Etruscans. Google Books. ISBN 978-0-292-70687-3. Retrieved 2009-04-22.
- Axel Boëthius, Roger Ling and Tom Rasmussen (1994). Etruscan and early Roman architecture. Yale University Press.
- Spivey, Nigel (1997). Etruscan Art. London: Thames and Hudson.
- "Etrusca". The Culture Traveler.com. Retrieved 2009-04-22.
- Massimo Pittau, Rasenna
- Paper entitled Cui Bono? The Beneficiary Phrases of the Third Iguvine Table by Michael Weiss and published on-line by Cornell University at .
- Carl Darling Buck (1904), A Grammar of Oscan and Umbian, Boston: Gibb & Company, Introduction, available online at  the forumromanum.org site.
- Eric Partridge (1983), Origins, New York: Greenwich House, under "tower."
- The Bonfantes (2003), p. 51.
- Partridge (1983)
- Book I, Section 30.
- Etruscan Lion Plaque Pendant, article on a piece of Etruscan art
Cities and sites
- (Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Umbria) "The Cai Cutu Etruscan tomb" An undisturbed late Etruscan family tomb, reused between the 3rd and 1st century BC, reassembled in the National Archeological Museum of Perugia
- Etruscan Splendors from Volterra in Tuscany
- Hypogeum of the Volumnis digital media archive (creative commons-licensed photos, laser scans, panoramas), data from a University of Ferrara/CyArk research partnership
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