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Encyclopedia > Tyrrhenian

The Etruscan civilization existed in Etruria and the Po valley in the northern part of what is now Italy, prior to the formation of the Roman Republic.

Etruscan vases
Etruscan vases

The Etruscans were a non-Indo-European people who inhabited northern and central Italy before 800 BC. Herodotus (ca 400 BC) records the legend that they came from Lydia (modern western Turkey). Contrarily, Dionysius of Halicarnassus (ca 100 BC) pronounced that the Etruscans were indigenous to Italy, calling themself Rasenna and being part of an ancient nation "which does not resemble any other people in their language or in their way of life, or customs."

Some researchers have proposed that the non-Greek inscriptions found on the island of Lemnos, appearing to be related to the Etruscan language and dated to the sixth century BC, supports Herodotus' hypothesis. However, recent research referring burial rituals shows that there was no break in practices from the earlier settlements of the Villanovans to the Etruscans, indicating that they were likely autochthonous after all.

During the 700s BC, the Etruscans developed into a series of autonomous city-states: Arretium (Arezzo), Caisra (Caere or modern Cerveteri), Clevsin (Clusium or modern Chiusi), Curtun (modern Cortona), Perusna (Perugia), Fufluna or Pupluna (Populonia), Veii, Tarchna (Tarquinii or modern Tarquinia-Corneto), Vetluna (Vetulonia), Felathri (Volaterrae or modern Volterra), Velzna (Volsinii or modern day Bolsena), and Velch (Vulci or modern day Volci). In the valley of the Po, where the Celts effaced their traces, stood the Etruscan cities that are now modern Mantua and Bologna, as well as the lost cities of Atria in Veneto and the recently-rediscovered Spina (see link), south of the lagoon where Venice would rise. Etruscan influence also developed far to the north and the south. The Romans were under Etruscan power in the infancy of their own culture, and after they became independent always regarded the Etruscans with the half sneering condescension, half horrified fascination with which former subject peoples usually view their erstwhile masters (this is an important point, for it lies at the heart of the very ambivalent Roman attitude towards Monarchies vs. Republics).

Knowledge about the Etruscans is fragmentary, and usually filtered through Roman eyes; knowledge of the Etruscan language only began with the discovery of the bilingual Phoenician-Etruscan Pyrgi Tablets found at the port of Caere in 1964, and is still incomplete. It is known that they normally acknowledged one among their number as High King. By the 5th century BC they were under increasing pressure from turbulent Italics on the one hand, and ferocious Celts on the other, and by the 3rd century BC they had fallen under the authority of Rome (the last Etruscan city to be subdued by Rome was Velzna, 265 BC). In 90 BC they were granted Roman citizenship, but they backed Marius a decade later, and as a result their language was suppressed and their distinct culture and folkways outlawed. A century later, the future Emperor Claudius could find enough elderly rustics remaining to compile an Etruscan dictionary (now lost), but they vanished as a distinct ethnic group soon after. Nevertheless, a large number of old Roman families retained a memory of Etruscan roots, for example the Sempronii, Licinii, Minucii, and Larcii. Then too, a number of the older Roman divinities turn out to be based closely on Etruscan originals.

Etruscan technology was in general more advanced than that of its neighbours. Much of what we consider as typically Roman technology such as stone arches and municipal or sanitary inventions such as paved streets, aqueducts and sewers, were all borrowings from the Etruscan neighbours. The ancient Etruscans had strong commercial interactions with Phoenicia and later on with the empire of Carthage, long before the rise of Rome.

Some Etruscan rulers :

  • Osiniu (at Clusium) probably early 1100s
  • Mezentius fl. c.1100 ?
  • Lausus (at Caere)
  • Tyrsenos
  • Velsu fl 8th century
  • Larthia (at Caere)
  • Arimnestos (at Arimnus)
  • Lars Porsena (at Clusium) fl. late 6th century
  • Thefarie Velianas (at Caere) late 500s-early 400s
  • Aruns (at Clusium) fl c.500
  • Volumnius (at Veii) mid 400s-437
  • Lars Tolumnius (at Veii) late 400s-428


  • Barker, G. and T. Rasmussen. The Etruscans. London: Blackwell, 1998.
  • Bloch, Raymond. The ancient civilization of the Etruscans. Translated from the French by James Hogarth. Ancient Civilizations Series. New York: Cowles Book Co, 1969
  • Bonfante, Larissa et al. ed. Etruscan Life and Afterlife: a handbook of Etruscan studies. Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1986.
  • Brendel, Otto. Etruscan art. 2nd edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.
  • Richardson, Emeline. The Etruscans: their art and civlization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964.
  • Spivy, N. and S. Stoddart. Etruscan Italy. London: Batsford, 1990.
  • Torelli, Mario. ed. The Etruscans. Milan: Bompiani, 2000.

See also

External links

  • Internet Resources on the Etruscans (http://atlantic.evsc.virginia.edu/julia/etruscan/)
  • Web bibliography of Etruscan-related sites, including English-language sites (http://bcs.fltr.ucl.ac.be/EpiC.html)
  • Tabula Cortonensis described by Dr Massimo Pittau (http://web.tiscali.it/pittau/Etrusco/Tabula/tabcort.html)
  • Short article on a piece of Etruscan art (http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/wsrp/educational_site/uscarc/Pendant.shtml)
  • Etruscan Splendors from Volterra in Tuscany (http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/mishkin/lombra/etruscan.html)
  • Map of ancient Italian language areas, showing Etruscan-speaking areas (http://www.netaxs.com/~salvucci/VTLmap.html)
  • "Etruscan Engineering and Agricultural Achievements: The Ancient City of Spina" (http://members.tripod.com/~Centime/Etruscans/eng.html#Spina)

This article incorporates some information taken from http://www.hostkingdom.net with permission

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