Ancient history


The Etruscans (Latin:Tuscii) are a people who lived in Etruria, a territory roughly corresponding to present-day Tuscany and northern Lazio, the center of the Italian peninsula, before the period of Roman royalty. Their Greek neighbors called them Thyrrhenoi, meaning Tyrrhenians, but they called themselves Rasna. Their alphabet of Greek origin, slightly modified, gave rise to the Latin alphabet that you are reading.


According to tradition, nothing is certain as to their origin and provenance. Tradition, first represented by Herodotus, according to him they would have emigrated from Lydia in Asia Minor, in Tuscany, from Troy devastated as the Aeneid would have it; according to another tradition, supported by Livy, they would on the contrary have come from the north; according to a third tradition, supported by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, they would be autochthonous. Historians have sometimes favored one and sometimes the other. There is probably some truth in each, in that there was probably a migration from Asia Minor to Tuscany, in isolated groups carrying an evolved civilization, following disturbances occurring in their area of ​​origin, as tradition tells, of a famine after a war, but also because they were attracted by the mineral wealth of what was to become Etruria. This would explain the sudden birth of Etruscan civilization between the 8th and 7th centuries BC. J.-C. (the so-called "orientalizing" period), and the many affinities that we note in the uses and customs, the language, the art and the religion of the Etruscans with the Aegean-Anatolian world, while the uses in relations with the female world were very different:we know that women indeed attended banquets alongside men among the Etruscans, which was not the case either among the Greeks, their contemporaries, or later among the Romans.
Etruscan woman, terracotta statue, 2nd century BC. AD, found in Chiusi, preserved in Karlsruhe
Etruscan woman, terracotta statue, 2nd century BC. AD, found in Chiusi, preserved in Karlsruhe

Some wanted to see in this particular female status, which did not exist in the Greco-Roman world, an emancipation before the letter, but today we agree that it is much more a question of a survival of pre-Matriarchy. existing in the Neolithic Anatolian cultures, the patriarchy forming during this same period to crystallize in the civilization of ancient Greece. This Etruscan custom was indeed very frowned upon by the Greeks, direct neighbors of the Etruscans in southern Italy belonging to Magna Graecia and was one of the reasons for the rivalry of the two peoples, in addition to commercial competition.

In Tuscany these groups, certainly a minority, were added to the Villanovan elements (see Villanova culture) who, already familiar with the use of iron, had previously come from the north, or, from the other shore of the Adriatic, from Danube plains; at the dawn of the first millennium, these were already settled in the Italian peninsula. There, they had previously mixed with the real autochthones, inhabitants established in the region since the Neolithic and probably since the Paleolithic, a contemporary Mediterranean population of the so-called nuragic population (of nuraghe), established in Sardinia. In short, the Etruscans would be the result of the fusion of three ethnic components:the eastern, the northern and the autochthonous, thus forming a new people who never really managed to achieve a compact political unity.


The Etruscan language uses an alphabet derived from the Greek alphabet which inspired the Latin alphabet. It is probably of non-Indo-European origin and is not entirely known to us (about 700 words only).
See the articles Etruscan language and Etruscan alphabet.


Nothing that was not religious in the daily life of this ancient people. Also there was an order of soothsayers "the Order of haruspices", responsible for interpreting auspices, prodigies and other meteorological phenomena such as thunderbolts, from which they drew omens. From these interpretations, auspicious or harmful, depended the consecration of the buildings, religious or not, of the temples, but also the foundation of the cities. All these activities took place according to very precise rites, recorded in the various treatises of the Disciplina etrusca, the Etruscan science par excellence.


The art produced by this civilization is of great wealth. The Etruscans were very skilled craftsmen and had great artists, painters of frescoes in the tombs, such as those of Tarquinia for example, on vases, sculptors who produced true masterpieces both in bronze and in terracotta. They were also excellent jewelers, skilled metallurgists. Their works can be seen in major Italian museums, such as those in Florence, the Vatican or Volterra.
See the article Etruscan art.

Rise and decline

The maximum prosperity and expansion of Etruscan civilization was reached around the middle of the sixth century. In 535, the Etruscans, allied with the Carthaginians (some historians use the expression "Etrusco-Carthaginian Confederation" in this connection), won the naval battle of Alalia (Aleria) off Corsica, against the Phocaeans of Massalia, the Greek colony of ancient Marseilles, in the struggle between them for control of the western Mediterranean. The stoppage of Etruscan expansion begins at the end of the same century, then comes the decline during the 5th century. Rome was the first to free itself from Etruscan domination by driving out the Tarquins around 509; then the Latins as a whole freed themselves from it with the help of Aristodemus of Cumae at the Battle of Aricia in 506. The Etruscan bridgeheads thus remained isolated in Campania, weakening after the naval defeat of Cumae in 474 , and were definitively lost in 423 during the conquest of Capua by the Samnites. To the north, the Gallic invasion destroyed the Etruscan cities of the Po plain at the beginning of the 5th century. In 396, Rome conquered Veii, thus extending its influence over all of southern Etruria. For more than two centuries, at the initiative sometimes of one and sometimes of the other of their cities, the Etruscans fought against Roman expansion. But in 295, although allied with the population of Umbria, the Cisalpine Gauls and the Samnites, they were defeated at the Battle of Sentinum:in a few decades they were totally subjugated to Rome and included, by specific treaties, among the " allies” of the Italian peninsula, until they were granted Roman citizenship in the Social War of 90-88.


Despite the loss of their political autonomy, the Etruscans continued to exercise a great cultural, religious and artistic influence in Italy thereafter. Rome, which under Augustus had made Etruria the seventh region of Italy, was strongly influenced by their influence, which persisted in the institutions, the ways of life, the language, the tastes, the love of luxury, splendor and banquets, dancing and music. Etruscan tastes attested by the paintings of their tombs, although the latter tell us above all about the tastes of the wealthy classes, that is to say about the tastes of a minority of the population. Emperor Claudius was himself a specialist in Etruscan culture. The creative spirit of the Etruscan people (skilled craftsmanship and in-depth techniques) emerged again many centuries later in Tuscany during the Renaissance

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