The Etruscans 1200 BC – 100 BC




Etruscan civilization is the modern English name given to the

culture and way of life of a people of ancient Italy and Corsica

whom the ancient Romans called Etrusci or Tusci. The

Etruscan culture reached its height from the 7th to 6th century

BC. It was based on city states based mostly on the Arno and

Tiber rivers . It was the Latins who called them Etrusci or

Tusci , whence Tuscany . Their own name for themselves was

Rasenna , and the Greek word was Tyrrhenoi , which survives

in the Tyrrhenian Sea, while the Adriatic is so called from the

port they established at Adria. The origins of the Etruscans is

a mystery, some point to DNA evidence of an origin in what is

now Turkey. Most of the language has not been deciphered.



 The Etruscans: Lost Civilizations


The Chimera of Arezzo, a masterpiece of

Etruscan art made c.400 B.C.


The homeland and language of the Etruscans in a mystery.

 Based on DNA evidence, they arrived in Italy from Asia Minor

in a period from 1000-850 BC. This could be the kernel of

historical fact for the legend of Aeneas.  They were not

numerous, but their superior weapons and military tactics

allowed them to subjugate the native Italian population .The

Attic Greek word for them was Τυρρήνιοι (Tyrrhēnioi) from

which Latin also drew the names Tyrrhēni (Etruscans),

Tyrrhēnia (Etruria) and Tyrrhēnum mare (Tyrrhenian Sea). The

Etruscans themselves used the term Rasenna, which was

syncopated to Rasna or Raśna.




 In this video you will see how Caere, modern day Cerveteri, Italy, dominated culture, art and craftmanship in ancient Italy for many centuries. The Etruscans of Caere were a proud and beauty loving people and this video shows it .





Like the Greeks, they were merchant adventures, not averse to piracy. They had outposts in Spain, the Balearics, even perhaps in the Canaries. Their exports went as far as Britain and Sweden. Their prosperity was based on mining and metalwork. They were the first to exploit Italy s rich resources of iron and copper, zinc and tin. Unlike the Greeks, however, they built their cities not only along the seaboard at Cerveteri and Piombino, but high in the mountains inland at Orvieto and Chiusi (Lars Porsena s Clusium) and later at Volterra, Perugia and Arezzo. These cities stood usually on a hill, with another hill close by for burials. The Etruscans were skilful architects, engineers and surveyors: the Romans were to learn much from them. They used arches and barrel-vaulting.


As distinguished by its own language, the civilization endured from an unknown prehistoric time prior to the founding of Rome until its complete assimilation to Italic Rome in the Roman Republic. Although the Etruscans wrote with an alphabet adopted from the Greek colonists of Cumae, since their language was non Indo-European and not related to any other language that can be read, translations are few .


At its maximum extent during the foundation 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. Rome was sited in Etruscan territory. There is considerable evidence that early Rome was dominated by Etruscans until the Romans sacked Veii in 396 BC. Much evidence of Etruscan life has been learned from tombs, which were often made like houses with objects found from their daily life . Contests of gladiators or wild beasts originated as part of the lavish funeral celebrations for the Etruscan nobility. When they were over, the corpse was conducted to its new habitation in the city of tombs on the next hill one of those rock-hewn family sepulchers that were, in layout, decor and furnishing, almost a facsimile of the home he had occupied in life.



 Tombs of the Etruscans


The leaders of the 12 major Etruscans often met together for joint actions but the cities maintained a high degree of independence . The richest of the Etruscan cities was Veii. The classes of society were strictly segregated and religion was a major factor in their life .The Etruscans were the first to use the bound collection of rods (fasces) as a symbol of power, which was adopted by the Romans and Mussolini .Etruscan had a great degree of freedom for ancient times. They could own property and keep their own names .The Etruscans had coinage, based on the Greek model.



 Apollo of Veii c. 510-500 B.C.E.


By the early 6th century BC, the Etruscans had occupied Rome and three Etruscan kings ruled Rome from 616 to 510 BC. The last Etruscan kings was portrayed as a tyrant whose son raped the wife of a leader who he was visiting, known in literature as the 'rape of Lucretia.'  The rule of the Etruscans was often harsh.


The Rape of Lucretia by Hans von Aachen, German 1600


Three centuries later. In 524 the Etruscans felt strong enough to mop up the encircled Greeks of Cumae. They mobilized an unusually large force against the city, only to be soundly defeated under its very walls by its dynamic commander, Aristodemus. This was the high-water limit of Etruscan expansion. The tide now ebbed, gleefully assisted by the Greeks, who encouraged the recently subjugated Latin towns to liberate themselves. The expulsion of the Tarquins from Rome about 510 was due less to the rape of Lucrece (though we need not necessarily disbelieve the immortal story) than to a general upheaval in Central Italy. Similarly the replacement of kings by a republic of consuls and senators, far from being a novel concept of the Roman genius, reflected a tendency widespread at the time to substitute oligarchy for monarchy. The Greeks blocked the Etruscans from expanding near modern day Naples and an Etruscan fleet was lost of Cumae in 524, ending their advance to the south . In the north they were limited to the Po valley by Celtic tribes . After Romans expelled their Roman overlords they expanded north, taking the last Etruscan city in 265 BC.


A wall painting of a soldier of Samnium in Paestrum from around the 4th century BC . Samnium reached its peak in the 4th century, defeating Rome in a major battle in the Samnite wars (343-290 BC). In 290 BC, the Romans finally broke the Samnites' power. The Samnites were the last group holding out against Rome in the Social War (91–88 BC). In 82 BC, the Roman dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla slaughtered many of them and forced the rest to disperse








 The Romans