The Etruscans

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

The Etruscans still, despite all the efforts of archaeologists and historians, remain a shadowy and mysterious people.
At first influential in the formation and conduct of the Roman monarchy, they fought a series of wars with the Roman Republic, and were conquered and integrated into Roman culture.
Much of Etruscan religion and mythology became part of classical Roman culture, including the Roman pantheon.
The Senate adopted key elements of their religion, which were perpetuated by haruspices and noble Roman families who claimed Etruscan descent, long after the general population had forgotten the language.
The Romans adopted the Etruscan alphabet, which the Etruscans had borrowed from the Greeks.
The symbol of the Etruscan king's right to execute his subjects was a bundle of rods and an axe: the fasces, also became a Roman emblem.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016
Etruscan Munera (Funerary Games)
The Romans even adopted the Etruscan toga, in addition to the vault and the arch, and gladiatorial contests (Munera).
It is unclear how and why the Romans ended the era of Etruscan superiority, but somehow Rome managed to free itself from the kings to the north, and establish their own unique culture.
What is noticeable is the manner in which the Romans overcame the Etruscans.
Rather than simply conquer these people, the Romans assimilated them into the Roman world.
The Greeks had the habit of conquering territories and then importing their culture, a process which, during the age of Alexander and after, we can identify as Hellenization.
The Romans conquered territories as well, but they were much more willing to bring the conquered peoples into the Roman world as partners

Etruria lay to the north of Rome, where the modern area of Tuscany, and the city of Florence are  now located.
Unfortunately, scholars have not deciphered the Etruscan language, but it is known from excavations that the Etruscans were highly civilized, and that their culture undoubtedly helped shape the politics and culture of Rome.
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. 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 it has been proposed that it may mean 'Shaved' or 'Beardless'. 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 Dionysus 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." It has been speculated 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 (Aeneas ?), the city of towers in that case.
It is known that the Etruscans had borrowed greatly from the Greeks including their alphabet, but their writing is not Greek.
Etruscan art, the city-state political structure, the arch, the vault, the fibula, the toga, and funeral practices using gladiators influenced the Roman practices.
Using Etruscan customs shows one of the major 'leitmotifs' of Rome, the copying and assimilating of other cultural ideas.
The Etruscan kings were early rulers of Rome, and there is evidence to suggest that the talent and aggressive leadership of these advanced people helped make the Romans important as power brokers among the other people of Latium.


During the twelfth century BCE, massive migrations of peoples from the east disrupted the Hittite and Egyptian Empires in Asia Minor and caused the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization in the Aegean.
Over the next two hundred years these migrations continued to push westward into northern Europe and spilled down into the Italian peninsula.
By the beginning of the first millennium BCE an Iron Age culture became firmly established in the north central region of Italy called Etruria.
The early inhabitants of this land have been labeled the Villanovans because the earliest artifacts of these proto-Etruscans were first found near the village of Villanova.
Between about 1000 BCE and 700 BCE a dozen sovereign city-states developed in Etruria, with a common language, culture, and religion.
The cities coexisted within the boundaries of economic rivalry, but did not battle each other for dominion over their neighbors as had the Sumerians, Mycenaeans, and Greeks.
The Etruscans were never united into a single kingdom or confederation, nor did their independent city-states even forge lasting alliances with one another.
This self-interest later allowed Rome to pick off the Etruscan cities one by one.
Even during the ten-year siege of Veii by the Romans, no neighboring Etruscan city sent help.
By the middle of the eighth century BCE, though, the peaceful, rural world of the Etruscans was radically altered by two great economic upheavals.
First was the colonization of nearby lands by the sea-faring Phoenicians, from whom the Etruscans developed maritime skills - including piracy - and international commerce.


Second, and more importantly, was the colonization of southern Italy by the Greeks, from whose advanced culture the Etruscans completely transformed their civilization.
One of the foremost influences of Greek culture on the Etruscans was writing.
An adaptation of the Hellenic alphabet was developed and disseminated among all the Etruscan city-states in a very short period during the late seventh cen- tury BCE.
Although the Etruscans never produced great literature, philosophies, or drama that we know of, their writings have documented their religion and history for posterity.
Also from the Greek colonists the cities of Etruria imported vast quantities of painted vases whose pictorial style Etruscan artists eagerly adopted.
In fact, so taken were the Etruscans with the Greek Archaic style of painting and decoration - often called the 'orientalizing' period of Etruscan art - that they never quite evolved stylistically to the classical phase later created by the Athenians during the fifth century BCE.
Etruscan art was the form of figurative art produced by the Etruscan civilization in central 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 and situlae). 
Etruscan art was often religious in character and, hence, strongly connected to the requirements of Etruscan religion. The Etruscan afterlife was negative, in contrast to the positive view in ancient Egypt where it was but a continuation of earthly life, or the confident relations with the gods as in ancient Greece. The Etruscan gods were hostile and tended to bring misfortune, and so Etruscan religion was centered on interpreting their will and accepting or satisfying it. On the other hand, most remains of Etruscan funerary art have been found in excavations of cemeteries (as at Cerveteri, Tarquinia, Populonia, Orvieto, Vetulonia, Norchia), meaning that what we see of Etruscan art is primarily dominated by depictions of religion and in particular the funerary cult, whether or not that is a true reflection of Etruscan art as a whole.
The Etruscans excelled in portraying humans. Throughout their history they used two sets of burial practices: cremation and inhumation. Cinerary urns (for cremation) and sarcophagi (for inhumation) have been found together in the same tomb showing that throughout generations, both forms were used at the same time. In the 7th century they started depicting human heads on canopic urns, and when they started burying their dead in the late 6th century they did so in terracotta sarcophagi. These sarcophagi were decorated with an image of the deceased reclining on the lid alone or sometimes with a spouse. The Etruscans invented the custom of placing figures on the lid which later influenced the Romans to do the same. These urns were widely popular in Etruria and, from there, the style made its way to Chiusi. After studying the urns further, it was revealed that they were most likely made from molds, in large quantities. This was discovered due to their almost exact resemblance to one another. They have been identified as far back as the third century B.C. and are technically still used to this day (caskets.) Examples of these pieces can be found today in museums all around the world. The Hellenistic period funerary urns were generally made in two pieces. The top lid usually depicted a banqueting man or woman (but not always) and the container part was either decorated in relief in the front only or, on more elaborate stone pieces, carved on its sides. During this period, the terracotta urns were being mass-produced using moulds in Northern Etruria (specifically in and around Chiusi). Often the scenes decorated in relief on the front of the urn were depicting generic Greek influenced scenes. The production of these urns did not require skilled artists and so what we are left with is often mediocre, unprofessional art, made 'en masse'. However the color choices on the urns offer great evidence as to when it was created, because the color popularities changed over time due to availability, or even just pure aesthetic
Apollo of Veii
The Etruscans were very accomplished sculptors. 
Stylistic influences from the Greeks in Etruscan Archaic sculpture include the 'Archaic smile' and the stylized patterning of hair and clothing. Yet Etruscan sculpture was distinct: the figures had egg shaped heads, almond eyes, were clothed, and their bodies had a higher degree of plasticity.Though the renowned "Capitoline Wolf" is now suggested to have been manufactured in the 13th century AD  surviving examples in terracotta and bronze are testimony to this. Some of the more famous examples include:
Etruscan Horses
The Orator or Aule Metele by its name bronze found in Umbria, the "Apollo of Veii", from the temple at Portanaccio (Veii), painted terracotta attributed to Vulca, the bronze "Chimera of Arezzo" now at the National Archaeological Museum of Florence, the "Sarcophagus of the Spouses", painted terracotta from Cerveteri. The Apollo of Veii is a good example of the mastery with which Etruscan artist produced these large art pieces. This sculpture was made, along with others, to adorn the temple at Portanaccio’s roof line. Although his style is reminiscent of the Greek 'Kroisos Kouros', the notion of having statues on the top of the roof is entirely an Etruscan derivation. The figure, believed to have been made by the Etruscan artist Vulca from Veii, depicts an Apulu in mid-stride, with an outstretched arm. The figure is dynamic and not as static as Greek archaic examples.
The best preserved Etruscan paintings that have survived to modern times are mostly wall frescoes from graves, and mainly from Tarquinia. These are the most important example of pre-Roman figurative art in Italy known to scholars. The frescoes are created by applying paint on top of fresh plaster, so that when the plaster dries the painting becomes part of the plaster, and consequently an integral part of the wall. Colours were created from ground up stones and minerals of different colours and were then mixed to the paint. Fine brushes were made of animal hair (even the best brushes can be produced with ox hair). From the mid 4th century BC chiaroscuro began to be used to portray depth and volume. Sometimes scenes of everyday life are portrayed, but more often traditional mythological scenes. The concept of proportion does not appear in any surviving frescoes and we frequently find portrayals of animals or men out of proportion. One of the best-known Etruscan frescoes is that of 'Tomb of the Lioness' at Tarquinia.
Further cultural transformations resulted from dramatic economic changes.
The technological advances of Corinthian (Greek) shipbuilding technology was integrated into Etruscan designs, making for faster ships with larger cargo-holds.
When the Greeks introduced the cultivation of the vine and wine making into the fertile valleys of north Italy, the Etruscans quickly became exporters of wine to points all around the Mediterranean. 
Trade generated wealth and created class hierarchies that had been unknown to their ancestors, the Villanovans.
Such commercial rivalry with the Greeks were a contributing cause of the wars with the Hellenic colonies during the late sixth century BCE.
All of this is not to say that the Etruscans wholly adopted the Greek culture.
To the contrary, the Etruscans retained much of their unique characteristics even after a lengthy contact with the Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans.
For example, as the Greeks became more humanistic in their religion, the Etruscans avidly preserved divination and other mystical traditions - which were later passed on to the Romans.
Dionysus and Satyrs
The Etruscans believed in intimate contact with divinity. They did nothing without proper consultation with the gods and signs from them. These practices were taken over in total by the Romans. The Etruscans accepted the inscrutability of their gods' wills. They did not attempt to rationalize or explain divine actions, or formulate any doctrines of the gods' intentions. As answer to the problem of ascertaining the divine will, they developed an elaborate system of divination; that is, they believed the gods offer a perpetual stream of signs in the phenomena of daily life, which if read rightly can direct man's affairs. These revelations may not be otherwise understandable and may not be pleasant or easy, but are perilous to doubtThe 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 favor 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 way to the city of Populonia, and the populus Romanus, possibly, 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 later 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. Etruscan beliefs concerning the hereafter appear to be an amalgam of influences. The Etruscans shared general early Mediterranean beliefs, such as the Egyptian belief that survival and prosperity in the hereafter depend on the treatment of the deceased's remains. Etruscan tombs imitated domestic structures and were characterized by spacious chambers, wall paintings and grave furniture. In the tomb, especially on the sarcophagus, was a representation of the deceased in his or her prime, often with a spouse. Not everyone had a sarcophagus; sometimes the deceased was laid out on a stone bench. As the Etruscans practiced mixed inhumation and cremation rites (the proportion depending on the period), cremated ashes and bones might be put into an urn in the shapes of a house or a representation of the deceased.
Even after democracy was developed by the Athenians, and the Romans had founded a republic, the Etruscans maintained their ruling nobility.
Of particular distinction between Etruscan society and that of the Greeks was the status of women. 
Indeed, contemporary Greek sources, such as the fourth century BCE historian Theopompus, wrote how shocked they were to see respectable women at sporting events, or flaunting masses of fine jewelry in public, or, worst of all, attending banquets on dining couches alongside male guests.
By the same token, in examining the surviving evidence of Etruscan dress, modern researchers will notice that, although the Etruscans adopted some elements of Greek style, they mostly preserved favored traditions of their national costume.
Scholars of this period have debated for decades on the degree to which Etruscans absorbed Hellenic culture.
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. 
Etruscan Temple - Reconstruction
The surviving buildings of Etruria (now approximating to Tuscany and part of central Italy) are not numerous, but Etruscan design is important for the part it played in the evolution of Roman architecture. Buildings were mostly of wood, clay, rubble, and terracotta, stone being reserved for temple-bases, fortifications, and tombs. The finest surviving Etruscan architecture consists of city walls and rock-cut tombs (of which the best examples are at Cervéteri, Chiusi, Corneto Tarquinia, and Perugia) dating from Circa 6 to Circa 4 bc. A few arched town-gateways still stand, e.g. Falerium Novum (Fáleri—c.250 bc) and Perugia (c.300 bc). From Circa 6 bc a temple type evolved consisting of a central cella flanked by two alae and a very deep portico, often tetrastyle, and with widely spaced timber columns (normally short and without flutes) carrying a low-pitched wooden roof structure. These columns were the prototypes of the Roman Tuscan Order, and the very wide intercolumniation made possible by the timber construction clearly influenced Roman col-umn-spacing. The timber superstructure was often enriched with terracotta claddings (e.g. Portonaccio Temple, Veii (late Circa 6 bc)). Tombs were richly decorated and coloured, and constitute the most substantial Etruscan architectural legacy.
The adaptation of the Greek alphabet spread rapidly throughout the twelve city-states of Etruria because priests could now preserve in a tangible form the sacred words, divinations, prayers, and ceremonies of their religion.
On the other hand the economic shifts to wine making and seafaring commerce took many years to develop from Greek models.
Exactly what the Etruscans borrowed and how they integrated Greek culture into their native customs are not always clear.
During the eighth century BCE, the Etruscans encountered Greek colonies to the south and underwent a dramatic transformation of their culture.
The Etruscans became urbanized and wealthy, and yet, despite the innumerable influences and borrowings from the Greeks, the Etruscans nevertheless retained much of the native characteristics of their cultural heritage.
For a while the Etruscans even expanded their borders northward, yet they were unable to recognize the value of lasting alliances against common foes so that one by one the Etruscan cities were conquered by the Romans.
Still, the decades of contact with the neighboring Greek colonies proved crucial not only for the development of Etruria and later Rome but also for Western civilization as a whole.
Their relations formed the bridge through which the civilization of the classical world would spread across Europe.

 to be continued....