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Etruscans. Origins Writing Art and Culture. Origins. Somewhere between 900 and 500 BC, the Italian peninsula was settled by a group of people we call the Etruscans.

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Art and Culture

  • Somewhere between 900 and 500 BC, the Italian peninsula was settled by a group of people we call the Etruscans.
  • The name they had for themselves was Rasenna, and the Greeks called them Tyrrhenioi, from which we get our present name for the Tyrrhenian Sea. Romans named them Etruscans.
  • Archaeologists suspect that they came from the eastern Mediterranean, possibly Asia Minor, though there are several different theories.

etruscan origins
Etruscan Origins
  • Northern Origins
  • Oriental (eastern) Origins
  • No Origins Outside of Etruria
northern origins
Northern Origins
  • The Northern Origins advocates point to similarities of features of region to the cultures of the peoples of the Alps.
  • This includes such things as the Terramare villages
    • Prehistoric (Second millenium B.C.) settlements in the Po River Valley built on pilings and surrounded by an embankment and moat to protect them from flood waters as well as invaders.
eastern origins
Eastern Origins
  • The cultural features of the Etruscans also show a similarity to cultures of the Middle and Far East.
  • Particularly in terms of artistic and pottery styles.
in situ development
In Situ development
  • Others argue that there was no influx of outsiders.
  • The Etruscan culture developed from indigenous groups in that area.
  • The groups were influenced by cultures to the north and east.
mtdna data
mtDNA data
  • Geneticists from Italy and Spain conducted a genetic study based on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from 80 bone samples taken from tombs dating from the seventh century to the third century BC.
  • This study found that they were more related to each other than to the general population of modern Italy. Recent studies suggested a Near East origin.
etruscan civilization
Etruscan Civilization
  • Civilization in north-eastern Italy between the Appenine mountain range and the Tyrrhenian Sea.
  • Their civilization stretched from the Arno river in the north to the Tiber river towards the center of the Italian peninsula.
  • Civilization in north-eastern Italy between the Appenine mountain range and the Tyrrhenian Sea.
etruscan political system
Etruscan Political System
  • The Etruscans lived in independent, fortified city-states; these city-states would form small confederacies.
  • In the earliest times, these city-states were ruled by a monarch, but were later ruled by oligarchies that governed through a council and through elected officials.
  • Like the surrounding peoples, the Etruscans were largely an agrarian people, but they also had a strong military, and used that military to dominate all the surrounding peoples.
some etruscan rulers
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

etruscan domination
Etruscan domination
  • These dominated populations were forced to do the agricultural labor on the Etruscan farms, so the Etruscans had time to devote to commerce and industry.
  • In the seventh and sixth centuries, the Etruscan military had subjugated much of Italy, including Rome, and regions outside of Italy, such as the island of Corsica.
  • Differences among scholars exist concerning the origins of the language.
  • No one is quite sure whether it belongs to the Indo - European family of languages of which Greek and Latin are members, or whether the Etruscan language was related to those spoken in Lydia or Asia Minor.
  • Though many inscriptions remain, these are mostly found on tombs and monuments and include a small group of phrases found repeatedly on many monuments and tombs.
  • Though we can pronounce words of the Etruscan language today because they used an alphabet similar to Greek, we don’t have a clue to their meaning.
writing con d
Writing, con’d
  • There is a corpus of over 10,000 known Etruscan inscriptions, with new ones being discovered each year.
  • These are mainly short funerary or dedicatory inscriptions, found on funerary urns, in tombs or on objects dedicated in sanctuaries.
  • Others are found on engraved bronze Etruscan mirrors, where they label mythological figures or give the name of the owner, and on coins, dice, and pottery.
  • Finally, there are graffiti scratched on pottery; though their function is little understood, they seem to include owners' names as well as numbers, abbreviations, and non alphabetic signs.

The Tabula Cortonensis, discovered near Cortona in 1992, but only made public in June 1999, is made of bronze (Approximate dimensions: 50 by 30 cm, with a mean thickness of 2-3 milimetres) and was cut into eight fragments, of which one unfortunately has unfortunately been lost. We can surmise that the tablet, once it had served its purpose, was broken in order to re-use the metal.


The above picture shows a reconstruction of what this ship must have looked like. The lines show the probably water level. From a wreck of an Etruscan ship found off the island of Giglio, we have a reasonable idea of their construction. There is evidence to show that planks were butted together (not overlapped) and bound in place using thick ropes, which were passed through 2 centimetre (1") diameter holes in the planks. The gaps were probably then sealed using pitch.

The ship was quite squat in shape, and this example was totally different from Greek and Roman ships, in that it had two masts, rigged with square sails. The fact that it had square sails meant that quite often they had to wait many days for a favorable wind. Attached to the stern of the ship were two large steering oars. According to ancient accounts from the Greeks and the Romans, merchant vessels would sail within sight of land, and would weigh anchor at night in shallower water close to shore. Anchors were made of stone, and were typically inscribed.

material culture
Material culture
  • Many advances in pottery, art and frescoes.
  • Elaborate burial tombs.

Group of bucchero vessels, 7th-5th centuries BCE

amphora of exekias
Amphora of Exekias

Depicted on the principal side of this amphora, are Achilles and Ajax

  • Frescoes
  • Bronze Work
  • Gold
  • Terra Cotta Sculptures

Bronze helmet, 7th century BC.

bronze cauldron
Bronze cauldron

From the Regolini-Galassi tomb , 650 B.C

gold bracelets
Gold bracelets

Regolini-Galassi tomb and date to about 675-650 B.C.

gold earrings
Gold Earrings

Pair of gold earrings, Etruscan, gold, 7th century, BC

terracotta couple
Terracotta couple
  • Form the lid a sarcophagus discovered in the Bandicaccia necropolis.
  • It was the custom of the Etruscans in Caere to decorate the lids of the sarcophagii of those who could afford it, depicted as though they were reclining on a banquet couch in the prime of life.

  • Velathri/Volterra
  • Velzna/Volsinii
  • Tombs at Cerveteri and Tarquinia
velathri volterra
Velathri (Volterra)
  • Volterra's Etruscan walls date from the 5th - 3rd century BCE. With a total length of 7.3 km and an enclosed area of 116 hectares, they protected vital fields, temples and housing for about 25 000 people.
  • The Porta all'Arco, the Porta di Diana and impressive remains of the walls survive to this day.
velzna roman volsinii
Velzna (Roman Volsinii)

The Etruscan City of Velzna was probably located near Orvieto (Viterbo province, Italy). Many Etruscan coins have been found bearing the Word "Velzna"

tomb at cerveteri
Tomb at Cerveteri
  • The famous Etruscan tombs at Cerveteri are near the modern day Italian city which has its foundation on the old Etruscan city of Caere.
  • The Banditaccia Necropolis, the major necropolis of Caere (the other two are Monte Abetone and Sorbo), is one of few sites in the Mediterranean which follows Etruscan architectural and artistic development through its seventh to third century B.C. course.
  • Just outside the modern city, these earth and stone outer layers form the outer shell for fantastic rock-cut tombs; which are carved out of the natural tufa stone of the region.
  • Due to its excellent seaside position for trade, Caere is extremely famous for its large number of Etruscan artifacts interred in the tombs of the rich elite.

tombs at cerveteri
Tombs at Cerveteri

Photo is of the tumulus mounds which form the outer shell of tomb

tomb of the bas relief
Tomb of the Bas-relief

Dates from about the seventh-century B.C. The tombs of the Etruscans were architecturally constructed to resemble their homes, and this is no exception. However, the tombs at Caere have no frescoed walls, as is the case with its southern neighbor Tarquinia. Instead, the walls are carved with heavy relief depicting many different everyday objects.

tumulus ii
Tumulus II

seventh to fifth-century B.C. tumulus mound

the regolini galassi tomb
The Regolini-Galassi Tomb

Images are of the famous Regolini-Galassi tomb in the Banditaccia necropolis, roughly dating about 675-650 B.C.

regolini galassi tomb etrurian hearse
Regolini-Galassi tomb - Etrurian hearse

This wheeled cart, dating to about 675-650 B.C., was used to transport the corpse from Caere to the tomb in the necropolis

the etruscan tombs at tarquinia
The Etruscan Tombs at Tarquinia

Tumulus mounds which form the outer shell of the Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia.

tomb of the augurs
Tomb of the Augurs

Tomb of the Augurs is probably the best known Etruscan tomb in Tarquinia. Dating to about 530 B.C., it is in the Monterozzi necropolis.

end of etruria
End of Etruria
  • In 504 BC, the Etruscans were driven from territory when their army was defeated.
  • After this, Tarquinius Superbus the Etruscan king of Rome fell, and the Roman republic formed; from this point on, Roman history is rooted in Latin culture instead of that of the Etruscans.