THe Etruscans

the people before the story of rome




Etruscan civilisation

The Etruscan civilisation is the modern name given to a powerful and wealthy civilisation of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, western Umbria and northern Lazio. As distinguished by its unique language, this civilisation endured from before the time of the earliest Etruscan inscriptions 700 BC until its assimilation into the Roman Republic, beginning in the late 4th century BC with the Roman–Etruscan Wars.

Although the Etruscans developed a system of writing, the Etruscan language remains only partly understood, the understanding of their society and culture heavily dependent on much later and generally disapproving Roman sources. Politics was based on the small city and probably the family unit. In their heyday, the Etruscan elite grew very rich through trade with the Celtic world to the north and the Greeks to the south and filled their large family tombs with imported luxuries. Archaic Greece had a huge influence on their art and architecture, and Greek mythology was evidently very familiar to them.



The paintings from the “Tomb of the Bulls”, in Tarquinia, are from the mid-sixth century BCE


Culture that is Etruscan developed in Italy after about 800 BC,
approximately to a culture that was influenced by Ancient Greek culture. At its maximum extent, during the foundational period of Rome and the Roman Kingdom, Etruscan civilisation flourished in three confederacies of cities: of Etruria, of the Po Valley with the eastern Alps and of Latium and Campania
. The decline was gradual, but by 500 BC the political destiny of Italy had passed out of Etruscan hands.[ The last Etruscan cities were formally absorbed by Rome around 100 BC.



etruscan Antefix IMAGES

Antefix is a vertical block which terminates the covering tiles of a tiled roof. In grand buildings the face of each stone ante-fix was richly carved, often with the anthemion ornament. In less grand buildings moulded ceramic ante-fixes, usually terracotta, might be decorated with figures or other ornament, especially in the Roman period. By this time they were found on many large buildings, including private houses.

This type of archaic antefix is typical of Cerveteri, the site from which there originate various similar specimens now dispersed among the museums of Berlin (Antiquarium), Copenhagen (Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek), London (British Museum), New York (Metropolitan Museum), Philadelphia (University Museum) and Rome (Villa Giulia). Its stylistic traits, including the persistent archaic “smile”, denote the still appreciable influence of the Ionic style, evident in a great deal of Etruscan artistic and artisanal production from the Middle to Late Archaic period.

A small decorative fixture put at the eaves of a roof of a classic building to hide the ends of the tiles

Antefixes with a winged but draped figure, playing the double flute or resting on a small pillar, have been found in Luni. The iconography recalls the personifications of Musa in the Etruscan context, documented by mirror engravings and votive statuettes with female figures, semi-draped and playing the cithara. More generally, it is comparable to the female figures recurrent in the reliefs of urns from Volterra,

The antefixes decorated the roofs of buildings, following the line of the eaves. Similar antefixes with a winged but draped figure, playing the double flute or resting on a small pillar, have been found in Luni. The iconography recalls the personifications of Musa in the Etruscan context, documented by mirror engravings and votive statuettes with female figures, semi-draped and playing the cithara. More generally, it is comparable to the female figures recurrent in the reliefs of urns from Volterra, often characterised by a strong influence of statuary prototypes from Rhodes.

etruscan Antefix IMAGES



The Romans not only grabbed what lands and treasures they could from their neighbours but also stole quite a few ideas from the Etruscans. The Romans adopted the Etruscan practice of divination itself an adaptation of Near Eastern practices along with other features of Etruscan religion such as rituals for establishing new towns and dividing territories, something they would receive ample practice opportunities for as they expanded their empire. Also, Etruscan soothsayers and diviners became a staple member of elite households and army units, acknowledged as they were as the Mediterranean's experts in such matters.

The Romans would adopt arched gate, private villa with atrium, tombs with niches for multiple funerary urns, and large-scale temples on impressive raised stepped platforms are all Etruscan architectural features the Romans would adopt and adapt. Other cultural influences include the victory procession which would become the Roman triumph and the Etruscan robe in white, purple or with a red border, which would become the Roman toga. Finally, in language, the Etruscans passed on many words to their successors in Italy, and through their alphabet, itself adapted from Greek, they would influence northern European languages with the creation of the Runic script.    

ETRUSCAN Sarcophagus

The Etruscan sarcophagus which have most influenced the popular imagination are those with the cover a kline. They were made in stone or terracotta and were topped with a figure resting on a type of divan.
Sarcophagi from after the Vth century BC showed a very different human type from the one we mentioned before: obese men crowned with thick headbands and showing their bare chests and round bellies with large necklaces of houseleeks usually hanging over these parts of their bodies.  These fat Etruscans often hold in their left hand a small plate containing Charon’s obol A term for the coin placed in or on the mouth of a dead person before burial. Greek and Latin literary sources specify the coin as an obol, and explain it as a payment or bribe for Charon, the ferryman who conveyed souls across the river that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead.



Etruscan Tombs

The decoration and layout of Etruscan tombs reveals a great deal about attitudes to death. They preserve details of funeral rites, including funeral feasts, processions, the gods of the underworld and the games used to commemorate the dead. Tomb paintings suggest that gladiatorial contests could have had their origin in these funeral games.

The interiors of tombs were often designed to replicate household features, providing a valuable source of information of domestic architecture otherwise lost from the archaeological record.Etruscan painting is all the more important because there no Greek painting: we can only imagine how it may have looked by studying the decorations in some of the exceptional tombs in Tarquinia,

Many early tombs had gabled roofs, and were set out in a series of rooms, connected by doorframes or with window frames cut into the partition walls to allow a view between rooms. Many had rooms set out like dining rooms or bedrooms leading off from the main burial chamber. The Tomb of the Hut is an early example. Dating from the seventh century BC, its main chamber reproducing the interior of an early Etruscan hut with its sloping roof and a smaller side chamber styled like an early bedroom.

Tombs also included architectural features such as porches and columns. Walls could  be covered with stucco reliefs or carvings of household tools and implements such as kitchen equipment.



Painted terracotta Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa, about 150-130 BCE Etruscan culture practiced cremation, so the tomb housed ashes rather than body remains. Unlike in the Greek world, where banquets were reserved for men, the Etruscan woman, who held an important place in society,




Etruscan Red figured Krater WITH CHARUN

300 BC DEMON CHARUN ESCORTS THE DEAD heavy hammer and a hooked nose 300 BC From Vulci Italy.


Etruscan warrior votive statuette

Warrior with a shield, wearing an Attic helmet and a scale cuirass, about 420-400 BC From Mount Falterona.


Etruscan tomb WALL painting in burial chamberS

The beautifully painted tombs found in many of their important towns. Tarquinia, Cerveteri, Chiusi, and Vulci,

THE ETRUSCAN pottery 3

Most pottery found at Etruscan burial sites follows very closely on the contemporary Greek (notably Corinthian and East Greek) designs. From the 7th Century geometric and Proto Corinthian ware were most prevalent, some imported, and some copies by local immigrant artists.
Etruscan vase painting was produced from the 7th through the 4th centuries BC, and is a major element in Etruscan art. It was strongly influenced by Greek vase painting, and followed the main trends in style over the period. Besides being producers in their own right, the Etruscans were the main export market for Greek pottery outside Greece, and some Greek painters probably moved to Etruria, where richly decorated vases were a standard element of grave inventories.
They depict mythological motifs such as a beardless Hermes, centaurs, Theseus and the Minotaur, Achilles and Troilos, satyrs, maenads and a beardless Herakles, similar to depcitions common in East Greece. Scenes from the Trojan War are also common.

Black-figure vase painting

The local production of Etruscan vases probably began in the 7th century BC. Initially, the vases followed examples of black-figure vase painting from Corinth and East Greece. It is assumed that in the earliest phase, vases were produced mainly by immigrants from Greece. The first major style was so-called Pontic vase painting. This was followed between 530 and 500 BC

Red-figure vase painting

An imitative adoption of the red-figure technique only developed in Etruria around 490 BC, nearly half a century after that style had been invented in Greece. Early produce is described as pseudo-red-figure Etruscan vase painting, due to its differing technique. Only by the end of the 5th century was the true red-figure technique introduced to Etruria.