Who were the Etruscans?

— Toscana – the name of this region reminds us even today of the people who lived there in ancient times: the Tusci or Etrusci, as the Romans called the Etruscans. Where did the Etruscans come from? Even scholars in antiquity couldn't agree on the answer.

Were they the native inhabitants of Italy, or immigrants from Asia Minor, from the west coast of modern Turkey? Even modern science has been unable to answer these questions yet. One thing is certain: they lived from the 10th to the 1st century B.C. in central Italy, in the area of modern Toscana, Latium, Umbria and Emilia-Romagna and parts of Campania.

The first Italian advanced culture was thanks to the Etruscans. What we know about them comes from writings of neighbors who weren’t always favorably impressed, the Greeks and the Romans. The talk is of women who could hold their drink, fat men and orgies. On the other hand, the Etruscans were reported as powerful, pious and experts in religious matters. Their cultural heritage, such as fascinating wall paintings, monumental mausoleums and magnificent burial objects, enable insight into their diverse everyday culture with its high quality of life.

 

„ … an ancient people, due to their language and customs different from all other peoples. “

Dionysios of Halikarnassos I 30

 
 

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Etruria and its Cities

— The people of Etruria lived in the early Villanovan Age (9th –8th cent. B.C., Iron Age culture) in smaller settlements. After constant economic growth, these developed by the 6th cent. B.C. into Etruscan cities.

The cities had their own political administration and were economically and militarily independent. For this reason, they are called City States. That means, there was never a single great Etruscan Empire, but rather there were various Etruscan City States with their attendant areas. In the central region of the Etruscans, between the Arno and the Tiber, there was a dense network of such City States which expanded with the expansion of Etruscan influence in the north and south.

Important cities joined to a League of Twelve Cities. This was a syndicate which met at regular intervals in a sanctuary, the famous Fanum Voltumnae in Orvieto and decided definitely on religious, possibly also on political matters.

 

 

 

Cortona

The city of Cortona, strategically built on a promontory, flourished especially in the Hellenistic-Roman era. The course of the city wall, which is more than 2 km long (5th/4th cent. B.C.), appears to be nearly identical to the city wall built over it in the Middle Ages. It is exposed in several places. One of the most important Etruscan written witnesses, the so-called Tabula Cortonensis – a private contract on a bronze plaque – originated in this city.
Fiesole

The Etruscan city Fiesole developed through the uniting of several smaller settlements. These lay on a broad, level plateau which had been continuously settled since the early Iron Age. You can discover remains of the Etruscan city wall and of a temple (both 4th/3rd cent. B.C.) in Fiesole. From there is a beautiful view over the younger city of Florence.
Marzabotto

Marzabotto is considered the best-researched Etruscan city. It is characterized by a right-angle system of streets and living quarters. The city led the way in the urbanization of Etruria. Etruscan marble art objects are rarely found, but the head of a statue of a young boy made of marble was found in Marzabotto. Regardless of whether it was imported or made by a Greek sculptor in Marzabotto, it was an exquisite rarity.
Arezzo

Arezzo developed from a small agricultural settlement in the archaic period (6th cent. B.C.) to a significant center and important crossroads in northeastern Etruria. It did not develop into a notable economic power in metal and clay work until the 4th/3rd cent. B.C. As early as the 16th century, several Etruscan bronze figures were found in the area, among them the famous Cimera of Arezzo – a creature combining a lion, a goat and a snake.
Perugia

In the 4th /3rd cent. B.C., Perugia belonged with Arezzo and Orvieto to the three most powerful metropolises in Etruria. As a crossroad, it owed its prosperity to trade, to agriculture and also to the production of weapons and armaments The Arco Etrusco in Perugia is among the largest and best-preserved gateways in Etruria. In addition to Etruscan elements, it also presents Roman building components and a construction phase dating from the Renaissance.
Orvieto

Orvieto, a Central Etrurian metropolis towering on a plateau atop a steep cliff, was famous in antiquity as the seat of the Federal Shrine of the League of the Twelve Cities. In the time of the Roman emperors, it was one of the three most important Etruscan cities, along with Arezzo and Perugia. The Belvedere Temple (5th cent. B.C.) in Orvieto reflects the so-called Tuscan Typus with a three-part main hall and was probably dedicated to a trinity of gods. The foundation of the shrine can still be seen.
Chiusi

Chiusi was the most important metropolis of Central Etruria with a widespread area of political and cultural influence. It was considered one of the most important centers of art productions which were conservative, yet of high quality and creativity. Today, the Etruscan objects from Chiusi and the surrounding area are on display in the National Archeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale). But you can discover some of these valuable items in our exhibition, too!
Vetulonia

The North-Etruscan coastal city of Vetulonia was the most important center of metal-working and metal trade in the 7th cent. B.C. It was a significant sea-trade metropolis and at that time also one of the most powerful members of the League of the Twelve Cities. In the 1980s, a 3-m wide street with a sewage system and foundations of houses and shops were excavated in a town district (so-called Poggiarello Renzetti, 3rd/1st cent. B.C.).
Populonia

Populonia is the only Etruscan city which is not inland, but directly on the Tyrrhenian coast. Rich deposits and intensive trade with ores were the basis for the wealth of this internationally-known city of industry and trade. Famous objects from Populonia include the remains of a battle wagon from a grave (Tomba die Carri). You can discover a reconstruction of this wagon with original parts in the exhibition.
Volterra

Volterra, a founding member of the League of the Twelve Cities, was the only larger center in the interior of Northwest Etruria. Its heyday as an urban and art metropolis of widespread significance came late, starting in the 4th cent. B.C. The city gate, built into the city wall on the south side, (Porta all´Arco, 3rd/2nd Cent. B.C.), is among the best-preserved in Etruria. In our exhibition, you can see the famous statuette ”Ombra della Sera“ of an over-tall youth from Volterra.
Vulci

Vulci was one of the most magnificent southern Etruscan metropolises from the end of the 7th to the middle of the 5th century. Its wealth is attested to by the fact that it was one of the most productive art centers and at the same time the most important site where imported ceramics from Attica were found. Unique are wall paintings from the chamber tomb named for its discoverer, the Tomba François. They show historical scenes of battles between Etruscans from various cities.
Tarquinia

Tarquinia, founded according to legendary tradition by the Etruscan “national hero” Tarchon, played a dominant political and cultural role for centuries. Today, it is one of the main sights for tourists to Etruria, especially thanks to its tomb wall paintings. The wall paintings in the more than 6000 graves of the Monterozzi Necropolis have been decisive for our knowledge of Etruscan culture. For this reason, the Necropolis became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
Veji

Veji, a leading member of the Etruscan League of the Twelve Cities, was one of the most important cities in southern Etruria. It was Rome’s greatest rival for power and influence in the region The city had one of the most famous sanctuaries of the Etruscan world, the so-called Portonaccio Temple. Statues and decorative elements of this temple are on display in our exhibition.
Cerveteri

The most important city in southern Etruria was one of the most dynamic metropolises in the entire Mediterranean region, with numerous craftwork productions. Cerveteri’s heyday was in the 7th/6th cent. B.C. and the population is estimated to have been 25,000 people. The Necropolis on the Banditaccia Plateau, the largest in Etruria, became a UNESCO-World Heritage Site in 2004.

“These [the Etruscans] were famous earlier for their courage, they acquired a lot of land and founded many attractive cities. In the same way, they were also great in seafaring and ruled the seas for a long time.”

Diodor V 40 (Greek historian)

World-class Art and Works of great Refinement

— The Etruscan goldsmiths were gifted artists. They mastered the most difficult techniques and produced impressive works of art.

Gold was not available in Etruria as a raw material. The gold probably came from central Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula or from the eastern Mediterranean area. The gold artefacts of the 8th cent. B.C. were relatively simple pieces, like spirals made of gold wire to hold hair-braids or brooches as jewelry and to fasten clothing.

Starting in the middle of the 7th cent. B.C., high-quality goldsmith pieces were made on a grand scale. Probably the Etruscan artisans had learned and perfected new techniques like granulation (soldering of tiny gold beads to an ornamental pattern), filigree work (with gold wire) and gold lamination of objects from the eastern Mediterranean area.

Numerous prestigious objects in the necropolises of Etruria, such as magnificent brooches, necklaces with pendants, bracelets, earrings and vessels attest to the special abilities, creativity and artistic sense of Etruscan goldsmiths.

 

“The things they produced during the centuries of their wealth (…) breathe a certain fullness of life.”

D.H. Lawrence, Etruscan Cities, 1932

The Etruscans as Global Culture in Ancient Italy

— Etruria’s position on the Mediterranean was an important prerequisite for exchange with other cultures. The Etruscan City States and especially the harbor cities were the center of intercultural encounters. Often, goods are discovered in the archeological excavations of Etruscan burial grounds which were imported from other regions of the Mediterranean area.

Some of the earliest imports come from the 9th cent. B.C. from Sardinia. With the economic and technical developments, the international contacts also grew, for example with the Greeks, Phoenicians, Punics or the Celts. There was exchange of raw materials, such as bronze or iron, and crafts, such as ceramics or jewelry. On the other hand, there was also a dynamic transfer of knowledge, ideas and persons, for example, craftsmen and merchants.

The Etruscans assimilated the foreign influences and transformed them to their own, very specific identity. A mentality arose which shared global phenomena with other civilizations and made the Etruscan culture to a global culture.

 

Decorative Etruscan plaques of imported ivory with motifs familiar from the eastern Mediterranean area, from Comeana

Bronze Etruscan tripod from the grave of a Celtic princess in Bad Dürkheim

Etrurian pleasures: Banquet and Wine

— The banquet pictures in wall paintings of Etruscan graves are festive and merry. Men and women in festive clothing lie on ”klinai“ (couches) and enjoy wine and food. Acrobats, dancers and musicians provide entertainment.

The festive banquet illustrates the Etruscan way of life: the representative dinner table is not only an expression of the enjoyment of life, but also of wealth and social prestige. This applies to the here and now as well as possibly to the afterlife. The desire for a happy afterlife is symbolized with an eternal festive banquet in many tomb paintings and images on urns and sarcophagi.

The burial objects and paintings show everyday objects which belong to the extensive banquet service, especially to wine drinking. Mixing vessels for mixing wine and water and seasoning it with pine resin, rosemary or thyme. Pitchers and ladles were essential for serving wine, along with sieves to filter the wine and drinking vessels to savor the fine result.

By the way – according to the most recent knowledge, the Etruscans introduced wine-growing to France. Santé!

 

"They (the Etruscans) let sumptuous meals be prepared twice a day, and everything else that goes with exaggerated opulence; they make beds of blossoms and have amassed quantities of silver goblets of all kinds and a not-inconsiderable number of servants."

Diodorus V 40 (Greek historian, 1st Century B.C.)

Etruscan Women

There was never gender equality in antiquity. The political, social and economic life was always and everywhere dominated by men. For the Etruscan culture, however, a particularly high esteem of women is postulated, and a great importance of marriage and family. One sign of this could be images showing married couples in loving embrace. Inscriptions show that the Etruscan could use not only his father’s name as identification and proof of lineage, but also his mother’s name.

The topic “women” exemplifies the differences in mentality and in social life between Greeks and Etruscans, but also the misunderstandings they engender: The Etruscan women, for example, could participate with the men in festive banquets  – a scandal in the eyes of the Greeks, who considered the Etruscan women not only vain and “beautiful”. They also describe them as ”able to hold their liquor” and compared them to prostitutes.

 

 

”Etruscan women (...) take great care of their bodies and (...) don’t eat with their own husbands, but with whomever they happen to be, and drink with whomever they wish. They hold their liquor well and are very beautiful.“

Athenaios (Greek author, 2nd-3rd Century a.D.), Scholars Banquet IV 517d-e

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Etrurien-Karte mit Fundorten

Who were the Etruscans?

— Toscana – the name of this region reminds us even today of the people who lived there in ancient times: the Tusci or Etrusci, as the Romans called the Etruscans. Where did the Etruscans come from? Even scholars in antiquity couldn't agree on the answer.

Were they the native inhabitants of Italy, or immigrants from Asia Minor, from the west coast of modern Turkey? Even modern science has been unable to answer these questions yet. One thing is certain: they lived from the 10th to the 1st century B.C. in central Italy, in the area of modern Toscana, Latium, Umbria and Emilia-Romagna and parts of Campania.

The first Italian advanced culture was thanks to the Etruscans. What we know about them comes from writings of neighbors who weren’t always favorably impressed, the Greeks and the Romans. The talk is of women who could hold their drink, fat men and orgies. On the other hand, the Etruscans were reported as powerful, pious and experts in religious matters. Their cultural heritage, such as fascinating wall paintings, monumental mausoleums and magnificent burial objects, enable insight into their diverse everyday culture with its high quality of life.

 

„ … an ancient people, due to their language and customs different from all other peoples. “

Dionysios of Halikarnassos I 30t

Etruria and its Cities

— The people of Etruria lived in the early Villanovan Age (9th –8th cent. B.C., Iron Age culture) in smaller settlements. After constant economic growth, these developed by the 6th cent. B.C. into Etruscan cities.

The cities had their own political administration and were economically and militarily independent. For this reason, they are called City States. That means, there was never a single great Etruscan Empire, but rather there were various Etruscan City States with their attendant areas. In the central region of the Etruscans, between the Arno and the Tiber, there was a dense network of such City States which expanded with the expansion of Etruscan influence in the north and south.

Important cities joined to a League of Twelve Cities. This was a syndicate which met at regular intervals in a sanctuary, the famous Fanum Voltumnae in Orvieto and decided definitely on religious, possibly also on political matters.

 

Etrurien-Karte mit Fundorten

“These [the Etruscans] were famous earlier for their courage, they acquired a lot of land and founded many attractive cities. In the same way, they were also great in seafaring and ruled the seas for a long time.”

Diodor V 40 (Greek historian)

World-class Art and Works of great Refinement

— The Etruscan goldsmiths were gifted artists. They mastered the most difficult techniques and produced impressive works of art.

Gold was not available in Etruria as a raw material. The gold probably came from central Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula or from the eastern Mediterranean area. The gold artefacts of the 8th cent. B.C. were relatively simple pieces, like spirals made of gold wire to hold hair-braids or brooches as jewelry and to fasten clothing.

Starting in the middle of the 7th cent. B.C., high-quality goldsmith pieces were made on a grand scale. Probably the Etruscan artisans had learned and perfected new techniques like granulation (soldering of tiny gold beads to an ornamental pattern), filigree work (with gold wire) and gold lamination of objects from the eastern Mediterranean area.

Numerous prestigious objects in the necropolises of Etruria, such as magnificent brooches, necklaces with pendants, bracelets, earrings and vessels attest to the special abilities, creativity and artistic sense of Etruscan goldsmiths.

“The things they produced during the centuries of their wealth (…) breathe a certain fullness of life.” D.H. Lawrence, Etruscan Cities, 1932

 

The Etruscans as Global Culture in Ancient Italy

— Etruria’s position on the Mediterranean was an important prerequisite for exchange with other cultures. The Etruscan City States and especially the harbor cities were the center of intercultural encounters. Often, goods are discovered in the archeological excavations of Etruscan burial grounds which were imported from other regions of the Mediterranean area.

Some of the earliest imports come from the 9th cent. B.C. from Sardinia. With the economic and technical developments, the international contacts also grew, for example with the Greeks, Phoenicians, Punics or the Celts. There was exchange of raw materials, such as bronze or iron, and crafts, such as ceramics or jewelry. On the other hand, there was also a dynamic transfer of knowledge, ideas and persons, for example, craftsmen and merchants.

The Etruscans assimilated the foreign influences and transformed them to their own, very specific identity. A mentality arose which shared global phenomena with other civilizations and made the Etruscan culture to a global culture.

 

Etrurian pleasures: Banquet and Wine

— The banquet pictures in wall paintings of Etruscan graves are festive and merry. Men and women in festive clothing lie on ”klinai“ (couches) and enjoy wine and food. Acrobats, dancers and musicians provide entertainment.

The festive banquet illustrates the Etruscan way of life: the representative dinner table is not only an expression of the enjoyment of life, but also of wealth and social prestige. This applies to the here and now as well as possibly to the afterlife. The desire for a happy afterlife is symbolized with an eternal festive banquet in many tomb paintings and images on urns and sarcophagi.

The burial objects and paintings show everyday objects which belong to the extensive banquet service, especially to wine drinking. Mixing vessels for mixing wine and water and seasoning it with pine resin, rosemary or thyme. Pitchers and ladles were essential for serving wine, along with sieves to filter the wine and drinking vessels to savor the fine result.

By the way – according to the most recent knowledge, the Etruscans introduced wine-growing to France. Santé!

 

"They (the Etruscans) let sumptuous meals be prepared twice a day, and everything else that goes with exaggerated opulence; they make beds of blossoms and have amassed quantities of silver goblets of all kinds and a not-inconsiderable number of servants."

Diodorus V 40 (Greek historian, 1st Century B.C.)

Etruscan Women

There was never gender equality in antiquity. The political, social and economic life was always and everywhere dominated by men. For the Etruscan culture, however, a particularly high esteem of women is postulated, and a great importance of marriage and family. One sign of this could be images showing married couples in loving embrace. Inscriptions show that the Etruscan could use not only his father’s name as identification and proof of lineage, but also his mother’s name.

The topic “women” exemplifies the differences in mentality and in social life between Greeks and Etruscans, but also the misunderstandings they engender: The Etruscan women, for example, could participate with the men in festive banquets  – a scandal in the eyes of the Greeks, who considered the Etruscan women not only vain and “beautiful”. They also describe them as ”able to hold their liquor” and compared them to prostitutes.

 

 

”Etruscan women (...) take great care of their bodies and (...) don’t eat with their own husbands, but with whomever they happen to be, and drink with whomever they wish. They hold their liquor well and are very beautiful.“

Athenaios (Greek author, 2nd-3rd Century a.D.), Scholars Banquet IV 517d-e