Western Humanities:  The Etruscans


The Etruscans were the people who occupied central Italy before Rome was formed. They lived in an area called Etruria, originally located between the Tiber and Arno rivers, approximately the modern province of Tuscany. They had a loose confederation of cities and a religious center near Volsinii, but they never organized themselves as thoroughly as the Romans did, which allowed the Romans to eventually conquer them and absorb Etruscans into the Roman population.

The Etruscans as a people probably began to emerge in the 900s or 800s BC. Though the Romans speculated that the Etruscans might have traveled to Italy from the eastern Mediterranean, they were probably descended from Bronze Age people who had lived in central Italy. Most Etruscan cities were on the west coast of Italy, and the Etruscans used those cities as a base for expansion inland, north, and south. At their height during the sixth century BC, the Etruscans controlled most of Italy between Campania and the Po River. In the late fifth century BC, Celtic invasions from the north stopped their expansion in that direction. The early Romans, Greeks, Samnites, and other invading peoples also halted the Etruscans' progress. By the late third century BC, all of Etruria was under Roman control.

The Etruscans had a well-developed civilization and a thriving culture. They traded with Greeks and other Mediterranean peoples and imported many elements of those cultures back to Italy; one of their imports was viticulture, the culture of grapes used to make wine. They were quite skilled at metalwork and made excellent jewelry. Their finely crafted furniture and household goods were sold all over the Mediterranean. Some elements of Etruscan religion and astrology seem to have had Eastern influences. Etruscan artistic techniques were partially borrowed from the Greeks, but evolved into a uniquely Etruscan art form.

There are still many archaeological remains of the Etruscan civilization in Italy. Etruscans built elaborate tombs for their aristocrats. They made a large number of bronze mirrors, many of which depict scenes from Greek mythology; if the scenes they chose are any indication, the Etruscans had a pleasant view of domestic life.

The Etruscans spoke a language with elements connected to both Indo-European and non-Indo-European languages, but scholars today still do not know where it came from. Some Etruscan words ended up incorporated into the Latin spoken by the Romans. The Romans were fascinated by their predecessors in Italy, and Roman art, architecture, government, religion, and warfare were all influenced by Etruscan culture. At the same time, the Roman presence effectively destroyed the Etruscan civilization. Very little Etruscan literature remains, and some scholars have accused the Romans of systematically destroying it.



Citation: MLA style

"Etruscans." World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. 2008. ABC-CLIO. 21 Oct. 2008 <http://www.ancienthistory.abc-clio.com>.



When you have finished reading this document, view the slideshow and answer the following questions.


  1. Based on their material culture (art, artifacts, etc.), what conclusions can you make about the Etruscans’ non-material culture (values, beliefs, etc.)?


  1. Compare and contrast the Etruscans to other ancient peoples we have studied so far [Minoans, Mycenaeans, Greeks (particularly Spartans and Athenians), and Macedonians].  In what ways are the Etruscans similar and different?