ETRUSCAN RELIGION, ART, LANGUAGE, SEX AND GOOD TIMES

ETRUSCAN LANGUAGE


Etruscan partying scene in a tomb fresco

Theresa Huntsman of Washington University in St. Louis wrote: “The Etruscan language is a unique, non-Indo-European outlier in the ancient Greco-Roman world. There are no known parent languages to Etruscan, nor are there any modern descendants, as Latin gradually replaced it, along with other Italic languages, as the Romans gradually took control of the Italian peninsula. The Roman emperor Claudius (r. 41–54 A.D.), however, took a great interest in Etruscan language and history. He knew how to speak and write the language, and even compiled a twenty-volume history of the people that, unfortunately, no longer exists today. [Source: Theresa Huntsman, Washington University in St. Louis, "Etruscan Language and Inscriptions", The Metropolitan Museum of Art, June 2013, metmuseum.org \^/]

The Etruscans had a written languages but only fragments have been discovered. It was unlike any other language and to this day it remains undeciphered. About 10,000 Etruscans inscriptions have been found, most of them are tomb inscriptions related to funerals or dedicated to gods. They can be "read" in the sense that scholar can make out the specific letters, derived from Greek, but apart from about a few hundred names for places and gods they can not figure out what the inscriptions say.

In 1885 a stele carrying an inscription in a pre-Greek language was found on the island of Lemnos, and dated to about the 6th century B.C. Philologists agree that this has many similarities with the Etruscan language both in its form and structure and its vocabulary. In 1964, archaeologists found three Rosseta-stone-like gold sheets with Etruscan writing and Phoenician writing in Pygi, Italy. The texts were determined to related to rituals but they failed to add much to the understanding of the Etruscan language. As of 2010, about 300 Etruscan words were known.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Etruscan Writing


Etruscan alphabet

Theresa Huntsman of Washington University in St. Louis wrote: “Etruscan did not appear in written form until the seventh century B.C., after contact with Euboean Greek traders and colonists, and it is the Euboean Greek alphabet that the Etruscans adopted and adapted to fulfill the phonological and grammatical needs of their native tongue. The Etruscans wrote right to left, and many of the Greek letters are reversed in orientation. Some early Greek inscriptions are also written from right to left, or in a continuous string of lines running first right to left, then left to right. [Source: Theresa Huntsman, Washington University in St. Louis, "Etruscan Language and Inscriptions", The Metropolitan Museum of Art, June 2013, metmuseum.org \^/]

“We have no surviving histories or literature in Etruscan, and the only extant writing that can be considered a text, as opposed to an inscription, was painted in ink on linen, preserved through the fortuitous reuse of the linen as wrappings for an Egyptian mummy now in Zagreb. The existence of such objects like an Etruscan abecedarium in the form of an inkwell, as well as artistic representations of books or scrolls, confirms a written tradition on perishable materials. Despite the lack of preserved texts, the corpus of more than 10,000 Etruscan inscriptions on local and imported goods for daily, religious, and funerary use give us insight into the importance of language in Etruscan life and afterlife. \^/

The Phoenician alphabet was a forerunner of the Etruscan, Latin, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac scripts. Etruscan writing in turn influenced the Greek and Latin (Roman) alphabets. Denise Schmandt-Besserat of the University of Texas wrote: “Because the alphabet was invented only once, all the many alphabets of the world, including Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic, Brahmani and Cyrillic, derive from Proto-Sinaitic. The Latin alphabet used in the western world is the direct descendant of the Etruscan alphabet (Bonfante 2002). The Etruscans, who occupied the present province of Tuscany in Italy, adopted the Greek alphabet, slightly modifying the shape of letters. In turn, the Etruscan alphabet became that of the Romans, when Rome conquered Etruria in the first century BC. The alphabet followed the Roman armies. All the nations that fell under the rule of the Roman Empire became literate in the first centuries of our era. This was the case for the Gauls, Angles, Saxons, Franks and Germans who inhabited present-day France, England and Germany. [Source: Denise Schmandt-Besserat, Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin, January 23, 2014]

Etruscan Inscriptions

Theresa Huntsman of Washington University in St. Louis wrote: “Etruscan inscriptions fulfilled a number of roles, and they often reveal the intended purposes of the objects that bore them. The writing system developed out of necessity when the Etruscans began to engage in Mediterranean trade, and inscriptions could address practical concerns, such as the price of an object, or indicate a buyer’s or seller’s mark. [Source:Theresa Huntsman, Washington University in St. Louis, "Etruscan Language and Inscriptions", The Metropolitan Museum of Art, June 2013, metmuseum.org \^/]


Spread of the Etruscan alphabet in Italy

"There is an overwhelming number of “speaking” objects, or vessels inscribed with phrases to express ownership or dedication, written as if the object itself were speaking. For example, an Italo-Corinthian alabastron in the collection is incised with the phrase “mi licinesi mulu hirsunaiesi,” or “I am the gift of Licinius Hirsunaie.” This could indicate that the vessel was intended as an offering to a deity, but it could also illustrate a gift exchange between wealthy individuals.

“Inscriptions associated with pictorial scenes, such as tomb paintings, painted vases, or engraved mirrors, help us to understand what the scene represents. The Etruscans celebrated Greek myths and worshipped many of the same deities, but with variations in the conventions used to portray the narratives that can make them difficult to interpret. Engraved bronze mirrors from numerous Etruscan tombs bear intricate, rich, and nuanced mythological scenes that can be fully understood only through the carefully inscribed names that identify each of the figures . In fact, the only way we know the Etruscan names for the gods is through these labeled mythological scenes on objects and in tomb paintings. Some names are “Etruscanized” versions of the Greek names, e.g., Aplu for the Greek Apollo or Ercle for the Greek Herakles, but others are entirely different and only identifiable through illustrated, labeled scenes, e.g., Tinia for Zeus or Turan for Aphrodite. \^/

“Etruscan tombs, in both their construction and contents, prove that the Etruscans conceived of the afterlife as an extension of actual life. The tomb often replicates a domestic interior, filled with all the objects the deceased would need, like personal adornments, games, banqueting wares, and even food. Inscriptions played a key role in the afterlife, too. Etruscan sarcophagi and cremation urns bore the full names of their owners, often identifying the names of the individual’s father, mother, and for women, her husband. Relatives entering a family tomb to bury an individual would be able to identify the effigies of their ancestors. Inscriptions also had the power to transform objects from things for the living to things for the dead. Through the act of inscribing the word suthina, meaning “for the tomb,” pottery, jewelry, and metal objects such as weapons, armor, mirrors, and vessels were thereby “transformed” and designated for use by the deceased in the afterlife. Some objects were probably made or purchased expressly for burial and inscribed during or shortly after production. Others, however, may have been personal possessions that were inscribed upon the individual’s death and burial.” \^/

Etruscan Religion

Etruscan gods fell into three categories: ones taken from the Greek colonies to the south, ones taken from other Italian cultures and ones they developed themselves. Etruscan religion was dominated by a triad of gods: the precursors of Juno, Jupiter and Minerva. The Etruscans also seemed to be especially interested in gods of the underworld and the afterlife. Gladiator battle were thought to have evolved from Etruscan funerary games.

20120223-Etruscan_Necropolis_in_Sutri_Italy.jpg
Necropolis in Sutri
The Etruscans believed that the will of the gods was manifested through signs in the natural world. The patterns made by flying bird were read for auspicious signs. The word auspicious was originally used to describe a favorable flight of birds. A gold coloured fleece was a prophecy of future prosperity for the clan. Lightning and thunder were read for symbols of good and bad luck. The future was divined by observing the direction of thunderbolts. Roman leaders called on Etruscan soothsayers to direct lighting bolts at the Visigoths.

The A.D. 1st century Roman historian Seneca observed: “This is the difference between us and the Etruscans. We believe that lighting is caused by clouds colliding, whereas they believe that the clouds collide in order to create lightning. Since they attribute everything to the gods. They are led to believe not that events have a meaning because they have happened, but that they happen in order to express a meaning.”

Etruscan Liver and Chicken Divination

The Etruscans used haruspicy (searching for omens in the entrails of animals) to predict the future. Etruscan fortunetellers were famed for their liver reading skills. After a sacrifice the body was opened up and the liver was examined. The liver was divided into region which correspond with the constellations in the sky. The right side denoted good luck and the left side, bad luck. A bronze liver unearthed by archaeologists at Piacenza was divided into forty regions, each marked with name of a different god. ["World Religions" edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

The custom of breaking a wishbone (the Y-shaped clavicle of a fowl) with a secret wish going to person with the bigger piece has been dated to Etruria in 400 B.C. The Etruscans believed that chickens were soothsayers because they foretold the laying of an egg with a squawk.

A 2nd century B.C. model of a sheep’s liver was divided into 16 regions corresponding to sections of the heavens and names of deities. According to the Etruscan "hen oracle," a circle was drawn on the ground with 20 parts, corresponding to letters in the Etruscan alphabet, with pieces of grain in each sector. A sacred chicken was placed in the middle and foretold the future by forming the letters for words by pecking at the grain in the letter's sector.

When the sacred hen died, its bones were dried and the clavicle was stroked before making a wish and thus became known as the wishbone. The clavicle was selected over other bones because its Y-shape had some symbolic meaning. The customs of breaking it for a wish developed in Roman times partly as the result of to many people fighting over one bone.

Liver Divination Among the Etruscans

20120223-Liver_of_Piacenza.png
Liver of Piacenza
The Etruscans used haruspicy (searching for omens in the entrails of animals) to predict the future. Etruscan fortunetellers were famed for their liver reading skills. After a sacrifice the body was opened up and the liver was examined. The liver was divided into region which correspond with the constellations in the sky. The right side denoted good luck and the left side, bad luck. A bronze liver unearthed by archaeologists at Piacenza was divided into forty regions, each marked with name of a different god. ["World Religions" edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

A 2nd century B.C. bronze model of a sheep's liver, divided into 16 regions corresponding to sections of the heavens and names of deities, found near Piacenza in 1877. It shows the chief parts of the liver and is covered with Etruscan characters, which furnish for the most part names of deities. The model was probably used for purposes of instruction in the Etruscan system of hepatoscopy—just like a similar Babylonian model.

Historian Morris Jastrow said: “Among the Etruscans we...find liver divination not only occupying an important position in the official cult, but becoming a part of it. As a companion piece to the Babylonian model of a sheep’s liver, we have a bronze model, found” in 1877 “near Piacenza in Italy, which, covered with Etruscan characters, shows almost the same general design as the Babylonian model. This Etruscan model, dating probably from the third century B.C., but taking us back to a prototype that may be considerably older, served precisely the same purpose as its Babylonian counterpart: namely, to explain liver divination to the young haruspices of Etruria. The importance of this form of divination is illustrated by other Etruscan antiquities, such as the tomb of an haruspex, who holds in his left hand a liver as the sign-manual of his profession. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

Etruscans and Greek Sacrifices and Roman Liver Divination

Historian Morris Jastrow said: ““Through the Etruscans hepatoscopy came to the Romans, and it is significant that down through the days of the Roman Republic the official augurs were generally Etruscans, as Cicero and other writers expressly tell us.The references to liver divination are numerous in Latin writers, and although the term used by them is a more general one, exta ,—usually rendered “entrails,”—when we come to examine the passages, we find, in almost all cases, the omen specified is a sign noted on the liver of a sacrificial animal. So Livy, Valerius Maximus, Pliny, and Plutarch unite in recording that when the omens were taken shortly before the death of Marcellus, during the war against Hannibal, the liver of the sacrificial animal had no processus pyramidalis, which was regarded as an unfavourable sign, presaging the death of the Roman general. Pliny specifies a large number of historical occasions when forecasts were made by the augurs, and almost all his illustrations are concerned with signs observed on the liver. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

“The same is the case with the numerous references to divination through sacrificial animals found in Greek writers; for the Greeks and Romans alike resorted to this form of divination on all occasions. In Greek, too, the term applied to such divination is a general one, hiera or hiereia , the “sacred parts,” but the specific examples in every instance deal with signs on the liver. Thus, e.g., in the Electra of Euripides, Ægisthos, when surprised by Orestes, is represented in the act of examining the liver of an ox sacrificed on a festive occasion. Holding the liver in his hand, Ægisthos observes that “there was no lobe,and that the gate and the gall-bladder portended evil.” While Ægisthos is thus occupied, Orestes steals upon him from behind and deals the fatal blow. Æschylus, in the eloquent passage in which the Chorus describes the many benefits conferred on mankind by the unhappy Prometheus, ascribes to the Titan the art also of divination, but while using the general term, the liver is specified: ‘The smoothness of the entrails, and what the colour is, whether portending good fortune, and the multi-coloured well-formed gallbladder.’ <>

“Whether or not the Greeks adopted this system of hepatoscopy through the influence likewise of the Etruscans, or whether or not it was due to more direct contact with Babylonian-Assyrian culture is an open question. The eastern origin of the Etruscans is now generally admitted, and it may well be that in the course of their migration westward they came in contact with settlements in Greece; but on the other hand, the close affiliation between Greece and Asia Minor furnishes a stronger presumption in favour of the more direct contact with the Babylonian system through its spread among Hittite settlements.

20120223-Tarquinia_Tomb_of_the_Leopards.jpg
Tarquinia Tomb of the Leopards

Etruscan Burials

The Roman custom of displaying the body of the dead, ritual lamentations and hired mourners appears to have originated with the Etruscans. Roman funerary art and architecture and concepts of the afterlife also seem to have also been shaped by the Etruscans.

Etruscans practiced cremation and inhumation. The funeral pyres were often placed near the tomb and offerings and possessions of the dead were often burned along with the body. The remains were placed in terra cotta jars and pots or decorated alabaster and terra cotta chests with effigies or reliefs on the top. These were placed in cylindrical well tombs dug in the rock or earth. A variety of food stuffs and grave goods were buried with the dead. An urn with cremation remains of women found in a tomb in Chiusi is topped by a head and has arms coming out of the handles.

Early inhumations have been found in plain wood sarcophagi in shallow trench graves. Later ones, starting around the 7th century B.C., were placed in more elaborate sarcophagi made from a variety of materials. These were placed in chamber tombs, both above ground and below ground, with a variety of food stuffs and grave goods. Often the dead were placed on special funerary beds, whcih could be both real beds with pillows or fake ones carved of stone.

Etruscan Tombs

Some Etruscan tombs are entirely underground. Some are half above ground and are built up with masonry. Many are covered under conical mounds. Some of these are very complex, with false doors and pseudo-vaulted roofs held up by single pillars. A few have been found cut into cliff faces. The tomb art deals mostly with pleasant scenes: parties, dances, games, hunts.

Some 6,000 Etruscan tombs have been found in the Tarquinia region. Many of them have stairwells covered by tile roof structures. The Etruscan put much care into their tombs which were carved often out of solid stone. The tombs were like the inside of a normal house. About 200 of the tombs that have been excavated contain colorful painted walls and vaults. Mnay of the tombs have been ravaged by looters.

20120223-British_Museum_Etruscan_burial.jpg
Etruscan burial stone

In 2007, a team from the University of Turin began excavating the largest tomb in Tarquinia. Known as the Queen’s Tomb, it is 40 meters in diameter and is similar to another monumental tomb, 200 meters away: The King’s Tomb. The entrance of the Queen’s Tomb faces west-northwest , where according to to Etruscan religion , the gods of the underworld live. The staircase descends about 20 feet into an almost six -square-meter room. Made of large limestone blocks. Some of the wlls were plasters with a special kind of crystal-filled gypsum imported from Cyprus. There are trace sof paint thought to have be from a painting of a duck, which the Etruscans believed guided the dead to the afterlife. One unusual feature of the Queen’s tomb is an extra room which is believed to have been used in rituals, sacrifices and making offerings to the dead. In nearby tombs archeologist found some stone beds and broken cups from which wine was consumed.

Cervterie, which embraces hundreds of acres of Banditaccai tombs, is the most impressive Etruscan necropolis discovered so far. At the mains are several circular tombs that a topped by piles of earth. Flanking these are several terraces of flat box-shaped tombs that are covered with bushes and trees. Most of the tombs have entrances.

In the Tomb of the Reliefs a model has been set up that depicts what the home of the a typical Etruscan dead person looks like. Hanging from carved rectangular pillars are axes, urns and knives. Around the burial chambers are carvings of three-headed dogs and hunters.

Etruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri and Tarquini

According to UNESCO: “These two large Etruscan cemeteries reflect different types of burial practices from the 9th to the 1st century B.C., and bear witness to the achievements of Etruscan culture. Which over nine centuries developed the earliest urban civilization in the northern Mediterranean. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website *=*]

Some of the tombs are monumental, cut in rock and topped by impressive tumuli (burial mounds). Many feature carvings on their walls, others have wall paintings of outstanding quality. The necropolis near Cerveteri, known as Banditaccia, contains thousands of tombs organized in a city-like plan, with streets, small squares and neighbourhoods. The site contains very different types of tombs: trenches cut in rock; tumuli; and some, also carved in rock, in the shape of huts or houses with a wealth of structural details. These provide the only surviving evidence of Etruscan residential architecture. The necropolis of Tarquinia, also known as Monterozzi, contains 6,000 graves cut in the rock. It is famous for its 200 painted tombs, the earliest of which date from the 7th century B.C.

Why the site is important: 1) The necropolises of Tarquinia and Cerveteri are masterpieces of creative genius: Tarquinia's large-scale wall paintings are exceptional both for their formal qualities and for their content, which reveal aspects of life, death, and religious beliefs of the ancient Etruscans. Cerveteri shows in a funerary context the same town planning and architectural schemes used in an ancient city. 2) The two necropolises constitute a unique and exceptional testimony to the ancient Etruscan civilisation, the only urban type of civilisation in pre-Roman Italy. Moreover, the depiction of daily life in the frescoed tombs, many of which are replicas of Etruscan houses, is a unique testimony to this vanished culture. 3) Many of the tombs of Tarquinia and Cerveteri represent types of buildings which no longer exist in any other form. The cemeteries, replicas of Etruscan town planning schemes, are some of the earliest existing in the region.:


Etruscan tomb paining


Etruscan Life

Etruscan statues show people with pointy ears and almond eyes.. They wore loose-fitting tunics and reclined on sofas.

The Etruscans lived in houses made from sun-dried mud brick and timber. They also lived in thatch roof huts and tile-roof houses on stone foundations. Their temples had terra-cotta bas-reliefs, tile roofs and decorative friezes.

The Etruscans were also expert horseman and superb oil lamp makers. Soldiers wore shoes made with laces and used bronze weapons. The Etruscan semicircular woolen cloak, draped over one shoulder, is the source of the Roman toga. The Etruscans also introduced the triumphal procession to celebrate military victories and ideas about art, architecture and religion to the Romans.

The world's oldest false teeth were found in Etruscan tombs dated at 800 B.C. Etruscans dentures were made from ivory, bone and teeth taken from dead people or oxen and held together with gold bridgework. The Etruscans were also regarded as the most skilled dentists in the ancient world.

Archeologist from the University of Florence are excavating a site in Tuscany named Masa Maritima that covered 75 acres and appears to have been a mining town where iron, copper, silver and tin were mined, Controlled by the powerful city of Vetulonia, the town was laid out in a rectangular grid. As of 2010 archeologists had excavated five residential quarters. Many of those houses had sandtstone foundations, walls made of sun-dried bricks and roofs covered with locally-made terra-cotta tiles similar to those still used in Tuscany today. Each quarter contained 10 houses and controlled one mine. There was also an industrial quarter just 30 kilometers from a lake where Etruscans smelted iron. Other ores were taken to different places to refine.

Among the artifacts that have been unearthed in Masa Maritime are vessels, dishes, grindstones, and tools related to wool and textile work, handicrafts usually associated with women. A site called Poggiarello Renzetti has revealed 100 iron nails used to make a second storey of a mud-brick building with a wood and clay upper floor. The house also contains a basement where foodstuffs were stored. .

Etruscan Women and Good Times

20120223-Etruscan BM Canosa askos_con_etsta_femminile.JPG
If Etruscan artwork accurately depicts how the Etruscans lived then they were clearly a people who enjoyed. Images in tombs include men using sling shots to hunt birds, naked boys diving, leaping dolphins and dancers strutting their stuff while giving the Texas longhorn hand sign. There are also paintings of lute-like stringed instruments and twin flutes, held in place in a musicians mouth by a leather strap.

Figures of married couples displayed on sarcophagus showed a sensuality and tenderness that was not seen in Greek, Roman or even Renaissance art. Woman and men sat side by side at banquets, a fact that astonished the Romans, who considered the Etruscans hedonists.

Women had higher social status than their counterparts in Greece and Rome. They kept their own names (feminized versions of their father's names) and owned their own property. Tomb pictures depict them partying with males, participating in elaborate dinner parties, attending athletic contests, relaxing on couches and wearing expensive gold jewelry.

Scenes of dancing, feasting and music are found in tomb paintings at Tomba del Triclinio (around 470 B.C.) and Tomba delle Iscrizioni (around 520 B.C.) in Taraquina. The Tomb of the Lioness features two lions and dancers below a checkerboard ceiling.

Work by Southern Methodist University at a site called Poggio Colla indicates that women may have participated in cult activities. A team led by archeologist Gred Warden found a tightly-packed deposit of 18 objects, half of which are gold, and include necklaces, pendants and semiprecious stones. Because they were found outside of tomb and many objects are associated with women the archeologists was surmised they might have been used by women in rituals.

Livy on Etruscan Dancing and Entertainment

The Roman historian Livy wrote in “History of Rome” (A.D. 10): “Book 5.1: “The Veientines, on the other hand, tired of the annual canvassing for office, elected a king. This gave great offence to the Etruscan cantons, owing to their hatred of monarchy and their personal aversion to the one who was elected. He was already obnoxious to the nation through his pride of wealth and overbearing temper, for he had put a violent stop to the festival of the Games, the interruption of which is an act of impiety. The Etruscans as a nation were distinguished above all others by their devotion to religious observances, because they excelled in the knowledge and conduct of them.... [Source: Livy, “The History of Rome, by Titus Livius,” 4 vols., translated by D. Spillan and Cyrus Edmonds (New York: G. Bell & Sons, 1892).


“Book 7.2. But the violence of the epidemic was not alleviated by any aid from either men or gods, and it is asserted that as men's minds were completely overcome by superstitious terrors they introduced, amongst other attempts to placate the wrath of heaven, scenic representations, a novelty to a nation of warriors who had hitherto only had the games of the Circus. They began, however, in a small way, as nearly everything does, and small as they were, they were borrowed from abroad. The players were sent for from Etruria; there were no words, no mimetic action; they danced to the measures of the flute and practiced graceful movements in Etruscan fashion. Afterwards the young men began to imitate them, exercising their wit on each other in burlesque verses, and suiting their action to their words. This became an established diversion, and was kept up by frequent practice. The Etruscan word for an actor is istrio, and so the native performers were called histriones. These did not, as in former times, throw out rough extempore effusions like the Fescennine verse, but they chanted satyrical verses quite metrically arranged and adapted to the notes of the flute, and these they accompanied with appropriate movements.

“Several years later Livius for the first time abandoned the loose satyrical verses and ventured to compose a play with a coherent plot. Like all his contemporaries, he acted in his own plays, and it is said that when he had worn out his voice by repeated recalls he begged leave to place a second player in front of the flutist to sing the monologue while he did the acting, with all the more energy because his voice no longer embarrassed him. Then the practice commenced of the chanter following the movements of the actors, the dialogue alone being left to their voices. When, by adopting this method in the presentation of pieces, the old farce and loose jesting was given up and the play became a work of art, the young people left the regular acting to the professional players and began to improvise comic verses. These were subsequently known as exodia [after-pieces], and were mostly worked up into the Atellane Plays. These farces were of Oscan origin, and were kept by the young men in their own hands; they would not allow them to be polluted by the regular actors.”

Etruscan Sex Life


The 4th century B.C. Greek historian Theopompus of Chios, wrote a description of the behaviour of Etruscan women. References to this behavior occur also in Plato's ideal State (no. 73) and in Xenophon's description of Sparta (no. 97). Scholars say the account is believed to be inaccurate and the least exaggerated, offering more insight fourth-century Greek attitudes than those of the Etruscans. [Source: Diotima]

Theopompus wrote in “Histories” 115: Sharing wives is an established Etruscan custom. Etruscan women take particular care of their bodies and exercise often, sometimes along with the men, and sometimes by themselves. It is not a disgrace for them to be seen naked. They do not share their couches with their husbands but with the other men who happen to be present, and they propose toasts to anyone they choose. They are expert drinkers and very attractive.

“The Etruscans raise all the children that are born, without knowing who their fathers are. The children live the way their parents live, often attending drinking parties and having sexual relations with all the women. It is no disgrace for them to do anything in the open, or to be seen having it done to them, for they consider it a native custom. So far from thinking it disgraceful, they say when someone ask to see the master of the house, and he is making love, that he is doing so-and-so, calling the indecent action by its name.

“When they are having sexual relations either with courtesans or within their family, they do as follows: after they have stopped drinking and are about to go to bed, while the lamps are still lit, servants bring in courtesans, or boys, or sometimes even their wives. And when they have enjoyed these they bring in boys, and make love to them. They sometimes make love and have intercourse while people are watching them, but most of the time they put screens woven of sticks around the beds, and throw cloths on top of them.

“They are keen on making love to women, but they particularly enjoy boys and youths. The youths in Etruria are very good-looking, because they live in luxury and keep their bodies smooth. In fact all the barbarians in the West use pitch to pull out and shave off the hair on their bodies.

Etruscan Cruelty

20120223-Akhilleus_Charun_Cdm_Paris_2783_full.jpg
Etruscans could also be very cruel. There was a large population of slaves and serfs. They encouraged their pirates to practice cannibalism and tied prisoners face-to-face with corpses. Sometimes slaves and prisoners were sacrificed during the burials of kings.

Etruscan sport could quite violent. One contest illustrated on a tomb wall pitted a blindfolded man with a club against a fierce dog. Some scholars believe the Romans go their ideas for gladiator sports from the Etruscans.

The thumps up, thumbs down signs have been dated back to Etruria in 500 B.C. when the thumbs up sign was a signal to save a fighter’s life in a battle and thumps down meant death. The Romans adopted the same signs for their gladiator battles.

Etruscan Art

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Much of what we know about the Etruscans comes not from historical evidence, but from their art and the archaeological record. Many Etruscan sites, primarily cemeteries and sanctuaries, have been excavated, notably at Veii, Cerveteri, Tarquinia, Vulci, and Vetulonia. Numerous Etruscan tomb paintings portray in vivid color many different scenes of life, death, and myth. [Source: Colette Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]

“From very early on, the Etruscans were in contact with the Greek colonies in southern Italy. Greek potters and their works influenced the development of Etruscan fine painted wares , and, consequently, new types of Etruscan pottery were created during the Orientalizing period (ca. 750–575 B.C.) and subsequent Archaic period (ca. 575–490 B.C.). The most successful of these pottery styles is known as Bucchero, characterized by its shiny black surface and preponderance of shapes that emulate metal prototypes. An Etruscan dedication at the Greek sanctuary of Delphi attests to the close interaction between the Greeks and the Etruscans in the Archaic period. The Etruscans particularly prized finely painted Greek vases, which they collected in great numbers. Likewise, their interest in Greek art and culture is manifest in works by Etruscan artists. However, the adaptation of Greek iconography to Etruscan art is complex and difficult to interpret. \^/

“Etruria, the region occupied by the Etruscans, was rich in metals, particularly copper and iron. The Etruscans were master bronze smiths who exported their finished products all over the Mediterranean. Finely worked bronzes, such as thrones and chariots decorated with exquisite hammered reliefs, cast statues and statuettes, as well as ornate vessels, mirrors, and stands, attest to the high quality achieved by Etruscan artists, particularly in the Archaic and Classical (ca. 490–300 B.C.) periods. Opulent jewelry of gold and semi-precious stones exemplifies eastern Greek and Levantine forms adapted to Etruscan taste. Extensive trade in the Mediterranean during this period supplied artists with exotic materials such as ivory, amber, ostrich eggs, and semi-precious stones, all of which fostered the development of Etruscan gem engraving and other arts. The Etruscans were also well known for their terracotta freestanding sculpture and architectural reliefs. Etruscan funerary works, particularly sarcophagi and cinerary urns , often carved in high relief, comprise an especially rich source of evidence for artistic achievement during the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods.

Examples of Etruscan Art

Etruscan art includes monumental tombs, tomb paintings, painted vases, urns with reliefs, bronze mirrors, gold and silver jewelry and alabaster, terra cotta and limestone figurines.The Etruscans produced great tomb art, bronzes and terra-cotta sculptures. The Etruscan Museum of Tarquinia has many fine pieces including a room full of magnificent sarcophagi topped by reclining figures and sometimes etched with puzzling epigraphs that scholars have had difficulty deciphering. There are also funeral urns and vases. The most beautiful vase is an imported one from Greece that contains an image of a woman's head with a beguiling expression.. Most of the prize pieces are at the Villa Giulia in Rome.

20120223-Ivy_wreath_BM_2296.jpg
Ivy wreath

The Etruscans also made intriguing, highly-stylized narrow bronze figures that were offered as votive offerings at temples; realistic, detailed equestrian statues; lovely and distinct bucchero pottery, which were deliberately fired to look like metal.

There is evidence of monumental art, including bold reliefs and some of the earliest architectural terra cottas. The Etruscans built large acropolises and the largest buildings in Italy before the 6th century B.C. The only impressive monument left is the fortified city gate of Porta Augusta in Perugia from the second century B.C. Porta Augusta is also important in that it is one of the oldest places in Italy with an arch.

The Etruscans were among the leading importers of Greek vases. Some of the most beautiful Greek vases found by archaeologists have been unearthed at Etruscan sites.

National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia (Villa Borghese) in Rome is probably the finest Etruscan museum in the world. Among the treasures are a painted ostrich egg, imported from Africa but believed to have been painted in Etruria; a beautiful sarcophagus of married couple, which shows the husband gently caressing his wife on her arm and shoulder; a statue of a satyr with a taller woman doing a dance that bears an uncanny resemblance to the 1970s’s dance, the bump; pair of wooden sandals imprinted with the owners toeprints; and a burial urn shaped like a thatched hut. Among the gold items are a necklace with two pendants of chubby woman's face and a third implanted with an onyx that looks like a human eyeball; and a broach decorated with a werewolf-like hoofed satyr with a is granulated background, an effect that jewelers today can't duplicate. The most important pieces are three gold tablets; two of which are inscribed in Etruscan and the third in Phoenician, the language of Carthage. The Etruscan language still hasn't been completely deciphered.

Archeological Museum in Florence has one of the best Etruscan collections outside of Rome's Villa Giulia. It contains Roman Etruscan pieces once housed in the Uffizi. One particularly amazing bronze statue shows a charging lion with a goat coming out of its back that in turn is being grabbed by the lion's tail which is a serpent. Also check out delightful Etruscan bronze of a boy's head and youth with the bare-breasted Demon of Death. The Egyptian

Etruscan Tomb Art

Tomb paintings include images of funeral ceremonies, athletic competitions, bloody duels, grand banquets, warriors and horsemen, demons and mythical creatures, and journeys to the next world. There are images of bearded snakes, dolphins, flocks of birds, musicians, wild dancers and jugglers. The vibrant colors were created with an array of pigments, some of them quite rare and expensive: white from calcite, red from hematite, black from charcoal, yellow from goethite, and blue from a mixture if silica, lime, copper and a special alkali imported from Egypt.

20120223-Romanbullfresco.jpg
bull fresco

Few of the tombs with wall paintings are open to the public. Once a sealed tomb has been opened the paintings decays rapidly in the humidity. One tomb called the Tomb of the Leopards has beautiful wall paintings that depict nude wrestlers, men playing musical and a banqueting couple looking upon an egg, a symbol of immortality.

The Etruscan Museum in the Vatican contains one of the world's best collections of Etruscan art. The most outstanding pieces, which were found in Etruscan tombs in Tuscany and Lazio, include gold and silver jewelry, dice that looks just like modern dice, chariots, vase paintings, and small sarcophagi that held the cremated remains of wealthy Etruscans. Among the highlights are lovely Etruscan painting and a bronze statue of boy from the Etruscan site of Tarquina.

Subterranean Etruscan Pyramids

In 2012, U.S. and Italian archaeologists announced that had found the first ever Etruscan pyramids underneath a wine cellar in the city of Orvieto in central Italy.Rossella Lorenzi wrote in Discovery News: “Carved into the rock of the tufa plateau –a sedimentary area that is a result of volcanic activity — on which the city stands, the subterranean structures were largely filled. Only the top-most modern layer was visible. “Within this upper section, which had been modified in modern times and was used as a wine cellar, we noticed a series of ancient stairs carved into the wall. They were clearly of Etruscan construction,” David B. George of the Department of Classics at Saint Anselm, told Discovery News. [Source: Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News, September 19, 2012]

“As they started digging, George and co-director of the excavation Claudio Bizzarri of the Parco Archeologico Ambientale dell’Orvietano noted that the cave’s walls were tapered up in a pyramidal fashion. Intriguingly, a series of tunnels, again of Etruscan construction, ran underneath the wine cellar hinting to the possibility of deeper undiscovered structures below. After going through a mid-20th century floor, George and Bizzarri reached a medieval floor. Immediately beneath this floor, they found a layer of fill that contained various artifacts such as Attic red figure pottery from the middle of the 5th Century B.C., 6th and 5th century B.C. Etruscan pottery with inscriptions as well as various objects that dated to before 1000 B.C.

“Digging through this layer, the archaeologists found 5 feet of gray sterile fill, which was intentionally deposited from a hole in the top of the structure. “Below that material there was a brown layer that we are currently excavating. Intriguingly, the stone carved stairs run down the wall as we continue digging. We still don’t know where they are going to take us,” Bizzarri told Discovery News. The material from the deepest level reached so far (the archaeologists have pushed down about 10 feet) dates to around the middle of the fifth century B.C. “At this level we found a tunnel running to another pyramidal structure and dating from before the 5th century B.C. which adds to the mystery,” George said.


Etruscan tomb painting


“The subterranean pyramids in Orvieto could offer a unique insight into this civilization as the structures appear to be unique. “The caves have indeed a shape unknown elsewhere in Etruria,” Larissa Bonfante, professor emerita of classics at New York University and a leading expert on the ancient Etruscans, told Discovery News. According to Bizzarri, there are at least five Etruscan pyramids under the city. Three of these structures have yet to be excavated. “Clearly, they are not quarries or cisterns. I would say that there is nothing like these structures on record anywhere in Italy,” Bizzarri said. According to George, the underground pyramids could represent some sort of a religious structure or a tomb. In both cases, it would be a discovery without precedent. “Most likely, the answer waits at the bottom. The problem is we don’t really know how much we have to dig to get down there,” Bizzarri said.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.