Rome

The Etruscans


Rome Atlas
The Etruscans, 530 BC

World Cultures Glossary
Civilization
   Somewhere between 900 and 800 BC, the Italian peninsula was settled by a mysterious peoples called the Etruscans. We don't know where the Etruscans came from, but archaeologists suspect that they came from the eastern Mediterannean, possibly Asia Minor. We will, however, never really know where they came from or why they colonized Italy. We do know that when they came to Italy, they brought civilization and urbanization with them. They founded their civilizations 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; it was on the Tiber river that a small village of Latins, the village that would become Rome, sat. So the Romans, who were only villagers during the rise of the Etruscan civilization, were in close contact with the Etruscans, their language, their ideas, their religion, and their civilization; the Etruscans were the single most important influence on Roman culture in its transition to civilization.


   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. 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.

   They were a sophisticated people, with an alphabet based on the Greek alphabet, a powerfully original sculptural and painting tradition, a religion based on human-type gods which they had learned from the Greeks, and a complicated set of rituals for divining the future, which they handed down to the Romans. Unlike most civilizations of the time, gender inequality seems not to have been very pronounced.

   While the Etruscans were busy building their power over Italy and engaging in active commerce with the east and with Africa, a city to their south began to grow precipitously, a city imitating Etruscans in many ways: the Roman kingdom.

Richard Hooker



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1996, Richard Hooker
Updated 10-2-97