The Etruscans were a highly civilized people of northern Italy who thrived between about 750 BC and 250 BC, when they came under the rule of Rome. In the sixth century BC, the city of Rome was ruled by Etruscan kings, and the Romans owed much of their own civilization to them.
Etruscan civilization is the modern English name given to a civilisation of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany. Their Roman name is the origin of the terms Tuscany, which refers to their heartland, and Etruria, which can refer to their wider region.
As distinguished by its unique language, this civilization endured from the time of the earliest Etruscan inscriptions (ca. 700 BC) until its assimilation into the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC. Rome was founded within or adjacent to Etruscan territory, and there is considerable evidence that early Rome was dominated by Etruscans until the Romans sacked Veii in 396 BC.
Culture that is identifiably Etruscan developed in Italy after about 800 BC approximately over the range of the preceding Iron Age. The latter gave way in the 7th century to a culture that was influenced by Greek traders and Greek neighbours, the Hellenic civilization of southern Italy. After 500 BC the political destiny of Italy passed out of Etruscan hands.
The historical Etruscans had achieved a state system of society, with remnants of the chiefdom and tribal forms. In this they were different from the surrounding Italics, who had chiefs and tribes. Rome was in a sense the first Italic state, but it began as an Etruscan one. It is believed that the Etruscan government style changed from total monarchy to oligarchic democracy (as the Roman Republic) in the 6th century BC, while it is important to note this did not happen to all the city states.
The government was viewed as being a central authority, over all tribal and clan organizations. It retained the power of life and death; in fact, the gorgon, an ancient symbol of that power, appears as a motif in Etruscan decoration. The adherents to this state power were united by a common religion. Political unity in Etruscan society was the city-state.
The princely tombs were not of individuals. The inscriptional evidence shows that families were interred there over long periods, marking the growth of the aristocratic family as a fixed institution, parallel to the families at Rome. The growth of this class is related to the new acquisition of wealth through trade. The Etruscans were a monogamous society that emphasized pairing.
The Etruscans, like the contemporary cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome, had a significant military tradition. In addition to marking the rank and power of certain individuals in Etruscan culture, warfare was a considerable economic tool to the Etruscan civilization. Like many ancient societies, the Etruscans conducted campaigns during summer months, raiding neighboring areas, attempting to gain territory and combating piracy as a means of acquiring valuable resources such as land, prestige, goods, and slaves. It is also likely individuals taken in battle would be ransomed back to their families and clans at high cost. Prisoners could also potentially be sacrificed on tombs as an honor to fallen leaders of Etruscan society.
The range of Etruscan civilization is marked by its cities. They were entirely assimilated by Italic, Celtic, or Roman ethnic groups, but the names survive from inscriptions and their ruins are of aesthetic and historic interest in most of the cities of central Italy. Etruscan cities flourished over most of Italy during the Roman Iron Age, marking the farthest extent of Etruscan civilization. They were gradually assimilated first by Italics in the south, then by Celts in the north and finally in Etruria itself by the growing Roman Republic.
That many Roman cities were formerly Etruscan was well known to all the Roman authors. The Etruscan names of the major cities in this category survived in inscriptions and are listed below. Some cities were founded by Etruscans in prehistoric times, and bore entirely Etruscan names. Others were colonized by Etruscans who Etruscanized the name, usually Italic.
The Etruscan system of belief was an immanent polytheism; that is, all visible phenomena were considered to be a manifestation of divine power and that power was subdivided into deities that acted continually on the world of man and could be dissuaded or persuaded in favour of human affairs. How to understand the will of deities and how to behave had been "revealed" to the Etruscans by two "initiators", Tages, a child-like figure born from tilled land and immediately gifted with prescience, and Vegoia, a female figure. Their "teachings" were kept in a series of sacred books.
Ruling over this pantheon of lesser deities were higher ones that seem to reflect the Indo-European system: Tin or Tinia, the sky, Uni his wife, and Cel, the earth goddess. In addition the Greek gods were taken into the Etruscan system: Aritimi (Artemis), Menrva (Minerva), Pacha (Dionysus). The Greek heroes taken from Homer also appear extensively in art motifs.
The Architecture of the ancient Etruscans adapted the external Greek architecture for their own purposes, which were so different from Greek buildings as to create a new architectural style. The two styles are often considered one body of classical architecture. The Etruscans absorbed Greek influence, apparent in many aspects closely related to architecture. The Etruscans had much influence over Roman architecture.
Etruscan architecture made lasting contributions to the architecture of Italy, which were adopted by the Romans and through them became standard to western civilization. Rome itself is a repository of Etruscan architectural features, which perhaps did not originate with the Etruscans, but were channeled by them into Roman civilization. Some scholars also see in Urartean art, architecture, language and general culture traces of kinship to the Etruscans of the Italian peninsula.
Etruscan art was the form of figurative art produced by the Etruscan civilization in northern Italy between the 9th and 2nd centuries BC. Particularly strong in this tradition were figurative sculpture in terracotta (particularly life-size on sarcophogi or temples) and cast bronze, wall-painting and metalworking (especially engraved bronze mirrors). Etruscan art was strongly connected to religion; the afterlife was of major importance in Etruscan art. The Etruscan musical instruments seen in frescoes and bas-reliefs are different types of pipes, such as the pipes of Pan, the alabaster pipe and the famous double pipes, accompanied on percussion instruments, and later by stringed instruments like the lyre. The only written records of Etruscan origin that remain are inscriptions, mainly funerary. The language is written in a script related to the early Euboean Greek alphabet. Etruscan literature is evidenced only in references by later Roman authors.