The History of the Etruscans

This page will take you through the history of the Etruscans from their origins in the 8th c. BC to their absorbtion into the Roman Republic by the 3rd c. BC.

The Etruscans were a pre-Roman civilisation that inhabited the central region of Italy from the 8th to the 3rd c. BC. Their civilisation was highly advanced, with a sophisticated system of writing, art and architecture, and they had a significant influence on the development of early Roman culture.

A Map of the Extent of the Etruscan Civilisation. (c) Norman Einstein

The origins of the Etruscans are somewhat unclear but they likely migrated to Italy from the eastern Mediterranean region, possibly from modern-day Turkey. They first appeared in the historical record in the 8th c. BC, when they established a number of city-states in central Italy. The Etruscan civilisation was centred around these city-states, which were ruled by a series of powerful aristocratic families.

One of the key features of Etruscan society was their system of government. The Etruscans were ruled by a series of kings, who were elected by the members of the aristocratic families. This system of government was highly decentralised, with each city-state having its own king and its own system of laws and governance.

The Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa, c. 150–130 BC. British Museum. (c) Gryffindor

Despite this decentralised system of government, the Etruscans were highly interconnected and had a shared culture and language. They were skilled traders and craftsmen, and their influence extended far beyond their own borders. They established a number of trading colonies throughout the Mediterranean, including in Corsica, Sardinia and southern France.

The Etruscans were also highly skilled in the arts, and their art and architecture were highly influential in the development of early Roman culture. They were known for their beautiful pottery, which often featured intricate designs and scenes from daily life, as well as their metalworking, which produced highly decorative and ornate objects.

The Chimera of Arezzo, c. 400 BC. National Archaeology Museum of Florence. (c) Sailko

In addition to their artistic achievements, the Etruscans were also highly skilled engineers and architects. They built elaborate drainage systems, roads and bridges, and their monumental architecture, such as the temples and tombs that they built, was among the most impressive of the Ancient World.

Despite their many accomplishments, the Etruscan civilisation began to decline in the 5th c. BC, as they were gradually absorbed into the expanding Roman Republic. The Romans were heavily influenced by Etruscan culture and adopted many of their traditions and practices, such as their system of government and their religious beliefs.

Fresco of Dancers and Musicians, 5th c. BC, from the Tomb of the Leopards, Tarquinia.

As the Romans became more powerful, they began to conquer the Etruscan city-states one by one. By the 3rd c. BC, the Etruscan civilisation had been completely absorbed into the Roman Republic, and their language and culture had largely disappeared.

Despite their eventual decline, the Etruscans remain a fascinating and mysterious civilization, and their influence on the development of Ancient Rome is still felt today. Their art and architecture continue to inspire scholars and artists alike, and their legacy is a testament to the enduring power of human creativity and innovation.

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